To date, I’ve beaten Dragon Age: Origins four times. Yep, that’s four entire work weeks devoted to slaying Dragons, Mages, and evil Darkspawn. There was something special about the way Bioware handled morality in Dragon Age that kept me hooked: it wasn’t just a simple matter of black and white. That concept inspired me to create as many characters as possible, and each time, the game played out in a completely different way.
Awakening seeks to capture the essence of Origins in the form of a $40 expansion pack. Read on to find out if Bioware’s newest offering is a simple rehash, or an entirely new game.
The story isn’t just some side quest; it’s literally the next chapter of the Dragon Age saga, and takes place directly after killing the Archdemon in Origins. In a nutshell, Awakening seeks to answer the question at the end of Return of the Jedi: “what happened to all those Star Destroyers [Darkspawn] after the Emperor [Archdemon] died?” As expected, they split into different warring factions, and started to wreak havoc in every way possible.
While Awakening’s story is fleshed out in it’s own right, just like Mass Effect 1 and 2, your decisions from Origins won’t really carry over in an incredibly noticeable way. You’ll briefly meet either Allistair or Loghaine’s daughter, and that’s about it. Hardcore gamers yearning for the fate of Morrigan (or most of your old party, for that matter) will be disappointed, as she is nowhere to be found in the expansion.
But that’s fine with me, as Awakening has many of its own choices, some of which are more palpable than anything found in Origins. Awakening is a bit of a departure from Origins’ theme of servitude, as you’ll be calling most of the shots this time around. As the resident Warden Commander, you’ll have to make tough decisions as to where to allocate your troops, how to deal with traitors, and whether or not to invoke the right of conscription on potential party members. You’ll be on the edge of your seat when you make them go through the joining (a ceremony that could potentially kill them).
Now, I didn’t find Origins to be that difficult, but Awakening is fairly challenging from the get go; and for a few hours, while you continue to accumulate expansion gear, the game will continue that challenge. That is, until you acquire your first full equipment set and re-specialize your talents for Awakening, at which point the game ceases to be formally difficult, even on the Insanity setting. The reason for this is due to the sheer power of the new armor sets, and the fact that Bioware somehow succeeded in making Mages even more powerful than they already were in Origins, as well as jacking up the proficiency of warriors and rouges.
The new skills (around forty) and specializations (two more for each class) are extremely powerful; and in some cases, cheap. For instance, you’ll find that Archers, who previously only had one crowd control ability, now have two more very potent crowd skills. You’ll also find a healthy serving of “temporary invulnerability” moves for all classes. Now more than ever, all classes have access to completely debilitating crowd control moves, meaning at any point a Mage could put five or more enemies completely out of commission for around fifteen seconds, and automatically replenish mana while he’s doing it.
I was really excited when I heard Bioware claim that Awakening was around “thirty hours or more”, but that really isn’t the case. After twelve hours, I defeated the final boss, and after around fifteen, I had everything done. Some gamers might work slower and get in the neighborhood of twenty hours, but at $40, the price is right provided you plan on playing the game again at some point in time.
Awakening is disconnected from Origins enough to really justify it’s existence, so don’t pass it off as a simple “DLC pack”. On a personal level, I like the characters better, I like the more streamlined approach, and there are a ton of extra abilities and play styles to choose from – but from a technical standpoint, Origins is a better game.
Reviewer’s note: Awakening can either be purchased as a retail disc, or digital download, and is not compatible with items from the Blood Dragon Armor DLC, Warden’s Keep DLC.
Similar to the original, Awakenings isn't going to win any awards for technical achievement, but the worlds are beautifully designed, and the characters are more interesting looking this time around.
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Dragon Age is back and better than ever, with a ton of new skills and specializations to customize your party with.
The soundtrack doesn't really make it's own mark on the franchise, and some of the voice overs leave much to be desired.
Awakening will only last you around fifteen hours on average, but like Origins, you'll definitely want to replay it and make different choices.
If you enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, I strongly suggest you buy Awakening.