The Elder Scrolls series has a history of releasing DLC in quality rather than quantity. Since Oblivion has been on the market it has only seen two major DLC packages involving new quest lines, factions, and entire new worlds to explore. Skyrim now receives its first added content in the form of Dawnguard, where you are able to insert yourself into the middle of an ancient struggle revived in present times. To sate anyone’s curiosity very little need be said other than “Vampires”; such is the central selling point. Sounds pretty cool yeah, I mean who doesn’t have at least one character in their Skyrim family who is enjoying the shadow of night and feeding on the blood of the living? It’s an all too tempting concept, and Dawnguard can either make being a vampire a much sweeter deal, or hellacious if you choose to hunt every last one down to extinction as a member of a faction who makes the Vigilants of Stendarr look like preschoolers playing pretend.
Dawnguard offers a few things for players of all levels in varying stages of the main quest lines. If you’ve defeated Alduin or united Skyrim under the banner of either the Stormcloaks or the Imperials there will be a few new challenges for you. If you are still mostly in progress infancy the DLC quests may actually help you along in the main quest lines while offering a great chance to experience some of what you’ll end up facing later on. Unfortunately variety is slightly stifled in choosing your side of the vampire conflict in terms of quest direction. The first group of tasks differ for each side, but eventually the main objectives begin to merge. The real difference makers in separating the two factions will be the perks involved in siding yourselves with them.
If becoming a vampire lord is your goal here, you look to gain some of the most fun and unique additions. Firstly you gain a new follower; she is essentially a vampire princess and undoubtedly the most worthwhile combatant to have at your side out of all the followers in the game. She is an incredibly powerful mage and possesses all of the once a day vampire abilities you do should you already be one, except she can use them to her heart’s content. How frequently she uses her vampire servant skill to raise the corpses of defeated foes will often make it feel like you have two companions at your side. She has a decent carrying capacity and is easily the most distinctive looking female character model you’ll meet in the Skyrim universe thanks to her clothing, glowing eyes, and exclusive build features. For whatever reason however you cannot command her the way you would other followers, but she’s a big girl and tends to make good decisions.
The big appeal on the vampire side of this war is the tremendous enhancement of your pre-existing vampiric abilities, or the bestowment of them should you be of clean blood. Note that even if you still have the blood of the werewolf from the Companions quest, it may be purged in favor of vampire blood should you choose to switch. You won’t be allowed to mix bloodlines, this isn’t Underworld and I haven’t seen Kate Beckinsale anywhere much to my disappointment. If you are one of those players who felt that being a vampire was more hassle then its worth, Bethesda feels your pain and actually openly acknowledges something through the words of he who will grant you this power. When asked if you would receive the gift of being turned, you have the option of saying you already have it. It is promptly explained that you may have caught some disease, but have yet to taste the true power of a vampire lord. I cannot speak for all gamers, but I have always felt that the levels were dialed down a little too much on the original concept of being a night stalker prior to this DLC. Thankfully, your newfound powers are the best part of Dawnguard.
The most significant power of being a vampire lord is your transformation, which can be activated at will and greatly increases your health, magicka, and stamina levels. You gain points to use on the new perk tree by draining a human’s soul with your life sucking or power bite abilities. The most useful talents include a bat swarm DPS shield, the cost cutting of magicka involved in activating spells, and a force choke and fling ability that Darth Vader himself would be proud of. Max efficiency begins and ends with your typical human foe however, as you’ll find yourself preferring the quicker method of killing creatures and dragons with whatever enchanted weapon you wield. Despite superior defense and evasive maneuvers, the peak of vampire existence is one more suited to amusement than battle mastery, but it is pretty damn amusing. There were just too many instances where my Mark of Death shout combined with my flame enchanted blade proved deadlier than a lord’s claws or spells against stronger opponents. Still, roaming around as a winged bloodcrazed creature of the night is some of the most fun you can have in Skyrim.
