In the end Rocket XL did send me a copy of Dragon Age: Origins, which I received last Thursday. I've played a little bit, but I haven't got very far, so this is more first impressions than an overall review. For reference, the farthest I've gotten is just past Lothering, before the main game opens up.
I've done the City Elf , Mage, and Human Noble origin stories so far. The Mage and City Elf stories were really good. The Human Noble story was decent, but extremely predictable.
I love the world Bioware has created. They've done an outstanding job.
I love the way elven and human societies interact. It is superb. Mad props to the Bioware writer who coined the word "Alienage" to describe the city quarter where the elves live. Melding the word "alien" with the connotations of "orphanage" was a stroke of brilliance. It sums up the entire relationship in a single word.
I really like the Chantry, the prophet Andraste and the Chant of Light. It is an extremely well done medieval religion, and really adds an extra dimension to the game. There is a scene in Lothering where the Reverend Mother gives you a blessing that was just beautiful.
The relationship between the Templars, the Magi, the Tranquil and the Fade is also extremely interesting. It is to Bioware's credit that they avoided the whole "church persecuting mages" storyline. The idea that the Templars are both protectors and jailors of the mages is elegant.
I'm not very far in. So far, the plot has been decent but rather predictable. The mage story pulled the same twist twice. I'm not entirely sure if that was deliberate for emphasis or just poor plotting. In the other strands, the bad guys look like bad guys, and so betrayals do not exactly come as surprises.
Of course, this is just the early part of the game. The main plot still has a long way to go.
First, I really like the way Dragon Age uses the game engine to render cutscenes. Having the character you made in her current armor be present in the scene makes the game much more immersive.
The graphics in this game are a bit odd. If you play with the over-the-shoulder view, the graphics are superb. On the other hand, if you zoom out to the overhead tactical view, the character graphics are pretty bad. They're blurry and smeared, instead of being crisp.
Part of the reason I'm playing on Easy is so I can stay in the over-the-shoulder view, instead of having to resort to the tactical view.
The blood spatter was a mistake. It injects a childish note into an otherwise adult game. Luckily you can turn it off.
Gameplay is decent. You can pause and issue orders for your entire party. Or you can set up "Tactics", which are short "Condition:Action" statements that the AI will follow. For example, Alistair is my tank, and I set up a tactic so he drinks a health potion if his health drops below 25%.
I'm playing it on Easy to minimize the amount of fiddling I have to do with my companions in battle. Oddly, my first character (elf rogue) still died a lot. I think I messed up her abilities, and ended up starting a new character (human 2H warrior). I think I underestimated how important Willpower (which controls your available stamina) is important to a melee character.
Mechanics-wise, it's a standard mana resource game. You have mana (mages) or stamina (warriors/rogues) which starts at full, and is used up as you use abilities.
The only interesting note is the fact that continuing effects have "upkeeps" which reduce the max mana/stamina you have available. For example, if I have 100 stamina, and activate a Brutal Strikes mode with an upkeep of 40 stamina, my max stamina effectively drops to 60, and won't regen higher. It's an intriguing method of keeping long-term buffs in check.
So far, Dragon Age: Origins is a pretty good game in the Bioware/Black Isle tradition. I am looking forward to working my way through it, and will probably end up commenting more on the game later.