Dragon Age Origins was hard to love. It's easy to enjoy an RPG like Mass Effect where you shoot aliens and sex up ladies in space, or a goblin smasher like Elder Scrolls with a beautiful world to free-explore at your leisure.
But a fugly, beard-stroking, micro-management heavy, olde quester like Dragon Age? Much harder to love.

Thankfully Bioware is aware of this. They're making the game more likeable. Those who plunged themselves into the deep world of Ferelden (and the equally deep inventory/skills menus) and reaped the rewards as Origins' story unfolded will be wondering what all the fuss is about - more of the same for them, please.
Less patient mortals, however, will be catered for in Dragon Age 2 with sexier visuals, not the sprawling green and brown fields of the original, and simplified action that sees you spending a bit less time staring at potion lists and more time cleaving enemies in the face.


Most notably, the customisation options have been stripped right back. Whereas Origins offered you not only the choice of appearance, sex and voice, but also the entire backstory of your chosen champion, DA2 forces you into the chainmail of mystery hero Hawke.

He (or she - your choice) is a refugee, who survives the destruction of their homeland during the events of Origins.

This sequel charts the hero's rise to become champion of Kirkwall over the ten years following the Blight. When the game begins, Hawke is already at the height of his power - the game is told via flashbacks from unreliable narrators Verik and Cassandra of the first game.

And this puts an interesting spin on things. The whole story is yours to invent as you please - by making moral choices along the way - but you know how it's going to end. To support this fresh approach to storytelling, Bioware have adapted the Mass Effect dialogue engine to work with Dragon Age 2.

So, you'll have multiple conversation options, with aggressive or friendly options denoted by symbols in the corner of the screen.

Outside of the chatting, the combat is being simplified too. Bioware has chucked out the 'queued action' system - where you'd press a button and wait until your character attacked - with more direct control.

If you press the stab button, your on-screen warrior will stab. Nice to know. This makes fights feel faster, even if they are actually running at the same pace as they did in the first outing.

The tactical options aren't completely gone. You can still pause and queue up actions, but they'll happen faster, so it'll be tougher to keep on top of complex fights.

The pay-off, though, is more spectacular sequences that fizz with magic and frequently coat everything on screen in gore.

So far, it seems Bioware are heading in the right direction. Although still leagues behind Mass Effect, Dragon Age 2 does look considerably prettier; its combat is more immediate, and its plot is less clichéd. And yes, it's become a lot easier to love.

Pre-Order Bonus

Pre-order Dragon Age 2 before January 11 and EA will stick a limited Signature Edition of the game in the post to you at no extra cost over that of the regular game. Aren't they nice?

"This limited edition of the highly anticipated action RPG will be available at no extra cost for gamers who pre-order Dragon Age II before January 11, 2011," says EA.
"Featuring over $20 of additional content, the Dragon Age II BioWare Signature Edition includes the full version of Dragon Age II, along with a download code for an additional playable character and new missions, the Dragon Age II digital soundtrack, an exclusive in-game digital armory featuring a variety of in-game weapons and other digital in-game items."

Don't hang about though. The Signature Edition of the game will only be available for this pre-order deal or for online purchase on or before January 11.

Dragon Age 2 will hit store shelves on March 8 2011