Let’s get one thing straight: peak combat effectiveness is achieved by pausing the action and issuing orders. In Nightmare difficulty you’ll probably run into circumstances where micro-ing to victory is an inescapable reality. But consistently embracing this model of play will force you to miss Dragon Age’s most unique feature: the tactics system allows you to implement complicated strategies while retaining a more action-oriented, even arcade approach to your fights. Plus micro-ing all day is tedious – it’s waaay more flashy to steamroll encounters at warp speed with every party member executing your strategy on their own. With decent gear you should be beasting random encounters in less than five seconds on normal difficulty.
For basic information on tactics, I’ll refer you to the fine wikia pages on it.
Trimming the Fat
Be skeptical of using any tactic that starts with [Enemy/Ally : Any]. Remember that your allies will still use their available abilities if they have the stamina/mana even if all your tactics involving those abilities fail to implement. There are exceptions, but most [Enemy/Ally : Any] conditions tied to activating specific abilities are a waste.
Similarly, ditch tactics that turn on activated modes that you intend to keep on all the time provided you’ve got the stamina/mana – why waste the slots when you can just manually turn these on yourself? Having teammates activate toggles right at the beginning of combat is also a monumental waste of time. Instead consider replacing with tactics that disable unhelpful toggles:
[Self : Stamina < 10% -> Deactivate: Precision]
[Self : Can’t Attack -> Deactivate: Blood of the First]
[Self : Health < 25% -> Deactivate: Vengeance]
Most of these defense-based tactics are best thrown in at the bottom of your list for three reasons: a) you should be worried about laying waste first foremost; b) since many of these aren’t tied to abilities with cool downs, you risk them firing too much if placed at the top; c) leaving them at the bottom will let your party reestablish control of aggro after they’ve used all of their abilities, which is when you’ll need it the most. These should also be placed after tactics for downing health potions.
For your Mages and Rogues, consider using a variant of this:
[Self : Health < 50% -> Use current condition for next tactic]
[Enemy : Target of Fenris -> Attack]
Now your squishy allies will only attack your tank’s target when things get too dicey, saving them from generating more aggro. The flipside of this for tanks reads:
[Merrill : Health < 25% -> Use as current condition for next tactic]
[Enemy : Attacking Merrill -> Attack]
You could replace the attack command here with a Taunt, but you should have other, more precise tactics that are keeping your Taunt on perpetual cool down – this is more of a last ditch effort when things start really falling apart.
Using ‘Jump to Tactic’
Make no mistake gentlemen, this is your tool for crafting award winning tactics. They can be tricky to implement properly, and they may not even be worth it in the early stages when tactics slots are scarce. But believe you me, you need these for late game, non-micro fights. No matter the class, their primary function is the same: break up, organize, and prioritize your list of tactics into chunks based on certain circumstances.
A simple example for mages, where the priority is AOE attacks against weaker enemies instead of stronger single target abilities meant for debuffing bosses and the like:
1. [Enemy : Clustered with at least three enemies -> Jump to : 12]
2. [Enemy : Target rank is Elite or higher -> Jump to : 15]
12. [Enemy : Clustered with at least four enemies -> Firestorm]
13. [Enemy : Clustered with at least three enemies -> Fireball]
14. [Enemy : Highest Health -> Cone of Cold]
15. [Enemy : Target has high or medium armor rating -> Use current condition for next tactic]
16. [Enemy : Highest Health -> Hex of Torment]
17. [Enemy : Target rank is Elite or higher -> Use current condition for next tactic]
18. [Enemy : Nearest Visible -> Misdirection Hex]
Note that ‘Jump to’ IS NOT the same thing as ‘Use current condition for next tactic’, so you cannot create a double conditional statement with them – once your initial condition that caused the jump is satisfied, the next condition for the upcoming tactic that comes up operates independently. However, you can still take advantage of correlation. In the example above, the combination of tactics #2, #16, and #17 mean that this mage is banking on the excellent chance that one of the targets in combat is not only an elite or above, but also has a good armor value. These tactics function particularly well with Hex of Torment’s 25% damage resistance debuff and 100% critical chance, and further maximizes the effect by focusing on the lucky candidate with the most health.
