|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: BioWare||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 16, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
In Dragon Age Origins, BioWare struck pay dirt; creating an epic fantasy world within which gamers love to play. Ferelden was rife with dangers and stories that made it a treat to play through several times, endearing players to the interesting characters, the weighty history, and the lush, lived-in world. BioWare obviously had a plan: To make an RPG platform, not just a video game. As a result, there's a lot more potential, not only for the franchise, but for the game disc players already own. Taking a cue from Bethesda's Fallout 3, players have already gotten a host of add-on goodies to augment their play experience.
Just four months after the original release, BioWare has raised the stakes significantly by introducing a major 20 hour expansion to the mix. Though you'll have to pay a pretty penny to get access ($39.99 or 3200 Microsoft points), Dragon Age Origins: Awakening will be well worth the price of admission for most players. That's because, in addition to an increased level cap, new enemies, a fresh region of the world, and innovative skills, talents, and specializations, there's an entire new set of compelling stories to discover whether you import one or all of your previous characters or start a new hero from scratch. In retrospect, $40 kind of seems like a deal in light of all the content on offer here.
As it turns out, Dragon Age Origins was really just the beginning of the adventures that await fans of the series. This first major expansion casts us back into the role of Grey Warden, this time in a new part of the world facing off against a new threat. For those of you that haven't played Dragon Age Origins, it's probably best if you just stop reading this review now and go out and get that game first, play it, then pick back up where you left off. For everyone else, know that the Arch Demon and the Blight was just the beginning. The Darkspawn didn't return to the dark roads beneath the earth; they stayed and began to form tribes. They are once again terrorizing the goodly races, but this time they might even be more dangerous. That's because a number of them have evolved - some of these monsters are actually intelligent and even intelligible. That's right; some of them can speak. It will be your responsibility as Commander of the Grey Wardens to rid the world of this new menace by consolidating your kingdom, inspiring your people, and, of course, taking the fight directly to the enemy.
A new element that comes to Dragon Age via Awakening is that of nation-building. Coming from Orlais, you are mistrusted by the local nobles and people used to the Howe family leadership. As such, you will have to quickly quell rebellious nobles and restore trade to the region to ameliorate the lingering starvation and suffering felt by the common people. Of course, you'll also have to eliminate the immediate Darspawn threat by refortifying the infrastructure and recruiting hardy individuals to repopulate the dwindling Grey Warden order. Playing as a well-known leader gives the game a very different characteristic and sets the stage for the higher-tier play. Otherwise, the strategic combat gameplay of the original is fully intact. In fact, no changes have been made to gameplay whatsoever.
What you will find are a few key additions. For starters, you'll now have access to three new skill chains: Runecrafting, Vitality, and Clarity. Runecrafting lets trained party members create runes of power and defense to apply to slotted weapons and armor. Depending on how many trained ranks you put into the skill, the better, more powerful runes you can craft. Vitality is a skill chain you'll want to adopt for your frontline fighters. As you'd expect, dropping points into Vitality will give you passive bonuses to your constitution as well as adding to your health reservoir. Clarity is a skill chain for any character. Putting points into Clarity will beef up your mana pool or give you more stamina from which to draw, depending on whether the character is a magic-user or not.