In my first playthrough, I went with a male warrior Hawke. I decided to take the consequences of my choices and not go back to earlier saves if something happened I didn't want -- the only exception was when I (accidentally) started a romance with Anders while I was gunning for Merrill. (What can I say, I outrageously flirted with anyone. "A luxury problem" was thus created, as they would say at TNJ.)
I didn't expect the story that I got. I had expected Hawke to become a Warden somewhere during the game (perhaps during/after the Deep Roads expedition) and having to quell a minor Blight. But that was not the case: the theme is the fight between the mages and the templars -- when the third act started, I realised the two angry-looking characters in the title screen were not just random passer-by's, but Grand Mage Orsino and Knight-Commander Meredith. As such, the set-up with the three acts is pretty neat: during the first act you find the Lyrium Idol, during the second act you rise to power in Kirkwall, and during the third act you have to deal with the fall-out between Orino and Meredith.
I also liked the idea of playing in a story that Varrick tells to the Seeker. Some scenes you play twice: there are two occasions when the Seeker probes Varrick for what really happened, and then you play through the scene again -- often much less epic. ;)
But the choices you make don't have a major impact on the story, like they did in DA:O. It's all pretty linear, and you're on a conveyor belt that brings you towards the inevitable conclusion. And it's not like you have a real choice between the mages and the templars: all through the story you are pushed to feel sympathy for the mages. Heck, you even get three mages among your companions!
The side quests are amusing. However, pretty much everything is solved in only one way: by slaughtering everyone. There is a large number of quests that could have been resolved if people would just listen and talk instead of immediately starting to fight. Heck, I tried to be sympathetic to the Dalish clan on the mountain, but in the end I had to slaughter every single one of them because they decided they had enough -- instead of listening to the group of adventurers that are armed to the teeth. That just made no sense, and while I liked the XP, I derived no sense of accomplishment from that senseless slaughter. And there are more occurences like that: you walk in somewhere to investigate, and the assembled people attack you on sight.
With Dragon Age:Origins, I played every origin story and played it through a second time -- just because I wanted to make different choices the second time around. With DA2, I don't feel the need to do that: looking through the walkthroughs, it seems I already hit most of the side quests. Perhaps in a few months I'll return to the game, but for now I've seen enough.
I liked it, but it's not as epic and deep as Dragon Age:Origins. But I do want to play DA3 now, because I know what the setup is, and I'm curious as to how it will work out.