Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening Review (Xbox 360)

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<em>Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening</em> Review (Xbox 360)

More of a good thing ain’t so bad

Developer: BioWare Edmonton
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Top-tier video game expansion packs usually have three main goals: to reveal more about the game world; to introduce new people, places, and things; and to provide a fresh experience without changing too much. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening succeeds on all three levels, adding 15-20 hours worth of gaming to last year’s sprawling epic, enough to whet the appetite of most RPG fans.

Whether you’ve played the original or not, Awakening forces you into unfamiliar circumstances, dropping your Grey Warden smack in the middle of Amaranthine, a country that was only mentioned peripherally in Dragon Age: Origins. Task number one is to clear the baddies out of the abandoned Vigil’s Keep, which goes on to serve as your base of operations for the rest of the game. What operations? Well, the darkspawn—heinous, evil beasts who like to make things nasty for humankind—aren’t quite as mindless as they used to be, and some of them have even started talking. Your goal is to find out why, how, and just what the hell they’re doing in Amaranthine.

Story and setting aren’t the only new elements in Awakening; the whole character system has been enhanced. The level cap is higher, new spells and classes are available, and there are quite a few new monsters to beat up. Shame that the equipment system wasn’t revamped; just like in the preceding game, it’s clumsy and hard to organize. It’s also a shame that major bugs slipped through the cracks; if one quest is completed the wrong way, it’s potentially game-breaking. But all that aside, Awakening is just as engaging as its predecessor, and it has the same epic feel that made Dragon Age: Origins so hip last year.

BioWare must have really figured out that audiences love obnoxious characters, because most of the new ones (and the returning one) are as abrasive as they come. Party members tend to be hit-or-miss, but one or two are home runs, like Anders, a loudmouthed mage who always has a nasty quip for everyone and everything in sight. The voice acting is excellent, as is the dialogue—especially in a scene when farmers come to your castle, begging for soldiers to come protect their land. And many of the quests are just as deliciously twisted as in the first game, like one job that has you breaking news to a worried woman that her husband hung himself.

But for a game that dedicates so much effort to flipping RPG conventions, you'd hope the settings wouldn't be so conventional. You’ll be wandering around the same old forests and swamps you’ve seen a thousand times before in a thousand different games. At least the chatter will keep you entertained.