Choosing to follow the path of the vampire hunter will yield its own benefits as well, though none nearly as fun as the opposition. You will have easier access to new weapons such as several incarnations of the crossbow which despite slower reload times than your typical bow actually deals out very generous amounts of damage, especially to vampires. Though as a vampire, slaying Dawnguard members and looting crossbows from them is an easy way to acquire one as well. You get an exclusive follower in your very own armored troll which is admittedly pretty handy. These “pets” can usually smash most enemies in a matter of seconds, but they are hardly completely loyal and have tendencies to wander off from you, forcing you to spend 500g for another one. They are fun to have around, but pale in comparison to the overall usefulness of Serana, the vampire follower.
Dawnguarding it up also means you get to keep your werewolf blood, and eventually receive access to their own updated perk tree as well. Just how you must drain a soul to gain points toward perks as a vampire lord, as a werewolf you must feed on the hearts of your enemies to do the same. Important abilities include raising overall health and stamina, regaining health with every devoured corpse, and even summoning a werewolf companion to fight alongside you. As with the vampire lord, werewolves fall short of the full combat competence of a well-equipped character.
Other nifty additions to the game are the dragon bone weapons; finally another reason to not simply sell those dragon bones but only for those proficient in blacksmithing. There are two new shouts including a second dragon summon and a soul tear shout which slowly chips away at the health, magicka, and stamina of your foes; the latter of course only after learning all three words. There is a horse summon spell which can be used pretty much anywhere with open space, this is very useful even for those who have the loyalty of Shadowmere of the Dark Brotherhood quest, as there are some new areas where even he cannot follow.
Bethesda originally boasted around 15-20 hours of new content; this is attainable if you simply wander around some of the new areas such as the Soul Cairn doing minor side quests and harvesting all the soul fissures you can find to bolster that soul gem collection. This can honestly get boring rather quickly, and the main quest can realistically be completed between 5-8 hours if you run straight through it; less if you are using a high level character whom has completed most everything there is to be done with the game. There are several very worthwhile rewards after the completion of either side of the questline, but they are only useful if you have bigger challenges ahead that only the main quests and some faction quests can provide. Despite its length however there is some of the best dialogue in the game here and the boss battles are nothing like the ones you’ve faced before.
Glitches are a part of the Skyrim culture and some of the more egregious ones can always be patched up later, but in its present state the Dawnguard DLC seems to be infected with more than your average amount. The reason I chalk said issues up to the arrival of Dawnguard is because most of them occur within the new areas. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve fallen through the floor within the Soul Cairn to my death, or gotten stuck in pillars or those giant soul leeching crystals. Even toward the beginning of the quest I found myself constantly being attacked by NPCs from both sides for no reason. It was nothing a couple of reloads couldn’t fix, but still rather confounding.
The one thing I question the most about Dawnguard is its price tag. $20 is a steep price for any added content, but there is far too little here to confidently justify paying that amount. Everything within the DLC worth doing can all be experienced in a shorter amount of time than most other faction quests take to complete. If there’s simply nothing left for you to do in Skyrim, then it will reinvigorate your interest for a little bit. If you’ve only just delved into the game more recently, going through the quest will provide you with useful tools for your adventure. It’s just difficult to view this as reasonable when there are entire downloadable games worth a fraction of that price.
Fun Factor: Transforming into a vampire lord or a super powered werewolf may not be the best way to kill everything in your path, but it will never get boring.
Difficulty: Varies depending on your progress in the game. The more built you are for defense and the better enchanted your gear, the easier you’ll get through the Dawnguard quest. A little challenge is good though.
Length: Main quest can be completed between 5-8 hours; extracurricular activities may add another 3-5. The content is short, but not poor.
On the Negative Side: I won’t consider the glitches since the frequency of occurences may vary from gamer to gamer and if they truly do pose a large enough problem they will likely be patched. Otherwise half of the objectives in the opposing faction’s quests mirror one another and an unreasonable price tag for the amount of content provided.
Bang for Your Buck: The most hardcore Skyrim fans won’t feel the sting of questionable value here, but rest assured this is slightly overpriced.