Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening Review

By Russ Fischer - Posted Mar 16, 2010

Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening picks up after the final events of Dragon Age: Origins, and allows players to return to Ferelden to play through a chunk of high-level dungeon crawling. As in the original game, Awakening blends realistically written characters and action, but this time goes heavier on the action.

The Pros
  • Adds serious character specialization options
  • Entertaining set of new characters
  • Less cliché storyline than original game.
The Cons
  • Not as much character interaction as main game
  • Interface still dense, slightly clunky
  • Auto-save system remains insufficient

Not long after BioWare's epic fantasy RPG Dragon Age: Origins released, a small downloadable expansion was made available for players to get a small extra dose of adventure. That DLC, Return to Ostagar, was a bit short and rather unsatisfying. Awakening is the first major expansion for the game, and presents players with far more story and action, and much more satisfaction.

From a gameplay perspective, most of the highs and lows of Origins are found in Awakening. The game world is still rather brown and drab, and actually looks a bit worse for wear now that we gamers had a chance to play BioWare's other recent release, Mass Effect 2. But the sense that this is a modern update to the ideas first presented in BioWare classics like Baldur's Gate persists, and it doesn't take long to be drawn into this dark fantasy world.

Dragon Age: Origins -- Awakening

Into the Fray Once More

You can jump into Awakenings either by importing a character played during Origins (even one who was killed in the endgame) or by creating a new hero. In the latter case, you'll start as a level 18 Gray Warden. No matter what character you play, the game begins as you approach Vigil's Keep, an outlying Gray Warden fortress protecting the city of Amaranthine, where you're meant to become the new commander. Upon arrival, however, you'll find that Darkspawn have been launching ferocious attacks against the region. Worse, they seem to have increased in intelligence, and there are some who can speak.

There are a host of new features in Awakening: the level cap is raised to 35, there are five new character specializations and a host of new talents and abilities. The end result is that you can develop a far more specialized character than before, which allows for a more tailored combat experience.

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And combat is the name of the game here. The core story involves the investigation of this new, smarter strain of Darkspawn, but as the narrative is shorn of the need to step up the entire world, it feels a lot less cliché than the primary original game. The new party members offer a glimpse into some of the darker corners of the Mages Circle and the history of the Dwarves. Two of the main new party members, an Elvish mage and a boastful but wounded Dwarf rogue, offer comedy relief in the cinematic “buddy comedy” mold.

Dragon Age: Origins -- Awakening

The Skills to Make the Kills

Though the management of inter-party personalities remains important, here you'll also spend a good amount of time figuring out how to best oversee the land around Amaranthine. Do you allocate troops to the city, or the surrounding farms? Can you spare money to upgrade fortifications, and resources to better outfit your soldiers? Some of those concerns are appropriate new avenues to explore, given that you're a higher level character with more responsibilities.

If it Ain’t (Very) Broke, Don’t Fix It

There was no reason to expect a major overhaul of the game's underlying systems, like party and inventory management, but some in-depth tweaks would have been useful. PC players will have an easier go of things, as all systems are clearly designed for that platform. The console controls remain an admirable attempt to capture as many mouse and keyboard options as possible. But you'll still find that managing your inventory can be difficult, as there isn't a good, clear way to quickly sort through found items based on their usefulness.

While you can apply more tactics to various party members than ever, managing the full range of combat options can be a daunting task. And while there is a routine auto-save system, you'll want to make regular manual saves, since the auto-save doesn't kick in as often as some would like. Rely on the auto-save and a loss during a surprise battle could set you back an hour of gameplay.

Dragon Age: Origins -- Awakening

As with Dragon Age: Origins, however, Awakening's technical limitations pale next to the entertainment value of the adventuresome content. If the core role-play is less dramatically gripping than in Origins, the density of combat and the new character customizations pick up the slack. Think of Awakening as the action-heavy semi-sequel to a great character-based story and you'll be on the proper path to another couple dozen hours of enthralling play.