The first thing to know about the upcoming content for Dragon Age: Origins is that it is a full-blown expansion for the game. This isn't some extra dungeon, or merely a new set of armor, but a significant chunk of content that promises to justify its $39.99 price tag.
The expansion picks up after the final events of Origins, in which your character defeated the Archdemon and stopped the Darkspawn from overrunning the world in a full-blown Blight. For reasons that I'm sure will become clearer throughout Awakening, the Darkspawn are still hanging around, causing all sorts of trouble for the Grey Wardens, the ordained destroyers of all things dark and spawning. So, a mere few months after the events of the first game, you are charged with rebuilding the Grey Wardens and further investigating these troubling developments.
If you'd like to let your choices stand, you will be given the option to start a new character. You'll take on the role of an Orlesian Grey Warden, who has come to Ferelden (aka Blight Central) to oversee the rebuilding of the Wardens. For those Dragon Age historians out there, you'll remember that not too long ago, Orlais was an occupying force in Ferelden, and the locals are none too happy about welcoming former invaders back onto Ferelden soil. This will, obviously, cause some interesting interactions as you make your way through a land that, for all intents and purposes, wants nothing to do with you.
The same writing team from Dragon Age: Origins is back, so you can expect more sharp dialogue and characters that go beyond the typical fantasy archetypes. Though many of your party members from the original game won't be joining you on this adventure, Bioware has promised to flesh out Awakening with characters just as dynamic. I briefly got to see Velanna, the Dalish mage with a huge chip on her shoulder about that whole "humans enslaving my Eleven brethen" thing. There was also Anders, who initially seemed like the apostate mage version of an even snarkier Alistair. Finally, I was joined by Sigrun, a female Dwarf rogue who is a member of the Legion of the Dead. I'm excited to see more being done with The Legion of the Dead, as they are an interesting part of the Dragon Age fiction, but only briefly touched upon in Origins.
The Wardens won't be the only ones gathering new forces in Awakening, though. Something is definitely amiss in Darkspawn HQ, with some freakish new creatures lurking in the depths beyond the Dwarven city of Orzammar. In the brief time I had with the game, I encountered The Children milling about in the Deep Roads. These things are foul. Do you remember how nasty the Broodmother was in Origins? Consider her a beauty queen when imaging the grotesque nature of The Children. They appear to evolve in stages, and I mostly encountered forms akin to slimy grubs, but with faces. Nobody wants to see that, especially when they are overpowering you and eating your head. A bit less creepy, but equally intriguing, are the sentient Darkspawn. The last thing the world needs are Darkspawn questioning their own existence, especially when the answers to those questions usually involve more efficient ways to kill you. If you've kept up with some of the Dragon Age fiction in the books, you'll already be familiar with the Architect, the thinking man's Darkspawn, and he'll definitely be playing a role in Awakening, though what that role is remains to be discovered.
With the world descending back into chaos, it's a good thing Bioware has raised the level cap and given you a host of new abilities and talents to use in your fight. Each class appears to have gained two new specializations, which will add plenty of new abilities ready to eat up those hard-earned talent points. In fact, I'm told there will be 50 new abilities across all the classes, and from what I saw it looked like that roughly translated into one new row per block of abilities. Of course, you'll also get plenty of new loot. I saw some snazzy new armor during the bit I played, which should please the image-conscious adventurer in all of us. Along with looking sharp, you'll be able to add runes to your armor as well as your weapons this time around. Did I mention that you'll be able to manage your runes yourself this time? No more heading over to Bodann and his...touched son for your enchantments. Enchantments? Ugh.
There's certainly a lot going on in Awakening, and every answer I received opened up two more questions. Bioware is -- understandably -- keeping a lid on many of the story elements in the game, but the team promises that they have been working long and hard to make sure that this is every bit as engaging as your first visit to the world of Dragon Age. If you want to make make someone working on Dragon Age sigh, ask them how long it will take to complete their game. Considering I've heard playthrough times ranging from 18-80 hours for the original game, I understand why. For its $39.99 price tag, there's an expectation of content that Bioware appears to understand, and I'm looking forward to diving back into their universe when Awakening is simultaneously released on March 16 across the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.