Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening (Expansion Pack)
We have a problem with DLC in story-driven games. While we understand that fans will be chomping at the bit, they always seem to leave us less sated rather than more so. That is, to have the very opposite effect to that for which they were created. Like DVD extras, they take you outside of the central experience and in the hope that a mere morsel can withstand the rigors of critical appraisal as well as providing an equal abundance of entertainment.
Nine times out of ten, they can’t. They feel disconnected. Much like watching deleted scenes after the film has come and gone, you never feel you’re getting more of the same. Instead, if you’re like us, you watch them and wonder at yourself; am I watching this for enjoyment, curiosity, or because in my heart of hearts I want to consider myself a fan – and any true fan will have watched the bloody extras, no matter how tiresome and disjointed they inevitably are.
Until playing Awakening for any serious length of time, we had not yet grasped the true scope of what BioWare has achieved here. We even found ourselves doubting the mighty RPG deity, questioning whether it was right or sensible to release thirty quid’s worth of what is essentially DLC onto a retail disc and expecting us to stump up the cash. How foolish we can be. Now instead we are humbled. Less scrupulous developers would have slapped a two on the end and charged full whack; ODST and Left 4 Dead 2 being two prime examples. BioWare’s Awakening is a wake-up call to the industry as a whole; cut the bullshit and call a cigar a cigar, or indeed an expansion pack an expansion pack.
Potentially our only criticism of it as a package is that it doesn’t allow for intersection with the main body of Ferelden, set as it is instead in the Arling Of Amaranthine – an area north of Ferelden proper and host to a spate of post-Archdemon darkspawn attacks which you, now the Grey Warden Commander, must investigate and resolve. And the darkspawn are talking now, which makes them a far more interesting and conniving foe than the slavering wretches you’ll have put an end to by the thousand in Origins proper.
Your new role offers a delightful shift in paradigm. Previously NPCs would greet you as a stranger and you’d have to waste precious breath bigging yourself up until they see your importance equal to the size of your of inevitable battlefield ego. In Awakening this is simply no longer the case; everyone knows who you are, you are the Hero of Ferelden. Slayer of the Archdemon. And now you will be lionised, feared respected or loathed depending to whom you’re talking. More importantly, however, it means that pretty much everyone barring whichever monarch you installed to the throne in Origins has to do what you tell them. Your reputation precedes you everywhere you go. And that feels pretty good.
All of the story elements which make the biggest difference appear to have been carried over, accomplishing a similar feat to the one Mass Effect recently has. Furthermore, your personal level, weapons and armour and specialisations are all carried over wholesale. There’s a definite feeling that it’s almost like you never left. Of course, the level ceiling has also been substantially raised, if indeed there is any roof at all. To accommodate levelling from twenty upward, enemies awards you significantly more XP than the end-game nasties of Origins. In fact, we found that we not only levelled quickly, but also consistently throughout. Our characters felt monstrously powerful, and with the extended tiers of weapons and armour there’s plenty of room to continually upgrade your kit.
Some of the characters – primarily because they might not be alive – cannot feature, so replacements have had to be found. But rather than upset the balance with, say, a party that lacks the deceptively sharp wit of Alistair, say, similar character types have been jammed into the gaping holes which they left in their wake. As a result, the witty banter and scathing commentary continue unabated and, no doubt formulated by the same writers, have lost none of their craftsmanship, nor their ability on occasion to bring forth unstoppable waves of guffaws.
With all of the world-building that went into Dragon Age: Origins in place, Awakening is a breath of fresh air. Free to cut all of the background exposition and drive forward with a scintillating plotline along with dozens upon dozens of side-questing. Even at thirty quid, Awakening is terrific value for money. Dragon Age acolytes may potentially enjoy is even more than Origins, if that’s even possible. Bravo.