I thought that, with the advent of downloadable content packs, true expansion packs were dead in the ground. Then people like Fallout 3 and Borderlands started releasing DLCs on CD. Then Dragon Age: Origins released an actual expansion pack.
Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening continues the story (and suffers title-stack almost as bad as Star Wars: Dark Forces III: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast… There’s actually some abiguity on the box; could it be Dragon Age: Awakening: Origins? Dragon Age: (Origins) Awakening?) of the main game, while doing the usual add-loads-of-new-spells-and-items-to-justify-my-existence thang. There are some new characters, too.
I’ve heard conflicting reviews about this expansion pack, hence my holding off for so long. But it seems to be sitting at £12.99 for the duration, so I bit the bullet and picked it up. So I don’t have to buy a compilation in ten years.
Spoilers for Dragon Age: Origins itself inevitably ensue, as well as minor ones for the expansion.
Awakening puts you in charge of running your own keep, collecting new Grey Wardens and… well, chasing down something that deserves somewhat better treatment than a ten-minute expansion pack.
As a continuation of the story, one must naturally drag along some old people from the main campaign. You know, for that elusive quality we call “continuity”.
Wade the armoursmith (and his exasperated business partner Herren) are back and they’ve set up at your keep. Wade’s actually been developed a fair bit; I just handed him an ingredient (as you do), and he gave me a quest to find more items so he could actually make something! The nerve! Oh well, quests are quests. Even if they’re fetch quests.
In terms of party members, Oghren turns up in the introduction to continue dispensing booze-addled banter (at least Drakensang‘s Forgrim manages to quit the booze when you acquire him).
I also bumped into Wynne, but she was a bit of a bitch. I still did her quest, of course. Queen Anora had a cameo in the intro, then said “I can’t help you will all the armies and wealth of this nation” before disappearing again. Presumably the same happens for Alistair if you made him king.
Unfortunately, there seem to be no prospects of continuing any (or, indeed, starting new) mushy romance sub-plots.
Too Much Choice
Usually, I would be over the moon at getting new spells and abilities. However, I’m a bit of the mind that Dragon Age suffers from massive feature-creep in this department. Spells are everywhere, and when the Primal tech tree (the only good one) is full of four lines of recolours, you know you don’t even need half of this stuff.
And unlike the wonders of Baldur’s Gate, you can’t just safely ignore all the spells you don’t care about by not memorising them — every spell your mage knows is there, and it feels terrible to remove things from the command bar. Which can stretch to pretty long. There’s just too much there. I think I would rather some options for improving low-tier spells like cone of cold into super-ultra-mega-hyper-awesome abilities than get another pretty much redundant area-of-effect-damage-over-time-spell. Like Mass Effect 2‘s max-level-choose-one-specialisation feature; I’d rather buff abilities I use often than acquire another few arbitrary ones.
I’m actually kind of wondering if they shouldn’t lock the command bar to ten slots. Initially I thought I needed the full screen-length bar to fit everything, but now I think it’s just a bit overwhelming — especially when you start the game controlling new (“new”) characters that have been auto-levelled and so have their buttons all over the place.
Let’s take an uncommunicative enemy and… allow them to communicate! Yes, Mass Effect 2 did it to the Geth, and now Dragon Age is doing it to the Darkspawn. Hurrm. What a delicious plot device! The game even starts with an attack on your cute little fortress, completely following the BioWare cliché image. Oh well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?
Unfortunately, the speaking darkspawn seem to suffer from voices that don’t really work. Not necessarily bad voice acting, just… the wrong voices.
The scenery in the expansion pack is very nice; plenty of reuse of the main game’s props (naturally), with lots of nice new stuff to spice things up.
I’m sure I’ve used “Bitesized” as a sub-header before. It’s not that the game is, in itself, particularly short (my first game just topped ten hours, versus the thirty-five hours I can usually squeeze from the main game), but it does feel very short. Levelling up happens so frequently — instead of taking thirty-five hours to go from zero to twenty-one-odd, you’re taking ten to go from twenty-one to thirty-two or three. Money is as copious, so you can afford everything… Not that you want most of it.
Side-quests are relatively few and quickly dispatched. Too many times did a new area appear on my map (not particularly many of them in total, either) only for it to consist of one or two combat encounters.
This feeling of shortness is felt incredibly acutely when you reach the latter stages of the game. The end sequence is drenched in dramatic terrain, but it raises loads of questions about the main game’s plot and… well, the whole new-strains-of-darkspawn thing just seems to come out of nowhere — when it’s a pretty massive revelation and culture-shift. I think this arc deserved more of an introduction than a couple of the missions here; it should either have occupied the entire game, or have been saved for Dragon Age 2 (which has recently been announced).
And then there’s the way you can oh so easily just turn away potential party members. Then again, characters don’t have that much to say.
So… I’m glad I didn’t pay the full £20 for this. As a completist whore, it’s a nice continuation of the game itself (without the miniscule impermenance of a DLC pack, though the Shale DLC I got free for buying a physical game was actually very well integrated and extensive), but for anyone looking for something special… Not really worth it.
Maybe there’s more to explore; I definitely missed a couple of side quests. There’s definitely nothing more to the main plot, which, to be honest, really should have been foreshadowed (at the very least) throughout the entire campaign of the real game.