Saturday, October 8, 2011

Awakening is Halfway Decent

Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening had potential to be a good expansion, but its execution leaves it a little mired. It amounts to mostly "more of the same," which would be a good thing if I were completely enamored with the original game. But since I grew weary of my time in the first game, playing the expansion didn't do much to rekindle my interests. It has its moments, certainly, but it's nothing particularly great. So I'll just run a quick list of things I liked and disliked in Awakening, after the jump. 

Things I Liked:
1. I appreciated that companions' dialogues are integrated with the environment more. In order to trigger conversation points and to fully raise their approval, you actually have to take them out of camp and have them interact with things in the environment. It's just nice to have some kind of reason to mix the party up and it makes the approval system a little deeper than just sweet-talking everyone in camp.
2. Some of the new skills and specializations are pretty cool. The battlemage complimented my arcane warrior build perfectly, although most of the new generic mage skills didn't mix well with my playstyle. Still, it gave me some new ways to build my character which made me want to explore and level-up, at least for a while.
3. Awakening only lasts 15-20 hours, which is a much more reasonable amount of time to spend playing a game (compared to the ~100 hours I spent in Origins). Instead of growing weary of the game, I felt invigorated with being able to just play through it and be done with it.
4. The final decision demonstrates that this isn't a perfect, happy story. You're torn between convenience, being a hero, friendship, and pragmatism, and it's not an easy choice---unless you were thorough about completing the quests, in which case you can confidently pick one option (save the city) over the other (save the Keep), knowing full well that everything will turn out alright [because you fortified the Keep so that it can actually withstand an invasion]. Which detracts from the impact, but I appreciate what they were aiming for initially.
5. The Blackmarsh area has some good atmosphere. Dark and spooky with an interesting backstory, I was so pleased to be in an area that wasn't sending me into some claustrophobic underground mine or dungeon. They do send you into the Fade again, but it's in no way as tedious as the Fade sequence from Origins, it's actually somewhat interesting to see the parallels between what you do in the Fade and what happens in the real world. 

Things I Disliked: 
1. I wasn't sold on the story. I like the idea of characterizing darkspawn, making them seem like more than just monsters, and giving us an opportunity to collaborate with a darkspawn leader, but the whole thing felt tacked-on and didn't convince me in any serious way. It might've been better if they'd characterized the Architect throughout the whole game instead of just waiting until the very end.
2. I didn't appreciate how Awakening almost retcons the first game; it doesn't do justice to the lore or your accomplishments. The Joining, for example, was a big deal that few actually survived, and now it has an 85% success rate with everyone in the realm becoming a warden. Kind of belittles the effect of your own Joining. Likewise, I find it a little lame that after that huge, epic quest to defeat the Archdemon, there's so suddenly "a new threat," as if defeating the Archdemon didn't really matter. 
3. The new characters are mostly forgettable. You don't get a sense of character development because the conversations don't build or really go anywhere, and thus it's hard to feel a bond or attachment to any of them. Never mind the fact that all of their personal quests are anti-climactic and don't really affect anything at all, or the fact that their personalities are actually pretty shallow and flat. 
4. As an Arcane Warrior, I was disappointed with virtually all of the new gear because none of it tailored to my class or was any better than what I'd already brought in from Origins. Sure, they had higher damage or armor stats, and some of the bonuses were kind of nice, but on the whole, nothing was definitively "better" than what I already had. I ended up installing modded equipment just to get something that was actually cool and interesting.
5. There are even fewer dragons in Awakening and they're even more underwhelming than before. There are two Dragon Thralls, a spectral dragon, and a single High Dragon. The spectral dragon was pretty cool and unique, but others were totally "meh." Especially the High Dragon, which came out of nowhere, for no reason, and died at the hand of my party before I even realized it had lost any serious amount of health. For a game called "Dragon Age," I'd expect more/better dragons.

In Conclusion:

Awakening is mostly just "more of the same," which can be good or bad. If you were totally enamored with Origins, then it's a great way to get back into the experience, but if you were kind of tired of Origins then Awakening isn't going to change your impressions much. I don't regret playing it, but it's not especially great, either. But at least it's only a fraction as long as Origins. And that's what I appreciate most.

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