The improvements of Dragon Age Awakening

Posted by Brodehouse (9793 posts) -

 Back in the days of SNES and even PS1 role playing games, I saw story as a reward for gameplay.  I would grind through horrible, soul-destroying dungeons and sequences, just to see more dialogue and story... at the time, there was so little of it to go around, it was a reward to have any.  Today, story is no reward.  If you are only playing a game to experience the story, there's no reason to put up with terrible gameplay.  In the cases where I'm presented with that miserable situation, I have one of two choices; quit the game and read the plot summary, or set the game on the lowest difficulty setting and blow through it to watch the cutscenes. 
 
I really enjoyed the story of Dragon Age Origins.  The characters, the situations, the immense world.  Everything people love about BioWare games, I found it in Dragon Age.  However, playing it was a Goddamn nightmare.  There were so many problems with it, I eventually just set it on easy and blew through it just so I could see the story.  I could have done the research and everything necessary to get through it... but the game was unrepentently unrewarding in a gameplay sense.
 
I purchased Dragon Age Awakenings with pretty low expectations.  I expected more mostly broken combat, more annoying quests, and less story quality.  Man, I was wrong.  Awakening has all the marks of a game that was designed after reviewing the errors of the previous game.  It has completely changed my mind, and really made me appreciate BioWare's commitment to correcting mistakes rather than introducing all new ones.  The jump between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 can be pretty closely mirrored in the jump between Origins and Awakening.
 
The first, and probably most important decision they made was to provide the player with the tools necessary to meet the challenges, almost immediately.  Within an hour, you have access to a Manual of Focus, perhaps the most important object in the series.  Because the spell and skill text leaves out the math involved in the skill (which is to say, the most important part when it comes to judging its efficacy), you can unintentionally gimp your characters with useless abilities very quickly.  I played through Dragon Age with an Alistair who couldn't tank a kitten.  Immediately, you're given a chance to correct mistakes, or try a new direction with every one of your characters, for a miniscule fee.  Fantastic.
 
The next thing I need to bring up is the availability and the quality of the new loot.  I heard many complain about the lack of any truly useful loot in Origins.  They're not wrong.  Even equipment that have quests associated with them are scarcely more powerful than vanilla chainmail.  Even then, most of the best equipment has restrictions on it that force you to avoid using it until practically the end of the game.  Without a place to store it in, you find yourself carrying around the juggernaut armor set for hours until you can power enough strength into a warrior to put it on.  Awakening fixes this in a big way.  Almost all special weapons and armor can be used immediately by your characters, and there are many unique appearances, sets, and enhancements applied to them.  Within an hour I found myself with a great katana, a powerful staff, and a couple pieces of Trickster's armor for my rogue.  And what I didn't have an immediate use for, I could store in my trunk back at the keep.  This is a textbook example of a developer identifying a flaw, and correcting it.
 
What this leads to is the combat feeling far different.  Trying to control combat in Origins felt like herding cats.  10 hours into Awakening, I can't fiigure out if they've lowered the difficulty of the combat, or they've merely given the player the tools to fight effectively.  I can remember being 10 hours into Origins, and being Total Party Killed by a pack of wolves.  Not werewolves, or a dark God, or anything like that.  A pack of plain old wolves.  In a random map travelling encounter.  Five times in a row.  With excruciating loads between each wipe.  I feel as if the damage quotients have been lowered, which gives the player the ability to react in time.  If I blinked in Origins, Alistair was beheaded by a lowly mob.  Now my mage can get pinned by a Childer, and I still have time to react and survive.  Is this the result of weaker enemies, or the fact that things like reviving in combat are necessary from the beginning of a game?
 
