Friday, August 5, 2011

Twenty Six - Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening

With the year past seven-twelfths over, I'm at game number twenty six. My goal of fifty for 2011 seems trickier and trickier. This time it's Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening, the expansion to my favorite western RPG of all time.

Dragon Age: Origins was a magnificent game. I can't talk about it enough. Stunning narrative, great characters and dialogue, I'll spare you the whole lecture. BioWare knows their shit. BioWare also is a company that likes to pump their games full of expansions and downloadable content, and DA:O is no exception. I've sampled all of its DLC, saving the biggest for last. Was it the best? Maybe.

The DLC that is incorporated to the Dragon Age: Origins main game is pretty boss. The Stone Prisoner adds the fan-favorite Shale to the team, Return to Ostagar adds a good amount of lore and intrigue to the game world and allows the player avenge Duncan's death, and Warden's Keep brings some more Warden lore and gives the player a stash. Most of the DLC that takes place after the events of Origins, however, is a major disappointment. Golems of Amgarrak is a $5 dollar dungeon with no interaction with characters from Origins and Witch Hunt actually won an award from Gamespot for "Most Unnecessary Downloadable Content." Awakening, however, is the exception.

Awakening might be expensive ($40 download, $20ish used), but it's at least worth the price of a full-fledged game. You have the option of importing your Grey Warden from a save file from Dragon Age: Origins or creating a new one yourself that is level 20 right out of the box. From there, you encounter old friends, recruit new allies (you really put The Right of Conscription through its paces), and make new decisions that might reshape the world of Dragon Age.

The game contains three quest lines that are each at least one sizeable, involved dungeon with lots of dialogue and character interactions, followed by an endgame where shit gets real. All of the skills, equipment, and systems in place in Origins are back, plus six new specializations, dozens of new skills, and a ton of powerful new equipment. From a raw content standpoint, Awakening does a very good job.

The plot, while appearing fragmented at first, is solid. The Warden is given control of the Arling of Amaranthine, and, in addition to righting wrongs and killing Darkspawn along the Fereldan coast, is expected to settle disputes, choose where to deploy security forces, and manage a sizeable province. But while the storyline moves along there's a puzzling, disturbing development hanging overhead: despite the lack of an Archdemon to lead them, Darkspawn have developed the power of speech and intellect. That's the hook that keeps the player guessing until the final dungeon, when shit gets real.

If there's a weakness, it's that the cast isn't *quite* as compelling as the excellent team of companions you recruit in Origins. Oghren returns with his drunken, disorderly demeanor, but Anders' sarcastic unwillingness isn't as charming as Alistair's, neither Nathaniel nor Sigrun is as appealing a Rogue as Leliana or Zevran, and Velanna's seething anti-human attitude doesn't hold a candle to Morrigan's dark humor or Shale's unique perspective. The most interesting playable character from Awakening, to me, is Justice, a benevolent fade spirit of, well, justice, that's trapped in the real world, bound to the corpse of a fallen Grey Warden.

All of that sounds pretty cool, and it is, but it's still ultimately an expansion pack. I beat the game in about 12 hours, completing nearly every sidequest I found, and I'm sure someone that knew what they were doing could finish it in half the time. It's a lot meatier and lengthier than Dragon Age's other expansions, but compared to the original Origins (heh...) it's just too damn short.

Games Beaten: 2011 Edition

1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
5. Flower
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
26. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening


What's next? Dragon Age 2 and Mortal Kombat 9. Nothing else comes close. Might be a little PSP and DS gaming on the side, but nothing is engaging me right now like those two.

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