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Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening (PC) artwork

Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening (PC) review

"When you install Awakening and start a new game, you're presented with the choice of either playing the original Origins campaign or the new expansion. Unfortunately it's a pretty easy choice to make."

Bioware has a lot of great expansion packs in their past, and Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening is the first for their new franchise. When you install Awakening and start a new game, you're presented with the choice of either playing the original Origins campaign or the new expansion. Unfortunately it's a pretty easy choice to make. Awakenings is kind of tacked on mini-campaign at the end of Origins without any real ties to Origins itself. Sound unappealing? It is.

Dragon Age: Origins was a phenomenal game with great tactical RPG combat and a serviceable story. Like any Bioware RPG, most of the appeal of Origins' story came from developing relationships with your party members and the ability to make decisions that had a lasting impact on the world. These decisions were sometimes easy, sometimes difficult, but always necessary to stop the Blight from taking over Ferelden. Not only did these things shape the world to the player's desire, but they helped form a very strong image of just who your Grey Warden was.

Fast forward to Awakening, and your Warden finds themselves in charge of your own arling (essentially a fiefdom) complete with its own crop of backstabbing nobles and decisions that must be made. These choices never approach the level of resonance present in Origins' story, however, and it strongly counts against Awakening. I once decided the fate of the entire Circle of Mages and now I am reduced to squabbling over the profits from a bridge? Even the NPCs know this is tedious and boring - they remark on it repeatedly!

Companions in Awakening never really get the chance to develop the way they did in Origins. With gameplay ranging anywhere from 10-20 hours (and usually closer to 10), the short span that you get to know these NPCs just doesn't do their histories justice. After romancing and shedding blood with Morrigan and Shale and the ol' gang, these new party members will feel a bit like the second string. You'll travel around picking up party members from the corners of your domain, and by the time you round everyone into your keep, the expansion's pretty much over. In fact, it's the gathering of the full cast that triggers the endgame events.

The same could almost be said of Origins, but in Origins every area was full of side quests and local flavor that Awakening lacks. There's a ton of potential here; the idea of a Warden-run arling is great story fodder, and Awakening does have a few good quests. Some of the bit characters are quite good, as well, but they just don't ever feel that necessary to the overall picture. They're never given the space to play that they need. Dragon Age is a big dog, you gotta have a big yard for it to play in, or else it just gets depressed.

Not everything in Awakening is bad, though. Some of the new talents are tons of fun, and two new specializations for each class will help put a new spin on your old Warden. Unfortunately none of the new content carries backwards into the old campaign, so you won't ever be able to use the new talents while playing through the superior Origins storyline.

Bioware again delivers the goods with the companion's dialogue. Anders is a bit too much like Alistair for my tastes, but the outward elvish racism of Velanna and the constant flirting banter between Oghren and Sigrun are plenty amusing. Though a lot of the quests are pretty straightforward, a rare few are shining examples of what makes CRPGs compelling. Amaranthine is a neat little corner of Ferelden with some unique areas well worth exploring. It's too bad you don't get many compelling reasons to do so.

When I had decapitated my last Darkspawn and earned the Awakening epilogue, I was forced to admit that the expansion just hadn't gripped me in any meaningful way. I wanted to relive the glory of the Origins campaign, to keep playing and remind myself of what a good game Dragon Age really was. I clicked on "New Game" and was immediately presented with a choice: Dragon Age: Origins or Awakening? I sincerely doubt that I will ever choose Awakening again.


frankaustin's avatar
Freelance review by Frank Austin (March 27, 2010)

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Suskie posted March 29, 2010:

This is a helpful review because it seems like you and I seem pretty eye-to-eye on what made the first game work so well to begin with. I don't have a problem with all of this DLC they're pushing since it works to expand the original experience, but Awakening just seems unnecessary since it's only 10 or 15 hours long and follows up on a story that generally ends with all plot threads resolved. (Seriously, shouldn't the Dragon Age 2 be set during the next Blight?)

Anyway, I'll be skipping this one until the price drops, so thanks for finally letting me come to a decision about that. Especially when nearly every other review out there typically reads "OMG MORE DRAGON AGE!!!!"
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zippdementia posted March 29, 2010:

Yeah, this is a good review. All my usual reasons: focused, good through line, very clear on its thesis.

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