The sidequests in Awakening feel terrific.  Even though as a disgruntled gamer, I know I really don't need to complete any of them to win the day, I feel as if I am actually accomplishing something in the greater sense by finishing these quests.  In Origins, the sidequests felt like relentless time sinks, with no real story purpose (will helping the Blackstone Irregulars, or the Mages Collective really help me combat the Blight?) and absolutely unforgivable monetary rewards (a 50 silver reward for a half-hour's work?  Maybe I'll go to the movies, by myself).  In Awakening, they have much more reason for existing.  The conspiracy, rebuilding Vigil's Keep, helping out in Amaranthine; all these appear to have tangible results, and the rewards for completing them make them worth doing.  A couple Merchant's Guild quests gave me the sovereigns I needed to buy a shield I wanted.  Or I could take those rewards and use them to further defend Vigil's Keep.  I don't yet know what effect building those walls will have, but it feels necessary.  Nothing about collecting supplies and informing wives of dead husbands felt relevant to the Blight.
 
Lastly, the characters are likeable, plot relevant, and interesting.  There's enough variety among them for you to see different things based on who you bring, there's enough special armors to go around to make sure everyone has a great set of bonuses, and they've greatly improved the approval system.  You won't feel forced into slaughtering innocents because the bitch will pitch a tantrum if you don't, and you won't find yourself having annoying stop-and-chats because you accidentally clicked a party member when trying to loot a body or pull a switch.  The focus on more area-specific conversations is far better, as it helps you increase your approval of the characters you find most useful; the ideal of the approval system.  If you are always bringing Nathaniel with you, you're sure to find the statue he comments on, and get some approval from that.  If you prefer Sigrun, you'll have her in the party when you see a tree that she likes.
 
The improvements in Awakening have made me excited for the full sequel next year.  That is more than I could say before I played it.

#1 Posted by Brodehouse (9793 posts) -

 Back in the days of SNES and even PS1 role playing games, I saw story as a reward for gameplay.  I would grind through horrible, soul-destroying dungeons and sequences, just to see more dialogue and story... at the time, there was so little of it to go around, it was a reward to have any.  Today, story is no reward.  If you are only playing a game to experience the story, there's no reason to put up with terrible gameplay.  In the cases where I'm presented with that miserable situation, I have one of two choices; quit the game and read the plot summary, or set the game on the lowest difficulty setting and blow through it to watch the cutscenes. 
 
I really enjoyed the story of Dragon Age Origins.  The characters, the situations, the immense world.  Everything people love about BioWare games, I found it in Dragon Age.  However, playing it was a Goddamn nightmare.  There were so many problems with it, I eventually just set it on easy and blew through it just so I could see the story.  I could have done the research and everything necessary to get through it... but the game was unrepentently unrewarding in a gameplay sense.
 
I purchased Dragon Age Awakenings with pretty low expectations.  I expected more mostly broken combat, more annoying quests, and less story quality.  Man, I was wrong.  Awakening has all the marks of a game that was designed after reviewing the errors of the previous game.  It has completely changed my mind, and really made me appreciate BioWare's commitment to correcting mistakes rather than introducing all new ones.  The jump between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 can be pretty closely mirrored in the jump between Origins and Awakening.
 
The first, and probably most important decision they made was to provide the player with the tools necessary to meet the challenges, almost immediately.  Within an hour, you have access to a Manual of Focus, perhaps the most important object in the series.  Because the spell and skill text leaves out the math involved in the skill (which is to say, the most important part when it comes to judging its efficacy), you can unintentionally gimp your characters with useless abilities very quickly.  I played through Dragon Age with an Alistair who couldn't tank a kitten.  Immediately, you're given a chance to correct mistakes, or try a new direction with every one of your characters, for a miniscule fee.  Fantastic.
 
