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Page 2 of 6These more advanced talents aren't just "improved" or "expert" versions of the first one in the row, either. Each talent is unique as you progress through a row. To illustrate this, here's a breakdown of the first row in the Rogue talent group as they progress from left to right: Below the Belt (an attack that causes penalties to defense and movement speed), Deadly Strike (an attack that has a greater chance of penetrating armor), Lethality (grants a bonus to critical chance and allows you to use your cunning bonus instead of your strength bonus when calculating attack and damage), and Evasion (grants a 20% chance to evade physical attacks).
Experience is earned by killing monsters, finishing quests, and successfully using certain non-combat talents (picking locks, for example), with each level-up netting you three more attribute points, a single skill point, and a talent pick. At levels 7 and 14, you're also given a specialization point that allows you to choose among four selectable class specializations. Some specializations can also be unlocked at trigger points during the game, but I wasn't able to spend enough time with the game to stumble upon any of these myself.
One final note on this topic - there is no hard level cap in Dragon Age: Origins, as there was in the Baldur's Gate series. I was told that most characters will typically be between level 18 and 22 at the end of the game, but there's no reason why you can't advance your characters beyond that if you make an effort to acquire every experience point in the game. It's nice to know that it's an option, anyway.
Infinity Engine veterans will find that many of the same control mechanisms are in place you select a party member by left-clicking them or a group by dragging the mouse across multiple characters, most of the hotkeys are instantly recognizable (C for character sheet, I for inventory, M for map, J for journal, etc.), and the TAB key once again becomes your best friend as it instantly highlights all of the nearby containers and useable objects. Hell, even the little face, hand, hammer, backpack, and gear icons at the top of the screen are near-identical representations of the ones we stared at in the Baldur's Gate series.
With that said, though, some modernization has been introduced. Dragon Age: Origins is a fully 3D game, so you'll find yourself swiveling the viewpoint by holding down the right mouse button and zooming in/out with the mouse wheel. Movement is handled by the W, A, S, and D keys, or IE-style by clicking on a destination within viewing distance (no, you can't move your characters via the automap). An MMO-style hotbar rests at the bottom of the screen, and you'll be using this to keep your favorite items, skills, and talents at the ready. Dragging the hotbar with your mouse allows you to shrink it to just a few squares or extend it to as many as 40+ squares (depending on your resolution). In other words, you shouldn't ever be yearning for more space to drag a talent or potion down within easy reach.
It wouldn't surprise me if BioWare is preparing another class or two for future DLC, but at the moment our selection includes the mage, the rogue, and the warrior. Which class you choose determines how your 74 base attribute points are distributed, which talent groups you gain access to, and which four class specializations you can tap into later in the game. Beyond that, you're really not forced into following a traditional play style for any of the classes. For example, there's no reason why you can't build a warrior who earns much of his coin from pickpocketing, a rogue who can coerce and intimidate his way through virtually any conversation, or a mage with enough strength to wear heavy armor and wield an axe.
Since I played a rogue during my hands-on time, I'll start off by covering what makes them unique. Rogues can choose any of the three available races (human, elf, or dwarf) and start off their adventuring career with access to the Rogue, Dual Weapon, and Archery talent groups. Once a rogue has gained a specialization point, he can choose to become an Assassin, Bard, Ranger, or Duelist. In addition to opening up a new talent group, each specialization provides a minor, thematic bonus to your attributes, resistances, damage, or other statistics. For example, Assassins have an increased chance to critically hit and inflict more damage with each backstab.
Warriors can also take advantage of any of the game's three races, though they start off with access to the Warrior, Dual Weapon, Archery, Sword and Shield, and Two-Handed talent groups. Their class specialization choices include Champion, Templar, Berserker, and Reaver. Alistair is the only warrior I had a chance to tinker with, and I noticed that he's already taken the Templar specialization when he joins the party. This provides him a resistance bonus to mental control, additional willpower, and access to the Righteous Strike, Cleanse Area, Mental Fortress, and Holy Smite talents.
If you choose to be a mage, then you can only be a human or elf. Their base talent groups consist of Mage, Primal, Creation, Spirit, and Entropy, and their specialization options include Blood Mage, Shapeshifter, Spirit Healer, and Arcane Warrior. Nearly all of the talents available to the mage are spells, with each base group (aside from Mage) representing sixteen similarly themed incantations and each specialization group representing four. For example, the Primal talent group focuses on the elements (four fire-based, four earth-based, four cold-based, and four lightning-based spells) and the Entropy talent group could be considered the debuff/debilitation line with spells designed to cause weakness, paralysis, fear, and other nasty effects.