Thursday, 27 May 2010

Dragon Age: Origins (Awakening)

If you're anything like me, you enjoy a good story with interesting characters you can really empathise with - not just in the obvious media like books, TV, comics and cinema, but also in video games. And, if you are like me in that respect, you don't need me to tell you how good Dragon Age: Origins was. You'll already have played it. Two or three times, probably!

Dragon Age: Origins (Awakening) is the add-on pack for that game. It was released back in March but, having read a few reviews which essentially declared it good but flawed, I decided to wait for the price to drop before buying it. Well, the price has now dropped (£20 on Amazon!) and so, as from today, I've beome the proud owner of Awakening and I can once again re-enter the world of darkspawn and do some more slaying of ogres, archdemons and dragons!

So, what about those flaws? Well, I'm only just over an hour in but the first thing that struck me was that the graphics are certainly not state-of-the-art. That's to be expected, of course. The original game was so long in development that, especially on the console versions, improvements in graphics capability simply passed it by, leaving it looking a little last generation. And, being an add-on pack rather than a fully fledged sequel, Awakening uses the same engine. It's a flaw, yes, but not one that should spoil your enjoyment of the game.

Much has also been made of the fact that, with one exception (Ohgren the dwarf), the party members from the original game do not appear in this instalment. Maybe it's because I left a long gap between finishing Origins and buying Awakening but, to be honest, so far I haven't missed them.

You start the game with one companion (Mhairi, a pretty uptight female warrior) and I don't think I'm giving away any critical spoilers if I tell you that, within the first hour or so of play, you gain two more additions to the party: Anders (a mage) and the returning Ohgren.

The inclusion of both these members has been criticised: Ohgren because, for many players, he seems to have been their least favourite character from Origins, and Anders because he's too similar to Alistair. Again, from what I've seen and played so far, I'd say those criticisms are exaggerated. Ohgren is a lot more humorous this time round and Anders has a nice line in sarcasm. His problem, I think, is not so much that he really is like Alistair (his personality is far more cynical and less weak-willed), but that he looks very much like Alistair (bad design on Bioware's part!) and that he's voiced by the same actor, blunting the effect of some of his more biting observations.

As a starting party, these characters are more than adequate and, from the reviews I've read, even the game's critics seem to agree that the party members I've yet to recruit are the more interesting ones. All in all, then, as far as the characters are concerned, the game seems poised to live up to the high standards set by its predecessor.

At this stage it's too early for me to say anything meaningful about the story. The darkspawn are still abroad and, from the very first minutes of the game, you're thrown into combat with them. Game play is unchanged from Origins and, especially if you import a character from that game, these early nasties won't present you with any problem at all.

Inevitably, however, there is a suggestion that they're being led by something new. Quite what that "something" is will doubtless have to be unravelled as the game progresses but it's probably safe to assume that, whatever it is, you'll be doing battle with it before the closing credits roll. Adventure beckons!

So, as far as I can tell from the limited amount of the game I've played so far, it seems to me that the early reviews were a little harsh on Awakening, a fair assessment of the game's merits possibly being affected by the cost. The console versions were priced at £30-£35 on first release and, if you price an add-on pack that close to the price of a full sequel, every minor complaint is going to irritate all the more. For my part, having bought it for £20, I've enjoyed every minute of my first hour's play and I can't wait to play more. Highly recommended!

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