The next thing I need to bring up is the availability and the quality of the new loot.  I heard many complain about the lack of any truly useful loot in Origins.  They're not wrong.  Even equipment that have quests associated with them are scarcely more powerful than vanilla chainmail.  Even then, most of the best equipment has restrictions on it that force you to avoid using it until practically the end of the game.  Without a place to store it in, you find yourself carrying around the juggernaut armor set for hours until you can power enough strength into a warrior to put it on.  Awakening fixes this in a big way.  Almost all special weapons and armor can be used immediately by your characters, and there are many unique appearances, sets, and enhancements applied to them.  Within an hour I found myself with a great katana, a powerful staff, and a couple pieces of Trickster's armor for my rogue.  And what I didn't have an immediate use for, I could store in my trunk back at the keep.  This is a textbook example of a developer identifying a flaw, and correcting it.
 
What this leads to is the combat feeling far different.  Trying to control combat in Origins felt like herding cats.  10 hours into Awakening, I can't fiigure out if they've lowered the difficulty of the combat, or they've merely given the player the tools to fight effectively.  I can remember being 10 hours into Origins, and being Total Party Killed by a pack of wolves.  Not werewolves, or a dark God, or anything like that.  A pack of plain old wolves.  In a random map travelling encounter.  Five times in a row.  With excruciating loads between each wipe.  I feel as if the damage quotients have been lowered, which gives the player the ability to react in time.  If I blinked in Origins, Alistair was beheaded by a lowly mob.  Now my mage can get pinned by a Childer, and I still have time to react and survive.  Is this the result of weaker enemies, or the fact that things like reviving in combat are necessary from the beginning of a game?
 
The sidequests in Awakening feel terrific.  Even though as a disgruntled gamer, I know I really don't need to complete any of them to win the day, I feel as if I am actually accomplishing something in the greater sense by finishing these quests.  In Origins, the sidequests felt like relentless time sinks, with no real story purpose (will helping the Blackstone Irregulars, or the Mages Collective really help me combat the Blight?) and absolutely unforgivable monetary rewards (a 50 silver reward for a half-hour's work?  Maybe I'll go to the movies, by myself).  In Awakening, they have much more reason for existing.  The conspiracy, rebuilding Vigil's Keep, helping out in Amaranthine; all these appear to have tangible results, and the rewards for completing them make them worth doing.  A couple Merchant's Guild quests gave me the sovereigns I needed to buy a shield I wanted.  Or I could take those rewards and use them to further defend Vigil's Keep.  I don't yet know what effect building those walls will have, but it feels necessary.  Nothing about collecting supplies and informing wives of dead husbands felt relevant to the Blight.
 
Lastly, the characters are likeable, plot relevant, and interesting.  There's enough variety among them for you to see different things based on who you bring, there's enough special armors to go around to make sure everyone has a great set of bonuses, and they've greatly improved the approval system.  You won't feel forced into slaughtering innocents because the bitch will pitch a tantrum if you don't, and you won't find yourself having annoying stop-and-chats because you accidentally clicked a party member when trying to loot a body or pull a switch.  The focus on more area-specific conversations is far better, as it helps you increase your approval of the characters you find most useful; the ideal of the approval system.  If you are always bringing Nathaniel with you, you're sure to find the statue he comments on, and get some approval from that.  If you prefer Sigrun, you'll have her in the party when you see a tree that she likes.
 
The improvements in Awakening have made me excited for the full sequel next year.  That is more than I could say before I played it.

#2 Posted by Yummylee (21479 posts) -

I'm still surprised at how many people seemed to find Origins so frustratingly difficult. I can get through it on hard mode pretty easy. Console version mind you. 
Btw those wolves you're on about...that's the encounter where they surround you but also in the vicinity is a whole pavement of bear traps...then after defeating/disarming everything you find signs warning you about the wolves...and the traps. I really quite liked that mischievous humour. Though those wolves are quite a bastard to go against. 
 
As for awakenings improvements...well the trunk is a very nifty addition. Though for the most part I find it all a step down. The difficulty is ridiculously easy and I felt like Awakening went into loot overload. Cramming in almost as much as what Origins gave you in total. 
Also how do you mean Origins didn't have much great loot? there's plenty of rare sets, just that you have to hunt them down across the world. Plus if you set your stats accordingly, you can equip most armour fairly early. Though yeah, the manual of focus really would of helped in Origins especially. 
 
