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Dragon Age Origins: Awakening Review

Genres: RPG
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: Bioware
Publisher: EA
Review Date: 31-3-2010
Review Platform: PC
Review Region: AU Available In Australia
Est Playtime: 12.5+ hrs
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Review By: Bradley Beeck

The archdemon leading the Blight has been destroyed but the Darkspawn have not returned to their tunnels. The Grey Wardens must rebuild quickly to face the continued threat they represent, which has been magnified by the presence of a new kind of Darkspawn. Thus the protagonist finds his/herself on the road to Vigilís Keep, as either the hero from the main game or a new Warden from Orlais.

dragon_age_awakening015It seems like there are two teams at Bioware, an A team and a B team. The A Team is doing Mass Effect, creating a vibrant interesting world where the playerís choices are written across the stars. While the B Team is doing Dragon Age, creating a dull knock off world where your choices are free to be ignored at the designerís whim. Thus we get Dragon Age Awakening, an expansion pack that has very little to do with Dragon Age Origins.

dragon_age_awakening027Iím being hard on Awakening but Mass Effect 2 has changed what I expect from games. I expect more than one party member, Oghren, to be playable in the expansion. I expect my items to be imported with my character and not have him appear naked (most DLC items are not imported). I expect the story to continue my epic adventure, intertwining past and present in interesting ways. And most of all I expect the game to actually work and not crash randomly every 20 or so minutes. Thereís no two ways about it, Dragon Age Awakening is one of the most bug ridden PC games Iíve ever played. Itís wholly unacceptable to pay $50AUD for something of this standard.

dragon_age_awakening025Now that Iíve got that out of my system lets get down to what Awakening actually does offer. There are three major quests in the mold of Origins, with numerous side quests tucked away in each area. The major quests also have the same moral ambiguity where itís not clear what the right decision is. This is a core appeal of Dragon Age but it doesnít extend to the side quests which are boring, consisting of A to B style quests. They also have almost no setup/context and the number of quests which are found by simply clicking on random objects is staggering. If you want to find them all youíll have to walk around holding down the tab key (highlights objects) because thereís no other way youíll be able to spot them.

dragon_age_awakening029There are five new NPCs, plus Oghren, to make up for the loss of your former party members. Anders is the star of the new NPCs, being a chip off Alistairís block and the charismatic comic relief of the party. Again party members work the same way as Origins, with gift giving triggering new dialogue. However each NPC has dialogue which is activated by clicking on objects in the environment, like statues and trees. Again you better hold that tab key. The other NPCs Ė Justice, Nathanial, Velanna, Sigrun Ė are decent but I thought Velanna was a missed opportunity. Sheís, well, an angry bitch who hates humans and they never took the time to make her sympathetic. And this is the same company that made Mordin, creator of a genetic disease in Mass Effect 2, sympathetic. I guess thatís the B Team for you. A big let down is that none of these NPCs are romancable and since none of the characters from the main game are on hand thereís no continuation either.

dragon_age_awakening021In addition to the new NPCs there are 3 new skills, 56 talents and spells and 6 specializations. Not to mention all the extra items that are included, many of which are sold by merchants. This is not a problem because money rains down from the sky in Awakening. By the end of it I had over 4 times the gold as I had at the end of Origins. Runes have also been expanded with the ability to craft them for use in weapon upgrades and for getting Blacksmith Wade to forge new items. Although Runes are just as unexplained as they were in Dragon Age Origins.

dragon_age_awakening036Story wise the concept of Dragon Age Awakening is perhaps better than Origins, but thatís not really saying a lot. However this is also where they sealed Awakeningís fate as a poor experience for veteran players. The alternate origin story - a Grey Warden from Orlais Ė meant to a large extent they had had to assume you hadnít played the main game. Why on earth they would think anyone would play an expansion pack (the retail console version is standalone) over the main game boggles the mind, but there you go.

dragon_age_awakening032Some of the premise Ė controlling a Keep Ė is actually very reminiscent of Baldurís Gate 2, with its fighter stronghold/deíArnise Keep. In BG2 that was only a possible quest and I feel like Awakening didnít even surpass that. The trouble is thereís next to no context or setup for any of the keep related activities. You just appear on the road to Vigilís Keep. You just suddenly preside over disputes and suddenly assign troops. Take BG2 where the entire quest line is like one big NPC quest, interplaying with your heroic victory and subsequent ownership of the keep.

dragon_age_awakening020The four months since Originís release hasnít done any favours to Awakening, itís as plain looking as ever. That and there are a lot of missing textures, but just add that to list of bugs this game has. Most of the music of Awakening is recycled from Origins, which is not a bad thing because that music is excellent. While Iím not sure if itís new the ending song to Awakening is also just as excellent.

Dragon Age Awakening was doomed from the start. The decision to have an alternate origin story with a Grey Warden from Orlais means they had to largely assume players hadnít experienced Dragon Age Origins. So veteran players were never going to get the kind of depth Ė building on what had been Ė they desired. The general lack of setup/context to many quests, including Vigilís Keep, is also a severe disappointment because it damages immersion. Top all that off with one of the most bug ridden experiences Iíve ever had and you get a game that fails to deliver a consistently enjoyable experience.