For a rogue set on prioritizing control and aggro management over damage dealing, the ‘Jump to’ tactics may look like this:
1. [Self : At least three party members below 50% health -> Jump to : 12]
2. [Enemy : Target rank is Elite or higher -> Jump to : 16]
12. [Enemy : Clustered with at least three enemies -> Miasmic Flask]
13. [Enemy : Clustered with at least three enemies -> Chameleon’s Breath]
14. [Anders : Health < 25% -> Use current condition for next tactic]
15. [Enemy : Attacking Anders -> Armistice]
16. [Enemy : Nearest visible mage -> Use current condition for next tactic]
17. [Enemy : Has any spell buff -> Assassinate]
Again notice that although most mages that have their own spell buff is bound to be an elite or higher, you’re still relying on correlation for your rogue to focus in on your specific command. The upside though is that these conditions could still be satisfied later on in your tactics cycle if condition #2 doesn’t fire, and you’ll still rest easy knowing that you’re continuing the proud tradition of one-shotting cocky mages.
The final takeaway from all of this is that the ‘Jump to’ action lets you re-organize your tactics to fit different situations with amazing ease. In the examples above, if you wanted to swap priorities you need only switch the ordering of #1 and #2, allowing a painless re-tooling of your priorities and overarching strategy depending on whether there’s a boss or not, how offensively minded you want to be, etc.
Using ‘Skip Tactics’
Say you want to group and prioritize a specific set of actions together that is to be ignored unless your condition is met, in which case it’s damn imperative. ‘Skip tactics’ lets you further specialize your ‘Jump to’ organizing by essentially walling off a set of circumstance-specific actions and tightening up that character’s priority list. Unfortunately you can’t skip specific tactics with this action, it just makes the entire cycle start over, so it’s best used at the very bottom of your list.
This set of tactics designed is for fubar situations with Anders:
1. [Self : At least four party members below 50% health -> Jump to : 15]
14. [Enemy : At least one enemy is still alive -> Skip tactics]
15. [Self : At least four party members below 50% health -> Panacea]
16. [Ally : Health < 50% -> Heal]
17. [Anders : Health < 50% -> Heal]
18. [Self : At least three party members below 50% health -> Aid Allies]
19. [Self : Health < 25% -> Use : Health Potion]
20. [Enemy : Target of Fenris -> Attack]
Thanks to #14 Anders will never even deliberate using spells like Panacea that may be needlessly lowering his damage output unless the situation really demands it. #20 tops off the set of actions with a nice aggro management command, in case your party is running on fumes. Be careful using this action to skip too many tactics though – you can easily find your character needlessly skipping commands that might have been helpful.
Planning for your Alpha
Tactics 101 dictates that you want commands with more specific conditions and of a higher priority to buoy to the top. All things being equal though, you should consider how your dream alpha strike plays out when prioritizing. This is critical, since your encounters many times ARE your alpha strikes and nothing more – you’re doing something wrong if combat lasts more than a brief 30 seconds of pure shock and awe, even on Nightmare difficulty.
Say your mage’s alpha plays out like this:
[Enemy : Clustered with at least two enemies -> Cone of Cold]
[Enemy : Target rank is Elite or higher -> Winter’s Grasp]
[Enemy : Highest health -> Petrify]
[Enemy : Clustered with at least three enemies -> Chain Lightning]
Then you’d want your Warrior’s alpha to play out like so:
[Enemy : Target rank is Elite or higher -> Taunt]
[Enemy : At least 5 enemies are alive -> Rally]
[Enemy : Clustered with at least two enemies -> Whirlwind]
[Enemy : Clustered with at least two enemies -> Tremor]
[Enemy : BRITTLE -> Use current condition for next tactic]
[Enemy : Target rank is normal or higher -> Scythe]
[Enemy : BRITTLE -> Use current condition for next tactic]
[Enemy : Target rank is normal or higher -> Mighty Blow]
Why lead with buffs and aggro management when you could come out swinging? Using his big attacks upfront could knock out a few enemies right away and offset the damage mitigation you’re rewarded with, right? Nah. Under this setup you’re giving a chance for your mage to BRITTLE opponents, holding off on Scythe and Mighty Blow until they’re at peak effectiveness. You also get a chance to cross correlate the conditions between each character’s tactics: the final recipient of the +300%-damage-boosted Mighty Blow will be the normal enemy or above with the highest health. Boom.
Following these guidelines is like combining Bush’s Operation Iraqi Freedom with Napoleon’s Battle of Austerlitz – have your strategery cake and eat it too. Using these simple devices I never had to pause to issue orders on my Hard play through, and only a few times come to mind on Nightmare.