When developers talk about sweeping changes and huge improvements from one game to its sequel, the default position is caution.
When the sequel in question is following up a 50+ hour cult RPG hit, less than 18 months down the line, the default position is extreme caution with potential for blowback.
However, going hands-on with Dragon Age 2 is the ultimate vindication of Bioware's bold claims.
First things first, this game is far easier on the eye than the original. No longer looking like Middle Earth smeared in Vaseline, the new area of Thedas - Kirkwall - is a well-defined land.
Lighting, effects, characters, draw-distance - everything appears to have been improved. But what makes the biggest difference for us is the new combat system.
It's not as fluid as, say, Fable, but now when you press a button to attack, your character actually does something instead of just queuing up an attack action. There's no pause. Pressing the stab button actually leads to a stab. Revolutionary!
It makes a huge difference on 360, despite being the kind of change that'll compel PC gamers to flame up Bioware forums. You feel more in control with a pad, and that's crucial.
You still have abilities that can be accessed by either tapping alternate face-buttons or holding down RT, and area effect strikes still pause the combat, allowing you time to designate where it will actually hit your opponent.
ACING THE DRAGON
Combined with the prettier looks, the new fighting makes Dragon Age 2 a game you'll actually want to spend hours exploring without fear of stat-management fatigue.
Sure, that's what so many loved about the original - and it's still there - but Dragon Age 2 has both (relative) beauty and depth. The story too, is showing some promise, and during our hands-on we were introduced to sultry pirate lady Isabela (who dedicated fans will recognise from her brief cameo in the original).
She's may be the stereotypical 'tough girl' ally, but despite being short on originality, we took a shine to her roguish dialogue and edgy charms. Expect Isabela to become a popular romance target.
Overall, we're optimistic about Dragon Age 2. Bioware seem to have done the leg-work with the original, setting up the lore and the famously camp fantasy world, leaving them free to finesse the actual gameplay elements with sequels.
So don't see this as a dumbed down sequel made for consoles - it isn't. It's a refined, accessible, and genuinely exciting iteration of an already pretty promising series.
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