So here it is, then. Skyrim’s first official expansion is now available on the PC as well as the Xbox and ready to let you sink your teeth into it. Pun sort of intended. Previous expansions have gone over well in Elder Scrolls history, adding new lands to explore and new loot to fight with new enemies to conquer, so let’s find out if Skyrim’s first attempt lives up to those previous.
Dawnguard is, as I’m sure you all know by now, Vampires. Them who like to bite you in the neck when you sleep and drink your blood. The Dawnguard is an ancient society of professional Vampire hunters, and they want you to join them in their hunt. Having been disbanded for a long, long time the newly reformed Dawnguard is currently making base in their old keep, Fort Dawnguard, slowly rebuilding and actively recruiting for their crusade in destroying the re-emerging vampire threat, in the form of the Volkihar clan, led by the Vampire Lord, Harkon. Near the beginning of your new adventure you will be given the opportunity to join one of these factions permanently, either hunting vampires or joining them, and becoming one yourself. Without spoiling anything past general knowledge of the title that is the story you will be playing through.
One of the most touted things about the new content is, of course, the ability to become a blood sucker yourself, complete with a new perk tree with shiny new abilities for you to use on the helpless denizens of Skyrim. Once you have been turned, you have access to the ‘Vampire Lord’ ability, which funnily enough, allows you to transform into a Vampire Lord, a large demonic form with the ability to bring the dead back to life with your left hand and drain the blood of the living with your right. If you run out of magicka you can then simply swipe with your sharp claws to finish off stragglers. As well as those basic attacks you have the ability to turn into a swarm of bats to cover great distances in no time, a Vampire vision which lets you see much better in the dark and you can look forward to powerful skills such as summoning a gargoyle to fight at your side. Once you are done having your fun you can simply switch back to your human form and continue on as normal.
Clearly a lot of effort went into improving the transformed players abilities and fun compared to the woeful werewolf abilities in the vanilla game, and with that, those werewolves also have a new perk tree; with abilities to increase strength, terrify higher level opponents and more. Problem is, and this is shared with the Vampire Lord form, is that there isn’t much point in doing it. To take the Vampire specifically, it takes a couple of seconds to transform into your terrifying new form and ladle out the punishment, then should you want to turn back, it’ll take about five seconds and an unskippable animation to do so; you can still be attacked and killed during this time where you can not defend yourself. You’ll also find it difficult moving around in caves/houses etc. In Vampire form as you are so tall you can get caught on roofs and scenery, stopping you dead in your tracks. As a sword and shield warrior, I also couldn’t use those magic spells for very long, so if you intend on being a Vampire make sure you are ready with a large mana pool, as you can’t use potions while in vampire form.
To get started on your quest, reminiscent of the Blood Moon expansion for Morrowind, you’ll hear a rumour from a towns guard, something about the Dawnguard being reformed. There’s also a chance to run into a recruiter in towns, which will give you the quest to speak to the Dawnguard leader. This is where I had my first major problem; the game marked on my map the supposed entrance to the cave that would take me to Fort Dawnguard, so off I went, me and my horse Allie to slay some vampires. Over 40 minutes later I was still wandering trying to find the cave, having exhausted every possible place it could be in the location given. Dejected I resorted to a YouTube video, and it turns out the entrance is nowhere near where the map tells you, in fact there’s nothing where the map tells you and the actual entrance isn’t marked on the map at all. Whether this is an occasional glitch or one that happens every time, it needs to be fixed as there will be a lot of frustration if you have just laid down the money for new content and the game doesn’t let you in on how to get to that new content.
After finally getting there, I spoke to the leader and was given my first quest, and it was at this quests conclusion you are given the choice to remain loyal to the Dawnguard or join the vampires, with good reason to join both, make your decision wisely as there’s no way to turn back once you have chosen. Of course it’s a bit odd that both of these very professional and ancient societies are more than willing to let an unknown quantity join their ranks and rise through them in no time at all, but that’s par for the course in any Elder Scrolls faction quest-line, I guess.
For the purposes of reviewing and seeing the new Vampire skill tree (and you should know a seemingly common glitch, one I experienced, is as soon as you become a Vampire, if you are using an Ebony Shield, it will disappear, forever it seems. It is still equipped and useable, but invisible), I chose to side with the Vampires and got a nice new companion for my trouble, lady Vampire Serana, an important figure in the quest and a very handy friend in combat, with her able to raise the dead to fight for us battles were a breeze for the most part, even on expert difficulty with a moderately geared level 17 character. You won’t be on easy street all the time, however, as there are some tough battles ahead, including a stand-out set piece against a pair of dragons on a large plane of ice.
Taking on the Dawnguard side of the quest obviously results in a different story; where as a Vampire you seek a weapon to block out the sun, the Dawnguard are looking to stop the Vampire Lord in his tracks, and to do so they have access to the new cross-bow weapon. Effectively just a bow with more power, this is however off-set by the considerably larger reload time between bolts. You’ll of course also make home in Fort Dawnguard as opposed to the Vampire haven.
Horse armour and other questionable releases aside, Elder Scrolls add-ons have generally added new lands for you to explore, be it Solstheim or the Shivering Isles, in Dawnguard most of the quests are in Skyrim itself, just adding new caves and dungeons; even the two new keeps for the Vampires and Dawnguard are in the main map. You will get two entirely new areas though, one being the Soul Cairn, where those unfortunates trapped in Soul Gems go, and the Forgotten Vale. Both are large areas but neither are particularly well marked on maps. No quest markers for side-quests means a lot of random walking about and with no horse (unless you complete one of the aforementioned side-quests) means a lot of time aimlessly wandering, especially in the Forgotten Vale, which is really just a five-item-fetch-quest to expand playtime. However for the main quests, those which are marked on the map, both new areas are interesting to explore and explained in ways to keep them firmly embedded in the existing lore of the world.
With cross-bows added, new armour from new enemies and new beasties to fight, in new lands, there is a lot of content on offer, but it will only take you between 10-12 hours to complete depending on whether or not you do the side-quests, although you could ostensibly double that by playing through with the opposite faction. Whether or not it’s worth the 1600 Microsoft Points/£13.99 will fully depend on how much enjoyment you can get from what is more of the same quest-wise, some new powers (that may well be useless depending on your class) and some new lore-goodness. There is a distinct lack of unique loot past a little new armour and a new bow at the end of the vampire quest, so that may factor in on your decision. For what it is, though, it’s a large amount of content, it will give players some new areas to roam around in and has a slightly more compelling tale than the original Skyrim storyline; bugs however ultimately brings things down.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
So here it is, then. Skyrim’s first official expansion is now available on the PC as well as the Xbox and ready to let you sink your teeth into it. Pun sort of intended.