In the run up to Dragon Age: Origins' 2009 release, developer BioWare banged on about it being a platform from which new content would be unleashed upon the gaming world. So far, BioWare's efforts haven't exactly set the world of Ferelden on fire. Return to Ostagar rehashed already explored areas. Warden's Keep was threadbare. Only The Stone Prisoner was genuinely worth a look. Now, with Awakening, Dragon Age's first standalone expansion, has BioWare finally got it right?
We're still trying to work out what we want from downloadable content, aren't we? DLC is good, it seems, if it's good value. So, we find ourselves wondering: is Awakening, which you can download or go old school and buy from a shop (unless you own a PS3, in which case you can only download), worth £30 (or £20 on PC)?
Absolutely. Awakening is packed to bursting with content. At 25 or so hours, the campaign, set after the events of Origins, gives you more "bang for your buck" than most full-priced games. It raises the level cap, opens up an entirely new area of Ferelden to explore, adds 56 new talents and spells, three new skill chains, more than 500 new items, two new tiers of weapons and armour, several new types of runes, five new party members, and a partridge in a pear tree (that last one is a lie).
Awakening, then, is undoubtedly good value. So, it's good, then, right? Well, like a tortuous break up, it's more complicated than that. Awakening is more of the same. It does nothing to right any of Origins' wrongs, nor does it seek to improve upon what worked. In some areas, it's even slightly worse.
You begin either as an imported character from Origins, which retains his or her background story and gear (sans, annoyingly, any loot gathered from the previous DLC), or as a new Grey Warden from Orlais, sent to rebuild the Grey Wardens in Ferelden. Either way, you're a big cheese - at least level 18 - so when you rock up to Vigil's Keep in Amaranthine, the new land mass set to the northeast of the previous game area, there's a lot to sort out. Like a darkspawn attack.
That's right, the darkspawn are back. The Blight was defeated, but stragglers remain, and they're setting up shop in the northeast, terrorising everyone and anyone silly enough to invade their personal space. But this time something's different. This time, the darkspawn are capable of more than the mindless slaughtering of farmers and townsfolk. This time, they're talking to each other, guided by a new, mysterious being called The Architect who likes philosophical discussion and post-modernist debate (that last bit's another lie). As the new warden-commander of Ferelden, the responsibility falls to you to clear the darkspawn out, and unravel the mystery behind these new intelligent beasties.