Dragon Age Origins: Awakening

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Dragon Age Origins: Awakening is the first proper expansion pack to the hugely successful RPG from last year. There’s no doubt that Dragon Age Origins is a modern RPG classic that harkens back to the glory days of traditional RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate II and Neverwinter Nights. One of the reasons why fans kept going back to these games were the many expansion packs that were released in subsequent years. Although Bioware offered quite a few DLCs for Dragon Age Origins, none of them actually add significant content to the game. Awakening however offers a pretty decent chunk of gameplay and an all new storyline in addition to some interesting gameplay tweaks. But does it live up to the quality of the original game? Unfortunately, the answer to that isn’t as easy as a simple yes or no.

The game picks up right after the events of Dragon Age Origins. The Archdemon has been defeated, the darkspawn are retreating and you are now the new Commander of the Grey Wardens. Awakening lets you import your existing character from Dragon Age: Origins, in which case most of your equipment and decisions are carried over into the expansion. But if you do not wish to import, it also allows you to create a new level 18 character. As expected the overall experience is definitely better with an imported character than a new one. However, this is also where I encountered my first problem with Awakening. If your character had any of the downloadable armor or equipment at the end of Dragon Age: Origins, chances are, it will be lost. What’s even worse is that if your character was actually wearing said armor he or she will start the game practically in their undies. It’s actually pretty hilarious since the game starts off with a combat scenario.

I was also able to duplicate one of the supposedly unique armors because I had it on a returning party member at the end of Dragon Age Origins. But it was also in my backpack when I loaded my character into Awakening. So I ended up with two copies of an armor that was supposed to be unique according to the in-game codex, which was rather weird. Minor import issues aside, Awakening plays rather well. In fact the combat plays out better than it did in Dragon Age Origins. There are no odd difficulty spikes and you won’t be constantly punished for rushing into battles unprepared. The overall difficulty level seems relaxed when compared to the original game. The game also introduces two new specializations for each class (in addition to the existing ones) along with a handful of new talents and skills. Add to that the ones carried over from the original game and you have an impressively large number of options to customize each of your party members. By the time I was halfway through the game my quick slot bar was stretched all the way across the screen.
As far as the core gameplay goes Awakening sticks pretty close to the original game, which is a good thing. However when it comes to the plot and narrative it definitely falls short. One of the strong points of Dragon Age Origins was its epic sprawling storyline full of morally ambiguous decisions and interesting characters. Much of the expansion however feels like a routine mission for the newly appointed Commander of the Grey Wardens. Don't get me wrong, as an expansion pack it stands well on its own, it just doesn't match up to the original. Some of the new characters are interesting though, especially Anders, the wisecracking mage and another character who actually happens to be the son of one of your enemies from the first game. The random banter between your party members is hilarious as usual but sadly repeats a lot here, unlike the original game. You'll also meet a few of your former allies at various points in the game but they all have very minor roles and have no impact on the story.

There are a decent number of side-quests that you can undertake in addition to the sufficiently long main quest. The whole thing should take you anything from around 20 to 25 hours to complete depending on how much time you spend doing side-quests and other random stuff, which is pretty decent for an expansion pack. As the Commander of the Grey Wardens you'll also be tasked with running and maintaining Vigil's Keep which is the Grey Wardens' new base of operations. This includes doing various side quests, collecting items, investing money in its infrastructure and also playing judge when residents come to court with their problems. This element of the game feels a lot like the whole Villa mechanic from Assassin's Creed II and offers some fun distraction between quests.

Overall Dragon Age Origins: Awakening is a decent expansion pack to one of the best games from last year. It does however feel a little rushed and rough around the edges. The plot is nothing to write home about and the narrative lacks the charm of the original. But if you really loved Dragon Age Origins and are itching for some more bloody RPG goodness, it's worth a shot. So long as you don't go into it expecting another epic ride, you should be able to enjoy what it has to offer.

Published Date: Apr 08, 2010 12:06 pm | Updated Date: Apr 08, 2010 12:06 pm