I just played the DA2 demo again and I have so much to say, so I figured instead of starting a million different forum posts, I'd just put it all in a blog.
I Love the New Darkspawn
Okay, I lied, I already started a forum post about this, but I just can't help myself. The new darkspawn look is awesome. We learn in the last game that darkspawn are created by corrupting humans, elves, dwarves and Qu'nari into hideous monsters. But the darkspawn in DA:O look almost exactly like orks from any other fantasy series, specifically the Lord of the Rings movies. They're vaguely reptilian-humanoid monsters who tend to hunch over and use scavenged, corroded equipment. In this, they appear to be twisted, corrupt, insane versions of the creatures that they were originally created from, and I think that takes great steps to differentiate this from other fantasy games/books/movies.
Learning From Our Fallen Brothers
Something I noticed in my second playthrough of the demo was that there were locked abilities for all the party members that corresponded to both "Rivalry" and "Friendship," and both were essentially polar opposites of one another. The tragically flawed Alpha Protocol (check my lists for more on why I liked that game just fine) used a similar system by which alienating your allies could be just as useful as embracing them. Alpha Protocol did a lot of things I hope to see in future RPG games, but this is one of the most interesting and I'm glad to see it used in a game that's guaranteed some level of success. Hopefully it'll catch on in other games so being a jerk can still pay off.
Better, Stronger, Faster
I've only played through DA:O once, despite loving the living HELL out of the game. This is because it's so laboriously paced that I can't see putting ANOTHER sixty to eighty hours into it while I still want to play other games. Part of this stems from the combat which, by Bioware's own admission, takes from Baldur's Gate 2, which was itself an extremely slow-paced game as it had to adhere closely to the Dungeons and Dragons system. That Dragon Age II is taking a much more brisk pace to the combat, including attack animations and "charge" moves that get characters into melee combat with a quick strike, is a welcome change. I understand the desire for a throw-back, but a game that was made a certain way out of necessity and one that was made that way stylistically are very different.
There's nothing much negative to say about the game, other than I really hope it doesn't hitch and load as much in the final version, but I really love what they've changed. They seem to be shooting for the same tone while not just resting on the incredible sales of their previous iteration. That's something I admire about Bioware: they're not afraid to change a formula netted them great sales, even if it means potentially alienating a few users. Bioware seems to have paid close attention to the flaws of the original and taken real steps to fix them. I'm more excited for this game than ever, which is pretty much the point of a good demo.