We see examples of this too. On the Xbox 360 you can bring up the command wheel, switch characters, select Bethany's spells and sweep a circular cursor around the battlefield to work out where to target a spell - in this case a mighty fireball. There's more good news for mages, too, because now you have scripted death animations similar to the ones you get with other character classes. "Now you can literally rip an ogre in half." What's not to like?

On the PC, there's Tactical Camera 2.0, which allows you to roam your viewpoint freely around the battlefield issuing orders without the game's camera being tied to your characters or a confined space. Other PC interface improvements include stamina and mana potions on the far right of the quickbar so they don't use up number-key slots.

In one case we select Aveline, one of Hawke's companions, and put her in a defensive posture where she uses her shield more and attacks less. "We do it to show that not only can you customise how your main character behaves," says the producer, "but you can also do it with your followers as well."

Then we level up. Points still go into attributes like strength and dexterity as you cross thresholds, but Dragon Age 2 introduces ability trees, where you unlock a main ability - for example Stun - but then get to upgrade it specifically once you reach higher levels.

How you interact with your comrades and the world around you has also changed, and one of the biggest additions is a voice for the protagonist, which feels so much more natural than the silence of Origins.

Exchanges that regulate the involvement of your other party members immediately feel more natural. "We can't keep this up forever," Bethany says during a break in the action. Your options - "I'm right beside you", "Neither can they" and "Then we fight" - really pump you up when they're spoken out loud.

Dialogue options now have little icons too - an olive branch indicates diplomacy, a drama mask means sarcasm, a fist means aggression and there are others - so it should be easier to make sure your character is treating people as you intend. Interestingly, your behaviour also starts to stick.

"If I always chose the sarcastic options, my Hawke would be changed and start doing sarcastic battle cries, or sarcastic lines when you first meet people, even before you get to choose anything," says the producer.

Of course, Dragon Age 2 is about more than just killing and kidding around, and we see an example of this at the climax of our demo. With your brother Carver already dead - his head smashed repeatedly and crushingly into the ground by an ogre, splattering blood everywhere - we have to marshal grief among the group, which also includes Hawke's sister and his mother.

"One of the key themes is family, which is really important to Hawke," says the producer. "This isn't a game about a main character who wakes up on a beach with amnesia and finds out he's destined for greatness. We really wanted it to feel like a real story where you're fleeing your homeland with your family. Sometimes you have loss."

Sometimes you have insult on top of injury too. After a familiar face pitches up to help the survivors of the Hurlock attack, Hawke is put in a position where he has to decide the fate of Aveline's husband, Wesley, who has become corrupted. When Aveline seeks Hawke's help, he can respond three ways: "It's up to you." "I'll do it." "Put him out of his misery."

"This is one of those choices that you'll definitely see come back to haunt you one way or the other," says the producer, as Aveline follows Hawke's lead, and with Wesley's help positions a knife above his own chest plate. She pauses, and then jerks it down violently, killing him. It's unsettling to watch. At first glance, then, Dragon Age 2 hasn't lost any of the original game's intrigue, courage or ambition. Perhaps reading about yourself on the internet is a good thing after all.

Dragon Age 2 is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 11th March 2011 in Europe.

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Tom Bramwell

Tom Bramwell

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Tom worked at Eurogamer from early 2000 to late 2014, including seven years as Editor-in-Chief.

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