Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening • Page 3

They have a voice. They're going to use it.

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. It gives the impression that it's all going somewhere significant, but ended with a bug allowing me to complete it for both sides. This seems to be a perennial issue 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.

On the other hand, Awakening redeems itself with by far the best prison break I've played. It's a hoary old set-up - your party gets captured, its equipment removed, and locked in a cell - but it's handled with real finesse. It offers you the satisfaction of making good your escape using the scraps of equipment you can find, but then quite brilliantly returns all your stuff to you in such a way that there's never that awful moment of having to figure out what was whose. It even has a shop at the end so you don't get over-full inventory syndrome. Standing ovation.

One angry Dalish Elf. Check!

Most importantly, Awakening is a refined beast. Dragon Age's rougher edges have been smoothed, including the difficulty levels. Pre-patch, the original was a real mess of spikes; that's absolutely not the case here. Normal provides a sensible challenge for those wanting to combine real-time attacks with judicious use of turn-based pausing, and Easy is a cakewalk. Then scale it to Hard or Nightmare depending on how hardcore you are; just as it always should have been.

The new sets of attacks, buffs, spells and talents make combat much more interesting, letting you choose from a vast array of abilities rather than spamming the two or three that get you through. And of course, there's the satisfaction of being a high-powered crew capable of some really splendid tactics.

While a quarter of the size of Dragon Age, Awakening is still absolutely enormous. At 25 hours, your £20 is buying you a game three times as long as some things twice the price, and it's every bit as rich and involved as the original. Sure, you'll bristle at being forced to work with new characters, but that quickly passes and you're consumed once more.

They've got a gob on them, and they're going to use it.

Nothing feels tacked-on or cursory. Even the one-shot, one-scene locations are elaborately designed. Each new companion has a detailed, nuanced background, and brilliant banter to share as you go about your business. (A favourite line from Anders: "That ballista is conveniently placed. Well, I'm always up for a spot of iconoclasm.") You don't just help out a village in trouble: you learn about that village, its place in history, the reason it's in trouble, and you experience the consequences of helping it.

Awakening is a mighty fine addition to the Dragon Age canon, and a rewarding continuation of its story. Perhaps most interestingly, the volume of choices you make leads to what might be an even more variable ending than the previous one. There are some incredibly tough choices to be made, some peculiar allegiances to form, and a region to save from the darkspawn. You're a Grey Warden, it's your duty.

9 /10

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John Walker

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