They say you can't go home again, but whoever coined that old adage apparently wasn't talking about the realm of Ferelden. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening returns you to this familiar and fair fantasy world, where degenerate demons called darkspawn have ravaged the land. The forces of evil may still lurk, but fans of 2009's wonderful Dragon Age will settle easily into the game's first full expansion pack, which harbors few surprises but delivers all the loot-happy adventuring that they'd expect. Awakening is not as exceptional as the main game; its story and characters make little impression, which is a disappointment compared to Dragon Age's splendid yarn. But in spite of some story frustrations and scattered bugs, Awakening is more of a terrific thing. It isn't a groundbreaking expansion, but it's an entertaining one that reminds us that if it isn't broken, there's no need to fix it.
6253718The Grey Wardens are always in the right place at the right time.None
You begin Awakening by selecting a character, either by importing one from Dragon Age: Origins or by creating a new one, who will start at level 18. Whichever route you choose, you're immediately dropped outside the fortress of Warden's Keep, where darkspawn continue their assault in spite of the Grey Wardens' earlier triumphs. It's clear from the beginning, however, that these foes are not the usual expendable masses. You hear tales of a darkspawn that speaks, and soon thereafter you meet this growling beast. As the keep's commander, it's up to you to venture into the surrounding environs, searching for clues that may help you identify and stave off the forces behind the new threat.
This is a straightforward fable much like the original, though it does provide a few memorable threads. A damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't decision toward the end of the game is possibly the finest of these, and your choice has major effects on how your adventure plays out. Tension between siblings and a journey into the realm of spirits known as The Fade serve up some additional highlights. Yet in spite of a few quality moments, the story isn't as interesting as you'd expect. One of Dragon Age: Origins' most shocking moments illustrated the sacrifice Grey Wardens must be willing to make to join the order, and it underlined just how determined and self-possessed its members must be. In Awakening, the ritual is treated so casually that the Grey Wardens--and the Joining--no longer retain their edge. The story treats The Right of Conscription with a maddening degree of carelessness; what was once serious has become almost flippant.
Luckily, your old ale-swilling pal Oghren will be there to remind you of the good old days. While you run into a couple of friends from your previous quests, the dwarf Oghren is the only party member from Dragon Age to cross over into Awakening. He's as funny as he ever was and a never-ending source of comic relief. His belching, cussing, womanizing ways always make for entertaining stories during your travels, and he's a great foil for Anders, a sarcastic mage who joins your party early on. You'll add four others to your party, including a warrior named Justice who proves that looks really can be deceiving, and a Dalish elf called Valenna who regrets the loss of her people's ancient myths and legends. Oghren is practically a legend, or at least he's one in his own mind, but none of your new cohorts are as unforgettable as old friends like Dragon Age's Alistair and Morrigan, let alone Oghren. There are no romances to undertake, and while giving gifts to your party members will lead to new dialogue options and other surprises, you aren't likely to get too caught up in their personal tales. So classic characters they aren't, but they are still appealing, in part due to the uniformly excellent voice acting that brings them to life.
Mages and archers and demons, oh my!