Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening Review
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Mar 16, 10 (released)
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Dragon Age: Origins rightfully claimed two honors in our 2009 Game of the Year Awards. It was named the best game of 2009 by our readers and chosen as the best role-playing game of that same year. We saw Dragon Age: Origins as one of the most crucial releases last year. Not only was it an immersive and thrilling experience, but it also reinvigorated the dwindling scene of single-player RPGs. Great characters, an exciting story, old-school RPG gameplay mechanics and plenty of moral choices along the way. Those are the key ingredients of any BioWare game and Dragon Age proved to be no different. The Canada-based development showed that old RPG formula still works - the same old formula demonstrated in some of the company's earlier work such as Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Achieving both critical and financial success, Dragon Age received a few rounds of downloadable content, eventually leading to BioWare's announcement of a full expansion pack.
Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening continues the story of the original, delving deeper into the secrets surrounding the Darkspawn. Ferelden had barely pulled through the Blight and the devastating attack of the armies of the Archdemon. After the great battle at Denerim, the fleeing Darkspawn ended up in the land of Amaranthine. Trying to rebuild and reorganize the Grey Warden order, you head to Vigil's Keep. Upon your arrival you witness the inhabitants being slain by a group of Darkspawn. Clearing out the Keep, you are named the Warden Commander and must fully assume the duties as the Arl of Amaranthine. Apart from recruiting new Grey Wardens, you'll have to ensure Vigil's Keep is properly protected from potential attacks, while dealing with various political matters as the Arl.
I'm about to torch me some Darskspawn.
Hey, the battle's this way!
The story in Awakening kicks off in a classic RPG manner. The introduction throws you immediately into battle and gives you a chance to level up your character (provided you haven't reached the specific character level in your Dragon Age playthrough). There are a few options here. It's possible to import your character from a desired Dragon Age save game or you can select one of the game's preset high-level heroes. Alternatively, you can create a completely new character. Of course, such options are your only choice if your character died at the end of the original game.
In a rather unexpected move, the writers decided to toy around with the Dragon Age lore a bit. There was a sort of mystical appeal surrounding the whole ritual of becoming a Grey Warden. Coinciding with the effort to recruit Grey Wardens, the game shows many characters going through Joining. By the end of the game, everyone was a bloody Grey Warden, consequently undermining the importance of your own initiation into the order. Sure, you are named as the Commander of the Grey Wardens, but seeing all those characters going through the Joining was in some way discouraging. Eventually, I expected to find Darskspawn blood in taverns and shops. ("Ale anyone? Wine? Or perhaps this delicious mug of Darkspawn blood? Get drunk then become a Grey Warden!")
Okay, it's a minor discomfort when you play the game. But I just had to nitpick in this instance.
After a thorough playthrough of the previous game, I decided to use my powerful Mage and import him into Awakening. Key decisions made during the first game caused repercussions in the world. Some of these repercussions may bring one or two familiar characters your way. I won't get into the details too much, so as not to spoil things for you guys. Suffice it to say, for those who enjoyed their time with Dragon Age: Origins, the expansion pack will offer a number of pleasant surprises in the form of side-quests, guest appearances of familiar characters, etc.
In addition to discovering the location of Vigil's Keep, the introduction gives you a chance to get acquainted with some of the new NPCs and companions. It takes a few hours of gameplay to see some of the changes BioWare made in the game. Whether these changes are good or bad will depend on your perspective. Some of the innovations include a variety of new-fangled items. I found a few of these items to be quite useful, such as Stamina Draughts and Stamina potions. Timely use of these potions definitely helps during intense battles. These potions may not sound like much, but they seem to bring a balance to the gameplay for players who may have found Dragon Age too difficult. In fact, the difficulty of the initial game turned out to be the source of many complaints from the fan base and it's clearly something BioWare intended to alter this time around. So, you may find that Awakening is generally an easier game than its predecessor. Elite Darkspawn and formidable enemy characters such as High Dragons and similar entities are a bit less resilient to damage it seems.
8.2 Very Good
The plot offers some interesting eye-openers and explanations giving you a chance to get deeper into the Dragon Age universe, a satisfying range of new skills, spells and items;
Bugs that aren't too serious but should still be ironed out, characters not as compelling as in the first game, veteran gamers might feel inclined to move the difficulty up a notch or two, although the plot is generally good there are some moments that disappointed us.