Let me preface these remarks by explaining that they all relate to single-player (no one's made a multi-player game yet which interests me)...
I think games are like blockbuster movies...those who have preconceived visions about what a game will be before they play it for the first time are almost always disappointed. Those who approach a game, or a movie, or a book, with no preconceptions as to what it "should be," and have only a requirement to be entertained, are far less likely to become armchair critics, and more likely to see positives as opposed to negatives. They are also more likely to actually be entertained with their purchase.
One of the things I really, really like about DS is that fact that, unlike Diablo2, I'm relieved of the mind-numbing chore of having to "click" on legions of enemies, having to click on each and every single one of them, multiple times, to kill them. Thank goodness I don't have that tedium with the DS games, which was so burdensome with D2, and ultimately so boring, that D2 is still an unfinished game in progress for me...:) OTOH, I've played the original DS through to completion no less that four (4) times...Heh...and was halfway through the LoA expansion for the second time when they released the LoA bonus pack--which I'm now playing, and enjoying, actually.
I'm not really sure what it is about DS that I like so much...it's more of a "production value" thing to me, I think. I love to watch the wind sway the trees, to hear them creak and groan, to zoom the camera in and out and rotate it through various arcs in various scenes and really study the scenery. (I like to write and sometimes make a few coppers in the trade here and there, and am blessed (or cursed) with an imagination, and so if it is done right a computer game will have no trouble immersing me.) I make good use of the overhead map, and on my fourth time through the original DS I actually found three new areas that somehow I had failed to find the first three times through--I was pretty surprised. I would imagine that many people who quit the game early and are "bored" have missed a good deal of the content along the way.
The ambient sounds are very good, and I usually set the musical score to a threshhold just beneath the ambient. Basically, the games just ooze immersive atmosphere, and I think this is one of the great strengths of the franchise.
If I had to pick what is probably my favorite aspect of this game and engine I would say that the game doesn't just play, it flows...like a movie, it flows from scene to scene (for me), and the fact that the player can control the flow of the game with a level of interactivity that is definitive, but yet doesn't provoke a layer of tedious button pushing is appreciated (which is an aspect that makes many games so boring for me, ultimately, as many of the so-called "choices" players are led to believe they are making with all of that button pushing are strictly cosmetic. I guess sporadic and regular button/key punching is of some deeply moving entertainment value for some people--but not for me...:))
I also like the team aspect in which you can deal with up to 8 separate characters in somewhat more minute aspect in DS than is commonly appreciated. Contrasted against NWN in this respect, NWN is far more "boring" for me. Most people mistakenly think that all of the fighting is "automatic" in DS and you have no control over it--these are the people who've only looked at the game superficially but pretend to know everything about it, I think.
Actually, there are several options relative to combat, and each player may be controlled by way of different responses in a combat situation. You can, for instance, instruct your archers and mages to target the "strongest" enemies, while instructing your melee fighters to target the "closest" enemies--this tactic often has the effect of causing your melee fighters to form a defensive line close to the party while your archers and mages target enemies over their heads and to the rear of them--but it's never totally predictable, even so--sometimes enemies will break through your melee line to attack the more vulnerable party members, sometimes not. If you prefer to manually select each enemy for your team, you can do that, too, by setting everyone to the "hold ground" position--wherein most of the party will only fight when you direct them to by clicking on an enemy, Diablo2 style (but the great thing is you only have to click that enemy once to kill it, or be killed by it...:))
When I'm using pack animals, as I usually do early on in the games in order to procure large sums of money from the sale of goods found and taken in combat which I don't want or need for the party (I drop the animals later in the game and go with an extra party member, instead), I always adjust my formation so that the pack animal is at the rear, and I always set him to "hold ground" whereas my setting for most other party members is "engage." Unless an enemy sneaks up on the pack animal from the rear (which has happened once or twice), the animal will almost never die in combat. In short, there are several control options for combat configurable in advance, which may be applied to each character individually, according to whatever combat strategy you deem to be to your liking. There's simply much more flexibility and control in this game relating to combat than many people think, and I've only listed a few of the possibilities here.
Also, weapon and armor selection is critical in the game, and will make a big difference in combat, and it pays to scrutinize the statistics of each weapon and piece of armor closely as there are some important differences: for instance, with melee weapons, the "damage per 10 sec" statisitic is more important to me than the "damage per strike" statisitic, as this often relates to the speed of strike frequency. Slow/slower weapons have a much higher damage per strike statistic, but will often do less damage than other weapons over a short period of time. Two- handed weapons minus out shield armor, of course, *except* for magic armor bonus points that apply whether the shield is engaged or not, as long as it is equipped (which is helpful for archers). Magic armor bonus points sometimes stack, and sometimes they do not, and you need to know the difference to configure your armor optimally, etc. With bows/crossbows, sometimes the range of the weapon can be more important that either the 10-sec damage average or the damage-per-strike average combined, but you have to know when that might apply (I usually carry different bows for different situations.)
