29th March 2010 - Bioware are at it again, and it seems there is no stopping them, as the slew of quality content keeps streaming in. If the Mass Effect 2 Cerberus network is not enough to sate your RPG needs then thankfully Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening is here to continue the mammoth story from last year. At half the size of the original it’s amazing that it’s already available, but with rumors of Dragon Age 2 early next year, can Bioware do no wrong? Read on to find out!
Sometimes good things do come in small packages and surprises out of the blue. To be fair with all the fuss surrounding Mass Effect, Dragon Age had been slipping off the radar, so it a pleasant surprise to see Awakening was already coming out and as a full ‘expansion’ over the other DLC.
In some regards, Awakening could be seen as an ‘expansion-sequel’, or a massive epilogue. It takes place right after the end of Dragon Age and follows the quests of the Grey Wardens to mop up the last of the Dark Spawn daemons plaguing the lands. That said in no particular order you will also get; an entirely new location, separate to the map of Dragon Age (somewhere south along the coastline below the previous events), a new party of rag-tag rebels to call your own, New Dragons, new bosses, and a lot of new unit types, not to mention a new base over the camp-site of old. It’s very obvious from the get-go that the game itself will not be as long as the first one as the map is slightly smaller with less locations, and to be fair the game is padded out with fetch quests and yet, In such a short period of time Bioware have listened to everything the community has said and implemented it perfectly. Awakening is extremely fun, addictive and non stop RPG-action. It’s also Mass Effect 2 in a new skin.
Don’t believe me? I didn’t want to either until I looked at the fact that either this game was made during the production of Mass Effect 2 or afterwards while the developers were playing it for inspiration. The part camp is gone. Instead as commander of the Grey Wardens you are in control of the titular Vigils peak outpost- the last stop for the Darkspawn between the City of Amaranthine and the rest of the world. Just as in Mass Effect 2, All your friends will be found around inside and further you have to collect resources and fetch materials to fortify and build the base in much the same way your ship had to be upgraded in space; and yes, the final battles outcome will depend on just how well you built your fortress.
The theme continues in that this time around, your party is made up of would-be Grey Wardens, each and every one of them; except they are the most unlikely, angry (read bad-ass mercs) characters around, from a very bitter wood Elf, to an undead spirit trapped in a Grey Wardens body. Cleary Bioware have looked at what works and gone with it. And boy, does it work. It works, if you’re a fan of both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, it works if you enjoyed the style and pacing of Mass Effect but prefer medieval knights and magic. It works, if you already finished Dragon Age at a high level because you can import your old character.
Although the Mass Effect influence is bleeding obvious, Bioware has gone to lengths to make this feel like an original title, and it is all the better for it. Dragon Age itself was drawn out and long with a fair chunk of talking and story. Now, any character stories are told only in the base, based on how much they like you. There is a lot more cut scenes and even more action. Every location you can think of from the first game is back, but in a much more localized condensed form and with a lot more variety. Set on the coast, there are a lot more farms, water, ports and beaches not to mention attention to details. Every zone and dungeon now comes with at least one or two puzzles, sorely missing from the first game and every zone has at least one unique, mini-boss and major boss battle, different to any other creature in the game. There are better weather effects, environment lighting and because, this time around the enemy are intelligent and can talk and scheme ect. the story itself seems more tightly written and purposeful.
For those fans of the series wondering since when could the Darkspawn talk and or do anything other than die! Lets just say we don’t want to spoil the surprise but Darkspawn mummy has been fighting with Darkspawn Daddy and the poor Grey Wardens have to listen to their fighting, leading to two of the coolest bosses since the Lich King in World of Warcraft (although the brood mother has about 5 times the number of breasts)
PRO TIP: In Baulders Gate 2 one of your companions carried around a pet hamster called Boo who he talked to and could cast a random spell effect in battle. Early on look for a kitten in the Keep. Give it as a present to Anders and ‘let him decide’ what to with it. He will put it in his bag and you can use it to cast random spells in battle (not to mention all the cutsy talking he does to it)
Awakening isn’t perfect and the biggest flaw is also Biowares biggest achievement; the ability to import your old character. On hard the game is dead easy, no least because the characters now level up every time you take a step. The cap has been raised to over 30 which means in a game half the length, leveling occurs twice as much and for every single party member. In no time at all you will have a party of kick-ass level 20 minions with little to no effort. It is imagined that starting a new character would be easier, except that any new character you do start is atomically level 18 with all the stats and points you could want to spend.
So where Mass Effect 2 kind of evened itself out after importing an uber warrior, Awakening doesn’t. That said, the story makes less sense without an old character as a lot of people return from before and choices you made still do effect how things play out, which is finally, the biggest advancement to Role-playing since the 6 sided die.
