tiistai 5. huhtikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening (2010)

RELEASED: March 2010
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts

Five months after the release of Dragon Age: Origins, players were treated to an expansion pack that came on as more than a tad pricey, but it was promised to be well worth the download for true fans of the game. Awakening offered players tens of more quality hours to spend travelling the Thedas soils in the boots of a Grey Warden and introduced them to a new, charismatic cast of characters including a fleshed-out main antagonist, so the only question is: what's not to like about it? Well...

The death and resurrection of a Grey Warden

Greg Ellis : Anders
Adam Leadbeater : Justice
Simon Chadwick : Nathaniel Howe
Steve Blum : Oghren / Jukka
Natalia Cigliuti : Sigrun
Jamie Glover : The Architect / Statue of Peace / Mosley the Snake
Dee Dee Rescher : The Mother
Robin Sachs : Seneschal Varel / Narrator / Statue of War
Grey DeLisle : Velanna / Namaya / Danella / Vigil Private
Matthew Ashforde : Ser Derren / Shady Character / Ser Timothy

The Blight has ended, but a new, highly intelligent breed of darkspawn has emerged. As the newly appointed Warden-Commander, your mission is to build up a group of Grey Wardens like Duncan before you, seek out the source of the insurgence and neutralize it.

I bailed out on Awakening for a few months into its release, it was just way too expensive. 39,95 for an expansion pack, when I had paid 42,95 for the game itself and it came complete with The Stone Prisoner and the Blood Dragon Armor set? Didn't sound like a good deal to me, especially since I wasn't nearly done with my second playthrough of the retail. Well, at some point I had too much money burning holes in my pockets, I guess - oh, how I'd wish to experience that again in the very near future - so I paid the ridiculous price to get at the very least 15-20 more hours of that sweet Dragon Age bliss... but I didn't play it! I planned to get the thing off my chest right after finishing my Platinum playthrough, but that took me a long while, and after I had done it, I was so bored with the game that I just couldn't take one more minute of it, or anything of its kind. Almost a year has passed since I downloaded Awakening, and I finally took it for a ride. It's certainly a good ride... but worth the forty? Not really. Like it would matter anymore, since some of you were patient enough to wait for the Ultimate f'n Edition, while some of us less patient people paid over 100 euros to complete the set... I'm not bitter or anything. I'm just real pissed off at EA for announcing the Ultimate Edition just a few days after the release of Witch Hunt. A real consumer-friendly stunt they pulled.

Since Awakening is a seamlessly planted expansion, there's nothing audiovisually new about it. It's perhaps a tad more cinematic than the retail, so I'll give it a fraction of a point for not looking quite as mechanical. There's no new music, either. However, the voice cast is almost completely new. Some old friends return if you didn't happen to kill them in the retail, in case you decide to import your character - which is of course recommendable, and the whole point of this expansion pack in my view. Awakening features a whole new cast of characters for the most part. Although they might strike you as merely carbon copies or mixtures of your companions in Origins, you've got to admit they're good.

There's only one worse thing than a darkspawn:
a darkspawn with brains.
The very suspicious mage Anders (Greg Ellis) is like a far less annoying version of Jowan (a.k.a. "It wasn't me, it was the one-armed maleficar"), and has a good dose of both Alistair's goofiness and Morrigan's dark sarcasm in him. Nathaniel Howe (Simon Chadwick) is an angry, arrogant rogue who despises your Grey Warden for killing his "misunderstood" father (remember?), but he is quite easily forced to see the truth behind this "senseless murder". Oghren (Steve Blum) returns as the mandatory Dragon Age veteran. He was one of the few companions you couldn't kill or dismiss in the retail, which explains his strong presence. There are others who return as NPC's and perhaps sidequest employers, but again, only if you didn't kill them. About Oghren... I still love the guy, of course (especially the joining scene), but overall, he has too big of a role for his own good. Jokes related to booze, the other companions and drunken delusions are funny, but they start to get a little old when each line that comes out of the character's mouth is either a drunken rant or an insult. What I personally find extremely funny is that Steve Blum also does the voice of a minor character called Jukka! Which is my real name, of course, for those who perhaps haven't noted. Too bad for me that he's a dwarf and he spends a glorious two minutes on the screen before kicking the bucket, but I can't have it all.

You can create a new Orlesian character that starts from level 18, or import your Grey Warden from the retail - in which case you'll either start from level 18, or the level you finished the game on, if it's higher than 18. Creating a new character makes absolutely no sense to me. You're playing this because you want to continue your Warden's story, right? I hope so. And besides, people hate Orlesian Wardens, while they treat your Fereldan Warden with respect regardless of your retail track record - well, Orlais is kind of like Thedas' France, right? Is it any wonder? Anyway, I had a bit of a problem here.