Basically, there's a lot more to DS than obviously some people think...;) A last piece of advice for people is to play KoE and LoA in the "hard" difficulty mode. I discovered on my fourth time through DS (v1.5 the final time), that unlike most games in which the "hard" or top difficulty level is nightmarish and utterly unrealistic to the point of ruining the game, in KoE and LoA the "hard" level is actually done right. It's hard-er, than medium, which in turn is hard-er than easy, but it's not artificially so difficult to the point where the game turns into a mindless combat clickfest. In these games playing the top difficulty mode is eminently doable, and with the more difficult combat your characters will advance much more quickly and are up to any battle in the game that presents itself. Play these games on "hard" as it is a sane "hard," not an insane difficulty level.
All things, though, could stand improvement, and DS is no exception:
(1) Voice acting. While I only found the Seck overlord at the end of DS KoE to be particularly poor in this regard (it was just so obvious that some ham's voice had been modulated to sound ominous and low--but still didn't cover up the bad phrasing and intonation and emphasis, however), basically I found KoE much less objectionable than LoA. Some of the voice acting in LoA is acceptable, but much of it, I thought, is far below professional production values. In some cases I could visualize the guy straining to read the script over a mic as his words halted and slowed and carried the completely wrong intonations and emphasis for the context. This can be very distracting in a game, and detracts from the mood and atmosphere, and LoA is no exception in that regard.
(2) Voice overs (v1.5x). That's the silly little "Come'n atcha' boss," and "Whatever you say boss," kind of remarks that are supposed to pass for "banter" among team players when you command them to perform an action. This doesn't work at all in LoA, and fortunately the developers know it, and so they included an option to *turn off* those silly, annoying, mindless "voice overs." I turned them off--the ambient sounds in the game are much more pleasurable to listen to...;)
(3) Magic spells. I don't care about quantity so much as quality and efficacy. Many of the spells in DS 1.5x were of little use to me, and in every DS game I've played, despite experimentation and variation, I keep coming back to the same set of 2-4 spells constantly, in terms of combat efficacy and need--fire/explosive for the combat mage, lightning for the nature mage, and healing spells in the secondary spell slots for both. Some work needs to be done there, I think, in terms of combat efficacy for all of the spells in terms of balance. Dancing Zap, IIRC, is a higher-level nature-magic spell than is Zap, yet it seems to me that Zap is more powerful in combat. DZ has an advantage of longer range, however. Soul Lance, for combat mages, is more powerful, yet the spell is so slow, and misses so often while eating more mana to begin with, that lower-level spells are simply better, I think. On the healing front, Nuture is a much higher level spell than Healing Wind for team healing for Nature mages, but I felt that HW was the better spell overall for that purpose.
A big one for me is that I hope DS2 will allow mages to have at least 4 active spell slots each (instead of the current two), because in the heat of combat I've often wished I could alternate between more spells on the fly. For instance, in a certain battle I might like to enter it using Fire Orb, add fireball to it, then summon a creature to fight, while retaining the option to select party healing at a later stage in the battle. That would be very cool, and I can't see how to do that presently...;) This could be worked out and balance retained, with a bit of effort.
Anyway, that's my opinion on these games, and I felt I should add it because I think much of the criticism of these games is unfounded. As for "linearity" and the usual comments made about that--all games are linear--all of them. Simply put, there's nothing you can do in any game that lies outside of what the developers allow--and that means it is linear. Some games simply appear more linear than others, because of less "plot choices" which appear in the games. However, a basic linear track is still followed, regardless of the choices made between beginning and end, in all 3d games. They all begin in the same place and end with the consummation of the same final goal. I would much rather play a linear game with a strong presentation than I would a so-called non-linear game with a weak presentation. An example of the latter is ToEE--I was very disappointed with that game when I discovered that all of the so-called non-linear quests in the game--all of them--were entirely superfluous in terms of playing and finishing the game. The quests in the game were so "non-linear" that you didn't have to complete them to finish the game, they had no bearing on the story line, and completing the quests did little to nothing to advance the characters in either ability or wealth. That's what I mean about using choice as a cheat, when the choices made amount to little or nothing per the play of the main game. Books are totally linear and so are movies; yet both books and movies can be extremely entertaining, so I don't think that so-called "non-linearity" in computer games is a requirement for them to be both entertaining and enjoyable. Linear or not, there's a lot more to a great computer game than that.This comment was edited on Feb 7, 12:05.
It is well known that I cannot err--and so, if you should happen across an error in anything I have written you can be absolutely sure that *I* did not write it!...;)