Genre: Role Playing Developer: Publisher: EA Classification: MA15+ Consumer Advice: Strong Violence
Release Date: 16th Mar 2010 Platforms:
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In this day and age, we tend to expect expansion packs and DLC to either eclipse their parent title, or - and this is much more likely, wallow in mediocrity and downright failure. Developers have spoiled gamers, add ons like Mask of the Betrayer, The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Secret Armory of General Knoxx are outright better than the original games, to the point where the vanilla title feels almost worthless without them. On the other side of the coin, the expansions
and DLC that don't wow or impress us are usually barely worthwhile - either entirely forgettable (most of the DLC for Fallout 3) or downright insulting (MW2's incoming stimulus pack.)
Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening is an anomaly then, it adds nothing amazing to the Dragon Age franchise - in some places it even falls behind the original title, but if you enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, it won't disappoint. It's about perception - these days, modification or additional content generally comes in the form of DLC, and expansion packs are saved for the big graphical and game changing upgrades. Awakening is too big for the DLC format however - and making it stand alone makes the lack of major upgrades forgivable.
Awakening can be played as a stand-alone title, or you can import your character from the first game. Importing is definitely the best option if available, allowing you to retain your character's stats and (non-DLC) gear, and the story advances in different directions depending on your playthrough. You are given the option to refocus your skills and start from scratch too - a good option if you were a mage in your previous playthrough and you'd actually like a challenge this time around.
If importing a previous character isn't an option, you start the game as an Orlesian Grey Warden, sent to take command of Vigil's Keep. As a new character you start at level 18, with some fairly basic equipment and only the basic specialisations unlocked. Your new character's Orlesian heritage actually has one of the more interesting effects on interaction with other characters, especially with the nobles in your court.
When it comes to imported characters effecting story and dialogue choices, it's no longer possible to avoid a comparison to Mass Effect 2, and Awakening doesn't compare. It's disappointing, but it's not a major flaw - there are just some points throughout the game where your previous actions seem like they might have had more influence on the events - how you interacted with your previous party members being a prime example.
The only character from your previous party joining you on this quest is Oghren - although most of the others make appearances at different times. Instead you are joined by four new people, and while they all have their own stories to tell, they just aren't as interesting as your old team. You can still give them gifts to unlock new conversations and abilities, but it doesn't seem as important as it was in Origins.
While it may have faltered on character interaction, the overall story definitely lives up to the standard set by its predecessor. While you are still a Grey Warden, and tasked with fighting the darkspawn menace, you also rule the land of Amaranthine, and you have to outwit the machinations of the locals - who are not too happy with your command. Keeping the arldom happy requires some amount of diplomacy - a welcome addition to the game.
The level cap has been raised to 30 for Awakening, and new skills, specializations and abilities have been added to go with it. A character with the Runecrafting skill can create runes (amazingly), although they still need to be added to weapons and armour by an enchanter. Two other new skills add boosts to health and stamina - definitely welcome additions for some characters. The new abilities make non-mage characters worthwhile additions to the party - to the point where a decent build will make any class a force to be reckoned with.
Two new tiers of weapons and armour have been added, with stats that make your high level gear from Origins look pathetic. Along with this are a plethora of new traps and salves, which prove very useful in the larger battles. Thanks to these additions, the battles - which were awesome enough in their own right in Origins, are now something to look forward to - especially in the end game when you switch
between decimation and scraping through by the skin of your teeth.
If you enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins, you will enjoy Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening (even if you don't enjoy typing it out.) On the same note, if you didn't enjoy Origins, you aren't going to think any better of Awakenings either - it doesn't add anything, but it doesn't make any serious mistakes, and it's just more of the same. For your money you get about 15 hours worth of gameplay in a single playthrough, and while that seems a little light in comparison to Origins, it's a decent price for a stand alone expansion pack on a console.