by Stefanie Fogel
reviewed on X360
Peace at last?
The Blight is over. The Archdemon is dead. Peace has settled over the land of Ferelden... or has it? The answer comes in the form of Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, the first full expansion to BioWare's epic RPG. Like most expansions, the amount of enjoyment you get out of it depends on how much you enjoyed the original game. So if you didn't like Origins, then Awakening isn't for you. But, luckily, Dragon Age fans will find plenty of reasons to head back to Ferelden on this latest adventure.
Taking place shortly after the conclusion of Origins, Awakening allows you to import your character from the main game or create a new one with a new origin, a Grey Warden from the neighboring country of Orlais. Either way, you start out at level 18, on the road to your new post at Vigil's Keep, when you are attacked by darkspawn. As the keep's new commander, it is your job to rebuild the order of the Grey Wardens, govern the Arling of Amaranthine and investigate reports of new, intelligent darkspawn in the area.
Yeah, but he's no Alistair
You will pick up a whole new cast of colorful characters to aid you in your quest and they are one of the expansions highlights. There are a total of five new recruitable party members, along with one familiar face from Origins. The game does a good job of giving you a balanced group from the very beginning. You won't have to sigh in longing at every locked chest you pass, or wish you had taken that Heal spell. The voice acting is still top-notch and the banter that goes on between NPCs as you wander about is still hilarious and fun to listen to. The influence system is back, but unfortunately there are no romance options. Since I find the lore behind the Mages and Templars fascinating, I took an immediate liking to smart-alecky Apostate mage Anders, as well as to the spirit you meet in the Fade. All of the new party members are interesting, but I did find myself missing the characters I had gotten to know so well in the first game. A few of them make cameo appearances, depending on how things turned out for you at the end of Origins, but their absence creates a sense of disconnect between the expansion and the main game.
In fact, that sense of disconnect is my biggest gripe with what is otherwise a fine title. Other than a few cameo appearances and passing mention of your exploits, there is little that ties one storyline to the other. Awakening feels more like a standalone story than a sequel, but since this isn't Dragon Age 2, that's probably what BioWare was going for. If you choose to import a character that hasn't completed Origins, the game creates a "default" ending for you. If you choose to import a character that has died, you are miraculously resurrected which, in my opinion, marginalizes one of the biggest decisions you could make in the first game. After playing through Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, and seeing how many hundreds of choices, both big and small, carry over from one to the other, I can't help but feel some disappointment over the lack of cohesion between Origins and Awakening.
Helms with feathers... WTF BioWare?
Once you get over the plotholes, however, you will find that spending time in Ferelden is as fun as ever. Combat is unchanged, still the same mix of fast-paced action and strategy, and the more I play this style of RPG, the more I prefer it over turn-based games (I'm looking at you, Final Fantasy XIII!). There are plenty of new spells and abilities to play with, along with two new specializations for each class. The new Battlemage specialization feels especially powerful on what was already a pretty overpowered class. There are also plenty of new weapons and armor, and the developers seem to have addressed gamer complaints over the lack of mage equipment in Origins. Unfortunately, the head gear is still unbearably goofy looking. My mage, with her tall, feathered cap and staff, looks more like a marching band leader than a badass hero.
Ultimately, Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening does what most expansions are supposed to do: provide more of the same. It adds another 15-20 hours of gameplay, introduces a new cast of characters and provides all new toys to play with, but leaves the core mechanics of the game intact. If you loved Dragon Age: Origins, there is no reason to not give Awakening a try. It is a worthy addition to what was one of the best games of 2009.
More Dragon Age fun; New spells, skills, talents and specializations
Annoying inconsistencies with original storyline