• Review: Dragon Age: Origins – Awakenings

    Posted by Natalie Sit on March 16th, 2010 View Comments

    BioWare fans have been spoiled lately. We’ve had two major releases in the last 5 months, DLC for the titles, and now an expansion pack for Dragon Age: Origins. But our plates are getting full, and not just from BioWare releases. We’ve had a wealth of AAA titles in the last few months. So do we have room for another helping of Dragon Age, and at price of $40?

    The Story

    The expansion begins where Origins left off. From the beginning, you can opt to carry over your character from Origins, and thus all your choices. Or you can start as a Grey Warden from Orlais sent to be the new Warden-Commander in Ferelden. Either way, you have to mop up the remaining darkspawn running around Ferelden. At the same time you have to ensure Vigil’s Keep, your new headquarters, is renovated to withstand an attack and placate the surrounding nobles so they support you.

    And you won’t be doing this alone. You’ll pick up the companions along the way (this is a BioWare game after all). Thankfully, Oghren is back, and he’s still as foul mouthed and hilarious as he was in Origins. There’s also a spirit named Justice, who has an interesting background, that joins the team too.

    Sadly, the others in your party are rather bland in comparison to your group from Origins. Or, alternatively, straight rip offs of characters from the main game. In Origins, I really enjoyed having Alistair in my party (I know, I’m a weirdo). I got to know his character and we created a bond. But it seems a writer at BioWare was even more of a fan of Alistair… so much so that they just copied and pasted his personality into Anders the mage.

    He's glowing AND breathing fire? That's hardly fair.

    The story that unfolds in the game is one of its recommending features. It’s only been a few months since the battle at Denerim and there are darkspawn who are talking, and worse, planning. So it’s up to you to figure out what the Architect–the main darkspawn villain–is up to. Along the way, you’ll make some difficult choices and I’m glad to see the expansion wasn’t a glorified dungeon crawl. I’m not sure how BioWare is going to incorporate all the player choices in the future Dragon Age sequel, but if Mass Effect 2 is any indication of BioWare’s ability to include past plot decisions, everything will be okay.

    The Gameplay

    To complete the game and finish the majority of the quests took me about 13 hours. But I could easily see that be 15-20 hours depending on how much of a completionist you are.

    The characters are self-aware and also complaining about walking down many hallways.

    The gameplay is exactly the same as Origins so depending how much you liked that combat, it could be a good or bad thing. There’s a bunch of new talents and abilities to learn. So much so that it is overwhelming when reacquainting yourself with Dragon Age. In the first couple of hours, you’ll be pausing the game a lot more to choose just the right attack. The level cap has been raised to 35 so you’ll be able to sample all the new stuff. As well, you can get your crafting on because you can make your own runes in Awakening. There isn’t a real need for runes (in my opinion) but there are some quests that require certain runes to complete.

    There are also some puzzles, but they’re not hard. If anything, it makes you wish a developer would make a game that successfully integrated puzzles.

    The Graphics

    You'll be spending a lot of time here, so get comfortable.

    The game retains Origins’ look–bugs and all. The palette in the game is darker which fits with current events. Each area you visit feels very different, whether it’s an abandoned village or a leg of the Deep Roads. This is especially appreciated because you spend a lot of time underground.

    However, BioWare hasn’t been able to scrub out the bugs. The framerate chugs and chugs when there’s more than two enemies on the screen, which is to say: all the time. Also, there appears to be something broken in the game. There were three separate instances where the graphics just flipped out on me. In one cutscene I was talking to a guard who was pacing back and forth. Unfortunately, that character was duplicated and the moving one kept passing in and out of the motionless one. Creepy.

    The Downsides

    One of my favourite things in Origins was how you could go talk to each of your followers in the base camp. You’d learn about their background, and if you were lucky, there’d be some, ahem, private time. Not so here. While there is still some time to talk to your characters, you really don’t get to go very deep into their life stories. And their loyalty quests pretty much boil down to getting them to like you enough so they’ll spill their secrets. So there’s no epic character development that leads to fighting motherly dragons or facing bitter half-siblings.

    My other major gripe is the framerate during the battle sequences. It felt like I was wading through molasses on a cold day.

    The Bottom Line

    For $40 you get about 13 hours of gameplay and new talents, abilities, weapons, and armor. I think it’s fair value–if you loved Origins. I liked Origins, as its review will attest, but I don’t think I would spend my gaming budget on this. So it’s up to you, dear reader, to determine your level of adoration of Dragon Age. If you enjoyed the game and are now on your third playthrough, don’t hesitate to buy Awakening. But if you’re like me, and are salivating over another game (or perhaps Mass Effect 2 DLC), rent or borrow this game. While I have a few issues with Awakening, BioWare didn’t cheat on the length or the content of the expansion–in that respect, well done.

    The Good
    Storyline is interesting
    Oghren is back and he’s just as crude and lovable

    The Bad
    Graphics can be buggy and the framerate is sluggish
    New companions can be “blah”

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