Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening Q&A - High-Level Abilities, Characters, Items, and Story

Lead designer Ferret Baudoin explains Awakening's new skills, items, and story.

Last year's Dragon Age: Origins told an epic fantasy tale of a world torn apart by both a monstrous invasion and a traitor's civil war. As a Grey Warden, your character defeated the threat of the evil darkspawn--the ugly monsters from the depths of Earth that threatened to overrun the kingdom--and reunited the shattered country. However, in Awakening, you find that the darkspawn threat hasn't ended--there are rumors of a darkspawn general who thinks, speaks, and organizes his forces into an army while spawning a whole new battalion of enemies. Lead designer Ferret Baudoin explains what to expect.

GameSpot: We understand that the expansion isn't being built around one whiz-bang new feature, but rather on giving players more of what they want--story, interesting characters, and decisions with consequences. Why go in this direction?

Ferret Baudoin: Awakening is a true expansion pack, not a sequel. Expansion packs seem rarer than they were in yesteryear. Awakening harkens back to some of the expansions we did in the past, like Hordes of the Underdark for Neverwinter Nights or Throne of Bhaal for Baldur's Gate II.

We started work on the expansion pack during the latter part of Origins' development. The Awakening team is full of Origins veterans. We [combined] all our knowledge of how to make our engine really shine while creating an exciting new story and a host of memorable new characters.

You definitely nailed some of the key things we focused on, though--story, characters, consequence. It was a great experience for the writers, especially, because there were so many more stories we wanted to tell.

GS: We also understand that there will be all-new high-level skills and advanced professions in the expansion. Give us an overview of them.

Awakening's battles will be bigger, badder, and tougher.

FB: Absolutely. Awakening takes place after the events of Dragon Age: Origins, and the expansion pack allows you to import your hero from the first game. This means that returning characters are already high level--so we focused our new abilities on exciting high-level talents and spells. New characters created for Awakening start off at level 18 so they'll be able to pick up the great new content quickly.

Each fighting style has a new chain of four abilities. For example, the archery chain starts with "accuracy"--a modal ability that you turn on (and should leave on) that gives you a great damage boost based on your dexterity and also adds to other ranged attack stats. It culminates with "rain of arrows," which lets you shower a large area with a gazillion deadly missiles. Good stuff!

Rogues and warriors get a new chain of abilities added to them, and mages get two chains. These chains include abilities like "peon's plight," which lets your warrior outright kill one non-lieutenant enemy in one powerful swipe, which is very useful and can turn the tides of battle in your favor.

We also have two new specializations for each class and three new skills. If all of this sounds like a lot...it is! We have close to 70 new spells, abilities, and skills available to your party.

GS: What do these new skills and professions add to the game? Were there some gaps or interesting opportunities in the original Dragon Age that these high-level classes and abilities fill in?

FB: In Origins, mages were very potent forces on the battlefield. Many folks found that a three-mage party was one of the most powerful combinations out there. So while mages certainly have been given some neat new spells, we spent extra time on rogues and warriors to make them more valuable additions to your party.

It's really paid off. Archers have received a significant boost to their damage-dealing capabilities. Dual-wielding rogues are simply murderous when their weapons are fully slotted with runes (especially if a friendly mage adds a "flame weapons" spell to the mix). And a fully decked-out warrior can wade into the thick of any fray and hold the line until the party annihilates the opposition.

The result is better balance between the classes and their roles. A lot more party combinations are fun and entertaining.

GS: What about the new characters who will join your party? Do they fill in any particular gaps that the team noticed from the first game? How will the new high-level abilities give players more flexibility out of a four-character party?

FB: One of the features we've added in Awakening is the ability to "re-spec" your character--and your companions, as well. Anders, for example, starts as a spirit healer with a great collection of utility spells to help out. He has also picked up a bit of rune crafting during his misadventures. But the nice thing is that you can re-spec him to be whatever you want him to be.

