As the Joker said in the last Batman film....
"Where do I begin?"
Beginning at the end
Bioware and EA have released the expansion pack (not to be confused with DLC) for their fantastic, story driven masterpiece Dragon Age: Origins. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening isn't much different than the original game and that is a huge plus for it. You still get the same type of battle system and the same type of control scheme as the first game had intact. What'd different is the ability to do some fantastic changing of character attributes and a slew of customizations that expand from the original concept.
That's not why you're going to play this game though, as you didn't come for the new ways to kill things. The Awakening draw will be the fantastic storyline connection from the original game. I'm not sure how badly you wanted more after the original was over, but for me it was like a fat kid craving sugar (not the most PC thing to type, but it's accurate of my feelings).
The story picks up at the end of the Blight. The Grey Wardens have broken up from the Blight (well, your party at least) and there is new evil afoot. Your main character's job is to locate the new evil and dispose of it. Regretfully, it's not as easy as it sounds as the 'new evil' is a new race of Darkspawn that has the ability to communicate/talk. There is a large, multi-booby mother out there producing tons of these creatures and a new army is rising up to take over Ferelden. You have to find them and stomp them out before things get out of hand a new Blight-type situation occurs.
Folks, this is so much better than DLC. This story will intrigue you and it will last, just like the first. Unlike the original game you don't start out from scratch. You retain all your abilities and gear from the first game, which is great considering the enemies are going to be tough. It's a seamless connection that will get your gaming engine going once again.
Having the same characters and seamless starting the new story with everything you left off with is nothing short of brilliant, and at the same time a little troublesome. I'm familiar with my character and I'm glad that he has all his gear, but at the same time my character is stacked to the top in terms of leveling and attributes. Why is this a bad thing? Well, I only died once in the entire game (that was just because I wasn't paying attention). By the end of Awakening my Rogue character had leveled up to 70+ in strength and I was sporting the best arms and armor available. The final boss was dead within a 10-minute timespan and not one of my characters in my party suffered an untimely demise in the process.
In other words, it's incredibly easy unless your character completely stinks from the first game.
Moving along, the new enemies in this game are pretty darn vicious and the game in gigantic waves towards the end. There are armored orcs, intelligent darkspawn, creepy children darkspawn grubs, a spectral drgaon and a gigantic inferno golem. The spectral dragon is probably the toughest of the bunch, as you'll have to defeat the dragon and kill the specters that keep the dragon alive. That was the battle that actually killed me in the game (literally, it killed me in the game). When you knocked one-third of the dragon's life down it would disappear into a giant glowing ball of energy. Six to seven specters would fly towards it and if they reached it the dragon would get some life back. It was a long battle and by far the toughest in the expansion pack.
Neat stuff, though.
Shifting gears, the new land that Bioware has created has about seven to eight new spots on it. From a forest to a silverate mine to a vigil to a black marsh, there's plenty of new places to explore. With each space you'll find multiple quests. The majority of these quests are small and somewhat meaningless, but the main quests (that involve action -- and not just finding people) make the adventure exciting. For example, there is a quest where you have to take out a witch residing in the black marsh. You find her, she sends you into the Fade and then you have to fight your way out. Regretfully, she comes back with you and then you have to fight her in a gigantic orc form. On the way out of the Fade you obtain a new soldier named Justice, who occupies the body of a fallen Warden. It's a neat plot in the overall story, as you'll need to kill the witch to free the spirits in the marsh. You'll find three to four plots like this in the expansion pack and that's on top of the main story. Each one of these plots has a piece of the main story in it. Continuing with the Justice story, because he occupies the Warden's body he has to go confront the Warden's wife and explain to her what happened.
You'll find many instances where it's a story inside of a story inside of a story.
On the flip side to that coin, there are some very so-so storylines that you will want to complete for the reward, but aren't required to complete for the story to finish. As much as I wanted to find love letters in the black marsh for a fallen individual, it wasn't important to me at all. Your character is so stacked that getting new rings, weapons and what not may not be worth the time or trouble if you're looking to completing the game. Other examples involve finding explosive powder for a explosive happy Dwarf or finding rare metals/materials for a very artistic armor maker. These little things don't matter much, but if you want to complete the entire game then you'll have to do them.
Anyway, let me wrap this up before you zone out on me.
While I appreciate everything that Bioware has done, I was mainly interested to see what new adventures this expansion pack had brought. Getting upgrades and changing attributes and making things more customizable for the gamer is great (and it works well). If I'm going to pay $39.99 for a expansion pack I want the story to be the focus of the sell. In that department it isn't disappointing. Bioware brought the goods and they brought the great storyline with it. They understood that engulfing the gamer in this world was of vital importance and they accomplished such a task. It took me around 10-15 hours to complete the expansion pack, which some would consider low, but I had one helluva time doing it and I will have a helluva time doing it again. The only knock I have on the game is that if you had a stacked character at the end of the first one then you'll be in too good of shape in this one. Like I stated before, I died once in this game and that was due to my performance in the original.
At the end of the day it's worth the $39.99 because there is plenty of fun to be had here.