[SPOILERS] On my second playthrough, I used a female mage who was totally OP'd by the end of the game. No darkspawn ever stood a chance against her. I refined her combat skills to the hilt. I ended up manipulating Loghain to have sex with Morrigan - since naturally, I couldn't do it myself - which means Morrigan stayed with me to the bitter end, and fought the Archdemon by my side, with a demonic bun in the oven. So, my mage survived, and she would've therefore been a logical choice for the role of the Warden-Commander in Awakening. The problem is, I made her up to be such an evil, manipulative bitch (she was based on my ex-fiancee), that I just couldn't bear to use her anymore after reaching the end credits. My rogue... he was my favourite character to use as far as gameplay went in the retail, but I wasn't able to establish an emotional connection to him, because he was more or less a filler for my Platinum hunt. So, the only option I had left was the warrior, the human noble I designed after myself. This man originally had a very passionate relationship with Morrigan, but told her to piss off when she came on to him with her demonic proposal, and sacrificed himself for the future of Ferelden. I watched in half-tears as my proudest creation was buried as a hero known all over Thedas. I expected some kind of explanation as to why he's suddenly resurrected in Awakening - but I never got it. Even Fallout 3: Broken Steel had such an explanation. Disappointing, and distracting. Luckily the bonafide Dragon Age gameplay quality compensates for it. [END SPOILERS]

What also worried me about using my original Grey Warden was that his skills and attributes were not quite up to par with all that I had learned about the game on subsequent playthroughs. In other words, I kind of jumbled him up with skills and specializations which were totally useless to me in the long run, and failed to teach him some really essential skills. Well, I'm in luck. The first few intro quests are easy to beat, and after those quests, you can buy a Manual of Focus, which allows you to remove all skills, assigned attribute points and specializations from any of your characters and re-assemble that whole character. Praise the Maker, although I would've wanted to modify the character's looks as well; the Warden still has my long hair look, I would've liked to shave his head. You can buy as many of these Manuals as you want throughout the course of the whole expansion, so you can't really, irreversibly fuck anything up.

Morrigan went her own way to give birth to
Satan, so here we have a substitute in the lovely
(yet vengeful and murderous) Velanna.
Let's start from the end. It took me exactly 19 hours and 19 minutes to beat Awakening. I know I missed out on many sidequests. I missed some intentionally, since I really didn't feel like being anyone's errand boy. The armorer Wade returns more annoying than he ever was in the retail, and he gives you several shopping lists for several items he needs to build some deadly weapons and armour. Why would I even need them? The expansion's a walk in the park with the equipment you carry over from the game and get from other quests. To hell with Wade. Some of the sidequests I missed because I simply couldn't do them. A glitch seemingly killed off an NPC I was supposed to meet (there was no one in the given location, not even a quest marker on the minimap), and there's this one mine that has a few sidequests apart from the main plot. If you leave the mine after finishing your primary job down there, you can't return to do those sidequests - yet, they still appear on the list. Annoying!

Anyway, this 20-hour continuation of the Dragon Age: Origins storyline begins well. Depending on the decisions you made in the retail, there might be a few confrontations with old friends and enemies. Perhaps too few. Some characters that would've been great to meet, and who I actually expected to see again, never show up under any circumstances. They aren't even referred to in dialogue. So the story's good, but it feels disappointingly detached from the retail. It's not really a continuation of your Warden's epic tale, it's almost like a sidestory from a whole other universe - especially since no one ever notes my Warden's demise and sudden resurrection, and since it takes place in a different location on the world map, the Arling of Amaranthine.

Since the Archdemon's demise, the different races still haven't found a common tune, they still hate each other, but are definitely unified in a time of stress, so you can rest easy since you've accomplished at least something. Your mission is no longer to unify the people, it's to re-establish a proper Grey Warden order to stand against the new, unexplained darkspawn threat. Each chapter in the main quest introduces a new potential recruit to the order. There's a total of seven playable characters: your Warden, Oghren, two rogues, two mages, and one additional warrior, perhaps the most interesting character in the game as far as backstories are concerned. You can still refuse help from some of these characters or even kill them as per usual. Romances are no longer possible, so no matter how much Velanna's cleavage and pointy ears might turn you on, you shouldn't get your hopes of banging her too high. The Approval/Disapproval meter's still in, but only to trigger companion quests and grant the characters class-specific stat increases.

The level cap is now 35, but you need to hit 30 for the Trophy/Achievement "Commander of the Grey", so it's the ideal top level. I finished Awakening on level 32 without too much trouble. There are new skills and commands for existing classes and specializations - for warriors, there's a new, essential critical attack that makes dealing well over 250 points of damage easy. However, using it will probably not score you the "Heavy Hitter" Trophy from the retail. It would be way too easy to gain a Trophy that was meant to be hard to get... and which was hard to get, since I got it on my third playthrough and I knew from the beginning exactly what I had to do to nail it, it was quite a process for a Bronze. There are also two new specializations for each class; Guardian and Spirit Warrior for warriors, Legionnaire Scout and Shadow for rogues, and Battlemage (God, I love the sound of that word) and Keeper for mages. All of the new specializations are unlocked simply by using manuals bought from merchants in your headquarters of Vigil's Keep and the city of Amaranthine. It might seem at first that you don't have enough money to buy anything, especially since some quests require you to raise large amounts of gold, but since you'll get pretty far with the equipment you can carry over from the retail, you only need to do a chapter of the main quest or two to raise money for each and every manual out there.