Your party members too....it relied so much on you throwing gifts at their face to get their approval meter up more than deep conversations and such. It was noticeable in Origins too but it was absolute overkill in Awakening.

#3 Edited by Coombs (3449 posts) -
@Brodehouse said:


I really enjoyed the story of Dragon Age Origins.  The characters, the situations, the immense world.  Everything people love about BioWare games, I found it in Dragon Age.  However, playing it was a Goddamn nightmare. 

Couldn't agree with you more, Great story, TERRIBLE game
 
@Abyssfull said:
" I'm still surprised at how many people seemed to find Origins so frustratingly difficult.
It has nothing to do with difficulty,  The battle system is simply not fun.
#4 Posted by Brodehouse (9793 posts) -
@Abyssfull:  Well, I applaud your ability but sadly do not share in it.  Whatever secret or cheese is necessary to turn the combat into my favor, I am completely bereft of.  The agonizing thing of it is, due to the at times crazy damage quotients for both enemies and party members, a fight can go either extremely well or terrible seemingly on a coin flip.  Too much just seems to be borderline twitch gameplay in the blink-and-Alistair-is-dead twists the combat can throw at you.  Furthermore, especially since early in Origins your spell and ability selection is so thin as to be worthless, there are simply some scenarios you have no ability to react to on a pure character build level.  At very least in Awakening you have the spell and talent selection to cover your weak points.
 
As for Awakenings difficulty, obviously we either have different expectations, or you are truly just that good.  Perhaps you have that expectation that every battle should have a 50% chance of wiping the party.  But I simply can't accept that.  I can't be stopping after every fight to save the game, that completely eliminates all sense of momentum from the game.  Boss fights still had those tight moments of the train going off the rails, the difference being that an error or a lucky break for the boss can be recovered from, whereas I felt in Origins, if I made one error, I had to reload my save and skip through the cutscenes again.
 
And loot overload?  It's an RPG.  You seem to think it's a bad for the 15 hour game to have as much loot as the 60 hour game... I think the 60 hour game should have vastly more   But it didn't.  Your chances of finding most of those sets without a guide are pretty slim as well.  I didn't use a guide for any part of Awakening, and I found full on four sets, and was close to two others.  That gave a sense of constant reward.  Every time I took down a boss or finished a quest, I could find some new trinket to better arm my characters with.  All I could hope for in Origins was a bunch of darkspawn trash that I could sell.
 
What I noticed mainly about Awakening was that the party members were much more open to your presence.  Half of everyone in Origins seemed to hate the thought of speaking to you.  Even the two more dickish characters are reasonable and open up fairly easily.  There's still some problems that may never get solved... I get tired of 'roleplaying' being telling NPCs what they want to hear...  but I still feel all of my issues with Origins to be cleared up.  Maybe they need to give warriors and rogues some sort of healing/reviving ability, that's about it.
#5 Posted by armaan8014 (5376 posts) -

I loved how epic some battles would turn out for me in Origins. I played on narmal difficulty, btw. 
I remember once while travelling in Denerim, a LARGE group of bandits had attacked my party, and somehow all except my rogue character died halfway through the battle. Instead of reloading and starting over, I used my rogue cleverly, and with his help, took down about TEN of the remaining bandits. Single handedly. There were some archers in the ten as well. The feeling after I'd beaten them all, low on health, and low on health poultices, having just won the batrtle with only the right moves, was amazing.
Also, when dealing with the spider queen in the deep roads, my character and Morrigan died almost instantly, and I was only left with Oghren and Shale. The fight wen on for a looong time. But the way that the two of them survived through the battle was unbelievable. 
 
I have yet to play Awakening, and I'm super excited for it. Hope it's as awesome or even better than origins!

