I'm coming into Dragon Age: Origins after a replay of Mass Effect, with Mass Effect 2 clearly on the horizon, so expect more than a few Mass Effect comparisons. Plus, Mass Effect thus far is the only Bioware RPG I've managed to complete a playthrough (with a record of two, now).

I appreciate Dragon Age's use of relative morality over the dualism models that have become fairly standard. The morality of a given choice is primarily determined by the reactions of whichever companions you brought with you to witness them. It fits a world that is full of many shades of gray on the morality spectrum (including the central Gray Wardens).

In practice, however, I find the control of this as a system somewhat opaque and aggravating, particularly within the larger context of the game as a whole. Firstly, there are the obvious complexities from moving from a 2-Bar morality system (as in Mass Effect's Paragon and Renegade counters) to an N-Bar system. Where Mass Effect can (smartly) use the vertical axis of its conversation wheel in rough correspondence with the Paragon/Renegade decision, Dragon Age has no such shorthand. (On the other hand, it would be nice if Dragon Age had at least found some replication for Mass Effect's use of the horizontal axis. But that's a whole other topic of discussion.)

What frustrates me most, however, is the dissonance between the work put into combat tactics systems compared to the lack of equivalents in morality and conversation tactics. Certainly this is nothing new in the world of RPGs, but Dragon Age seems to especially make it more obvious and harder to swallow (particularly as I start to read FAQs/wikis to see the fragility of decisions easily accidentally made). Before even getting into combat I can set roles and mechanistic tactic system for each of my companions. I see their full load-out of equipment and skills, and I could choose those skills whenever they level shaping them in a direction of my choice and most of their equipment was probably a choice of mine as well. I can switch between their perspectives and directly make use of their skills. Subsequently all of that power remains in my hands during combat.

Contrast that with the tools at my disposal for conversation and morality: I can talk to them one on one prior to a major conversation and maybe get some small feel for their moral system, but only in the opaque and hazardous English of some writer. I can't easily throw hypotheticals at them to see how they might react in the future. I don't have numerical stats/weighting for any of their discussions besides after the fact reactions that are murky. I can take over a character to have them pick a lock or use a skill, but can't make them converse. I particularly can't have a companion take over the lead role in a major conversation. Not many conversations even give me an opportunity to directly sidebar with my companions and get their direct opinion on the matter at hand. A few attempt to make it up by having the companions throw in unsolicited opinions, but thus far in my play the correspondence between opinions during conversation and points awarded after the fact are somewhat inadequate, and the characters may as well offer riddles.

I know the full capabilities of my companions during a battle, including how they would react in most situations, and yet the conversation doesn't provide any a priori tools to determine how a character might react to a conversation choice. Even if this knowledge was just restricted to the companions at hand, it is curious in its lack (particularly compared to how much Bioware's binary morality systems do in that direction). I can choose combat auto-reactions ("in the situation of x, do y"), why can't I choose auto-conversation reactions ("maximize character x's opinion of you")? (Entire conversations that are mostly automatic ("get all the information you can; use kind persuasion when applicable; try to maximize character x's opinion of me") actually sound like a pretty cool feature, but then I tend to enjoy cutscenes.)

I know for some players that lack of early feedback is a welcome part of the game. It just belies the nature of the rest of the game systems in an interesting way. To the ways that I would like to play the game, I would like more feedback, more tactical information, in assessing the conversations and meaningful choices of the game.

I think I summarized this pretty well on twitter: as with many RPGs, the things that Dragon Age provides for me to micromanage aren't really what I want to micromanage. The things that I would be interested in micromanaging, such as my character's relationships with other characters and the world at large, the game fails to provide me the tools to do so.