Childers are a whole new, extremely irritating
breed of darkspawn enemies.
Anders brings along a new skill related to craftsmanship, runecrafting. In this game, you can't buy high-quality runes - you need to craft them yourself to be able to enchant your equipment. Unfortunately, while anyone in your party can MAKE runes, they can't make any use of them. Each time you need to enchant something, you need to return to this woman named Cera back at the HQ. There's a lot of backtracking, I'll tell you - this is just one example. Every once in a while, you need to return to the Keep to take care of your actual duties as the Warden-Commander, aside from killing darkspawn - like conduct trials and solve civil issues. Some times it feels like BioWare was trying to prolong the game any way they possibly could to make it feel half as huge as the retail. The greatest thing about the HQ is that there's a storage chest, which would've been a world of help in the retail. It's especially essential the first time you get to explore Vigil's Keep freely. Just throw every item and piece of equipment you don't need - that covers about 95% of your stuff at that point - into the chest and watch the inventory limit remove the pain from your ass. The thing is, you don't need much of anything during Awakening. It's so easy.

There are a few puzzles in the game, none of
them are quite as annoying as this one. You
can't even easily reset it, if you jumble it. Not
really worth the time.
Awakening is not about challenge. The only way a veteran can possibly find it the least bit challenging is by switching to Hard or Nightmare. You don't have to be half the tactician you were forced to become during most part of the retail, even the bosses are easy. Only the very final boss was able to beat me up so bad that I needed to rethink my strategy, but I needed just one tiny smack to the head to realize what I was doing wrong - I killed the boss in one and a half minutes on the second try. I'm not saying I miss them, but the bosses in Origins... when I heard that I was supposed to enter an ancient catacomb to do battle with an army of Broodmothers in Awakening, I was shitting myself. Just one Broodmother was enough to make my life a living hell in the original game. It turned out I didn't even have to actually face this soft-spoken horde, all I needed to do was to fiddle with some ancient technology and dump a rock on 'em. The Archdemon in Origins - I couldn't even kill him on the first playthrough before changing the difficulty setting, I had jumbled my characters up so bad I couldn't maintain control. I admit it. There's nothing like the most annoying Origins bosses in Awakening. Overall it's a quick, effortless errand to all who love Origins. Very entertaining, though, yes. It has a great cast of characters, maybe not worth the 40 sovereigns, but you must check it out if and when you buy the *sigh* Ultimate Edition.

Awakening offers eight new Trophies and Achievements to those interested in them. To acquire all of them, you need to finish the expansion twice, which isn't unreasonable at all, since you can make decisions just as freely as in the retail. In at least one case, the game seemed to make my decision for me, though; I was suddenly on a faction's shitlist for simply talking to a member of the opposing one. What's funny is that I killed that dude right after talking to him, after realizing where his loyalties lied. What bothered me most was that since Origins, I had built this particular character up to be a true believer in justice, a fine warrior. Now, he was hated all over a whole region. I really felt bad.

So, the conclusion? Let me paint an image. You've never played Dragon Age: Origins before, so you go out and buy the Ultimate Edition. You get the game, AND everything related to it in the same package for the price of the original retail, including Awakening. You're thinking Awakening is awesome. Well, some of us who were in more or less of a haste, we bought it for 40 bucks or euros. Think about it: would you have paid that much for THIS? We who did, did not quite get our money's worth. At least a little bit of more challenge wouldn't have hurt.

SOUND : 8.9


GameRankings: 80.77% (PC), 80.93% (PS3), 81.33% (X360)

Also sold as a separate retail package for all systems. The PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the Awakening retail do not require the original Dragon Age: Origins to work.

2 kommenttia:

  1. Another good review.

    That bit with the factions happened to me too! I decided to be sneaky and *pretend* I would help efore killing them all in home base. The other faction (who I had killed the other group for) was mad at me for being manipulated by power or whatever. I was like "Dude ... do you not see that they are dead? I *pretended.*" le sigh.

    I did like the expansion for the most part. It felt a bit empty and easy, for the reasons you mentioned, but I liked it overall. The only thing I disagree with you is Wade. I never did his quests (like you said there is no reason for the fancy armor) but I would bring the main central component to him anyways. Wade is pretty adorable when he gets all excited and distracted from his work.

  2. I think the exact sentence was something like "You could've used your power to help this city, but you are nothing but a common murderer. I have nothing to say to you." Like... THANKS!

    I brought the main components to Wade, too. I got all the stuff he needed in one of the quests, but couldn't see what it was worth since I ended up... uh... you know. Not going to where I was needed.