Dragon Age - Awakening Review
Despite its steep price tag, Awakening proves to be an excellent continuation of the story of Origins thanks to its improved art direction and abundance of important decisions
If you look at the price tag alone, you would think that Dragon Age: Awakening lies somewhere between a full game and an expansion. While this is partially true in that Awakening is as long as most full priced games, you still need to have Origins installed in order to play the game, which seems a bit odd in this era of stand-alone expansions. Considering that other recent expansions that retail for the normal $30 are just as long, if not longer than Awakening, the $40 price tag seems a bit steep, but seeing as how the game offers a direct continuation of the story that ended with the slaying of the arch-demon in Dragon Age: Origins, fans of the original would do well to pick this game up as the quality of gameplay is just as high as it was with the original.
Awakening picks up where Origins left off – the Arch Demon has been slain and the blight should be over, but the Darkspawn are still around in high numbers, and they seem to be highly organized. It’s your job in this game to find out what is controlling these creatures, and while the plot might not be as grand or intricate as that of the original game, it is still extremely well told and has a good number of surprises. If you thought there were some tough choices to be made in Origins, Awakening has a few that will have you racking your brains and thinking hard in order to come to a decision – one in particular puts even the destruction of Megaton in Fallout 3 to shame. You are given the opportunity to import your character from Origins, or if you prefer build a new level 18 character from scratch when you start the game. The decisions you made in Origins don’t seem to affect how Awakening plays out much, which is a bit disappointing considering the continuity found in the Mass Effect series.
All but one of the characters in your party are new in Awakening, and for the most part the new members simply aren’t as interesting or memorable as those in Origins. Even now, after having just finished Awakening, I struggle to remember all the party members by name while I can still immediately recall the names and faces of those who traveled with you in Origins. One of your new party members in particular seems almost identical to Alistair in his mannerisms; I think he even has the same voice actor, which kind of signals that Bioware is running out of ideas on developing fresh characters. Still, other characters are extremely interesting and have great back stories, and the writing is consistently excellent for all of them, something that has come to be expected from Bioware.
Character development and leveling occurs much the same as it did in Origins, but with an increased level cap and a few new skill trees to work through. The party member like/dislike system works much the same as it did in Origins, but your squad members don’t seem quite as reactive and only change their opinion of you based on major decisions. Equipment that is better than what your characters already have is not as commonly found as in Origins; my hero used the same sword for the entire game, and only changed a couple pieces of armour. This is a welcome change because you spend less time dealing with the inventory, which while acceptable in design isn’t exactly a joy to use. There are still lots of random objects to pick up, and you will soon tire of the “inventory full” sign that pops up when you try and cram one more item into an already bursting inventory, which is especially apparent since all your items, and your party members items, from Origins carry over into the expansion. I start with a backpack that had 114/100 items!
Gameplay wise Dragon Age: Awakening is virtually unchanged from its predecessor, which is to be expected from an expansion. There are a few more large-scale battles, and there seems to be a bit more of a focus on action. There is no option for romance in this game, and there isn’t even a camp where you can go and talk to your party members. If you are so inclined you can basically move from combat scenario to combat scenario with barely any conversations in between. There are loads of side quests to do, most of which are high quality and will do a lot to lengthen the game, but if you just charge through ignoring side quests and sticking to the story Awakening can probably be finished in as little as 8 hours, a number which can easily be doubled if you spend some time on side quests.
While Dragon Age Origins was somewhat of a challenge on the normal difficulty, Awakening is extremely easy; I never had to reload an earlier save because of an overly difficult combat situation, and I never had more than one party member die in any given fight. If you liked Origins for its challenging tactical combat, you would do well to increase the difficulty setting above normal. The biggest problem that accompanies the toned-down difficulty is that you don’t really need to do anything in the majority of the fights – you can let your party members work for themselves while you sit back and watch. You can still of course micro manage and control each party member, but when this not a necessity it loses much of the charm that made the combat so entertaining in the original. For the most part the combat remains highly engaging, especially thanks to the abundance of grotesque enemy types that like knocking you down and feeding on your face, but this pathetic difficulty on the normal setting feels a bit out of place when the original was so challenging.
The locations you visit in Awakening are all new and mostly more visually interesting than those in Origins thanks to improved artistic direction, leading to a moodier and darker game than the original. Most quests outside of the two cities take place either at night or underground, which makes playing the game more tense and atmospheric. The primary new enemies you fight called “childers” are horrific to look at and often knock your character over and feed on their face, a sight which is genuinely disgusting. Awakening is definitely darker than Origins, which was already dubbed a ‘dark fantasy’ game.
The technical presentation remains wholly unchanged from Origins; the game looks good, but the engine is somewhat dated so it can’t compete with games using newer technology. Still, the visuals work well with the game and do nothing to detract from the experience. The voice acting is consistently excellent, and the musical score is the same one that was present in Origins, but given that it is a great soundtrack this is in no way a bad thing. Sound design isn’t exactly outstanding, but is far from bad.
While it seems a bit odd that the price of Awakening is 10 dollars higher than the usual price for expansion packs, the game is of high quality and is in fact as long as most full games given that you don’t rush through it. The fact that it provides a direct continuation of the story of Origins means that those who really enjoyed the original and want more should definitely check this game out, but if you didn’t like Origins, Awakening won’t do anything to change your mind.