Review: Dragon Age: Awakening

Posted by on Mar 25, 2010 in Reviews |

So you’re done with Dragon Age: Origins. You’ve slaughtered the Archdemon, saved Ferelden and paved the way for a new monarch. Now, the expansion is out. Will it give you enough reason to don the old armor and head back to the fray?

Dragon Age: Awakening is a strong expansion for the series. Almost everything that you liked about the original is retained here. The story and setting progresses in a logical sense and is ultimately satisfying. Players are given more specializations, skills and talents to further define their characters. Combat, while unchanged, is still a lot of fun.

Before we go on, note that my playthrough was with an imported mage from Origins. This means that I’m using the OP class and I’m more than familiar with the original. This isn’t a fresh look into Dragon Age as a whole, but I am writing this after finishing one playthrough of the expansion. Also, I do not intend this to be a full-blown review. I just want to highlight the good, bad and so-so points of the game. With that said, let’s move on.

The Good:

The core gameplay is retained. You’ll be fighting the same way that you were doing so back in the original and your allies will be using the tactics that you set using the same interface. My only gripe about the combat system in Dragon Age is what comes after: there seems to be an inconsistent delay with the time the corpses are supposed to become lootable. To illustrate: you fight, something dies, you walk over to the corpse, wait a few seconds for the sparkles to indicate that it’s lootable and then grab the spoils. Those sparkles can take anywhere from three seconds to I don’t know how much. I’ve re-zoned in some areas to find corpses that I accidentally left unlooted because of this discrepancy. While it’s a minor complaint to an otherwise solid battle system, it just hurts the pace of the game overall.

The fights have escalated. While it isn’t a constant thing, Awakening has a habit of throwing waves and waves of enemies at you, taking the term “darkspawn horde” to a literal level. And when it doesn’t do that, you’ll find yourself fighting bosses left and right. The expansion is heavy on combat and it should be. There’s no point in the additional talents if you’re not going to be able to use them.

There’s better character growth. Like I said, there are two additional specializations per class. For example, warriors get the Guardian spec, which is a proper tanking spec through and through (finally!). Mages get the Keeper and Battlemage specs. I didn’t get to play around as a Keeper because I didn’t find being rooted in place as appealing so I can’t comment on it. The Battlemage spec focuses on maintaining auras that deal damage either by draining health or dealing elemental damage. It’s powerful yet mana-intensive, so casting other spells become difficult. I didn’t considering it a bad thing though. I just needed to manage my mana a bit more than usual whenever I used it.

Runes are craftable. Yes, you read that right. You can customize your runes as much as you want as long as you have the skill, the recipe and the money to do so. It’s a bit expensive if you max everything out, but it’s well worth it.

The story progression is logical. You’ll probably notice that I’m using the word logical instead of something that denotes praise better like excellent or amazing. The reason is because the story is neither of those. It’s not groundbreaking or original; it’s not the sort of thing that you’ll be raving about the game. However, you have to consider how the original ended. You just defeated the harbinger of doom and helped someone ascend to the throne. How exactly do you top that? Bioware decided not to. They didn’t try to present a threat even greater than the Archdemon nor have you defend the throne that you helped build. Instead, they went off to a tangent. The direction they took just makes so much sense in the long run.

The Bad:

It ends too soon. I spent a weekend on the game and was able to finish it. That’s roughly 15-20 hours of gameplay. I think most RPGs go for 40 hours these days, so for an expansion, 20 isn’t too bad. Still, it left me wanting for more. There are some quests in the game that feel like they could’ve gone further but then end abruptly. It just doesn’t have the scope and grandeur of the original so don’t expect too much in terms of length.

Don’t expect party member exposition. At this point, I think it’s fair to say that romances are expected from Bioware games. Not so in Awakening. They’re suspiciously absent. You can no longer initiate conversations with your party members by walking up to them and clicking. Instead, certain objects in the game will be marked as clickable and once you do so, they will start a dialogue with a party member. The familiar approval system kicks off from there. Gifts are still present though, so you don’t have to strain your eyes looking for marked objects. Here’s a hint: Andraste seems to be a popular topic.

This system inevitably limits your conversations with your party members. You don’t really get to know them as much as you did with the original cast. It’s an unfortunate design choice that makes Awakening feel like Icewind Dale sometimes. Back in the day, Bioware made several RPGs using the Infinity Engine. Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale were all products of this. Wherein BG and Torment featured characters with personalities and histories, Icewind Dale didn’t, eventually became known as the combat-heavy version of the other two titles. Even the NPCs you interacted with tended to have minimal backstories, giving quests that were little more than excuses to pit you into one fight after another. With the reduced exposition, dialogue and backstory, Awakening left that impression.

Support for past DLCs is limited. If I recall correctly, only the Return to Ostagar DLC is supported, so if you have items from previous ones you won’t be able to carry them over. I didn’t really do an item-by-item inspection of my inventory, but I do know that the DLC gear I had on my mage were gone. It’s a shame when you spend time and money on them only to find out that you won’t be reaping the benefits. This is more of an inconvenience though. You’ll be replacing your current gear very quickly with higher tier items early in the game.

The Overall:

Dragon Age: Awakening is a solid expansion that will keep you entertained for as long as it can. You’ll definitely miss the dialogue and polish that the original received but if you’re like me, it will still manage to leave you looking for more. Every section of the game is a constant reminder that you’re in the darkspawn killing business. And business is booming.