The Blight has reached you, Hawke, and your family in Ferelden. You must escape or face death as the Darkspawn horde marches forth. You must protect your mother, sister, and brother as you try to make it to Kirkwall. Unfortunately, tragedy meets you on the road. You meet Aveline while you are fleeing. Her husband, a Templar named Wesley, has been mortally wounded and has the blight. As you near the end of your escape, you lose one of your siblings. Flemeth arrives and promises you safe passage if your preform a small task. With no hope of escape otherwise, you agree. Was the loss of your sibling your fault? Will your family forgive you? Was Flemeth's deal worth it? Here your adventure begins! Sort of.
All of this introduction is narrated by Varric Tethras as he is questioned by the Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast. The Seekers are a branch from the Templars, holding some autonomy. They are trying to determine how the war between the Mages and Templars in Kirkwall began, blaming you, the "Champion of Kirkwall".
This game has distinct acts, characterised by the passage of time. The first part of the game is securing your way into Kirkwall, which has closed its gates to refugees. You have family in the city and a eventually manage to get in, only to discover your family has fallen in stature. The fortune and estate that belonged to your mother's family, the Amells, is gone. You and your remaining sibling must pay for your way into Kirkwall by working for either mercenaries or smugglers.
For the rest of the game, you deal with the intrastate politics of Kirkwall. As your renown grows so does your responsibilities to the citizens of Kirkwall, eventually earning you the title of Champion of Kirkwall. You must attempt to keep the tensions between the mages and Templars at a minimum. As well, you have to try and keep the peace with the Arishok and his Qunari, who are trapped within the city.
From here the game opens up more, giving you free reign of Kirkwall and the few surrounding areas. This is also the time you being to recruit party members.
I really liked the characters in this game. Each is interesting and have a dinstinct personality. Some do not get along well with others within the party. To me, they were the best part of the game. Though I suppose an RPG should always have strong, memorable characters.
BioWare seems to have a habit of having their second title of a given franchise being the weakest. Hear me out. Yes, everyone hated Mass Effect 3's ending and felt betrayed but the game was still great! And yes, Mass Effect 1 has the Mako which is almost it's own sin. I am aware I called ME1 the weakest in my review but that was from an immersion perspective. Techincally speaking I feel ME2 is weaker.
In Dragon Age 2, we go from being a variety of characters, classes and back stories to being Hawke. You can be a female or male but you are still Hawke. Human Hawke. Ugh.
The first game was also much more open, which is shocking considering I ranted about how enclosed I felt given the map HUD you had to move through instead of being able to walk from one area to the next. You can only explore Kirkwall and a few areas surrounding Kirkwall. The environments repeat. The dungeons are all recycle, meaning the dungeons are all the exact same though some areas are open during some quests and not others. To me, it gave the game a very claustrophobic feel.
The only time there is any variety in the environments is with the DLC. This annoyed me. It felt like they put more effort into the settings of the DLC than they did the game. They are brighter, more colourful and varied! Why didn't they put as much care into the game itself? there were time constraints and deadlines but I was extremely disappointed.
In addition to this, the DLC has a significant impact on Dragon Age: Inquisition considering it is the only time you are introduced to the main antagonist. Inquisition also assumes that you've bought and played the DLC. Varric states that he and Hawke had fought Corypheus once before. As I didn't buy the DLC out of protest, I did get Sebastian's DLC with my game, I was utterly confused. It wasn't until Ken, Matt, and I were having drinks and talking about it that I realised it was DLC content and I hadn't played it.
Despite all of this, it's not that I think DA2 is a bad game. I feel there were limitations that should have been addressed before release but I still enjoyed it. The feedback the developers received from this game was what went I to making DA:I such a great game! They listened to fans and what we got in DA:I was worth the experience we had with DA2.
I still say give this game a shot. The characters are fun and you do get some epic battles. I just want you to know what you're going into, so you aren't extremely disappointed. Remember, after this came Inquisition which is full of nerdy, open area goodness!