There will be all-new foes, like the Queen of Blackmarsh, who is part ghost, part dragon, and all trouble.

So if you enjoy a particular companion's company, you can always kit that character out to be an ideal companion for your adventures. And since the classes are more balanced, you can bring your favorites alongside you and not have to worry so much about your party's class composition. Parties with three rogues, three fighters, or three mages all work (as do any other combination).

GS: We understand there will be hundreds of new items and new item tiers. What are they and how will they work?

FB: Since you're facing greater threats, the rewards have been beefed up, as well. There are two new advanced tiers for all weapons and armors available with higher base stats, rune slots, and exciting new item properties, as well. We've spent a lot of time placing loot in chests, on monsters, and in stores for people who live for the next item upgrade. In addition, Master Wade is back from Origins, and this time he has a whole new set of exciting new items he can craft for you--if you can bring him the "essential" materials he demands.

GS: We know that the expansion will challenge players with new foes like the Children, which are part of the new brood of darkspawn. Tell us about some of these foes and the new threats they offer.

FB: The Children are one of the creepiest monsters in Dragon Age. The artists really outdid themselves. In their larval stage, they aren't especially deadly--unless they swarm. When that happens, they have a penchant for overwhelming party members and feeding on them unless they are bashed off or killed.

If one of the Children eats enough, it can evolve. They'll eat anything--you, Velanna, other darkspawn. So things can get scary fast, and it can become a race to kill them before you're surrounded by increasingly dangerous foes.

In their final phase, the Children are especially brutal with quick strikes, area-based attacks, and worse. When one of the Children pop out of hiding, it can really make you jump in your seat. They're trouble.

GS: Tell us about the new direction of the story. The original Dragon Age was about sacrifice, betrayal, and standing in the face of overwhelming odds. What are the main themes of Awakening? How will the expansion explore these themes?

FB: Overwhelming odds are still a theme in Awakening. But a new theme that has been added is "heavy is the head that wears the crown." As the Grey Warden commander of Ferelden, you are tasked with recruiting more Wardens and subjecting them to the Joining. And as players saw in Origins, the Joining doesn't always end well...

If that wasn't enough responsibility, you are the ruler of the lands of Amaranthine. Your word is law. This is made especially interesting if you start a new character because that new character will actually be from the neighboring kingdom of Orlais, which had previously invaded and ruled Ferelden for generations with tyrannical excess. Orlais had only recently been overthrown after a bloody war, so obviously your subjects won't be happy about your new character's nationality.

Grab an axe and get moving. What are you waiting for...an invitation?

In Awakening, you're faced with many difficult choices, often with no clear "right" answers. Plus, the darkspawn are evolving now--they think, they talk, they strategize. It can make their actions far more villainous, and defeating them becomes that much trickier. Put it all together and you have an exciting new chapter in the Dragon Age universe.

GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Awakening?

FB: March 16 can't come soon enough. The team is eager to share our new story and give our fans a chance to come back to Ferelden. We've missed you.

GS: Thanks, Ferret.

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Discussion

72 comments
Midnightshade29
Midnightshade29

Expansion paks are back? This is great news!!! I already picked this up tonight when i got my copy of gow3! DAO is great and i missed expansion paks, much better then small scale dlc! Throne of Baal was a blast back in the day, same with lord of destruction, but this is the first console expansion pak i can remember.

ziadpayne
ziadpayne

looks even better than the first one

PseudoElite
PseudoElite

Can't wait, if it's half as good as the first Origins then I'll be happy. :)

Arther-la-Blunt
Arther-la-Blunt

Can't wait to graduate so I have some time for gaming!!!

Naro003
Naro003

I dont know if its really brilliant, but it looks nice for me, the best part: the dragons fight

drago9876
drago9876

No old characters :( I wonder if that means more romance scenes..... Anyways i hope that by new weapons and armour is that it's not gonna look like the old ones

lokey013
lokey013

Man between this and Final Fantasy....the next few months are gonna be a doozy for me lol....can't wait!!!

