Somewhat unusual, but in a good way
Ok, I'll admit that I didn't really get into this game at first. It took quite a bit of getting used to. However, it grew on me as I went along. It probably didn't help that I was playing Dragon Age: Origins
at the same time, which outshines this game, but even so, I did end up getting hooked on the game.
The game is a pretty standard RPG, but focuses on a single main character without party members. At first, that distracted me from the game as it made things that should be easy more of a pain at the beginning of the game. But, as you progress, you do gain the ability to summon a "homemade" necromantic creature that you can continually upgrade with new body parts (head, torso, arms, and legs). Although weak to begin with, it does become a very valuable "party member." You can also summon temporary creatures (ghosts, demons, etc) to help out and they can make a real difference in the outcome of many fights. So, even though you don't have a real party, you can create a temporary one whenever you want, even charming the enemy to help out. I've decided that I think this is a good thing for the game, but it was hard won... I prefer having a party to help out.
The story is pretty much what you would expect from a medieval RPG. There is some limited lore in books that helps progress the story and a lot of side quests that are almost required just to level up enough to handle the fights. Nothing too unique here and not really spectacular either. That said, the story is good and there are some interesting plot twists to help keep the story flowing smoothly.
One somewhat unique aspect of the game is the ability to read the minds of anyone you meet. Doing so can get you better prices at vendors, extra skill or stat points, extra items, etc. The price of doing so is experience, which is a good way to handle it in one sense, but ends up making it become just a "Meet new character, Save game, Mindread character, If character's mindread gives something useful continue playing otherwise reload and skip mindread." That's not really a good thing to happen to any feature of a game. Even so, the mindreading is intriguing and you can hear some unexpected things from some characters, such as how the blacksmith lost the key to his basement while in the stables with his wife and how he thought it was worth it. So it definitely adds to the interest of the story and characters in the game.
The conversations you have with various characters can be engaging and sometimes funny. From the doctor who wears a weird metal hat that blocks mindreading, to ZixZax, the Almost Wise who calls you "Soon To Be Wise," you'll find some very unique characters to talk to.
Once you can turn into a dragon, the game really gets good as fighting while a dragon is actually quite enjoyable and controls are really well done. The only downside is that you can't see enemies that are on the ground while in dragon form. That means that you can't swoop down and clear the road, then land and run down it. If you want to run down the road, you'll have to kill everything on it while on foot. I suppose that keeps the game from becoming too easy, but it was a bit of a let down... I would have loved to swoop down on unsuspecting goblins and fry them up!
When you have your Battle Tower, you can send some guys out to hunt for more herbs and ores so you don't have to find everything yourself. That can make it easier to keep your potion or enchantment stock full and to find those rare ingredients. This is free to do, but if you want better results, you need to pay for armor and weapon upgrades (and healing) for them. You can't just give them armor you find... you'll have to actually pay for each person.
Another useful ability once you have the Battle Tower is that you can send items you loot/collect to the Battle Tower without traveling there, making it difficult to run out of space. You can also choose to teleport back to it at any time and then return to where you were, making it very easy to upgrade, sell, or buy things even if you are way down deep in a cave.
What has to be the most annoying thing for me in the game is how the characters move when they talk to you. I have no idea what they were thinking when they animated the characters in this game. For some reason, every single characters acts as though they have no spine when talking to you. Their heads bob around like crazy and their arms are constantly moving. Very unrealistic and definitely distracts from the game. Not really a game killer, but definitely knocks it down a few pegs compared to most other games with regards to character animation.
Experience quickly becomes a problem in this game and makes the beginning of the game really painful, which is why it took me time to start really liking it. If you don't do almost every single side quest, you won't level up enough to move on to the next area. At least, not unless you max out Wisdom (bonus experience). I normally do most side quests, but not always in order. That quickly became a problem because I'd try going off to some area where a side quest was and everything would be 2-3 levels higher than me and in groups of 3-4 that you can't lure away individually. I'd have to look around to find that one area that was a little lower level and work that area first until I leveled up enough. The problem being that the maps aren't really all that linear in how the enemy levels are set up. It quickly became a back and forth battle as I try one part of the map, then back away and try another and keep repeating until I find what I can handle. It really made the beginning of the game a pain. I don't mind a challenge, but this wasn't a challenge so much as a real annoyance.
Trying to look around for areas that you can handle becomes more challenging because some enemies in the groups are extremely strong and you usually don't know that until you're in the middle and getting your butt kicked, it became almost unbearable. For example, you can't really target enemies while outside of range to see if anyone is a stronger character (a captain, epic, etc) and those usually look almost the same as the others around them. Then, when you get into the battle thinking you can do alright, they hit you for a third of your total health with each hit... not counting the damage you are taking from the others in the group. This is definitely a game where you want to save frequently and in multiple spots (especially because in some areas, once you enter, you can't leave and if the enemies are too much for you to handle, you're stuck).
If they had added more side quests, it might not have been such a big deal, but there seems to be just barely enough as you go along, which makes the side quests no longer optional and you might as well consider them to be main quests.
The pause ability that should let you work on tactics doesn't allow you to really do much of anything, making it almost pointless. I end up almost never touching it, though a real pause feature similar to most other "realtime w/ pause" RPG games would greatly improve my experience.
For the first large part of the game, you're just a human and you have absolutely no storage, yet you're expected to gather a ton of herbs, ores, and scrolls explaining how to make potions or enchantments as you go along. Your bag is a decent size, but it very quickly fills up with all those ingredients that you can't really make much use of until you get your Battle Tower (many hours into the game). There is a "hidden" herbalist right at the start and an enchanter that you can't get to much before you go to take the Battle Tower due to where he's located with higher level enemies around him that can make use of the herbs and ores, but only certain ones... you'll still have a huge number of them sitting in your bags taking up space. They do stack to 50 per bag slot, but there are so many kinds that it's just too much without some way to store them. Once you have the Battle Tower, you do have a storage chest that has 400 slots, which is way more than you can hold (even with endurance skill upgrades that increase bag space... though there are more important skills that make spending points on bag space uncomfortable). So if you can survive long enough without storage until then, you'll be fine afterwards. It is just a pain until then.
Controls and targeting aren't really set up well... unless you lock onto a target by pressing the target lock key, it's hard to keep yourself facing the enemy you're fighting while in melee. Your character is set up to do jumps and rolls to help make it hard on the enemy to hit you. Unfortunately, this also means your characters tends to jump around a bit while just attacking and you end up facing the wrong way and missing. The downside of target lock is that you have very little control of who you attack without cycling through targets similar to how you would in a flight combat game. Although cycling works in flight combat, it doesn't work in melee combat. More often than not, I skip targeting and just do my best to keep facing the enemy.
The Bottom Line
Well, that sure seems to make it look like there is more bad than good about the game, but that's not exactly true. The game is a good game and enjoyable to play once you get past the issues I mentioned. Most of those issues are only really a problem at the beginning of the game and once you get your Battle Tower they either disappear altogether or are more manageable.
This is one of those games that are hard to rate because there is a definite enjoyment curve (low to start, but high after you're 15+ levels into it). I think it's worth playing and I really enjoy it, but if you're not someone who can work through a poorly handled beginning of the game, you may not make it far enough to start really enjoying it.
If you want to play just one RPG this year on PC, get Dragon Age as it's a much more polished game. However, if you want to play multiple RPGs this year and are willing to have a slow, painful start to the game, I'd recommend trying this as well. Where Dragon Age is really an interactive RPG, this one is more of a hack and slash RPG. It really is a better game that it sounds from this review, but it's hard to really describe why that is.