I've been plugging away at this one and think I must be somewhat close to the end, as I've unlocked the final companion and the story appears to be heading to its climax. I complained previously about my party never really feeling more powerful, but I think part of it was how I was developing them. When you level up, you get one point to spend on a skill-tree, and I was rushing through the trees to get to the more powerful abilities. Having got all the abilities I want, I'm now going back and spending points on passive bonuses, and they really seem to make a big difference.
The way stats are handled in this game really make it difficult to plan parties imo. The game does helpfully show you the exact effect any stat will have on secondary stats (e.g. adding 1 point to STR will increase these secondary stats from X to Y), but the way the game calculates damage, etc. is very weird. Basically, base damage is determined by your weapon alone, and then skills add damage on top of that. Skills seem to scale SLIGHTLY with stats (STR for melee, AGI for ranged, INT for spells), but the scaling is so minor that it's basically unnoticeable.
I still find the combat to be more annoying than difficult. The game is filled with enemies that are annoying to fight—enemies that taunt and force you to focus all attacks (and spells) on them, enemies that spawn more enemies unless you kill them quickly, enemies that sap energy points. After a certain point, these kinds of enemies end up being in nearly every battle. Enemies also have way too many HPs—at this point in the game, regular enemies can have up to 200 HPs and also tend to dodge/block very often (even against characters with high STR/AGI) while my characters are lucky to do 20 HP per attack... even a critical hit from my most powerful character might do 40 HP of damage. The key has been to make use of "damage over time" spells that hit every target at once, and just wait for enemies for die over several rounds. It works, but it's not really fun.
Although the game is 100% linear, it does allow you to travel back to previous dungeons. I plan to take a break from following the plot so that I can go back and find some of the secrets I missed earlier.
Truly a massive game! I am now 12 hours in, and all I've done is explore the world and conquer a few of the smaller dungeons and caves. I thought the open world was a bit of a gimmick at first, but after exploring extensively, I really appreciate it now. The world is full of interesting stuff to find, and more importantly, the open world allows for some really fun encounters not really possible in the Dark Souls games. For example, there are enemy factions in the game, and you can get monsters to chase you into heavily fortified areas so that they will start fighting with the enemy soldiers, allowing you to sit back and reap the rewards and then simply stroll into the now unprotected castle/tower/etc.
The world is much more interesting than it initially appears, as the starting area is honestly pretty dull. You run into wastelands inhabited by dragons, massive swamps filled with disturbing monstrosities, literal ghost towns, and more. There's even an Ultima 5-esque massive underworld to explore.
Although there is no dedicated pyromancer class (my favorite from the DS series), I've been playing as a heavy faith build using mostly fire spells. I switched the starting spear out for a longsword (much better moveset imo), but otherwise am still in the rags I started out with.