Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening Interview

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Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Electronic Arts
Developer:BioWare Corp.
Release Date:2010-03-16
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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There was a time when retail expansion packs were expected whenever a PC video game reached a certain level of success. Thanks to the rise of console systems and the ease at which content can be delivered digitally, the content-rich expansions we grew up playing through are nearly a thing of the past. I say nearly because next week we'll be receiving Awakening, a standard off-the-shelf addon for last year's excellent Dragon Age: Origins.

Anyway, to get an idea of what we should expect from Awakening, I sent off a small batch of questions to lead designer Ferret Baudoin. Keep in mind that I originally submitted these questions to the team over two months ago, so some of the information is slightly dated. I've included the entirety of the exchange anyway, though, just in case anyone is coming into this interview with very little previous knowledge of the expansion:

GB: How seamlessly will the Awakening expansion pack tie in to the original content? If we start a brand new game, can we venture between the overland maps as we please? Can our previous companions join us in Amaranthine, and can the new companions return to help us defeat the Archdemon?

Ferret: Awakening is like a new book in the Dragon Age series. It takes place several months after the Archdemon's death in Origins and seamlessly picks up from there. You can't go back to Origins with the new companions or visit the old haunts because Awakening happens afterwards. Don't worry, though, because there's plenty to keep you busy. Although the Archdemon is dead the darkspawn aren't fleeing to the Deep Roads like they should and there are ominous rumors that the darkspawn are acting very odd tales of horrifying new critters and darkspawn that talk, if you could believe that.

There is a new cast of memorable characters to meet, and in some cases recruit. Oghren returns as a companion for Awakening and several of your old friends have cameo roles, as well. You'll need all the help you can get to stem the tide of darkspawn that once again threaten to envelop the land.

GB: What should we expect when starting a new character in Orlais? Is there an "origin" section that's only playable by new characters? If so, how does it compare in terms of size and scope to the original origins in the base game?

Ferret: The new Orlesian Grey Warden isn't an origin like we had, well, in Origins. It's a background option that adds color to your experience playing through Awakening. Since the invading Orlesian Empire were only thrown out of Ferelden a few decades ago, the memories of occupation and Orlesian cruelty are very fresh. Unsurprisingly, some people will react quite differently to the new Orlesian that is not only the Warden Commander of Ferelden, but also the arl of Amaranthine a landed noble of a good chunk of the kingdom.

GB: Tell us a bit about Vigil's Keep. What makes this stronghold a good location to begin rebuilding the Grey Wardens?

Ferret: The previous ruler of Amaranthine, Arl Rendon Howe, ruled Amaranthine from his fortress of Vigil's Keep. When the arling was granted to the Wardens at the end of Origins, it is only logical to occupy the arling's fortress. Although Vigil's Keep isn't as populous as the city of Amaranthine it is the mightiest fortification in the arling. And with the darkspawn cloud gathering on the horizon, using it as a base of operations is not only wise in order to install a sense of continuity for the populace but potentially it could be vital just to survive.

Vigil's Keep has seen better years Arl Howe's ambitions and attention were more focused towards Denerim and the whole kingdom, so there's plenty to do in order to rebuild and make it a resplendent home for the Wardens. Or you can leave it in its state of disrepair. You're the ruler of your lands, this choice and many others are yours to make.

GB: Can you tell us anything about the new specializations you're adding in the expansion? What character roles are you hoping to accommodate with them?

Ferret: Each class has two specializations, for a total of six. When we were designing the specializations for Awakening we were looking to add real color with them. So you have mage specialties like the Dalish Keeper which can summon the forces of mother earth herself creating a tangle of vines around the caster to ensnare and damage any enemies foolish enough to get nearby. An ability that only gets more powerful as you pick up more spells in that chain.

An example of a rogue specialty is the Legionnaire Scout, whose abilities were developed by the dwarven Legion of the Dead. All dwarvish legionnaires have to be ready to wade in the thick of near endless hordes of darkspawn, so even the sneaky sort had to be quite resilient. This specialty gives rogues a way to beef up their survivability in the heart of battle even tanking in short stretches when all else fails.

