Dragon Age 2

Expect both dungeons and dragons in this new RPG from BioWare

There aren't many videogames that cast you in the role of a refugee seeking asylum in a hostile land. But that's exactly where you find yourself at the start of this eagerly anticipated follow-up to BioWare's 2009 fantasy RPG smash.

With your homelands under seige by pesky Darkspawn forces, lead character Hawke (either a male or female warrior, mage or rogue depending on which character class you opt for) and his/her family are forced to flee to the neighbouring city of Kirkwall, along with hundreds of others seeking safety there.

It's an intriguing start - but one that is essentially thrown away as the storyline flashes past what appears like it will be a year-long grind to gain access to the city proper. Instead simply cutting straight to a point further down the line where you've fulfilled your work to enter the city and now live their untroubled by the locals. It's something that is endemic of Dragon Age 2's narrative and gameplay problems.

Here is a game that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and keeps you playiong throughout its lengthy running time, but which never seems to offer anything truly new or breathtaking. The storyline and characters are pretty predictable, but not even half as much as the locations (especially as you work your way through the same cave layout for the umpteenth time as its repeated ad nauseum across a number of main- and side-missions).

Button mashing
The repetitious nature of the locations (identikit buildings and caves) also reinforces the repetive nature of the combat. While the special abilities you build up over time are attributed to face buttons of your choosing, most of the realtime combat involves simply hammering the 'A' button over and over again until everything is dead. The sheer scale of some of the battles and the group tactics that can be put into play as you learn your way through the various sub-menus help ease this feeling somewhat (and show that deep menu structures and intricate skill maps don't have to be a barrier to mounting epic RPGs on consoles), but you can't help but think that there must be a better solution out there somewhere.

But despite these problems - and others familiar to the genre (despite the variety of male character models in the game, most of the women you encounter have carefully modelled breasts almost as big as their heads) - as I mentioned above Dragon Age 2 is still an enjoyable game. And if you do fall for its charms, it pays you back with a suitably epic amount of longevity that will keep you going until the innevitable expansion pack or downloadable content becomes available.

So while it's no classic, and doesn't come close to measuring up to the brilliance of BioWare's superlative sci-fi RPG Mass Effect 2, there's a lot to enjoy about Dragon Age 2 - and it's certainly a step forward from its predecessor. Let's just hope that if the series does continue, that BioWare can bring the same kind of innovation to this fantasy world as it did to the sci-fi ones that kept us gripped for so long.

Xbox 360 (version tested)/PS3/PC/Mac, EA, £50 approx, On sale now