In a dialogue, my character said something to the tone of "We cannot always predict the outcome of our actions, we can only try to do what's right."
If any sentence sums up Dragon Age II, that is it. Ever since Knights of the Old Republic, Bioware has thrived on making moral challenges. Do you help two lovers escape their families and live together, or do you bring the silly children back to their rivaling fathers. Do you lie for a guilty man and get him acquitted for murder in order to not provoke sanctions on your side in a war?
This game finally succeeds doing that very thing. No more light side/dark side, paragon/renegade points. Your companions will approve or disapprove of your actions based on their values, but the choices are yours and so are the consequences.
Several times during the game I've looked back and wondered what to do differently. Right off the bat one of your siblings die, which one depends on your choice of class. This sets the tone as your mother loses her first child.
Since then the game has felt like my choices shape the story around me. A dangerous Deep Roads expedition concludes the first act, your brother wants to come along and your mother does not want him to. You have no way of knowing if it's safer to leave him in town or bring him with you, but it will shape his destiny.
The story skips years ahead between acts, giving a clear feeling of progress and change while highlighting the constants of Kirkwall, seeing you change from refugee to respected citizen to revered champion. It's not all for the better though. The bigger the house, the more empty it gets, since people leave or die. I was struck by an overwhelming sadness at what Hawke was going through.
I can't remember any other game bringing me so completely into its world, making me this much emotionally invested in my character. Hell, I even sympathize with my enemies (the leaders, not the thugs), seeing that their actions are as understandable and unavoidable as my own.
Templars are afraid of and/or cruel to mages, leading mages to blood magic to break free from their oppressors, thus proving the fears had good foundation. A cycle which cannot be broken, and in which you must eventually come down on one side.
Combat's had an overhaul, things feel a lot tighter (and yes, I saw some autoattack toggle in the options, if you really want that thing). For the first time, I was enjoying playing a mage.
Potions are changed to restore a percentage of your health/mana/stamina rather than a set value, thus only one of each kind is needed. No more minor health potions that need to be gobbled non-stop, it now scales with your health.
Dungeons are repeated, both in the sense that "hey, I cleared this cave out three years ago, and now I'm back", but also in the less fortunate way that one cave looks exactly like another cave with one doorway sealed shut. I can look past this copy/paste shortcut though, since it's not really getting in the way of the story.
At the moment, Bioware is desperately trying to make games the respected art it can and should be, telling stories that could simply not be told through a book or film, a story that requires interaction. Dragon Age II, in that regard, is their biggest success yet. Buy it!