Dragon Age: Origins was unleashed on the world three years ago and received significant praise from many major video game and media outlets upon its release. Two years following, BioWare released its sequel, Dragon Age 2, that was shown to have some significant improvements from its predecessor, the most important being the inclusion of a voice for the protagonist. However, having given the main character a voice, we're restricted to the Human race. While Dragon Age 2 was originally believed to have been a continuation of Origins, the player finds themselves introduced to Hawke (Garrett or Marian, default names for the male and female, respectively), a character of nobility and honour, who's fleeing Lothering from the darkspawn of the Fifth Blight. Naturally, as this is the same setting and time period as Origins, one can assume Hawke's adventures are occurring parallel to that of the Warden's (protagonist from Origins). It's also learned that Hawke's mother, Leandra, is related to the Magi Warden of the Origins game, should you import such a save from the previous game. Hawke, who arrives in the city of Kirkwall as a lowly refugee, soon becomes its legendary champion over a turbulent decade of political and social conflict.
Gameplay in Dragon Age 2 is quite similar, but rather different than its predecessor. It's still a hack and slash role-playing game, but there's more involvement of the player during combat--instead of just pressing a button or two to issue commands, you're actually required to button-mash, so to speak. During the introductory customization menu, the player decides the given name, gender, appearance and combat specialty of Hawke. Hawke can be either a warrior (who wields sword, axe, mace and shield), a rogue (who wields daggers or a bow and arrow) or a mage (who wields a magical staff and uses magic).
As with Origins, the player is not only in control of Hawke. From the very start of the game, you're given access to several companions who accompany Hawke in and out of battle. You may choose up to three companions to bring along, while the rest remain in reserve. Hawke's companion characters are Bethany, his/her sister, Carver, his/her brother, Aveline, Varric, Fenris, Merrill, Isabela, and Anders. The Exiled Prince expansion pack adds an interesting character named Sebastian. These characters have their own dedicated background and plot.
As seen in Origins, after a battle, the player may loot the enemy for money and equipment. Battle also yields experience which can be used to unlock new combat abilities for each character. Outside battle, the player gets to control Hawke's interactions. When a dialog occurs, the player gets to choose what Hawke asks or answers.
As seen in Origins, after a battle, you may loot your enemies for money and equipment. Combat also gives experience which can be used to unlock combat abilities and specialities for each character. Outside battle, the player gets to once again, control the main character's interactions. However, instead of choosing from a select choice of dialogue as in Origins, the player now chooses Hawke's response from personality icons, and depending on your situation, you'll see quite a different number of them, such as:
⇢ Diplomatic/Helpful: Light Green Highlight/Light Blue Highlight (Olive Branch/Angel Wings with Halo)
⇢ Humorous/Charming: Purple Highlight (Comedy Mask/Diamond)
⇢ Aggressive/Direct: Red Highlight (Fist/Hammer)
There's also a few special options, similar to the Paragon/Renegade checks in Mass Effect. Such as...
⇢ Combat (Crossed Swords) which initiates combat and ends any further dialogue--a good way to shut someone up.
⇢ Call on Companion (Glowing Head Silhouette) which calls on a specific companion to chime in and help resolve the issue in a, usually, non-violent or profitable solution.
⇢ Flirt (Glowing Yellow Heart) engage with a companion in an amorous or suggestive manner. Flirting is the only way to instigate a potential romance.
⇢ End Romance (Glowing Red Broken Heart) Used to reject a romantic proposition from a companion or end an existing romance.
...and many more.
Saved information can be imported from Dragon Age: Origins as well as the expansion, Dragon Age: Awakening. This data will affect the background story of Dragon Age II.
Overall, Dragon Age 2 is a brilliant sequel to an amazing predecessor, and I'm much looking forward to Dragon Age 3.