Set in the events after your bloody struggle with the Archdemon of Dragon Age: Origins
, the expansion – Awakening
– released by BioWare pits you against the task of ridding Ferelden of the darkspawn completely. Your victory against the Blight did not push the darkspawn fleeing back to the Deep Roads as has history has shown to be the usual progression of events. Awakening will set you on the task of fighting against onslaughts of darkspawn yet again, and challenging their new various menacing commanders.
Awakening starts you off in a new world under a new role: that of the Commander of the Grey Wardens. You enter the land of Amaranthine and quickly realize that you’re back to organizing troops to help with the devastation that incessant darkspawn attacks have planted. Although the experience is very reminiscent of Origins’, it is obvious that it is more matured and places you in a more experienced position. The game will even begin with the joining ritual to becoming a Warden as it did in Origins, but it will put you in the position of observing rather than taste-testing the darkspawn blood. This scene creates the setting for an imminent experience that is much like that of the original game but with the distinction of coming from an even more important and dire perspective.
The grand theme to the expansion of Dragon Age is fairly similar to the main game’s: the darkspawn threat is becoming progressively unmanageable, and as you put in efforts to gather a formidable army while investigating the powers behind the darkspawn brutes, you’ll come across desperate faces belonging to peasants, refugees and orphans all with hands outstretched. BioWare once again does a wonderful job of presenting the sort of distraught lands that lay at the mercy of war.
Alongside the poor are the nobles who will appropriately bicker over matters of politics, and dabble in deceit and corruption in the midst of it. Wading through their mess becomes ever more important in the expansion because as the Commander the final word for deciding on justice is yours. Choosing your allies and your enemies wisely can benefit your journey as well as its outcome.
Your main plot missions will take you to meet new and old characters, and this is where BioWare gets a chance to shine yet again. Origins really gave you the opportunity to investigate your companions, and Awakening provides you with more characters of diverse backgrounds to explore, all of whom have their own entertaining demeanors. The decision to bring Oghren back as a companion in your crew was definitely an invited one as he was one of the more delightful characters with his somehow disgusting yet charming attitude.
On the one hand, the overall experience of Awakening was too similar to Origins to stand out as an expansion someone would want to buy. Many of the settings and maps did not feel very distinguishable from Origins, and you’ll come across scenarios almost identical to those in the original game. Getting stripped of my armor and weaponry and waking up locked in a cage felt too much like déjà vu. Trekking through a dungeon looking to recover my possessions, I remembered a parallel trek in Origins.
On the other hand, new enemies and new characters made the storyline experience as intriguing as it was in Origins, without feeling like a copycat. The decision to make the darkspawn smarter, and therefore with more capable leaders, switched the pace of the game to an entirely different tone. While Dragon Age: Origins was more about a test of strength against a heavy army of darkspawn and their powerful bosses, Awakening introduces a greater back-story to the darkspawn that lends itself to a very different threat. There’s a more complicated and riveting conflict in Awakening, and the storyline will present you with even more morally reprehensible tasks than Origins.
The gameplay formula in Awakening remains consistent with the original game. Your three teammates run with a customizable AI scheme, but you can choose to control them at any time. BioWare’s infamous spin wheel allocating items and abilities is still in place, so if you’ve played Origins the gameplay will be almost identical. The RPG aspects are more enhanced in terms of an increase in level cap, as well as more specializations to choose from that will provide more spells and abilities for your characters. Stamina/mana levels are still at constant risk of being empty throughout battles, which was unfortunate because it didn’t give me much of an opportunity to experiment with my new slew of spells being that I was more worried about maintaining my energy levels than messing around with my characters.
Combat does not run as smoothly as I remember it to be in Origins. I experienced a heavy amount of lag, particularly during battles that started after a cut scene. With my Inferno spell going off, and darkspawn flooding through hallways, battles became consistently choppy and difficult to maneuver around. I even had an issue with sounds becoming muffled or even dropping completely. The game is a lot slower to respond than Origins was.
In the end, Awakening sums your entire experience to very gratifying results. That’s not to say that the end is necessarily a happy one. Rather, you experiences were your own and the decisions you made had a significant impact on Ferelden, its people and its future. Your side quests and missions tie in together with the storyline, really making them feel more a part of the main plot than most games will let on. None of your time is wasted in Awakening, except for perhaps the parts of it that were lagging.