So I posted my initial thoughts on launch day but I’ve now had the chance to play through to the end of Awakenings and thought I’d share a more detailed review. I’m not going to include spoilers, but I will mention a few “mistakes” that I made and suggest some other ways to do it. So that might be considered a spoiler, but really I look at it as a preferred order to work through the quests. With that said, I’m dying to talk about things so if anyone wants to talk specifics let me know and I’ll open up a Spoiler/Discussion thread.
For my first play-through, I used my Dual-wielding Warrior who I ended up re-specing a couple of times as I progressed and unlocked more of the specializations. The new spec lines are MUCH better then the original ones and they’re all purchasable from the various vendors, so I highly recommend getting them as soon as you can. As I referenced in my previous post, the Greywardens website has the scoop on all these for all the classes so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check them out ahead of time. Most of the cool skills/abilities can’t be unlocked right away (2nd skill in each line is a level 22 requirement) so you do have some time to get the books and play around a bit with them. I did “cheat” a bit and save my game, buy a respec stone, check out all the specs, and if there wasn’t something I liked re-load my game 🙂 I ended up deciding to go with the Spirit Warrior and Guardian specs with the templar spec from the original game. This allowed me to pretty well fit the role of AoE DPS and yet still survive as a tank when need be. Guardian spec has some REALLY handy abilities for keeping agro and protecting the party while the Spirit Warrior line just rocks in general 🙂 This combination has crazy defensive bonuses and some really fun AoE skills which make for a great time. For you LOTRO players, think Champion DPS with Warden survivability in heavy armor 😉 Also, the additional abilities in the Warrior line are incredibly useful and I used them in almost every fight. I’m looking forward to really checking out the new rogue stuff and I’m saving my mage for last as there are what appear to be some awesome spells.
Another new aspect of Awakenings is the way Runes work. You can still find them from mobs and vendors, but they’re also now a craft skill. I will focus a bit more on this with my next play-through (I didn’t touch it till the end) as you can not only slot runes in weapons, but armor chest-pieces as well. The crafting part was a bit confusing at first, but essentially it isn’t so much you’re crafting something new but more upgrading the rune to a higher quality. So like it was in Origins, crafting isn’t crucial to the game but can provide some meaningful buffs if you want them. In this pass, I didn’t craft any potions at all as I brought a bunch over from Origins, they still drop like candy, and I really didn’t seem to go through all that many of them. But the poison/herbalism crafting hasn’t changed much at all since Origins.
The story of Awakenings kicks off right away, and in the pace never slacks off throughout the entire time. For me, this is where Bioware shines and Awakenings doesn’t disappoint! I never had a feeling of “when am I going to finish this zone” like I did in a couple areas in Origins. This might also be because things are shorter, but I also feel like the general pace is just faster and conveys the feeling of desperation much better. To keep things lively, there’s the same running commentary of your party members as you adventure so make sure you play with the sound on 😉 Also, the decisions to be made in Awakenings are MUCH harder (for me at least) as there are many “no-win” situations you’ll find yourself in. Which certainly is fueling my desire to play again as I played through the first time being a little safe, I’m curious what else might change if my decisions changed.
For this play-through, I did crank the difficulty up to Hard (only did normal in Origins) as I did want a bit more of a challenge. I did find it to be a pretty good mix as my characters all felt MUCH more powerful then they were in Awakenings and the monsters were nastier to boot. I also use tactics quite a bit and have them set up in a pretty detailed fashion, so for me Hard seemed to be just right as it was challenging but not impossible. For my final party, I ended up with my warrior, rogue, and 2 mages but this next run-through will be quite a bit different I think. Mages are still REALLY powerful but Bioware did a good job of really amping up warriors and rogues. I really didn’t have to worry about healing all that much so I may go with 1 warrior, 2 rogues, and 1 mage but we’ll see how things play out.
The other real nice advantage of Awakenings is you can TOTALLY customize EVERY character to be exactly how you want them to be. The respec stones are in unlimited supply and useable by every character. So even if one of the characters joins your party as 2-handed specialist you can re-spec them to be sword and board, or however fits for how you want to play. This really allows for a TON of options as now you can have total control and not feel trapped by wasted skills that the other party members sometimes have. And not that the skills they have initially are bad, but we know we all have our favorites 😉
One thing about Awakening that I was a little thrown off by was the absurd amount of money in this expansion. One of the early quests you’ll get requires you to pay 80 Sovereign (similar to 80 gold in LOTRO) – I felt I had brought over lots of money from Origins, but I quickly was down to about 15 Sovereign and freaked out. However, money quickly became a non-issue and I ended up having bought all sorts of books, respecs, etc and still finished the game with over 240 Sovereign 😉 So, when you see big price tags on items, don’t worry – soon enough you’ll have more money then you can spend. I’m not really sure why they went this route as it seems quite a bit out of whack from Origins, but oh-well. One thing the abundance of money does allow for is a VERY quick improvement in the gear of your entire party. Don’t worry about anything you lost coming over from Origins as it will be VERY easy to get better gear.
So, now to the not so good. There are (like all games) some issues you’ll encounter and some buggy/confusing quests. One I’ll point out (I ran into this and saw it on the forums) is a quest where you have to confront Apostates. If you decide to confront them, they’re supposed to attack you – however many (including me) have had issues with this. The solution I had was to re-log and that seemed to fix it, but I’m not sure that’s a sure-fire solution. There also are some quests that aren’t 100% obvious, but many of them are not bugs just a bit harder to find or poorly written. Like Origins, Awakening does have different areas you’ll have to adventure in and the main thing I’ll suggest is DON’T save the Wending Wood for last as this will cause problems for you. Another down-side is since there are no romance options, there’s really no story impact on reputation with your companions. You can still unlock the skill upgrades (which are nice) but aside from that I don’t really see a downside but I guess it is possible they could leave you as they could in Origins.
To wrap things up here I really enjoyed Awakenings and will be playing through it at least 2 more times on my rogue and mage. I ended up finishes at level 32 on my Warrior, although I missed out on quite a few quest turn-ins, with a play-time of roughly 17 hours. I’m pretty sure I did most of the content, but it is quite possible I missed some follow-on quests. I feel confident in saying that if you like Origins, you’ll like Awakenings as well. Now I will admit, I wasn’t real excited about the $40 price tag on it but I know I will get at least 45 hours out of the game, and most likely will play it a 4th time as a new character. So, for under $1 per hour, that’s not a bad deal at all! When you combine this story with all the optional twists and turns, total freedom in class and party design, and solid graphics and sound you get an incredibly enjoyable experience!
Here’s looking forward to Feb. 2011 and the rumored Dragon Age 2 launch. And in case you bought the electronic version, there’s a slick in the box version that has a card with that date and the Dragon Age logo on it 🙂 So something is coming, we just don’t know for sure what.