Mere hours after its retail and LIVE release, the dams have burst and the first wave of reviews for BioWare's expansion to Dragon Age: Origins are out. Eurogamer has an indepth, 3-page review, ending in a 9/10 rating.
There are further quests from the Chantry board in Amaranthine, personal tasks asked of you by someone who I suppose is best described as your secretary, a merchants' board to take quests from, and best of all, in a pub in the city, challenges given to you by the "Blight Orfans". This group of cheeky children has a series of fantastically silly requests, poorly spelt and thinly disguised as virtuous. Choose to join in and you're quickly putting itching powder in people's beds, stealing books from the church, and scaring the neighbours.
However, the Orfans' series of quests also reveals Awakening's biggest problem: a tendency to fizzle out. Finishing their list of challenges ends in, well, nothing. No consequences at all. A much worse example was a nice set-up in Amaranthine, where you're asked to choose between helping the city guard or the smugglers they're fighting. This seems to be a perennial issues with RPGs, but it's so unsatisfying. Then the overall ending to Awakening, while certainly dramatic and enormous, comes to a close too quickly, lacking the after-show party that made Dragon Age's finale so rewarding.
This expansion does follow the BioWare formula, so you're given a handful of regions and a directive to take care of them however you want. Quests range from more imaginative than in Origins (investigating a literal ghost town) to the expected (go underground and clear out the darkspawn). In-between story-critical quests, you're often asked to deal with political matters back at the fortress, such as making, "who is right/wrong" judgments and resolving genuine dilemmas (will you allocate troops to the farms, or to the city?). Finally, there are numerous sidequests: puzzles to solve within dungeons, helping a party member deal with family issues, or taking on a spectral dragon. As good as these quests are, they also fall victim to the glitchiness from having a big game with so many moving parts within; I've had quest triggers either fail to initialize (meaning I couldn't progress), or trigger incorrectly (in one instance, I helped the cops rather than the criminals, but even after killing said criminals, the guards treated me as though I sided with the bandits, until I reloaded and replayed the entire quest chain).
Dragon Age: Origins Awakening will take around 10 to 15 hours depending on how fast it is worked through along with the side missions. Some might also scoff at the 10 to 15 hours of content on the expansion, but considering other genres complete an entire title in that amount of time and Dragon Age: Origins Awakening expands on the story in a way that fills in a lot of holes, it's worth the admission.
Team Xbox 7.
Presentationally things feel compromised as well. From voice-acting that can be irritatingly inconsistent at times to bizarre clipping issues with the camera in the (New annoyances) column, to the frequently awful textures and audio compression in the (Old Annoyances) column, Awakening is, like Origins before it, a game enjoyed despite its technical aspects. The framerate seems more consistent at least.
But, you can't have sex with them - a juvenile criticism, perhaps, but important to note. Dragon Age's relationship system is great, and in many ways more sophisticated than Mass Effect's Paragon/Renegade karma system. As before, your party members act as a mirror that reflects your moral compass. Your decisions, good or bad, affect the relationships you have with the guys and gals of your crew. A decision to kill first, ask questions later, may impress Oghren, but it'll probably piss someone else off. Completing quests for the Chantry - Ferelden's resident religious group - may reward you with loads of cash, but Anders, who hates the Circle of Magi with a passion, won't be happy. In Origins, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to please sultry shapeshifter Morrigan so that I could get my leg over. In Awakening, there are no romance options, so I just don't care as much.
ZT Game Domain 9.
One area that I really enjoyed about the expansion is that you really do fight some epic creatures in the shorter experience. For a game being called Dragon Age, there certainly were not a lot of encounters with the mythical creatures in the first outing. This time around there are several occasions where you have to defeat the fire breathers. The level cap has also been raised allowing you to even further power up your character as well as new spells, abilities and specializations that allow an even more robust set of options to expand your abilities. Overall the game really does add quite a bit of new content while still feeling like an old friend.
Gaming Nexus B+.
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 dÃ©jÃ 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.
All of the features where Awakening could have built on the Dragon Age foundation are sidelined, like the team at BioWare knew where to expand but didn't have the time to flesh them out. Building up your base at Vigil's Keep is just a handful of simple upgrades. Governing the region is handled in a single sequence where you mete out justice. Unraveling a conspiracy against your rule is a brief sidequest. Maybe a 15-hour adventure isn't enough to time to dig into these concepts, but they feel pretty hollow and unsatisfying as implemented.