Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening review

    Dragon Age: Origins was an enormous success. How big of a success? I spent a week away from my wife (then girlfriend) playing the game when it first came out. Man, was she pissed. Justifiably so. Doubly so given she bought my Xbox 360 for me as a birthday present.

    Anyway, Dragon Age: Origins was a huge success and everyone in the world loved it except people who didn't. Which meant, of course, Bioware was eager to cash-in on the franchise. Some of the decisions they made were good, others...not so much.

    Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening falls in-between. It's an extremely fun expansion for the original game and has some great moments. It also is hurt by a lackluster villain, a plot which doesn't really go anywhere, and uninteresting locals. Despite this, I still recommend it due to the amazingly well-written companions and plot arcs which work wonders.

    The premise of Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening is that it is the kinda-sorta sequel to Dragon Age: Origins. As mentioned, it's an expansion which allows you to import your Grey Warden from Dragon Age: Origins and continue their adventures. Since the Grey Warden can die in the finale of the game, you can also stat up a new character for the expansion but this isn't nearly as satisfying.

One of the few places I really liked in the game.
    The Grey Warden is made the Arl of Amaranthine, petty kingdom of previous Dragon Age villain Arl Howe. This is part of his/her reward for defeating the Blight in the main game. They are supposed to rebuild the shattered Grey Warden order in Ferelden and make sure nothing horrible happens to the populace.

    Which does, in the first five minutes.

    The Darkspawn have long been a completely mindless force without the Archdemon, so they should not be a threat to the Arldom of Amaranthine anymore. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Darkspawn here have developed intelligence. They are not retreating as they're supposed to and are, apparently, planning revenge against the Grey Wardens. It's your job to deal with this problem and quickly. Can you defeat the Mother and her mysterious brood of intelligent Darkspawn?

    Of course you can. The question is whether it's fun. Is it?

    Mostly. Yeah.

The characters, as always, are the heart of the game.
    Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening is hampered by mostly forgettable locations with a few gemstones throne in-between including a dragon graveyard and Vigil's Keep. The majority of the locations are merely re-hashes of the original ones from the game with Amaranthine being a generic city, an underground level, a Fade level, a forest level, and some farmland. None of them are objectively bad but none of them really stand out either.

    As with Dragon Age: Origins, the heart of the game is the characters and your Companions in particular. I think all of the characters in Awakening are on par, if not equal to, the characters in origins. There's no romance options for the Awakening Companions, which is a shame, but all of them have their own story arcs which are completed by the end of the game.

    I loved the character of Anders who was much more enjoyable in this game than in the sequel, Dragon Age 2. I enjoyed the character of Nathaniel Howe, embodying the best of Ferelden's nobility. I even enjoyed the character of Velanna despite the fact she was a multiple murderer and an elven eco-terrorist. The return of character Oghren, of all people, from Origins was a curious one but even he had his appealing qualities.

At heart, the game is more of Dragon Age: Origins--which isn't a bad thing.
    Grey Wardens with carry-over stories from Origins get the benefit of seeing some of the fallout from their decisions including being visited by their spouses, friends, and Companions. There's only a few references but they're quite welcome. I especially liked the return of the character Wynne who foreshadows some of the events which reach their climax in Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition.

    My favorite innovation of the game is the management system for Vigil's Keep. As Arl of Amaranthine, you have to make numerous decisions which will affect the lives of your kingdom's inhabitants forever. This is only a small part of the greater story but helps give you a sense of a noble's responsibilities. Sometimes, things go in poor directions like the fact the common folk may blame you for their troubles even when you're the only thing standing in the way of their annihilation. Other times, you'll have to choose who to guard from attacks with limited resources.

    My favorite subplot in the game was an old-style haunted house mystery where you investigate a creepy mansion in the middle of a swamp. The Dragon Age franchise doesn't have any vampires in it, at least as far as I know, but they use the motifs to create a truly frightening villainess in the Baroness. She manages to combine the cruelty of the settings Orlesians with the evil of a Blood Mage in a very effective combination.

    In conclusion, Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening is an okay continuation of the story from Dragon Age: Origins. It's not so much a full-game of itself or sequel as a playable epilogue. At the end, I felt I had a good sense of where my character was going to go and what sort of legacy he was leaving behind. That's worth the money spent in buying it as either DLC or part of the Ultimate Edition of Dragon Age: Origins.

    Just don't expect it to be quite as good as the original.


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