Massive disappointment, huge step down from DS3. The open world stuff takes away so much from an otherwise solid game. Huge amounts of reused fights and unmemorable mini-dungeons. If I have to see one more Ulcerated Tree Spirit mini boss or one of those cat statues I will snap.
Feels like a capstone for the Final Fantasy series is so many ways. Practically a full realization of the work Yoshinori Kanada did on FF before passing in 2009. The exaggerated poses during the Eikon fights, the flashy camera angles, and that melancholic ending which evokes both the themes and visuals of Kanada's masterpiece Galaxy Express 999. As much as this is a love letter to Kanada it also an evolution of the Final Fantasy series. Many parallels between 16 and 5, 7, 2, and 14 with the environmentalist and anti-fascist focus but also takes FF into a new radical direction.
The world FFXVI takes place in is set to collapse one way or another, as conflict between warring states escalates and the environment degrades due to a blight caused by humanity abusing magic granted by them through crystals. Production depend on slave labor from bearers who have inherent magical abilities as well as the magic crystals used to power technology and industry. It is a mode of production that exploits and ravishes, one that cannot go on without the world being destroyed. From the contradictions of the world rise Cid and his band of merry men who wish to create an entirely new world free of oppression where mankind can choose their own path forward free from both Gods and slavers. Opposing them is another mysterious force drawing power from the inevitability of collapse but with much more selfish ambitions. From start to finish this is a game about revolutionary action which rules especially in a time where more and more games are straying from any political subject matter, terrified from alienating any portion of their potential audience. If you're generations enough with your reading you can even see ideas drawn from Deleuze and Guattari which fucks.
Burn until there's nothing left but pure white ash.
The dialogue in this is insufferable and filled with Joss Whedonism. This is so 2009 it's wild, like looking into a time capsule. Morrigan (who seems to be the fan favorite to this day) is like built from the ground up to appeal as much as possible to the sexual fantasy of the 2009 cisgender reddit guy. She's an outspoken goth atheist who hates poor people and fucks on the first date. There's a bit in the game where a profiteering trader inflates prices during a crisis to make a quick buck. Morrigan gets mad at you for threatening him to stop lmfao. What a testament to its time.
Despite being a CRPG in the tradition of Baldur's Gate and Planescape DAO draws just as much from World of Warcraft. The strafing and movement (including holding both m1 and m2 at the same time to walk without WASD) feels exactly like WoW. Enemies have their names in white/yellow/red to show power. Quests are denoted by "!" marks on the mini map. Cities are way too big for their inhabitants and are a pain to walk around. It's charming but also unexpected, one doesn't expect a CRPG to have this sort of direction or speak this sort of MMO-inspired language. You can play top down with pause combat like a classic CRPG or zoom in to play in 3rd person like WoW and both sorta work. It's a direction that's different from both the classic CRPGs of the late 90s and the more recent CRPG revival in games like Pillars of Eternity or Divinity: Original Sin. It's sorta neat in that respect I'd say. DAO is less about resource management like most other CRPGs and more about figuring out individual encounters which tend to try to trip you up with different enemy compositions and positioning. Your mana and health fully regen at the end of battles and there are no spell slots so DAO is able to be less about fighting a war of attrition and instead going through individual challenging encounters without worrying about having enough resources for the next fight. There's not many easy fights that are just there to eat away at potions and spells which leads to a clean pacing for the combat. There's very little excess, and you've got to strategize for each encounter. Sometimes the way to win is classic tank and spank, sometimes you've gotta take out a mage in the back before they cast fireball, sometimes you're surrounded and need to depend on crowd control to get your casters in a safe position, sometimes assassins appear out of nowhere and go for your back ranks... Lots of variance in the encounters and all the classes are fun. Mages especially have a ton of options.
Best part of the game by far is the Dwarven underground city chapter, the dungeons for that bit of the game are massive and there's a lot of enemy variety. Just interesting encounters back to back to back as you go through an enormous hellish lava maze. The choice you have to make between supporting one of two shitty Dwarven candidates for kingship is also interesting compared to most of the choices you make throughout the game. DAO doesn't give you much info to start about your options, but in exchange let's you swap your choice and betray both candidates several times. You can play it like the plot of Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars where you're this outsider that exploits both sides.
DAO has some sparkling moments of brilliance despite also being what feels like the model for all these newer annoyingly written video games. Like, there's a random encounter you can get on the worldmap that's just meant to be a cheeky reference to the Superman origin story. Fuck off with that. If this had a better writing team and took itself more seriously it could have been great, but alas...