I am now almost, finally, finished with my first play through of Dragon Age 2. It's taken me a long time, playing in fits and spurts and just generally not really getting into it. At the prodding of a friend I'm pushing on through to try and finish the thing, and at this point I have a few things to say about the game.
The game certainly has many positive improvements over its predecessor. The graphics are better, the conversations are more interactive and the PC having a voice is nice. Streamlining the crafting system and removing the fatigue system were both solid quality of life improvements. Runes giving benefits based on the quality of the item they're slotted in is a big plus in my book. I also like that each companion has there own unique skill tree in addition to the ones every member of their class has. Overall, the game has been moderately enjoyable to play.
There's a "but" though. A really big one. More than one to be honest. Dragon Age 2 came out very quickly after the Dragon Age expansion, Awakenings. That suggests the game might have been rushed a little, and unlike typical Bioware games, that seems to be the case. There is a disturbing lack of polish to the game, and an annoying number of inconsistencies in stories and events. I haven't encountered too many actual bugs, but the game just feels very rough at times. I think DA2 could have benefited greatly by an additional 4-6 months in the oven. Even two or three more could have made a world of difference.
While I understand the reasoning behind having the text displayed on the conversation wheel differ from what the character actually says (repetition is boring) I've lost count of the number of times what Hawke says has absolutely no relation to the text I chose whatsoever. Saying the same thing in a different way is fine. Saying something different is not. Why give me a choice if my choice doesn't matter? Of course, that sort of comes back to the "number of inconsistencies" complaint I had earlier.
The combat has also been a disappointment for me. Sure it looks nice. It makes for some great promo videos. When actually playing though it's pretty monotonous. Whereas Dragon Age had an emphasis on highly tactical fights with small numbers of strong enemies and fairly frequent use of bosses, Dragon Age 2 has focused on massive brawls with large numbers of weak enemies, often coming in waves, and very few bosses. So in general the fights are easier (and thus more mindless) but take as long or longer (due to numbers and waves), and rarely culminate in anything as there are so few bosses. Ogres in Dragon Age were fearsome foes and the first battle with one was very difficult. Ogres in the sequel are pushovers who only manage to kill someone in a cutscene. I don't consider this an improvement.
Dragon Age was always somewhat "on rails" with only the illusion of an open, explorable world. DA2 has discarded the illusion and turned the game world into a series of compartments that are accessed through an overview screen. Kirkwall doesn't feel like a contiguous place to me, whereas Ferelden did. Well, closer to it anyway. So they divide the game into little boxes and then fail to take advantage of some of the benefits of doing that. The game world tends to be very unchanging, much like an MMO, and not at all like a highly instanced single player rpg. Once the dragon burns down the mines the equipment there burns forever. You can leave and go back as much as you like, and the fires just keep burning. It's bad enough in an MMO, but what excuse is there in a game like DA2? Laziness?
The single biggest issue I have with Dragon Age 2 though, is story. Or rather, the lack thereof. From a developer proposing to revitalize the MMO genre by bringing the story of it's single player games into the MMO format, Dragon Age 2 is surprisingly lackluster in the story department. Unlike the original game which featured an epic quest to stop the Blight while simultaneously taking down a traitor to the crown and installing a new king, DA2 has you mostly . . . running errands. The "story" of DA2 seems to be "the crap that Hawke had to deal with in Kirkwall over 5 years". Instead of a single overarching epic, we have dozens of little short stories. It's all very MMO-like.
Instead of injecting single-player story goodness into their MMO title, Bioware seems to have injected multiplayer quest blah-ness into their single player title. I can only hope that they'll take the time to make Dragon Age 3 a better game, and merge the aspects of the original game and its sequel that worked, rather than use Dragon Age 2 as the starting point, or worse yet, start from scratch.