First of all, I have to say that I was disappointed like many of you (i think) when DAII came out in 2011. Dragon Age: Origins was my favourite fantasy cRPG, which I replayed over and over until exhaustion (my last was with the Witcher mod just for a change...).
Then I played DAII a couple of times and put it on a shelf with an easy tag of "unremarkable".
Between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 I played Dragon Age: Inquisition and right after my second playthrough I have decided to give DAII another go. Here's what I think.
As much as I loved DA:O and I appreciate DA:I, I have to admit that even now - 7 years later - the story of Dragon Age II is a welcome change in a vast amount of cRPG focused in you "saving the world from a Great Big Evil". I remember that, when DA:O came out, that was one of the big criticism: another uninspired fantasy story about a guy becoming the Hero (of Ferelden). That wasn't much of a point for me but then I played DA:I and I see now how can be difficult to make things original and entertaining with this trite cliché.
Whereas Inquisition try desperately to get you attached to the story, DA:II it's all about Hawke. And the lessening in scope pays off in the end.
You are presented with the Hawke family, immigrants in Kirkwall, their struggle to survive, the desire to make a name for themselves and improve their lives. And in the end you feel the motivation of your character as your own. It's a modern and mature approach that is not for everyone's taste - that's for sure.
Within the limitation of the rushed development you see how Kirkwall (and Hawke's life) change in the span of several years. As I would love to see more changes based on the decisions I made during the acts, just seeing Hawke live in his/her family estate again was of great emotional impact for me.
The story is retold by Varric - a wonderful character - to seeker Penteghast. The game points to the fact that the dwarf is a professional storyteller and the story of Hawke is one of his best stories. And you know from the very beginning that not everything you see it's the truth.
The major problem is that in the end - Act III - you are just a glorious witness in a grand scale event in which you have little to no part. But storywise it's coherent nonetheless to the fact that, as much as you try to gain status in this world, there's always something that push you back. And this is I think it's the big message of the story of Hawke.
DA:O companions were superb in my opinion. I was a big fan of Morrigan and Alistair. I never truly trusted Zevran - not until the end. Oghren was a bit too much of a stereotype, but most enjoyable. And Shale was the best companion of all.
It's difficult to top the first game in this sector, but DAII succeed in some cases. Taking some of the minor characters of DA:O and DA:A - some of them nothing more than extras before -, DAII manages to reflect in them the awful and filthy place that is Kirkwall. And so you have:
Varric, a nice liar of a dwarf born on the surface and so he's not accustomed to walk underground;
Isabella, a scumbag sexy pirate who would sell her mother for a ship;
Anders, a possessed mage struggling to find balance with his identity;
Merril, an idiosyncratic elf which is outcast even among the Dalish.
But I have to admit, as much as they can be memorable, Fenris is the worst - maybe ever. And if you play mage - Carver too.
This level of unconventional is what makes Kirkwall real - very much like the real world, where there's not an hero behind every corner.
And that's exactly what makes Inquisition boring after a while.
Blackwall seems like a Duncan redux, but he's not.
Solas seems like a Wynne, but he's not.
Iron Bull seems like Oghren, but he's not.
And Cassandra is like a superbitchy Alistair.
And that's why I did team up with Dorian and Varric all the time...
Ok. If you followed me up until this point, now it's the time for you to hate me - maybe.
I hate Inquisition gameplay.
I tried to, but I cannot stand the new open world, full of boring side quests and time consuming battles that is Inquisition. Feels like a walking simulator some times. It's unnerving...
And when I played rogue on my second playthrough it's when I realized that DAII has a better pace. And Rogue in DAII is where the game shines. In Inquisition Rogue it's just tedious and doing so for 150 hours is what made me stop and give DAII another try.
In Kirkwall you have the same location re-used over and over and over, but at least you don't have countless of unnecessary and boring sidequests in beautiful settings.
The enemies in DAII spawn out of thin air, but you have a faster pace and tactical micromanagement of your party which is why I enjoy more my replay of a 7 years old game than a second playthrough of the acclaimed DAI.
DAII gameplay for me was an improvement of the DAO formula, whereas DAI seems to be inspired by MOBA games like League of Legends in which you have to click, click and just click endlessly to kill one poor bastard... Not for me thanks.
All in all Dragon Age II is not a perfect game. Far from it. Is it rushed? Not polished? Oh yeah, very much so. Is it enjoyable? Hell yes!