Dragon Age: Awakening

Fortinbras 11/21/2010 

Come on baby
What have we found? The same old fears. Wish you were here.
The price is a bit steep at $30 (if you've never played Dragon Age at all, you can buy the ultimate DLC-packed edition + expansion for 50$ now) for the amount of content involved. I'd rather see it at $20, but otherwise it's a very good expansion.

Winners: New "Orlesian Warden" starting option
Losers: They don't do anything with it.

Compared to the usual Bioware chosen-one intro I enjoyed the option of playing a Fantasy Frenchman unwelcome in Fantasy England. Unfortunately, the game never really runs with it. Apparently I chose the backup option for those of us who deleted our Dragon Age directories after finishing Origins. So the dialogue between what is assumed to be your original Grey Warden and the new one are mostly interchangeable.

Winners: Two-Handed Warriors, Archers, Stealth Rogues, Non-Combat Skills that boost Stamina/Mana/HP for those of us who aren't into faggy WOW-style herbalism/runecrafting
Losers: Mages, Dual-Wield Rogues, Why is Lockpicking still a fucking Combat Skill?

The "third tier" of powers they've introduced into every single discipline works quite well. The Two-Handed Warrior gets more insta-murder abilities that take advantage of his high damage output and offset his low attack speed. Boosting this even more, the new Spirit Warrior specialization's fourth-tier talent gives you more damage resistance and greater attack speed for a meager stamina upkeep cost. Archers finally get a sustained power called "Accuracy" that you can combine with Rapid Shot to reduce the ridiculous penalty to hit that it seems to inflict. Rogues get several new abilities that boost their stealth killing and survivability. Quite possibly my favorite power so far is the Warrior base ability "Peon's Plight", which chooses a nearby target and just utterly beleaguers it unless it's a boss or of elite class -- and even then you're talking 300 points of damage. The ability to throw your non-combat points that would have gone into worthless things like Potion-making or Traps (TRAPS!) can now be thrown into two different paths, one which gives you hit point boosts and another that gives you STA/MANA boosts. Very handy! There's not much new for Dual-Wielding Rogues or Mages though. Mages get only two new tiers that go in their Generic Mage Skills category similar to the three lines given to Warriors and Rogues. They're mostly useless though unless you're playing a Battlemage/Arcane Warrior. Very much designed for being up close in combat. The Dual-Wielding Rogue gets a couple of new murder buttons but the thing that really helps them the most is probably the new Legionaire Scout specialization which gives a lot of damage-soak skills.

Winners: More interesting characters, OGHREN!
Losers: No Romance.

Hurlok is clearly trying to turn that guy's testicles to stone. I don't think Hurok is a medusa, though.
Your Companions come in a package of 6, and most of them are pretty good, except Nathaniel Howe who has the dubious distinction of having had Penny Arcade prostitute themselves and make a shitty comic on his behalf. In addition, the preset skills for Velanaa are terrible compared to Anders, who starts with Spirit Healing, Paralysis, Force Prison, and Cone of Cold, making him your go-to guy for any and all healing and crowd control. Velanna, on the other hand, starts with Fireball and the Keeper specialty which is utter crap. Also Oghren is back. The character in-world banter triggers have been upped, so you'll be wandering around Scary Deathblood Peak only to have Oghren randomly ask your Mage why he wears such faggy girl-robes and if he really likes cock as much as his appearance suggests.

Winners: A deluxe Build-a-Castle-Up campaign by Bioware
Losers: A deluxe Build-a-Castle-Up campaign by Bioware

I'm a complete Dragon Age fan so this really doesn't bother me, but if you played Neverwinter Nights 2, this game is pretty much the same! Right down to the (RIGHT/WRONG/WRONG/WRONG) DECISIONS you have to make that determine some ending switches. Otherwise it's a pretty standard dungeon crawl. Intro->City Hub->Main Quest->Main Quest->Main Quest (pick them in any order)-> SINGLE-TRACK FINALE. Sprinkle some very very VERY simple sidequests in there and you have your game.

All in all, this game is more dungeon crawl, especially the finale where you will be drowning in buckets of blood spattered on your character's frame from all the shit you've killed, than enjoyable plot-driven RPG. But at the same time the game definitely has given you a lot more tools to make that murder possible. By the end of the game, especially if you choose to pick up Vigilance, you will be PSHing at Ogres and Dragons.