#6 Edited by ryanwho (12082 posts) -

I felt like the potential for a good story was more than what they delivered. They could have done a lot more with the rival darkspawn factions. And there were a lot of bugs, and the characters were less interesting (for me) but then you have less time to get to know them compared to Origins. I don't get the hate for the battle system other than the fact that you're really never put in a position to change up your tactics. Like, ever. If it works, it works. In Baldur's Gate you regularly ran into a situation where what you did previously wouldn't work at all on a new group of enemies. Not the case here. A big reason behind that is the lack of enemy variety. Still liked it though. Especially after playing ME2 which I found infinitely more tedious in combat.

#7 Posted by Catfish666 (190 posts) -
@Coombs: A little reasoning here? I myself found the battle system fun and great, even on 360. I can understand some can be annoyed by the relative slow pace of scroll-selecting abitilies and targeting, but basically this is the system Bioware has used and developed since KOTOR. I fail to see what's so not-fun about it.
 
@Brodehouse: For starters, don't get mad at me for saying this, but I think Awakening served casual crowd better whereas Origins had its difficulty more tuned for RPG fanatics. I'm not saying there's anything inherently better or wrong in either, but looking at the direction of RPG design ME2 and FF13 have taken, I gotta tell you it warmed the heart of this old RPG nutter. Not running through straight lines of levels but having several locations you can complete in your own pace, and having to really work for your epics was great, getting showered by purples right from the start kinda takes the value out of them. Then again I fell for it so hard that I'm currently working on my 3rd playthrough of both games combined and must say that whereas I felt I pretty much cleant Awakening on the first playthrough, Origins keeps on throwing hidden surprised at me still.
 
I also recognize myself from your depictions of SNES and PS1 era-playstyles, though I was playing Exile series myself then I guess. Golden times they might have been, but not many game has aged that well, but my gripe is as much on battlesystems as in story. I'll give you that battle system in Origins is not easy, it is rather brutal especially in the beginning where the skill selection is limited, but I find that difficulty quickly starts getting to tolerable levels as you get more members, get to develop them towards their desired roles and in general learn to use the different roles in a way they support eachother. Perfectly fought battle in DAO takes surprisingly much multitasking; Taking the bulk of threat with tank, keeping the rogue backstabbing and not getting raped by heavy armed fighter, crowd controlling groups and opposing mages with your own mage and making sure he doesn't get swarmed by the recenty thawed group of thieves, healing people with potions and spells, applying poisons to melee warriors' weapons, throwing bombs with rogue, helping to nuke a particularly nasty caster with all your ranged troops, positioning rogue again to keep the backstab advantage, etc... 
 
PHEW! It's alot of aspects to try to keep track off! And no, it's not like I'm telling you suck at DAO if you don't do all of these in all combats, in fact I forget stuff all the time.
 
Anyways, I can see how I could continue this juxtapositioning of meddling with complex systems and strategies against playing through the game in an smooth pace and enjoying the story, some eat their jaffa cake with one bite and some save the jam center for last. All I'm saying is not to judge the game and its comparatively complex system if you yourself don't take the time to figure out how it works. 
 
Consider that you were much more familiar with the game mechanics when you started Awakening as well, if I were you, I'd give Origins another shot. Especially the dwarf noble-origin story if you haven't played it yet!
#8 Posted by Brodehouse (9793 posts) -
@Catfish666:  I think it might be worth mentioning that I played both games on console.  This means a couple things; one, I tend to stick to my Warden or my mage most of the time, and let Al and Leli do their things.  What it also affects is your combat movement and your ability to set a party tactic.  While I can pause combat, I don't have the same kind of options as a PC gamer when it comes to arranging my troops just how I wants them.  If I don't manually drive the tank to the ogre, I really have no control of where he'll try to launch a fight.  Or at least, I felt that way in Origins.
 