If you were to pick a problem with the original Dragon Age, Bioware have addressed it here, including the lack-luster graphics. The flexibility of the engine seems to be the reason they can churn out games so quickly, however this reporter still prefers the trappings of Mass Effect. Dragon Age will prompt you for an update though, before you play it and more specifically Awakening won’t work unless you have updated. Graphically the game would appear to have been cleaned up, sharper and with higher resolution textures and frame rate. Everything is still sort of brown, all the time but because this time around the city is on the coast there is more water, oceans and farm land, which varies between brown, and yellow.
A tad harsh, Bioware have risen to the occasion making sure each zone and location is completely unique while integrating them better into each other. An example of this is the Dwarven caverns can now be accessed via your base rather than having to travel, or even the magical fade (which was the most ugly aspect of the game) has a twist when a run down haunted swamp town is rejuvenated in the undead. There are forests and hills to explore, little outpost towns and one big city with battlements around the top you can now access. Draw distance is fine and again from the top of a castle you can actually see below and attack anyone before they reach you, which they will as the enemy can now use doors!
Even the amour and items have received a massive overhaul with 3 or 4 unique sets to collect and the added abilities of rune crafting and item creation. In fact, Awakening is extremely heavy on crafting, which is an excellent throw-back to older or MMORPGS. All over the world there are now scrolls and a slew of scrap items that can be fashioned into spells and potions of differing levels not to mention runes for socketing in amour and weapons. The amount of extra added ‘things’ including basic staples like cows and pigs and chickens in the environment, makes it sad that they didn’t have the fore-site to include it in the original game. The world feels more alive with 3 times as many different type of Darkspawn now, every boss is unique and even mini bosses like Ogre now come in 3 or 4 different flavors of differing strength.
If this is all sounding like a gushing tribute to the fan boys it’s not because at the same time, Awakening is just more of the same. Bioware have simply picked over every single aspect and added more and in all the right ways. It is a tight package bursting at the seams and with a length that can be re-played again.
PRO TIP: Have at least one character a high level ranger. This will allow an animal companion summon, effectively always giving u one extra party member. Include both mages in your party and level them up to include, flame, lightning and ice storm highest levels. Throw in an Earthquake and sit back to watch the fireworks
It is to be expected, that an expansion would re-cycle some assets, both graphically and audio. However it was not expected that Bioware would copy themselves and rip-off one of the most beloved (and annoying) characters, to the point that without looking it up, the same voice actor plays a different character.
In the original, your best friend, first companion and would be king was a simpering, pansy man-knight otherwise known as Alistair, who would flirt with you and other wise make a lot of sexy jokes. Well just so you don’t feel lost, he’s now gone- replaced with a simpering, sarcastic mage, same face different hair-cut and…same voice. For someone importing an old character it is actually very jarring. Especially when he hits on you and you’re supposed to be married to the King! Who looks just like him >insert massive nerd rage<
All that aside, there is not a lot to say about the sound accept that once again, the voice acting is top notch if not a tad recycled. Bioware must go flat out recording all the lines of dialogue and responses for their games. A few familiar faces return and at least one joins you as a Grey Warden which ties in nicely with the first game. Of particular note is the unique Dragon in this game which when turned up full sounds ridiculous.
It is funny how time, even a few months can change your view on a game. Awakening could have been much worse. In fact, in theory it really should have been. Next to Mass Effect 2 you would think it doesn’t stack up and yet Bioware has made a play to keep the franchise going and in doing so beefed the game up considerably. Everything that was missing from the first game is here, and yet at the time we thought Dragon Age was near perfect.
Although the game is currently available in the XBOX Live store for a whopping 3300 points, it’s worth buying on disk just for the collection. The original strategy guide does not cover this content though, so you may also want to pick up the book.
The game has a faster past with a lot more action and randomly spawning enemies which constantly push the party for health, but is never too hard that you won’t enjoy it. At the end it will only leave you wanting more.
Of all the returning characters, Bioware picked the ones most likely to offend; including the ‘gay couple’ blacksmiths and a bi-curious mage that wants to take you away from your royal duties. At the same-time they have referenced Baldurs Gate a lot more and paid a lot of fan service to what the community wanted. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening is an excellent piece of content, not without its flaws that continues the world of Ferelden so very very well. The closest thing to an MMO on a console, it has shades of the Elder Scrolls and other RPG's.
AAG SCORE: 8.0/10
- Multiple endings based on your actions and choices
- Returning characters as well as new party members
- Item and rune crafting now available
- Many many many, fetch and collection quests
- unbalanced when importing a character
- Graphics are still looking worse for wear
Reviewed and Written By Ian Crane