Dragon Age 2 definitely has a feeling of being rushed. There is a lot of potential in many of the design decisions, but they didn't quite follow through. This is of course in addition to the obvious cut corners and lazy design elements. Major spoilers from this point on.
This is something that started in Dragon Age: Origins, though mostly in the DLC and it's largely forgivable given where it occurs in the vanilla game. For example, some areas are re-used in DA:O, but these areas are actually cut off chunks of larger areas seen elsewhere in the game and are one-shot deals, such as killing one of the rogue leaders ("D" or "K") in Denerim. Those fights are in sections of larger areas and it's a relatively minor quest that many may not see or do. This habit is seen all over the DLC however. Return to Ostagar has it right in the title, but Darkspawn Chronicles, Witch Hunt, Leliana's Song, and Golems of Amgarrak did this as well. They borrowed areas from Origins and Awakening, depending, to suit their needs. This I find acceptable for DLC, especially when that is the point such as in Return to Ostagar. They wanted to pump out DLC and re-using environments theoretically would free up time either to make the DLC better or release it earlier. Stone Prisoner and Warden's Keep were the only ones with fully unique areas and those were release day DLC (Stone Prisoner being a cut part of the game too), meaning we don't know how long they were actually in development.
This seems to be a trend with BioWare lately and makes me think a shorter development cycle does them no favors. They spent a long time on DA:O and it shows. The game is large, many parts polished, and epic in scope. The seemingly blinding speed in which they developed DA2 also shows. Some of their ideas were great and given another year would have made DA2 an immensely better experience, but instead a lot of these ideas are half-realized at best.
I will say that I like the designs of DA2. Settings look good and are well-designed. The problem comes with the mind-boggling amount of repetition. I can see houses being very similar or identical, as they are constructed and sticking to one plan for many places speeds up building. There is however no reason that all the caves look exactly the same, but with possibly an un-openable door blocking off a section of it. This was definitely done to save time. Whether it was for laziness or to put design manhours elsewhere, who knows. There is no attempt to hide this and the obviousness of it borders on insulting. If just they had the time to work on all the caves and buildings and such like they did with places like Kirkwall or the deep roads, then this game would not feel so repetitive.
Companion Friendship / Rivalry
I love this system. The idea that the people you associate with respect you either way and you can have fights with them and still be "friends" rather than having to simply please them all the time is great. Unfortunately, that is only the way it works with a few characters I've discovered so far. In Mass Effect 2, some of the "renegade" options weren't so much in the original spirit of the renegade and were just plain asshole things to do for no reason. With some characters here, that's what you get again. You aren't simply respectfully disagreeing and trying to convince them of your point of view, which leads to becoming rivals due to differing viewpoints. You're just sometimes really rude. It goes against the idea of friendship / rivalry and slips back into approval / disapproval or worse, like / hate. There is no reason for your teammates to stick with you at the end of the game, assuming 100 rivalry, if you've been a jerk to them the entire game to do so. The idea as I see it has been one of respect regardless of view point. For some reason or another, party member X respects Hawke and would follow him / her to whatever end, but they might not always agree with Hawke or maybe just Hawke's methods. Instead, with some characters, you are mean to them or bully them the whole game and they stick with you for incredibly flimsy reasons. The mutual respect is not there.
A character I think works well in this regard is Merrill. You take her from her tribe regardless. You're the only group of people she knows in Kirkwall and she's far too socially oblivious or inept to grow outside of Hawke's circle. You can be her friend and agree with her, use demons and blood magic, etc. or you can try to talk her out of these things or condemn those practices to earn rivalry. She thinks of you as her friend because what else does she have there? But she sees your disagreements with her as you doubting her, not believing in her, etc. until Act 3 where she can see you were looking out for her all along. This is a great example of how the frienship / rivalry system should have worked for every character. You can also see this with your siblings, but they have the familial ties. You can fight with them, you can agree with them and smooth things over, but either way, you are family and stick together regardless of views.
Fenris on the other hand is a complete and utter asshole if you go rivalry and only mildly better if you're friends with him. I accept that he is a hard character, so to speak. He's definitely a black & white kind of guy and has his reasons. Being his friend does come across as ok to me, but if you are his rival he has nothing but vitriol and bile. In my dictionary, "rival" does not mean "jerk" necessarily, but that is apparently what it means to BioWare here. To be fair, I have not flip-flopped friend/rival-wise on Isabela, Anders, Varric, or Aveline yet through different playthroughs, but that's largely because several of the responses I would need to do so are basically insults, rather than simply having different viewpoints or priorities or being blunt, for example.
The problem is that some of it is half done. You get Merrill-like repsonses in some scenes or quests from other characters, but you got that high rivalry score because you told them to sod off when they brought you their problems or told them they were ugly or something. It's actually the opposite with Fenris. Siding with mages, being merciful, or telling him to put his past behind him leads to rivalry, but then he's a jerk to you. It's apparent this system CAN work, it just didn't always work in DA2.
The idea behind the combat was speed. BioWare made that clear from the start. They wanted combat to be fast, reactive, and have no delays between actions. Apparently they thought DA:O combat was overly slow and positioning awkward or something. Increased pace I have no problem with in particular, but the implemention missed the mark a bit.
