- The Characters~ While they're not quite as strong as your party members in Origins, the NPCs you meet as Hawke are still just as colorful as in the first game. Varric, who narrates the story, reminds me in the best way possible of Cully Fredrickson's Rahm Kota from The Force Unleashed. He's snarky, witty, and just a bit lovable. Merrill, an Elven mage, is by far the most appealing of the romance-able companions. She's awkwardly unaware of human social norms to the point where it is completely adorable. My only complaint in this department is with Anders, who is a returning party member from Dragon Age: Awakening. They seem to have made him a lot darker than he initially was, and his cheerful, goofy personality is sorely missed.
- The Gameplay~ Before I say anything further, I'd like to note that I'm playing the Xbox version of the game. I have heard complaints from the Mac/Windows crowd that the game doesn't play very well on those platforms, and that may be the case. But in my opinion, the console version is just a blast. It is so much more satisfying seeing Hawke react every time I hit a button, instead of just initiating auto-attack and then a spell every now and then. Although the animations do get a bit repetitive, it's nothing that a long-time fan of Dynasty Warriors can't deal with.
- Hawke~ As much as I disliked Sheppard in the Mass Effect series, I have to admit that Hawke and I are getting along nicely, which is a first for a pre-voiced RPG character. I actually feel like she is my character this time, instead of a character whose appearance I just happened to create. Even though she doesn't behave exactly as I would, the choice of dialogue and voicing is usually pretty close. I just wish there was a little more variety in terms of the conversation options, but I'll be getting to that.
- Interactivity~ Remember in Dragon Age Origins where you could talk to your party whenever you wanted, and keep a relationship going at your own pace? No more. Now, when you want to talk to someone, you have to wait until you are prompted to do so by a quest. If the quest isn't active, all you get is some generic snippet of dialogue. I think, however that I know why this is. Having more opportunities for conversation would have required more time to record both Hawke's and the Companions' voices. Time that, all evidence according, they just didn't have.
- Level Design~ The areas that you explore with your party look great. Visually, they knocked this one out of the ballpark. However, outside of Kirkwall, I've only seen four or five unique areas, and those are reused into any number of supposedly separate locations. If it were any other game, I'd say the developers just go lazy, but I know that this is not the case.
A few days after the game came out, but before I had my copy in my hands, I read a bit of an interview with the game's composer, Inon Zur, on the news blog Kotaku. He was saying that the score itself had been a rush job, because EA (who owns Bioware) was trying to get the game out as quickly as possible to capitalize on the success of Origins. I wholeheartedly believe it.
The bottom line of this is review is this: I like Dragon Age II. It's a good game, but it could have been a great game. So EA, and all you other companies out there, stop pushing developers to have a game out too quickly. Good may sell just as well as great, but you'll have to deal with less complaining in the long run.