Game review: Dragon Age Origins: Awakening
An expansion pack to one of the best RPGs is out. With an improved combat system and lots of new skills, fun days are here again.
Dragon Age Origins: Awakening is the first proper expansion pack to the hugely successful role playing game (RPG) from last year. There's no doubt that Dragon Age Origins (DAO) 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 was the many expansion packs that were released in subsequent years. Although Bioware offered quite a bit of downloadable content (DLC) for DAO, none of it added much to the game. Awakening, however, offers a pretty decent chunk of gameplay and an all-new storyline in addition to some interesting tweaks to the gameplay.
Does it live up to the game?
The answer to that isn't as easy as a simple yes or no.The game picks up right after the events of DAO. 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 DAO, so if you exercise that option, 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 is to be 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 armour or equipment at the end of DAO, chances are, those will be lost. That holds true even if your character was actually wearing that armour. Expect them to start the game practically in their undies. Too bad the game starts with a combat scene.
I was also able to duplicate one of the supposedly unique armours because I had it on a returning party member at the end of DAO besides having it in my backpack when I loaded my character in Awakening. Two copies of an armour that is supposed to be unique according to the game's codex, is rather weird. Keeping those minor import issues aside though, Awakening plays rather well.
In fight mode
The combat plays out better than it does 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 isn't as bad compared to the original game.
Two new specialisations have been introduced 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 customise 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.
A story and its plot
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 DAO 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 always but a bit repetitive, unlike the original. 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 between 20 to 25 hours to complete.
As the Commander of the Grey Wardens you'll also be given the task of running and maintaining Vigil's Keep, which is the Grey Wardens' new base of operations. This includes various side quests like 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.
All said and done
Dragon Age Origins: Awakening is a decent expansion pack to one of the best games from last year. It feels 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 RPG action, it's worth a shot. Just don't go into it expecting another epic ride and you should be able to enjoy what it has to offer.
What we like
* Adds a significant amount of gameplay
* Combat flows better and feels less punishing
* Some of the new characters are fun
What we don't
* Feels rushed
* Lacklustre story
* Some technical issues and bugs
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