REVIEW: Skyrim: Dawnguard DLC
Title: Elder Scrolls V Skyrim: Dawnguard DLC
Platform: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC (Reviewed on X360)
Developer: Bethesda Games
Publisher: Bethesda Games
TL;DR: Riding into the sunset is overrated.
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There’s always been this thing with vampires versus werewolves. Do we want to contract a disease that makes us weak in the daytime but marginally more powerful at night, or get hairy and smell like a wet dog? The only answer we can possibly come up with is that Twilight ruined it all.
Vampires were never meant to be handsome, or gorgeous. They sure as hell don’t sparkle. They are terrifying creatures of the night, mere shells of people who used to be living, but are now pretty dead. Until the sun sets and those coffins open. Skyrim‘s “Dawnguard” add-on doesn’t pull the punches when it comes to showing that vampires are, in fact, a pretty mean lot and they don’t give much of a shit about each other. They’re also pretty damn ugly.
A level requirement was placed on the content to prevent players from getting killed while pursuing the main Dawnguard questline. When the player reaches level 10, then the story will start. Traveling to any of the large cities will start a conversation with a guard (presumably one who has already taken an arrow to the knee) and he’ll let you know what’s been the word about town. Rumor has it that vampire attacks have become more vicious, and have destroyed the Hall of the Vigilants just east of Morthal. The Dragonborn will be steered towards Fort Dawnguard, located in the easternmost reaches of Skyrim.
Upon reaching Fort Dawnguard, the Dragonborn will be greeted by a prospective recruit, and he’s nervous about entering the fort. He asks you to accompany him to speak with the leader, Isran. After a brief flapping of gums, and a sob story of how the fort has fallen into disrepair, you’re sent to investigate Dimhollow Crypt, which is ironically located just a few meters away from the Hall of Vigilants. From here, the player is introduced to the vampire side of the story through Serana, a woman who comes falling out of a coffin complete with an Elder Scroll strapped to her back.
She asks you to accompany her back home, to Castle Volkihar, located far north of Solitude. Once you do so, you get to meet the good Lord Harkon and his bat-shit crazy court of vampires in a richly dressed castle. I totally meant that “bat-shit crazy” comment, too.
Here is where you’ll be asked to make an important decision: do you want to become a Vampire Lord, or do you refuse the offer and go back to the Dawnguard? Picking whatever side ultimately doesn’t affect the story very much — the quests for either a vampire or Dawnguard soldier follow the same paths. In a nutshell, you can either see an ancient prophecy succeed or fail.
Of course, if I were to tell you what happens next, that would completely spoil the whole point of getting Dawnguard. It may not feature the most moving storyline ever, as it becomes predictable halfway through. However, the new areas that are made available to explore are fun and yield quite a bit of loot. For gamers who like to completely immerse themselves in a game’s world, history, and peoples, they’ll also be in for a treat. I know I was.
But now we’ve got to get to the important part of the DLC: what are the new things that you get, and are they worth it? For starters, there are brand new areas to explore. It’s not just one or two places — there are whole areas made available that have never been seen before. The most intriguing is the Soul Cairn, a sort of Limbo for those who made the wrong deals with necromancers. There’s even a whole backstory that went along with why the Soul Cairn exists, and why it’s so oppressive. Souls who end up here can’t ever go to Sovngarde, Skyrim’s version of a heaven.
The second area made available is called the Forgotten Vale, located far to the west of the world. It almost falls off the edge of the map, even. Upon emerging into the vale, you will probably have to stop and stare for a few seconds. It’s beautiful, truly wonderous. Bethesda flexes its environmental design and texturing muscles with the snow-capped mountains in the distance, majestic waterfalls, and flowing trees. And of course, you’ll probably have to go running the other direction because a sabre cat is about to eat your face off.
When it comes to the new transformations though, the “re-balancing” still doesn’t feel balanced enough. Becoming a Vampire Lord will grant you some sweet new moves through a unique perk tree that features 11 new perks, but all in all, it still fell short of making you truly feel powerful in playing as a badass vampire. With a slow transformation time, attempting to transform when you’re about to do battle will attract enemy attention and result in losing half of your health before you can make the first strike. Halfway through the Dawnguard storyline, Dawnguard soldiers will also begin to randomly spawn and harass you at any time of day if you choose to side with the vampires. Armed with heavy weaponry and the new crossbows, being caught in the middle of a skirmish during the day will result in absolute frustration, as being a vampire means no regeneration of any kind while traveling at daytime.
There are two modes when in Vampire Lord form. You can be either floating for a purely magicka-casting mode, or you can be on the ground for a purely melee mode. The downside to the magicka is that the spells take a little time to charge before being casted. However, if you can successfully unleash a spell, it is devastating. Casting life drain on an enemy will typically result in an instant kill, and casting the raise dead spell will raise any body to fight for you. Sadly, the Vampire Lord form comes with a third-person-only camera view, and targeting with that in a tiny passage way is next to impossible. I found myself on the ground fighting with teeth and claws for the most part, and it’s not very fun that way.
If you chose not to side with the vain blood-sucking bastards, you will instead find that vampires will occasionally attack unwalled towns and villages. It becomes a source of irritation after a while, as they won’t hold back against shopkeepers or important quest-giving NPCs that might be out milling in the streets.
Of course, new vampire powers just aren’t fair if werewolves don’t get the same VIP treatment. Turning into a werewolf now is significantly cooler than before, but no storyline was given for them. Sad faces all around, I know. Aela the Huntress will simply say that there’s been a realigning of the moons, but won’t elaborate when asked about it.
The perks made available for both Werewolves and Vampire Lords follow the same formula: low-end perks give bonuses to attacks, and high-end perks result in more unique moves. However, in this case, being a Vampire Lord wins out, as they received more unique moves such as turning into a cloud of bats and also being able to choke somebody from a short distance while draining their life. Darth Vader would be jealous, indeed.
The list of things included in Dawnguard keeps growing. A new class of dragons called Legendary Dragons will now appear in-game and will probably make you want to cry if you come up against one of them. Arvak, the first epic-mount of Skyrim, will be introduced to you in the Soul Cairn, along with a new shout to summon (yes, SUMMON) the undead dragon Durnheviir to fight alongside you.
All in all, Dawnguard brings a lot of great new things to the table. However, in retrospect, it felt almost as if the vampire side of things received far too much attention and during the process, the Dawnguard side was accidentally forgotten. Being a Vampire Lord sounded fun at first, but quickly turned into a chore of attempting to learn new perks while not dying in the middle of a battle. Maybe I was doing it wrong.
Bloody Great Time
Tons of new stuff gives players a lot more to do, see, and shout. New transformations make being either a werewolf or Vampire Lord better than before.
This Really Sucks
Random attacks by vampires and Dawnguard can easily kill important NPCs or the player. Vampire side of the equation feels like it received the most attention, whereas the rest of it didn’t. Transformations result in forced third-person view, making it hard to properly target enemies.
The “Dawnguard” DLC is currently available on Xbox 360 only. PC and PlayStation 3 owners will see the DLC soon.
Considering that there’s a lot of blood and talk of treachery and all sorts of things that the kidlets shouldn’t be around, we’re going to vote no on this. Skyrim also got an ESRB M and PEGI 18+ rating, so…yeah.