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Make no mistake - Dragon Age is hard. In an age where only boss fights promise a real chance of a setback in most games, Dragon Age is a refresher in how enjoyable a challenging game can be. Every fight is a tactical puzzle begging to be solved. Find the solution, and victory will be swift. Fail, and you'll be quickly overwhelmed.
This brief guide to Dragon Age's combat gives a few pointers I've found useful in my engagements with opponents in the game. Use them creatively and you'll find that most fights become much easier.
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Hold Your Position
In melee, keep an eye on your tanks. Opponents gain bonuses to attack when flanking an opponent (although there are ways to negate this through traits). Likewise, your own warriors will gain bonuses when they are positioned well. As tempting as it can be to try and simply mob opponents with your warriors, you're often outnumbered. Use your melee fighters to hold a line against the opponent. This will often mean having to attack different targets, which is often considered a bad decision in tactical games. But position can be so important that it is often better to split up the offense abilities of your warriors if its means less opponents will be able to flank your front line.
Rogues, of course, should be positioned behind the backs of enemies in order to perform critical strikes. Be sure that they are actually behind the opponent, and not slightly to the side, as the line between what is and isn't considered a backstab is paper thin. Positioning your mages will depend on the situation, and mages will likely move more than any other character. Many spells are short in range, so the mage will have to run into combat to use them. But don't forget to retreat once the mage has performed its task. Mages are very vulnerable, and a few errant strikes from a difficult opponent can kill them.
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Use Crowd Control
Because having the right position in combat is so important, you'll constantly be moving your characters slightly so that they are flanked as little as possible and flank as many opponents as possible. That said, there are many situations in the game where you'll be outnumbered two or three times over.
This is where crowd control comes into play. There are several different kinds of crowd control methods available in the game. Stuns are the most effective, as they shut an enemy down completely and they don't require as much movement on your part. But knock-downs also serve to take an opponent temporarily out of combat.
The most powerful forms of crowd control are those which handle more than one target, such as Morrigan's Mind Blast. Although the stun lasts only a few seconds, it is enough to do some damage. This is particularly true when facing numerous weaker opponents, as you'll be able to kill one or two enemies before the group comes around. Be sure to learn the range of any mass stuns in your arsenal, because failing to stun half a group because some opponents were out of range can lose you the battle.
Single target-stuns can be used at any time to take pressure off a specific character. They can also be used in chains to disable a powerful enemy for a long period of time. For example, if you have two shield warriors you can easily have access to one stun and one knock-down on each character. By chaining these together, using one ability just after the effect of the previous one wears out, it is possible to shut down an opponent for most of the battle.
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It is easy to forget that the game gives you two incredibly useful tools for defeating opponents - poisons and trap making. Although introduced early with a few quests in Lothering, it is up to the player to find their worth.
Poison is an straight-forward edge in combat which also has some tactical use. Poisons quite simply add damage to each hit with a weapon. Place a poison on the blade of each melee combatant and you can find your party doing a great deal more damage then it was before, and some poisons have added effects like stuns and slows. Poison crafting can also be used to create grenades. These are exactly what they sound like, and can be lobbed at a mob of incoming opponents to soften them up.
Traps are items which can be set on the ground prior to a fight. When an opponent comes into the effective range of these traps, the trap springs. Traps must be used more tactically than poisons, but their short-term tactical effects are arguably much greater. The most basic traps, like claw traps, do enough damage to nearly kill lesser opponents outright. Other traps can give great tactical advantage. For example, the Sleeping Gas trap creates a cloud of gas which forces all enemies inside to pass a resistance check or fall asleep.
Of course, there is no reason you need to choose between the two. Traps and Poison can both be learned by different characters in a party or even by the same character. Given that you'll often pick up components during the course of your adventures, there is no reason not to use these tools. They can make an seemingly impossible fight feel like a cakewalk.