Managing your party uses the classic BioWare pausable combat, where you stop action to queue up attacks. The party AI also allows for you to have multiple battles at once. We saw two party members in one room fighting off a beast while two others carried out another fight elsewhere. Parties will have a maximum of four players -- two fewer than the six possible in "Baldur's Gate II," which Zeschuk says is a compromise that enables them to achieve maximum "graphic fidelity" while also giving players enough "chess pieces" to move around the board. It's not, however, a result of the game design being dumbed down -- an understandable fear held by many PC enthusiasts, given BioWare's recent focus on console games. "It's a balance point," says Zeschuk. "You don't want to get overly detailed. In playtesting, we found that four was a nice number. You can mix it up with different characters but it's still easy enough to control, [yet] still detailed enough that people felt what they were doing was meaningful." Zeschuk also points out that by streamlining the number of characters players control, the team was able to focus on making other aspects of the game more epic: bigger enemies -- a room-filling ogre was shown during the demo -- as well as larger battles with dozens of combatants. "We're going to be mixing it up a little more," he says.
But really, breaking new ground is not what Dragon Age is about -- and the tactical use of party-based combos, a hallmark of the Baldur's Gate series, looks amazingly fun. We saw a mage drop a grease spell across the floor of a room, which then was lit up by the group's flaming weapons, causing a stunning conflagration that engulfed the enemies. In another spot, one party member paralyzed the baddies while his cohorts picked them off one by one. It's these tactical opportunities and multitudes of different combat possibilities that gave classic RPGs such depth and replayability, and Dragon Age looks to be a truly worthy of the tradition.