Okay, some caveats:
- I personally loved the story of Mass Effect 1 (despite what I now acknowledge is some super clunky combat, UI, and inventory issues)
- I’m old
I loved the heck out of Dragon Age: Origins and Awakenings. The only Anders I acknowledge is the one from Awakenings. The thing in DA2 is #notmyAnders. Your mileage may vary. I liked the pausable tactical combat (and the ability to muck about with combat scripting if that’s your jam), and the ability to gear out your companions the way you want (I’m looking at you DA2), and of course the Grey Warden story is something I find really compelling. Much more so than Hawke’s journey in DA2 and more than the Inquisitor, though that was closer to being a Warden.
So, for my money, it’s: play DA:O + A, watch some YouTube videos and read a wiki for DA2 to catch up with our chronicler Varric Tethras, play DA:I but don’t get bogged down in the Hinterlands, and make sure to get to the end of the final DLC.
At a minimum, if only to satisfy your Bioware-superfan-friends, read a totally spoilerific wiki-history of Thedas. They did some really cool world building here.