Returning to the world of Dragon Age was like slipping on your favorite comfy t-shirt. The game had grown on me back in the fall when it was released, and after surviving the onslaught of early 2010 releases getting back to the game was definitely a nice reunion. Awakening is a full-blown expansion for BioWare’s epic fantasy RPG that introduces new characters, a new storyline and of course a myriad of quests to perform throughout a brand new area. There are a few surprises in store for players of the original game and you can even import your hero from the original game, regardless of what choices you made at its conclusion.
Following the events of the first game Awakenings opens up as you arrive at Vigil’s Keep, a stronghold where the Grey Wardens are set to be rebuilt. You assume role as the commander and your first order of business is to remove the invading darkspawn from the keep. The coolest aspect is that if you import your character you can continue from the previous game, even if some of your decisions really won’t have much weight here. Surprisingly for those that beat the first game there is an option that would make importing your character quite difficult. Still BioWare has allowed you to do so, which changes things and leaves a gaping plot hole right smack dab in the middle of the game. Regardless the overall story still fits into the universe and remains interesting from start to finish.
The core experience can run you between 15-20 hours depending on how much you decide to explore. The main storyline can be rushed through in less than ten hours, but to be honest you are cheating yourself out of some really cool stuff. There are several new areas around the world and most of them are chock full of new quests to complete, items to collect and of course loot to gather. You have a personal storage back at Vigil’s Keep so you can store all your excess loot there, and there are a host of merchants scattered around the world to sell and buy new wares.
In your journey through Awakening you have an opportunity to recruit brand new members to your party including two new mages, a thief and two new warriors. Without giving too much away you will also run into a few familiar faces in your quests as well as other aspects of the game. Personally I liked the new recruits and it felt just as involving as the previous game. You can give them gifts, complete personal quests for them and of course banter back and forth about why they are who they are. This kind of personalization has become a trademark for BioWare games, and I am happy to say it returns for this expansion as well.
One area that I really enjoyed about the expansion is that you really do fight some epic creatures in the shorter experience. For a game being called Dragon Age, there certainly were not a lot of encounters with the mythical creatures in the first outing. This time around there are several occasions where you have to defeat the fire breathers. The level cap has also been raised allowing you to even further power up your character as well as new spells, abilities and specializations that allow an even more robust set of options to expand your abilities. Overall the game really does add quite a bit of new content while still feeling like an old friend.
For those importing your character I send this word of warning, if you have any DLC items equipped you will start the game in your undies. This was truly a shock for me as the first battle I was in I was sans armor. As for everything else the game still retains a lot of the same quirks I had issues with from the first game. Quest management still takes getting used to. The menu system can be both overwhelming and convoluted at first. There are also still several minor glitches that occur from time to time, but nothing to hinder your experience too much. I found the beginning of the experience to start off a bit on the slow side, but once I got control of Vigil’s Keep and was shooting around the world Amaranthine, everything picked up quite nicely and I was unable to put it down until the ending was playing.
For those curious about the technical aspects of the game considering this is an expansion you are required to own the original game for this expansion to work. Of course I am not sure how it checks that outside of save games as it never asked me to insert my original disc to play it. This may be entirely different for anyone downloading it from the PSN or Marketplace. There is an option to play the original game within the expansion, but you need to insert the original disc in order to do it. Also 360 owners I highly recommend installing the game before diving too deep into it. Otherwise you will get some nasty load times and frequent texture issues during your play.
Speaking of visuals the game retains the same look as the original, which is to be expected, but it did feel like the 360 version was somewhat smoother and cleaner than the first. Character faces seemed to animate a little better and the frame rate wasn’t nearly as much of an issues. I personally love the new locales including the Blackmarsh and Wending Woods. Again the voice acting is superb as each new character breathes life into the story, especially Justice, who ended up being my favorite companion. It is really disappointing that he does not come into play until a little later on in the game. The music and sound effects are ripped right from the original game and still deliver a solid backdrop to the presentation.
Dragon Age Origins: Awakening is definitely a nice companion for those that have exhausted the original game. There is plenty here to keep you occupied for at least 20 hours if you want to max everything out. Some may be a bit disappointed in the size by comparison, but for $40 this game is twice as long as most full-priced titles. If you have been itching to get back into the world of Dragon Age like I was, this is a must-own experience. Fans of the original game should not hesitate in picking up this excellent addition to the lore.
Review copy provided by publisher.