When presented with a large group of enemies, you would want to destroy them as quickly as possible. How do you do that? By using your abilities. However, you are often starved for stamina / mana and cooldowns. If it's not one, it's usually the other. You can burn through all your abilities and take out every enemy on the map relatively easily, but then you run into the next problem: waves. What you see before you in each encounter is rarely all you will be fighting. Often another wave or two (or three or four) will appear afterward or even during the current wave. You are faced with clearing out the first wave quickly only to have auto-attacks at your dispoal for another wave. There are ways around this of course. You can stagger skill use, build beastly auto-attackers, or whatever. The problem however is that if you want the game to be quick and flashy, but limit the ability for it to be so, you are oddly cutting out what you wanted in the first place.
This essentially negates strategy. You can go after enemy mages or archers first and plan out how to deal with that first wave. This becomes moot when another wave materializes behind the healer you were trying to protect, far away from your tank because that is how the first (& only visible) wave was set up. Much of the "strategy" in DA2 comes from trying to survive the reinforcements that the Enterprise beams in when you aren't looking. In DA:O, anything you had to fight was on the screen (though rogues may have been stealthed), and you had to set things up, think about how to approach the fight and execute a plan. You don't need that beyond the first wave in DA2 and they usually die so fast it's nearly meaningless anyway.
The larger problem comes with prolonged boss fights where you might want to use your abilities to bring down the boss faster, but then you're left auto-attacking the boss when you lack the appropriate resource or everything is on cooldown. To me, it seems the combat would have been much more efficient and fun had you been locked by one or the other. Either make cooldowns the most important factor by a long shot or make managing your stamina / mana a bigger concern. Instead, you have to worry about both. Also, I can see why they made it wave-based: if you are cutting through enemies quickly and moving on to the next ones, then it seems like battle is going more quickly. You swing faster, you cast faster, you move faster, you kill faster...but with all the waves battles don't necessarily go all that faster overall. I would have preferred tougher enemies that required more finesse, crowd control, or massive dps mixed with some trash rather than trash wave after trash wave to artifically pad out fighting. That wasn't what they were going for however as it isn't action-packed and fast-paced. There has to be a happy medium somewhere I would hope. At the very least, the waves could have been made believable rather than just materializing out of thin air.
The biggest positive that I can say about the combat is that the new tactics system rocked if you took the time to figure it out and properly set up your companions. It would make a huge difference and you could spend less time micromanaging.
On a side note, not really having anything to do with wasted potential, all the crazy running around and especially rogue gymnastics just didn't seem very Dragon Age-y to me. It seemed more anime or Devil May Cry-like. DA:O was this gritty world where people moved like relatively normal people, though some were obviously more gifted in being shifty, agile, and crazy lucky. DA2 was pushing it for me though. We went from heavy armoured characters being slow and methodical to them being able to rush across the battlefield and cut a swatch through enemies. Not to mention Meredith... Just a bit odd.
BioWare made a big deal out of using the framed narrative technique in DA2, but they didn't quite use it much. There are only a few cutscenes with Varric and Cassandra that remind you that this is a story being told by the former. For the most part this feels more like a continual story about Hawke with a few interruptions to remind you that you are not in that time period. Maybe it shouldn't have factored in that much, as that might not have been their intention. A couple more of the "exaggerated" scenes would have been cool. All you get is the opening and then Varric's dealings with his brother in Act 2. A large part of the problems I have with this game could have been resolved if, for example, Meredith's flying about and bringing statues to life would have been one of these exaggerated stories and it instead turned out she was able to use the sword/idol to possess some templars or something.
What didn't work however was the time passage. If you take a series of videos or images from Act 3, you would not be able to tell the difference between those and any taken in the prologue or Act 1. Even though a good amount of time has passed from the beginning to the end of the game, nobody looks older, no buildings show wear, and so on. The only thing that lets you know that time has passed is characters saying "Hawke, how long's it been, x years?" or "How have the last x years treated you?" or "Remember when we did that thing x years ago?" It's not apparent that time has passed. This leads to the events of the game seemingly happening one right after the other. You KNOW that's not how things went, but it SEEMS like you go straight from the deep roads into a fancy house, lose your mother, kill qunari, and then have to sort out the mages and templars.
Other games that do this sort of time traveling mechanic, have done it much better. Places abandoned are overgrown with vegetation, people look older, kids have grown up, etc. DA2 however is more like Varric trying to tell you one of his tall tales. "No really, 3 years passed. Trust your pal Varric." The interludes between acts were ok and I liked the art style they used, as it was very book-like in that universe and matched the opening of DA:O in style a bit. Just another bit that lacked follow-through and attention to detail.
These were just a few examples of what I thought were good starts or concepts, but didn't quite become full fledged coherent and enjoyable systems. There was a lot of potential with what they changed and how they changed it. Everything has the start of something that could have been great, but unfortunately never reached that level. It makes me a bit sad to think that given more time, all these holes and wasted potential could have not been here and we'd have had a much higher quality product; that if they knew they had extra time, then corners would not have had to been cut, or at least not as obviously as the repeated dungeons. DA2 is what I expect from a $20-30 game, which is what I paid, but BioWare should be aiming for my $60 instead and making something with the polish a sequel to DA:O deserves.