Sayun
Sayun

Why isn't tomorrow today? WHYYYYYY?!

hotbodyboy_2006
hotbodyboy_2006

Nice. Have been to involved in Mass Effect 2. Time to get back to DAO. And yeah. Can't wait to get back to Ferelden. I want to visit Lothering too. Man the closest to ferelden i got was in Return To Ostagar DLC.

katanajut
katanajut

I hope that I can get to the city this upcoming week so I can buy this expansion, I haven't played Dragon Age in a while so it would be cool to play it again.

jollybest1
jollybest1

i agree better give money to them for a good expansion (and in the past years bioware shinned, and i believe that this expansion will be better or as good as the original) than to other companies that are destroying the pc gaming community.....yes i am talking about Ubi

nmsolo07
nmsolo07

The fact that people complain is appaling. If you don't like the price, don't buy it. I personally would pay 60$ for another chance to go into Ferelden with a new story.

latinooheat123
latinooheat123

can't wait for this..... DA:Origin was rocking...........my all time fav game.... :) also looking for next part.....i wanna know about my kid from that witch [:P].......lolz

ParisSun
ParisSun

Understand that you don't have to buy this. Don't feel like you're forced to buy it. It amazes me that people are complaining about it. People are complaining that they don't like the FREE stuff they are getting for ME2 and then they complain when actually have to pay for an expansion. What world do you people live in where stuff is given away for free. Some of us work for a living and understand why you should be paid for what you create. This is an expansion pack and you should pay for it if you want to play it. This company had to pay people to make it and in order for this company to stay in business they have to make money for the cost they incurred. Expansion packs by nature give you more of what you enjoyed in the original. Again, aren't forced to buy this. Those of us who enjoyed the original and want to support Bioware so they will keep making great rpgs will buy it on day one. Thank you.

Elrax
Elrax

@Leviathan its downloadable or buy from Gamespot. So its DLC esque but has more content than a DLC thus X-Pack.

cowmaster2k3
cowmaster2k3

Its an EXPANSION PACK, not a small DLC... people today feel so entitled to everything for free... Cannot wait for this btw :D

internetrush
internetrush

best part about DA:O... i slept with the Witch... :P win

pollob13
pollob13

i want to use updated skill at 2nd time play like mass effect .. :(

DredWulf
DredWulf

My only gripe..previous party members aren't in the game..no leliana for me =\

Sixtysixx
Sixtysixx

They say it goes back to Hordes of the Underdark and Throne of Bhaal, and those expansions were just almost just long as the original gane, and IMO far better. So i think based on that comment it'll be well worth $40. Just to clarify for those who think it's not worth the price, it could easily be 30+ hours of new gameplay

Leviathan96
Leviathan96

OH WHOA WAIT! This thing is going to be DLC?!

Leviathan96
Leviathan96

@Seto_Akari You think 40$ is too much for a x-pack...? Im i just crazy? Cause i think that is a perfect price...especially for a Bioware game.

Exia2004
Exia2004

i got bored of this game pretty fast when it first comed out iv deleted it after 2hrs of play then after a month or so iv decide to end it since since i got even more bored now this exp dosent give me a hype at all NeverwinterNight was the best sad that the second one sucked still i prefer The Witcher to Dragon Age

Samrat_Ashok
Samrat_Ashok

I wish I could make the 16th come faster.....I wish I could make Dragon Age 2 come faster.....I wish that they release loads of expansions and other Dragon Age games in the future.....I wish that my wishes come true.

weisguy119
weisguy119

This expansion is longer than most full games these days. Stop whining about the price and face the fact that Dragon Age: Origins spoiled people with its length. I consider DA: O to be a great value in gaming. I played it for around a month and I get bored with games very easily, so that's quite a long time for me. I'll still go back to it and play the mod quests from time to time. That said, I don't expect the expansion's length to be a certain percentage of DA: O to be worth my money. That would be nice, in a perfect world. However, if it's longer than most games that cost full price, I'll glady pay my $40.

