The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dawnguard DLC
As if there isn’t already enough crap to do in the land of Skyrim Bethesda has graced us with the RPG’s first DLC add-on, Dawnguard. Somewhere between a DLC pack and a full-on expansion, Dawnguard is loaded with content and offers one of the most unique experiences you will find in an Elder Scrolls game. I went into this DLC a bit skeptical but was pleasantly surprised by its interesting characters and beautiful atmosphere. That’s right, likable characters in a TES game.
Due to their limited scope most DLC reviews can be chalked up as follows: How much content is in it? Is it high quality content? Is it worth the price tag? Done. This can all be summed up in a paragraph or two, but as any Bethesda RPG veteran can tell you, there is a difference between “DLC” and an “Expansion“. Bethesda’s been known to sell both and an argument can be made for either side in regards to Dawnguard, but considering how much content they crammed into this thing I would be hard pressed to dismiss it as mere “DLC”. If something comes with a $20 price tag, 1/3 the retail price of the original game, it had better deliver.
As an add-on Dawnguard provides a new questline with two alternate paths based on the faction you chose (a majority of these quests are shared), a number of sidequests unique to that faction, new items, new enemies, new spells, new shouts, new game play options in the form of a Vampire Lord transformation and an added Werewolf perk tree and two enormous new open areas to explore each with their own subareas and dungeons. That’s roughly twice the amount of content Bethesda included in the Knights of the Nine add-on for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I’d say that’s enough fluff to justify a fancy steak dinner, but quality isn’t about how much shit you can shove into a few hundred megabytes.
Our story starts somewhere between the middle and end of Skyrim’s main quest, as you need to have gotten to a certain point in the story to experience Dawnguard in its entirety. You hear rumors of a new group of vampire hunters that call themselves the Dawnguard, and upon investigating these rumors the adventure begins. Early on you get to choose your side: will you join the crusading Dawnguard and cleanse the land of the vampire menace or will you join the vampire clan Volkihar and end the tyranny of the sun?
While both factions share a large number of quests rooted in the main story they offer different perspectives, items, characters, and sidequests. Siding with the Dawnguard will net you more powerful crossbow upgrades while siding with Volkihar will grant you powerful items that improve your Vampire Lord abilities. As a longtime Morrowind fan I naturally lusted for the crossbows and rocked a golden Dwemer death-machine mere hours into the DLC. And if you’re wondering, yes, the crossbows are a ton of fun and result in some of the funniest kill-cams available in the game. Firing an explosive crossbow bolt from 50-yards to hit a Frost Troll in the face kind of makes you forget you’re playing medieval fantasy game. Oh yeah did I mention you can craft arrows and bolts now? Not a great selling point for PC users considering they have mods, but there it is.
Your choice of faction will also determine which new spells you have access to, though there are some new conjuration spells that are available to both. There are a number of unique and repeatable radiant quests available to both factions; some involving similar ideas while some others are complete opposites of each other. Aside from a unique perspective on the main story, a few items, spells and some sidequests the two factions aren’t all that much different. Their individual bases of operation are interesting enough, but they don’t have much to offer once you are done with Dawnguard‘s main story.
Speaking of the main story, Dawnguard offers a lot more than just an Underworld rip-off. Serana, the main NPC and your new best buddy, is a well thought out and conflicted character that has just enough thought put into her to question whether or not Bethesda actually wrote her themselves. Many of the characters can be considered homages or even rip-offs to famous figures of Vampire lore, especially Serana being eerily similar to Kate Beckinsale’s character in Underworld. However, there are a few fun and unique characters to be met like this crazy guy who thinks… what’s that Arkay? You want me to tell them more about the plot?
Well I won’t spoil anymore of the plot than has already been in Dawnguard‘s marketing campaign but I will admit that its story had me worried. I was disappointed when I heard that the DLC would be about vampires and didn’t think that there would be an opportunity to expand on any of the existing lore I had been interested in. Wow was I wrong. I am not the most seasoned TES lore-nerd, but I know the difference between my Lorkhan and my Sithis (which is to say that there is none) and if there is any breach of pre-existing lore in this DLC I did not notice it. Not only were there cool lore revelations, but you also get to see a lot of things first hand that were merely talked about in the games up to this point. A lot of really cool stuff.
Aesthetically Dawnguard surpasses the vanilla content with their new areas. The vampire-centric dungeons and castle have a very gothic horror vibe with animated gargoyles and some pretty dark imagery. The Soul Cairn offers an incredibly large area to explore unlike anywhere else in Skyrim. There’s an awesome Morrowind reference among the sidequests offered there and if you’re a fan like me you’ll weather the admittedly frustrating quest to see how it ends. To top it all off Dawnguard offers access to the Forgotten Vale, the largest area in the game outside of the Skyrim overworld. You’ll have to stop a few steps in and absorb your surroundings. Bethesda’s art staff really out-did themselves with this one. The best thing about these new areas is how much crap they have hidden in them. Be prepared to search high and low for some long-lost goodies.
As good as it is, Dawnguard does have its shortcomings. As you can imagine from a Bethesda game it is not without its bugs, though I didn’t run into anything game breaking like I had my first go at the vanilla game. Many people believed the DLC offered two unique stories based on which faction you chose, but sadly the main plot is identical with most of the quests being shared between factions. On a similar note, the factions themselves had a disappointingly small impact on the story. They form the background for the conflict but a majority of the major plot points and events happen outside of their influence. What was the point of fortifying Fort Dawnguard if it is never attacked by more than two random vampires at a time? Then there’s the random vampire attacks… be cautious when entering cities unless you want to end up with a few dead shopkeepers lying in the streets. I love what it does for immersion, but the vampire attacks are usually just three guys running into a city jumping the first person they see… not all that thought out.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Dawnguard and all the cool stuff it added to the game. However, $20 is a steep price for DLC and this content will inevitably be packaged with the original game in a year or two for Bethesda’s obligatory “Game of the Year Edition”. I think its worth the price tag, but if you’re willing to wait out the GotY edition more power to you.
Skyrim’s Dawnguard DLC is out for Xbox 360 and will supposedly be released on PS3 and PC at the end of this month.
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