X360A Review: Dragon Age: Origins' Awakening Expansion
Written Sunday, March 28, 2010 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
After the abjectly poor Return to Ostagar DLC which was short, poorly priced, a tad glitchy and had more delays than the return of Jesus, here is the real deal in terms of Dragon Age content. With a proper campaign of about ten hours, new characters, a completely new story and side quests a plenty it sounds too good to be true. Sadly it is.
The Architect - but whose side is he on?
From the get go it is apparent that all the things that were so great about the full Dragon Age game have been brutally streamlined to create a faster flowing experience. This is the gaming equivalent of taking the entire Star Wars saga and reducing it to a five minute short – you would get the gist but would be missing out on what made the films truly work. You can still go questing, build up a party and engage in the main storyline, but it all feels strangely unsatisfying. It hardly helps that the expansion is amazingly expensive, especially in comparison to similar additional content like The Lost And Damned for GTA IV or Shivering Isles for Oblivion which added just as much, if not more, for less of your dollar.
The story itself is set after the events of the main game, meaning that it really does pay to have played through the entirety of Dragon Age before giving this a go as some of your choices there can effect what goes on in Awakening. It plays out as a new plotline and sees you up against a new breed of intelligent Darkspawn that are embroiled in a civil war of sorts. Your overriding goal is to get to the bottom of the conflict and prevent it from spilling over into your lands, while at the same time restoring the Grey Warden ranks in order to combat future threats. So far so good, but the truth is that none of new characters really have time to build up a convincing scenario. While the plot can last up to ten hours, assuming you take on other quests along the way, you often find yourself blitzing through one boss after another with them making very little impression on the plot. Most of the tale is not really told until the very end anyway meaning that things feel a little too lopsided and you spend most of your time just killing whatever crosses your path.
The new characters this time are also poorly handled as many of the great conversation and bonding options have been axed entirely. You may engage in the odd bit of banter when an interesting area or object comes along but it's nothing compared to the full game. It means you never get to really know your team, or care about them in the same way that you did previously. You will also suffer from the fact that you only get some recruits after certain major events and by the end of the DLC you will have only had your latest addition for an hour or so – hardly enough time to get to know what makes them tick. It is also galling that you cannot use your team from the original game and the only member they didgive you access to is sadly one of the least inspiring, though he almost made up for it with the bellowed line, “Nobody touches Oghren’s junk and lives”. Comedy is alive and well in the game at least.
Aside from the main quest, you also have a bunch of side quests to occupy your time but these are often far too easy and insipid. Do you really want to traipse through the woods to find eight statues then wander back to the city to report your success? Not really my idea of a good time either. The companion quests are also amazingly short and disappointing, often just resulting in a short battle or finding the right item to keep them sweet. Considering the variety of tasks that made up Dragon Age, the expansion pales in comparison.
Watch out for The Children, as they are some mean kids.
Awakening also suffers from a number of technical issues. First of all, quests often cancel one another out if your choose the wrong option, and during the forest chapter, you can actually mess up the game entirely if you do not follow a set chain of events resulting in a total restart (or at the least a hop back to an earlier save). Trying to unlock a stuck door resulting in numbers being stuck floating above my characters head for ten minutes was not a fun experience. Another character under the influence of one of his abilities, would also appear disfigured in every cutscene with his teeth, tongue and eyes appearing to float above his skin. Even importing your original Dragon Age character is far from simple as the game does not allow you to keep hold of certain powerful bits of equipment, resulting in you appearing in the opening cutscene in nothing but a pair of pants – hardly realistic me thinks. Such obvious issues should have been found during testing and are unacceptable for a piece of content bordering on full price.
Achievements wise, Awakening is decidedly bog standard really and you can snag everything in one playthrough without too much effort. Most of the points are pretty much story related and cannot be missed, barring one towards the end of the game where a careful save will mean you can get both choices done without restarting should you so wish. The only other tasks are grinding up to level 30 which will come with natural progression and doing all of the minor quests that will see your home base kitted out. A bit of a bare bones addition really with not much in the way of thought or intrigue which makes it a bit of a missed opportunity.
While you may well get a nearly ten hour piece of content here, it is far from a finished product and feels very much as though it was rushed out of the door thanks to the limited character interaction, poor story, minimal side quests and numerous technical issues. At the very least you should wait until Awakening becomes part of the Deal of the Week on Xbox Live, or buy the retail disc so you can trade it back in and recoup some of the exorbitant costs. This is truly for hardcore Dragon Age fans only and even they may well feel that the whole game has been dumbed down way too much to be recognizable any more.