Even if you're willing to graciously forgive the technical limitations that made the console versions of Dragon Age: Origins so butt-ugly, it's still hard to argue that the PC version didn't look a bit dated. For all its magic and fantasy, Ferelden was a remarkably brown place and its inhabitants were the same old Lord of the Rings-style creatures that we've seen and killed a thousand times. Dragon Age 2 takes full advantage of the fact it's a story being told by a dwarf who has no trouble embellishing details to make for a more exciting tale. Kirkwall is awash in color and composed like artwork. Matt Goldman took inspiration from sources as diverse as Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Pieter Breugel's "Triumph of Death." The aim is to not only make players "excited about what they're seeing," says Laidlaw, but also to "make sure that the story being told is about the character, and that the scenery is drawing focus to the people."
And to make the people look different from each other.True story: After coming back to Origins after a very long break I completely forgot I was playing an elf until one of the other characters referred to me that way. It's a situation not likely to happen in DA2, where the elves sport extra large eyes and ears, the dwarves don't merely look like short humans, and one monster doesn't look like a slightly redder version of the one two dungeons back.
In Origins, you were a nameless, voiceless hero, but in DA2, you are the silky-toned Hawke, a change that may be jarring to those who favored Origins's old school approach to characterization. Which, as Laidlaw tells it, is not that many players. "People generally hated the silent protagonist," he says, but that wasn't the only reason to adopt a main character who could speak for themselves; Having the hero stand stoically while drama erupted all around them "seemed to be doing a disservice to the storytelling." Recognizing that responding to an impassioned speech from Leliana by choosing a sentence from a menu lacked a certain vitality, the Dragon Age team decided to borrow a page from their colleagues across the hall.
The conversation in DA2 plays out much like that in Mass Effect, with players selecting a paraphrase of a dialog option from various points on a wheel. Hoping to avoid those situations where you think you're being flirty but end up sounding like a jerk, the wheel in DA2 adds an icon in the center to give you a better idea of the vibe you're about to convey. A heart is flirty, angel's wings indicate your goody-goody nature, and so on. There's still a bit of wiggle room, but you should always end up saying pretty much exactly what you meant to say. (During my playthrough, I wanted to just tell someone I thought they were cute and ended up inviting them to bed, but flirting is open to all manner of interpretation, I suppose.)