The new specializations adds a lot of color to your existing characters and add some neat new tricks and tactics to use against the many enemies you will face in Awakening.

GB: By the time a character reaches level 20 in the base game, there really aren't any desirable talents left to choose from. How do you intend to keep things fresh and ensure that we have plenty of appealing advancement options when the level cap is raised even further? How many more spells and other talents are you implementing in the expansion? Will these fall under the existing talent trees (Archery, Entropy, Two-Handed, etc.) or will we be seeing additional talent categories for each class? Care to give us an example or two?

Ferret: When we extended the level cap in Awakening (from 25 to 35) we also added a ton of new spells and abilities. There's over 50 new ones to choose from, so there's more new high level talents than you can get with one character. There's two basic type of talents we've added the talents that support our new specializations and those which are available to the core classes. The ones that give more goodies to the core classes fall into existing talent trees. Each type of weapon combat has another talent chain added to it. So two handed weapons, weapon and shield, dual wield, and archery all have four new abilities apiece. Mages get two new spell chains, as well. You have to be high level to pick up the new talents, but they're often more potent than anything you've seen before.

An example of a warrior ability is (Peon's Plight). This ability allows a warrior to outright kill any one normal or critter level enemy, or deal a lot of damage to anyone else. This allows warriors to really change the tide of many battles. For example, if you start a fight and you see a non-elite Hurlock emissary in the back ranks just bull rush him and lop off his head in one fell swoop. Conan would be proud.

Another awesome ability that both warriors and rogues can pick up is (Accuracy). It's a modal ability for archers that once activated increases the effectiveness of all of your ranged combat stats. The difference is immediate and noticeable. If you get the entire Archery ability chain it feels like Legolas has got your back.

GB: Five new companions sounds pretty ambitious. What can you tell us about them? Will we be able to assemble our group with combinations of the new companions and the "old" ones, and if so, will there be additional banter from the previous companions when someone new joins the party?

Ferret: The new companions are integrated tightly into the story. You're one of the only Wardens left in the kingdom, and it's your job to recruit the best and the brightest to join the order and battle darkspawn no matter where they lie. One of the old companions does return in Awakening, and Oghren definitely has a lot to say to the new fellas. Companions still bicker, banter, and shed light on your adventures. It's more of what you loved from Origins.

You've got companions like Anders, who is a powerful apostate mage that is almost Houdini like in his ability to break out of the Circle Tower but unfortunately can't outrace the phylactery wielding templars. He's not an evil mage, by any means, he just doesn't want to live under lock and key supervised by the ever vigilant templars some of whom are waiting for any excuse to end the threat mages pose to the rest of humany.

We've got Velanna, who was a Dalish Elf that could no longer bear living on the edge of civilization, ever fearful that the humans will come to once again drive them off. The ancient elven people were once mighty and to be feared. The life they lead now is a mockery of their former greatness. She wants to avenge her fallen friends and people and teach humans that the Dalish are no longer easy prey.

GB: You've obviously received a lot of player feedback since the release of Dragon Age: Origins. Based on such feedback, will you be introducing any tweaks to the game's UI or general mechanics in Awakening? For example, might we see specific numbers for calculating talent damages, durations, and areas of effect or a list of bonuses when a full item set is equipped?

Ferret: Awakening is an expansion pack, not a sequel. So we've taken what we've learned from Origins to spin another tale of adventure in Thedas. Improvements have been made here and there but our focus has been delivering a lot more quality adventure for eager players to experience.

GB: What's next for Dragon Age: Origins? If Awakening is met with success, can we expect more "full" expansion packs for the game? Or do you intend to stick with smaller DLC addons following Awakening's release?

Ferret: The success of Dragon Age: Origins has given us a ton of opportunity to tales both great and small in our world. There's so much more we'd like to do and share with everyone. Whether they're expansion packs or other things, stay tuned to www.dragonage.com to find out. (Yes, I know, I'm such a tease).