In Origins, your companions either approved or disapproved of just about everything you said and did, from how you handled quests to your conversations with them to the gifts you gave them. If they disapproved enough, they might decide not to follow your commands or just abandon you completely. In theory, it allowed for a lot of role playing, but if you wanted to have the strongest crew, you were pretty much obligated to keep them all happy. DA2 uses a similar mechanic, but with a far more interesting twist: Instead of approval and disapproval, you now have friends and rivals. Your companions will have your back no matter what, but if they're your rival, there will always be a bit of tension between you. Rivalry doesn't mean they're your enemy, merely that you don't see the world quite the same way. If you're an upstanding, rule-following, law-abiding kind of hero, then a companion with more flexible morality is more likely to be your rival. It's a particularly interesting choice because one of your earliest party members is your sibling (your brother or sister, depending on what class you chose), and as you might expect, a whole lot of baggage comes with them. Some options, such as combat moves or romance, will only become available with a rival, nicely removing the urge to just suck up to everyone following you around.
So, Does it Work?
If you've made it this far, you're probably wondering if all of these new elements come together in a way that's actually an improvement over Origins, but still feels true to the franchise. Stop worrying: Early signs point to "Oh, hell, yeah." The build I played was fairly early, so I didn't have access to everything Dragon Age 2 has to offer, but what I experienced felt like Origins with all of the fussiness removed. You'll notice little things immediately, like how junk loot is actually labeled as "Junk," making it very clear what you can sell with a clear conscience, and be amazed at how such a small change can so greatly improve your experience. It's also gorgeous, even on the Xbox 360; the visuals are something you'll actually enjoy as opposed to endure.
From what I saw, Dragon Age 2 is making all the right choices, but we'll have to wait until March 8 to know for certain.
Susan Arendt thinks Commander Shepard should have a cameo in Dragon Age II somehow.