Going into that, I would very rarely set custom tactics for the AI playing Origins, because it didn't appear to have a lot of difference.  The fights were simply over, far too quickly, and the only useful combat routine I could add would be 'be better at fighting, Al'.  As I said, I feel like the damage quotients have been decreased for Awakening, because even when the enemy gets the jump on you, it isn't an instant massacre, and you have the options to deal with it. 
 
As I said, the reason I enjoyed Awakening much more was that the battles were challenging, without being nasty cheap surprises, and without being strange walks in the park.  A fight against whites was routine, a couple yellows could have you pause a few times to get a few key spells in, and a boss fight was still intense.  If the battle system was somehow 'too complex' for me, it would continue to be too complex in Awakening.  It wasn't, it was exactly what I wanted.  It was merely their encounters, especially in the middle parts of the game.  A lot of encounters where the party has no response to the enemy's actions, encounters that could be over one way or the other so quickly it was borderline trial-and-error, and very little reward for success other than moving the story forward.  Every time I took down a mighty boss or finished a side quest, I knew I was going to get something that would be useful.  A crazy fire axe with a unique model.  A huge set of imposing plate armor with a Darth Vader helmet.  In Origins, you'd get a set of plain looking boots with a +1 to damage, that you don't use anyway because they would break your regular old chainmail's set bonus.
 
I played through Origins 3 times.  Love the story... but it's pretty clear to me that the gameplay elements of Origins were done years ago, and they spent the last few delays just trying to make the technology work.  It looks like the difference between a dungeon master's first campaign, and a dungeon master's second campaign.
 
And my favorite Origin is City Elf or Dwarf Commoner.  The rise of a street thug to a Grey Warden is better than a teryna's daughter or king's son.
#9 Edited by ryanwho (12082 posts) -

I don't see how a game with a tactics system that has a bunch of tactical presets could be considered 'too complex'. Set the tactic mode for an offensive character to "scrapper" or something, magician to "defensive" if they're the healer, etc and you never need to look at the menu again. I almost wish it wasn't there because it negates the need for the user to figure out what works themselves. Its an easy ass game.

#10 Posted by Catfish666 (190 posts) -
@Brodehouse: I actually also have only the 360 version, I guess it lacks the option to click-move your characters, but that's easily repaired by just target an enemy with an ability/spell. Good practice I found was to start every combat with the tank casting shield bash on the most durable or dangerous attacker. The only time I have to manually move in combat is when a dragon is targeting a rogue or an ogre targets a mage, and the latter is usually easily handled with any stun/freeze/paralyze/etc ability. 
  
You were kinda right about your herding cats analogue, if you leave the AI to their own devices, something silly is bound to happen. As a good thumbrule is also to control the characters as much as you can, usually just this fine-tuning of combat is enough to turn the tide to your advantage. A sneaky tactic I resorted at times as well was to pull groups; turn free-move off, run with tank and let the enemies see you, and run them around the corner to your ambush. But pretty much the best strategy is to make sure that you have mages and that the enemy doesn't have any, the class is just really versatile and really OP. 
 
This leaves me to my biggest gripe about Awakening's combat, once you have a mage with keeper and battlemage specialisations, the length of combat is the time it takes you to activate those skills. And in general the skills game gives you seem to give you such an upper hand over the enemies that after the initial reaction to them, I found myself missing the feeling of threat and danger of the Origins dungeons. In my opinion, the reward was in the risk.
#11 Posted by RYNO9881 (625 posts) -

I thought the story in Origins was kind of lame. From the first second they tell you that in order to stop the blight the arch demon needs to die. I guess I was expecting some kind of twist in the story that never came. This attitude is probably due to the fact that I unknowingly kicked Morrigan out of my party at the end of the game and since she was my only mage with cone of cold it made the last boss impossible to beat on normal. So in the end I put it on easy and breezed through the final battle; and the entire time I was so angry that the decision I made ruined the game for me especially when I had so much fun with it, except for the last part of the game which was one of the most frustrating missions I have ever done.

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