Dragon Age: Awakening

ReviewThis is how it used to be. No, no, stay with me. It’s not another one of those “Gaming was so much better in 1980/1990/2000 than it is in 2010” rants. What I am trying to say is that this is how post-release content used to be. Developers used to make actual add-on campaigns instead of one-hour side missions and pointless costumes. But then somewhere along the past five years, what used to be the norm pretty much became extinct, and what used to be the modding community’s job became legitimate DLC to be sold for loose change. Dragon Age: Awakening makes an excellent case for why the old way was better.

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Set directly after the events of Origins, the story starts off when you visit Vigil’s Keep and find it under attack by the darkspawn. But these aren’t just normal darkspawn; they seem to be evolving and can talk as well. So you set off on another quest, gather yourself a party, and try to put an end to the menace. Yes, that feeling you are getting right now is called deja vu. You can either start off with a completely new game or import a save game from Origins.

That brings me to my biggest gripe about the game. Even if you choose to import a save from your existing game, it doesn’t really affect the gameplay or story line in Awakening in a significant or memorable way. This is especially disappointing after Mass Effect 2, which made you feel like you were part of an ongoing story. By contrast, Awakening might as well be a spin-off of Origins. Even most of the party members that you get to play with are totally new.

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But despite the game moving away from Origins, the new story and setting is not all bad. The story might sound like it’s the regular Bioware stuff, but as usual, the writing and dialogues are as good as you will find in the industry. In the howling wasteland of videogame writing, where sitcom cliche witticisms exchanged between the generic good guy and the pouty female are considered top notch stuff, Bioware are in a class of their own. Every new character is well written, has their own personality, and usually come up with some memorable conversations. Anders might end up being a crowd favorite because of his sarcastic, dry sense of humour, but all the other supporting characters have been written well enough to make them feel like actual people instead of cliched cardboard cutouts.

Aside from the new characters, there are also a bunch of new abilities and skill trees you can master, many new spells for mages. The game also has a ton of side quests you can pick up, and most of them are very entertaining. The main story line will take you about 15 hours to burn through (with some side quests), but if you aim for 100% completion, you could easily add another five hours to that, probably more depending on the difficulty.

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Random statistic – my first run of Awakening was longer than my second playthrough of Mass Effect 2. So suffice it to say that there is enough content here to rival most full games. The difficulty curve has also received a major tweak. Some of the battles in Origins could be very frustrating, while I breezed through almost everything Awakening threw at me in the first go. If you are an experienced RPG player looking for a decent challenge after Origins, I would recommend starting on Hard rather than Normal.

Aside from that, everything that was said in our original Dragon Age: Origins review still holds true. It’s still not the prettiest game around, but the art style is quite excellent, and some of the level design is very cool artistically (the dwarven city being the highlight). The music is still superb, but there’s not much new there, while the voice acting from all the new cast members is spot on. Also worth mentioning is that if you import your save, you will lose the DLC items you had in your inventory. Also, there is no romance side story this time. Make of that what you will.

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So here is the bottom line – if you liked Origins, then chances are this review is totally redundant, and if you didn’t like it, there isn’t anything here to convince you otherwise. But what we do have is a long, very smartly built campaign that does almost everything right. This is a worthy expansion to an already great game. Like I said at the start, this is how it used to be, and having played Awakening, I can’t help but feel things have changed for the worse.

(+) Great characters and writing
(+) Enjoyable side quests
(+) Lots of new abilities, areas
(+) Better difficulty curve

(-) Decisions from Origins don’t make enough of an impact

How we score games

Title: Dragon Age: Awakening
Developer/Publisher: Bioware/EA
Genre: Role-playing game
Rating: 18
Platforms: PC (Rs 699), Xbox 360 and PS3 versions not available in India
Reviewed on: PC

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