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Dragon Age II • Page 2

Fatal era.

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.

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