I think of all the games that should have been backwards compatible for the Xbox One, Dragon Age Two should have been right out a long time ago. I can understand why Origins might not be on the roster because its a two disk game and they're having problems with that technology right now, but Dragon Age 2 is a single disk game, and they've already got Inquisition readily available. But I digress. So in perpetration for when it (inevitably) becomes available on the Xbox again, lets see if we cant jog some memories and collectively reflect on how good the game actually was.
Of all the Dragon Age games, Dragon Age 2 is probably the one I've heard the most about in terms of watercooler talk. Good things, bad things, people have a lot to say about Dragon Age 2 even after all these years, I have friends that say it was (quote) 'streamlined re-use of environments and lack of ability or companion depth was what killed it. You had Origins which went was polished to the extreme straight to 2 which had waves of enemies coming from nowhere and the fixed major events, you could change things but nothing really changed.' Now there's a lot there, and quite a lot of valid criticisms but I still rank Dragon Age 2 as one of my favorite games to play, and here's why I recommend it so highly.
While Dragon Age Origins was a beautifully done game with its own set of pros and cons one of the things that I didn't so much like about the plot was that it was your basic cut-and-paste end of the world event. There was a big bad evil and only you could save it with your eccentric cast of characters. That's well and fine but not particularly inspiring. Dragon Age 2 focused on one man/woman, one refugee actually who had nothing. No special talents or skills, no grand task to save the world from an ancient evil, just a regular-ish fellow who you got to watch grow and develop over the course of a decade.
The characters are vibrant and had serious potential, on the same level as their Origins and Inquisition counterparts. The oblivious Elvish blood mage, the captain without a ship, and of course Varric, who many consider to be one of the most memorable figures that Bioware has ever created. Now I'll admit, I'm no fan of the system around them. I think that Dragon Age 2 should have absolutely transferred over the Dragon Age Origins companion interactions system, of being able to stop in the middle of the street and just chat about their life and the unlimited gifts instead of the 1-2 per Arc, it was what frustrated me most about the game because you've got a good cast and good writing for them.
Gameplay was streamlined, whereas combat in Origins was slow and at times tedious the sequel doesn't suffer that problem at all with a vastly improved system. However, the fact that the enemies just kind of came at you from behind cliffs and from out of doors didn't exactly help but I attribute this to poor level planning more than anything else and this is where most of the complaints seem to be found. The lack of overall originality that two suffers from in the sense that you see the same environments over and over again and there's not much you can do to make your Hawke feel like yours. There's no origin story and no way to change your race. (I know that on the PC there's a mod that lets you play as an Elf but it only affects cosmetics as far as I'm aware.)
I do like how the setting was reigned in somewhat. As I said earlier, this isn't a grand campaign to stop an ancient evil, it's a story bunch of refugees and scoundrels in it for themselves or some distinctly normal and relatable goals that slowly get dragged into something bigger than any one of them. The decision to focus in on one city was a good one in because it provided an excellent chance to make the game much more personal than three loosely connected individual arcs like in Origins. Ultimately I think the problem that Dragon Age 2 has is that while it can hold up on its own, the game is going to always be compared back to Origins and it just cant beat Origins. Origins is the more polished experience of the two and people often underestimate the power of nostalgia gamers feel for their beloved titles.
Now, with all of this in mind remember, that because of the massive success of Origins the development team only had twelve full months to make the game. That's about one year for the story, the graphics, finding the voice actors, everything. That might be fine for a Call of Duty title, but if you're making a Role Playing Game you generally want more time to get your house in order before sending it out to the fans. Given the time and the resources that were at the teams disposal I think they did a pretty damn good job. To compare, Origins was in and out of development for eight years.