Darkreaper_1
Darkreaper_1

Might have missed these but will anything be added to the previous game after the expansions pack is installed? Will the character class balances and new class traits/feats be applied to characters created in the original game? Will any new items appear in the original game?

Nodashi
Nodashi

I'm happy they decided to balance the classes. My first character was a warrior, and I frankly felt I made a mistake by the middle of the game - I often left him automatized and played as Morrigan or Wynne instead, because they where so important to the group. That said, BALANCE is not destroying a class, I hope mages get cool new stuff too! It's important that your hero feel heroic, not just an NPC that appears in dialogues.

endrikz
endrikz

cant w8 for 16! release it now! :P

Norakkhath
Norakkhath

Great I'm waiting for it. But it take soooo long time 2011!

Seto_Akari
Seto_Akari

Enjoyed the original game and look forward to the expansion.However I hope there will be a price-drop ' cause $40 is a little expensive for an expansion.

JS0123456789
JS0123456789

Yeah, it should be good, but will it have $40.00 worth of content? At that price it should take, on average, about 2/3 as long as the original game to finish. I doubt it'll be that long so this expansion/dlc is a bit of a rip off.

The_T-Ban
The_T-Ban

Dragon Age is boring . I couldn't play it for more than 1-2 hours . it's just boring !

Daydr3am
Daydr3am

Maybe it sounds silly(while they claim it to be an expansion), but since there is no mention of it, will previous companions be still available? I mean, some folks might prefer someone "static" as Leliana to take with them, or give newbie Shale a shot, since we got him pretty late...

deedee_1
deedee_1

hywel69...wtf game did you play...Dragon Age is in NO way shape or form linear. Every part of that game has decision that vastly changes what mission you do, and how you do, what order you do them in. Not to mention the thousands of side quest....

hywel69
hywel69

Might pick it up. I thought the first one was a bit of a poor show. Pretty linear excluding the "mini adventures" at the start. Loading screens, tiny overland map, lack of object interaction, lack of interesting weapons/armor, rubbish melee and archers etc. Now at least melee won't suck, and maybe the sequal will have a better story than become a grey warden and defeat the orcs, I mean Darkspawn.

izoni
izoni

They did it again...another perfect game in the terms of Origins i like it very much and hope for many more

blackfray
blackfray

Holy **** BioWare is so fast! I can't believe they've already made an expansion; just after Dragon Age then Mass Effect 2 and then this!!!! Hey i've got an idea!!! Why don't some guys from BioWare take a visit to Blizzard and then teach them to make their games faster!

-Geo
-Geo

How about you add some armor customization? Kinda like ME2 in a way.

PenthiusX
PenthiusX

my thought exactly well if u gana let the guy live u gata bring Morrgan back cus both of the aspects r related..

nevershoutnevea
nevershoutnevea

i love dragon age but they should think twice before letting Morrigan go :/

PenthiusX
PenthiusX

well to comment on *PenguinIzzy* statement , i would say rater than time freeze the devs could add ways to improve execution of skills ad spells in a fast and ergonomic way so than comboing of spells and skills becomes really fun and a valid challenge =)..

nononames
nononames

This is great I am sertenly looking foreward to use this expantion.

green_dominator
green_dominator

Sounds kinda interesting but I gave up on ever beating Origins long ago......

PenthiusX
PenthiusX

wow most of the players killed the poor guy ..... well it works fr selfish players like me who don't miss there chance to get some =)

CoL0sS
CoL0sS

Rly glad they added respeccing and improved archery, but all that "return of the dead warden" thing rly sucks and somewhat kills RPG experience imo.

PCsama
PCsama

oh yeah ,come to mama baby ( i can't wait really) ^___^