If there's a series less suited to preview events than Dragon Age, I'd like to see it. Actually, I'd like a colleague to see it instead.
BioWare made its name with marathons rather than sprints. The charms of the huge, rambling games it pieces together tend to emerge over long periods of time, once the characters and situations take hold and the choices and consequences – both large and small – really start to bite.
That hasn't stopped the developer from offering quite a few preview tasters of Dragon Age II, however. And so we've learnt a fair amount about the treats and trials it holds in stages, as if a hesitant neurologist is determined to tell you how bad it all is very slowly – only with fewer x-rays and a lot more goblins kicking around.
What have we learned, Charlie Brown? Well, there's the game's change of focus, for starters. It cuts out all of Origins', um, origins in favour of following Hawke, a human hero, through an adventure which unfolds Princess Bride-style (though given this is BioWare, you can rest assured it probably won't be too reminiscent of Princess Bride) through the recollections of others.
We know there will be new characters introduced, who you'll talk to via Mass Effect's zippy little dialogue wheel. There will also be new areas to explore in a game that takes place a while after the Blight.
The emphasis is different, too: this is one of those rare BioWare titles where the world isn't just about to end. Instead, the decade-long plot charts Hawke's ascendance from straggly nobody to the Champion of Kirkwall.
If that sounds like there will be rather limited opportunities for players to shape the story this time around, BioWare's suggesting the framed narrative allows you to write history to a certain extent, filling in some of the more colourful details along the way.
At the most recent preview event, it was typically difficult to judge how successful these long-play elements are going to be. However, it was possible to confirm one thing: after the slightly stagey trappings of the first instalment, Dragon Age II is a game with real cinematic flair.
BioWare's latest showing breaks down the two halves of the general experience – let's call them fighting and wandering around chatting to people. In wandering/chatting sections we're thrown into the game around the end of the first of three acts, picking up with a cast of heroes as they explore stately, sun-baked Hightown and the moody, funereal stonework of some primeval ruins.
The nuances of any overarching storyline are hard to gauge, but the moment-to-moment narrative seems thick with chewy, sugary fantasy soap operas: quest-givers in dire need of a hero lurk around one corner, and sneaky dwarfen (dwarven? Am I being a big fantasy racist?) brothers who can't resist a bit of treachery are waiting around the next.
The dialogue is surprisingly fresh and cutting, and although the characters still seem slightly more mannequin-like than their glittering-eyed futuristic cousins in Mass Effect, they exude a lot more charm and humanity than did before.
The camera roves and darts cinematically around them during cut-scenes, lingering on the sun lancing through stone columns or the blood-red roots that sprout through clutches of nearby dirt.
The world's busy as well as pretty, by the way, its streets and corridors filled with loot and distractions. Occasional encounters against a grim collection of Shades – ugly nasties, sadly, rather than anthropomorphic Ray-Bans – serve to remind players that they're not plodding through a museum.
When fighting against bosses, things get even more dramatic. The big ticket enemies could be a bit of a slog in first game but here they lurch to life with stylish designs and charismatic animations.
Exploring the reimagined Deep Roads, the gang gets to fight a dragon – albeit quite a small one by dragon standards. But the demo really belongs to the Rock Wraith, a brand new beasty who's been built out of clusters of boulders that hover around an electrically-charged rib-cage.
That must make it hard to accessorise – black trousers should still be thinning, though, and go well with lightning – but the Wraith makes up for it with horrible otherworldly habits that make themselves known in a range of attack moves. He sinks into the ground and erupts behind you, pieces himself back into existence using a pile of nearby boulders, or simply stops playing nice altogether and transforms into a spinning vortex of pebbled death.
The Wraith isn't the only one showing off. Zipping between team-mates and juggling attacks gives you plenty of times to enjoy your crew's new poised and dramatic battle animations. Sword strikes connect with real force, magical staffs crackle with energy, and your handy dwarf has a crossbow that fires bombs - always a nice thing to have nearby.
On consoles, you'll still be able to pause the action and cue up attacks and strategies for team-mates before letting rip. On PC the tactical view may have been very slightly reigned in, but the trade-off allows for more complex geometry, with hills and steps and split-levels, all of which can be used tactically.
Beyond the visuals and the combat, BioWare's preparing a refined experience for things like DLC. Having learned from the first game, the developer is promising optional updates will provide longer adventures and will be easier to locate in the world once you've bought them.
They'll also put Hawke and his band of heroes centre-stage each time, offering a continuation of his story rather than off-shoots and what-ifs, in a way that they hope will really prolong the life of the game.
Prolong it until what? Until Dragon Age III, presumably: another game that will be tricky to preview, but probably brilliant fun to blast through. Another game to luxuriate in over a series of lengthy evening sessions, lost in the lore, levelling frantically towards the horizon.