There’s this thing I will always remember about Dragon Age: Awakening. Without explicitly putting the pieces together, there were plenty of hints that the new classes in Dragon Age: Origins’ expansion could connect with the old classes in exciting ways. Turning on the mage ability that drains mana from the corpses of the dead, plus the arcane warrior ability that turns you nearly invulnerable, combined with the battle mage ability that surrounds you with a swirling wind that does every kind of AE elemental damage, and you have someone that can just walk into a room and watch things die, being in fact powered by dying monsters, while the monsters just wish they could hurt you.
Yeah. That felt good.
Dragon Age: Awakening is set six months after the events in Origins. The archdemon was killed either by you (if you’re importing your character) or some other Grey Warden Commander whose post you are taking (if you are creating a new character), but though the Blight is over, the Darkspawn still walk the land, showing signs of a disturbing intelligence.
The story in Awakening is extremely scaled back. Instead of many origin stories, there is only the one. Instead of four arcs to finish, there are only three. Instead of a vast array of potential companions, here you have only a half dozen, and not all of them will make it to the end of the game. Instead of continual decisions that affect the way the game plays out, there is only one decision, right at the end, that will change the plot.
Since the sequel, Dragon Age 2, will not continue the stories of your Dragon Age characters, Awakening seems oddly disconnected, more of a large DLC than a full expansion. It’s about a third the size of the main game, maybe less if you were a completist in Origins. Substantially less if you played through a few of the different origins or made different decisions in the plot.
In the aftermath of the Blight and the widespread destruction it caused in Ferelden combined with the vast political unrest it and Loghain’s betrayal engendered, the nation is falling apart. The war was won, but the battle may still be lost. As if the rebellious lords and roving gangs weren’t bad enough, the Darkspawn refuse to be good little hell-critters and return to the Deep Roads and become the dwarfs’ problem for another few hundred years.
You will soon discover that there exist factions even among the Darkspawn. Can these mindless parodies of humanity ever rise to stand equal with their inadvertent creators? Or should they be wiped out, to a one, no matter their possible future?
On your way to answer this question, you will explore the city of Amaranthine, the abandoned dwarf city of Kal’Hirol, the Elvish Wending Wood and the demon-infested Blackmarsh. Ever since Moria, you can’t think of a dwarven city without mentally adding “abandoned, monster-infested” before it.
Awakening finally has some love for the non-heavy/massive armor wearers, though for them it has the evil Sentinel armor. Mages get a variety of new robes, while rogues get a sharp black chain suit which I would LOVE to bring back into Origins!
Your companions this time around include a good selection of tanks — Oghren (chaotic good) returns from Origins, the only companion to do so. Warden candidate Mhairi (alignment unknown) and accidentally embodied spirit Justice (lawful good, obviously) round out the tank talent. Anders (chaotic neutral), a human spirit healer who looks and sounds a lot like Alistair, will handle the heals while the elf Velanna (chaotic evil) will pump the dps, though you can train either of them for either or both roles. You meet archer Nathanial (lawful neutral) near the beginning of the expansion, but must wait awhile to get the chirpy dwarf rogue Sigrun (chaotic neutral) into your group. The wordplay between her and Oghren — or Anders and pretty much anyone — is as good as the best from Origins.
In my play through, I was the extreme damage mage, so Velanna was left at the keep and Anders went with the group. I mostly used Nathanial for the rogue slot because I just like having an archer in the party. Oghren was tank throughout, though I used Justice at what seemed to be plot-appropriate moments. He definitely looked best in the Sentinel armor, which I was sad to find was too fatiguing to wear, even as a battle mage with severely high intelligence (which counts toward strength for arcane warriors). Luckily, I had Cailan’s armor from the Return to Ostagar DLC to keep me warm — the Warden Commander’s armor I favored in Origins didn’t get imported to Awakening.
The banter between Oghren and Sigrun was so cute, that as soon as I finished Awakening, I went and started my third playthrough of Origins, this time as a dwarf noble warrior.
Best. Origin. EVER. Seriously, I was blown away. I’d decided this time to make the opposite of the decisions I’d made in my first couple playthroughs — taking the “good” path when I knew what that was. Being the pompous, pampered middle child to the Ozrammar king made me feel entitled. Being introduced to the rabid political machinations of the Assembly was great fun. The Blight? The Blight is a surfacer problem! Let me stay in Ozrammar and play my brothers against each other!
And then the tragedy and betrayal and exile and joining the Wardens and all that. As soon as I got the first few plot bits out of the way and I could do so, I headed back to Ozrammar to get my revenge. And the game accommodated me! I got my revenge. I was kinda hoping I could take the crown for my own, rule Ozrammar, but that wasn’t to be.
Still, in my opposite-day version of events, I killed the creator of the golems AND Shale, the DLC golem who I’d brought with me for kicks. Mad Branka will bind more innocent souls into her infernal creations, and they will be my army at the end.
Next stop: Arl Eamon’s lands, where I will teach Morrigan the power of blood magic, then off to defile Andraste’s ashes and gain the Reaper profession for myself, and after, a trip to the Dalish elves to kill them all and bind the werewolves to my will, and then the Circle of the Magi to trap them all and gain the support of the Templars. Then Denerim to fill out my army with elvish slaves.
It’s good to be bad. I’m not a jerk about it. I’ll give a beggar ten silver. I won’t kill folks just for fun. I’m just following a different path while still carefully plotting to keep the companions I’ll need with the party.
With so many excellent tanks among the companions, I felt no desire to take that role myself. I decided to go dual wield for max damage. (Check out picture above — she wields both Starfang AND Mharic’s Sword, talk about greedy!) The focus on dexterity and cunning (dual wield being traditionally a rogue talent) has crippled me slightly in my armor selection — I can’t wear Cailan’s armor for several more levels of intense focus on strength. But, none of my warrior companions — Oghren, Sten, Alistair — can wear it either, so I guess it’s not a huge tragedy. My tank this playthrough is Dog, anyway. Morrigan reluctantly takes heals, and Leliana is, once again, the rogue. I’m going to try and keep her even after I defile the remains of her god.