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Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening (Xbox 360) artwork

Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening (Xbox 360) review

"Meanwhile, you'll primarily be fighting the same stuff from Origins with a handful of new foes...and they just don't have the staying power to last through Awakening. In one dungeon, my guys were hacking down the formerly-feared Revenants like they were generic front-line infantry. Near the end of the game, a High Dragon attacks. The ensuing battle was a lot like when I fought a particular one back in Origins…except this time, I was the one kicking butt instead of the other way around."

I was talking with a friend about my growing frustration and boredom with the Awakening expansion for Dragon Age: Origins when he made a good point, saying something to the effect that when it comes to games, all good things have to come to an end sometime. Unfortunately, that was a conversation we had AFTER I'd purchased and played through much of Awakening. Simply put, it seems like just about everything I liked about Origins was dumbed down to fit in a much shorter game, leaving me with an intriguing premise that added to the Dragon Age mythology...and about 20 hours of forgettable playing.

Awakening takes place a few months after Origins. The dastardly Arl Howe's estates have been given to the Grey Wardens for their valiant performance against the Archdemon and its Blight. You are the new commander of the Wardens and the game begins with you being escorted to their stronghold of Vigil's Keep. Now, when I say "you", that can mean two different things, as players are able to either import their Origins character or create a new one. This does have various repercussions as far as dialogue goes, as the former is a national hero and the latter is some fancy-pants from a rival country who could be up to all sorts of sneaky, under-handed stuff -- but, you know, it's pretty much superficial stuff along the lines of how if you were an elf commoner in Origins, some people would talk to you differently than they would a human noble Warden.

When you and your escort reach Vigil's Keep, a surprise is in store: the Darkspawn are back! Well, this itself might not be breaking news, as simply killing an Archdemon doesn't magically eliminate all its forces. However, when you get to this particular band's leader and find that it's capable of intelligent conversation in your language...that is a shock. Throughout Origins, these creatures were known as kill-crazy monsters who operated under a group-think system controlled by their Archdemon; not as intelligent beings casually giving orders to capture Grey Wardens while killing their companions. Oh, wait! That's what this particular Darkspawn just said! Better kill him before coming back to this review!

Anyway, now that the Invasion of the Intelligent Darkspawn has been thwarted, you're now in charge of Vigil's Keep and the entirety of the deceased Arl Howe's Amaranthine. Your quest will be two-fold. Obviously, you'll need to find out what exactly is going on with how the Darkspawn haven't dissolved into disorganized, scattered groups like they typically do after a Blight. That is the main quest. You also have to manage Vigil's Keep, a job that manifests itself through a number of side-quests. You'll find yourself seeking materials to fortify the place's defenses or improve the guards' equipment, as well as dealing with various other tasks such as judging criminals and quelling a potential riot.

Oghren returns as a playable character, but the rest of your characters are new. None of them are particularly interesting, as you really don't have that much time to get to know them. To be honest, Oghren was the only teammate I particularly enjoyed, as his drunken and gruff banter tended to amuse me. Still, he was essentially just like everyone else -- a piece of meat to shower with gifts and occasionally chat with in order to boost friendship. I thought earning approval from party members was a pretty dumbed-down facet of Origins, as all you had to do was give people gifts to "apologize" for making decisions they had strong moral objections to, but that system is superior to what we have in Awakening. BioWare apparently decided that since this is a much shorter game than Origins, every positive conversation or gift-giving a player does should give comrades a HUGE boost to their approval. I'd do little side-quests and occasionally get an approval/disapproval message that stated one character went up or down by one point. Then, I'd talk to that character or give them a gift and watch their approval go up by a lot. I finished the game with my three main comrades all at least close to maximum approval...without feeling like I'd put any real work into it.

More unfortunately, that's how I felt when I finished Awakening: that I'd beaten a game without putting any real work into it. I loved how Origins' battles were difficult to the level where I'd find myself regularly reloading my last save because some powerful critters got the best of me. A couple of the DLC episodes were even more brutal, at times making me feel I was dishonoring my ancestors because I took the path of the coward and lowered the difficulty level to win a fight or two. In Awakening, I did need to reload the game a couple of times before beating the grotesque final boss. Up until that point, it was pure domination on my part where a bad fight was one where a single character got taken out, forcing me to give that person an injury kit. Hell, at one point late in the game, I went to the options menu to see if, by mistake, I'd been playing the entire expansion on "casual". Nope, it just felt that easy.

It just seemed like after a certain point, BioWare was unable to properly scale monsters to my party. In Awakening, you get new specializations, new skills and new equipment that all serve to make your characters vastly superior to what you controlled in Origins. There also is an increased level cap, so you'll be able to unlock a lot of those skills for each character. Meanwhile, you'll primarily be fighting the same stuff from Origins with a handful of new foes...and they just don't have the staying power to last through Awakening. In one dungeon, my guys were hacking down the formerly-feared Revenants like they were generic front-line infantry. Near the end of the game, a High Dragon attacks. The ensuing battle was a lot like when I fought a particular one back in Origins…except this time, I was the one kicking butt instead of the other way around. One of the main reasons I had so much fun with Origins was because I found myself constantly evolving my tactics to be able to overcome its many tough challenges. Here, I was dominating just about everything and not having fun because I was barely doing more than running from one fight to the next watching my party cut down everything in their path.

Instead of having fun with Awakening, I spent most of my time thinking I was playing an easy, chopped-up version of Origins loaded with disappointments. Such as the end of one dungeon where things had been leading up to an epic encounter with multiple Broodmothers. When you reach their den…all you do is trigger a couple things while avoiding tentacles in order to "earn" a majorly anticlimactic victory. There are some cool things in this game, but overall, it doesn't live up to most of the Dragon Age-related stuff I've played.

Rating: 4/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 16, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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