The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dawnguard (DLC)

July 12, 2012, Author: Trent Pyro

Since it hit the shelves in November last year, many of you have spent an inordinate amount of time in Skyrim. It’s surely a testament to the depth and quality of Bethesda’s latest Elder Scrolls world that it remains in many people’s most played lists despite having no multiplayer to speak of.

Even so, there’s only so much to do and so much to see in Skyrim and Bethesda know this. Like any good developer they’ve been teasing us with the promise of ‘less but bigger’ DLC in comparison to Oblivion, and they recently made good on that promise with the release of Dawnguard.

With a hefty price tag of 1600MSP (about £14) and the world of Skyrim already pretty full, is Dawnguard worth the purchase? Unfortunately this is one of those tricky things that entirely depends on what you’re expecting, what you’ll be happy with and how much you hope to get out of it. I’ll lead you through my experience of Dawnguard, as well as my overall impression, and you can make up your mind.

NOTE: This is simply my playthrough of Dawnguard, following one of at least two possible paths. This is by no means the definitive account of the Dawnguard experience but an impression of my time with it.

Rather than brutally crowbar the DLC into the world, Bethesda have opted for a neat method of drawing you into it. Guards in all major cities will start mumbling about vampires and the Dawnguard, prompting you to ask them about it all. They’ll tell you that due to increased blood-sucker activity, the ancient vampire-hunters known as the Dawnguard have returned and are recruiting. After finding a representative you’re pointed towards Fort Dawnguard, the first of the new locations.

I’ll say now that while all the new areas remain within the known confines of the Skyrim map, they all nestle in the foggy sections. This is mildly disappointing and kind of makes the new places feel separate from the rest of the land. So you go through a cave and come out in the middle of a mountain pass, faced with Fort Dawngaurd. An impressive structure built into the side of the mountains, it houses the order and the people who get the main quest-line of the DLC started.

Essentially it’s ‘vampires are being naughty and we need to know why’, and I found it to be a bit flat to start. After questing through a cave I found a slender young vampire, Serana, locked in a stone coffin for an unspecified amount of time. Freeing her by accident and seeing she had an Elder Scroll strapped to her back, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and follow her back to her father’s epic vampire keep, Castle Volkihar.

The gargoyle: just one of the many new foes Dawnguard brings to Skyrim

I found it very difficult to resist following the Vampire path, as if the game was pushing me in that direction. Being a Werewolf already, I had only two choices once I met the king vamp; switch to being a Vampire Lord or bugger off and never return. Considering I wanted to know the significance of Serana’s Elder Scroll and didn’t want to go back to the Dawnguard with nothing I accepted. So began the Vampire quest-line.

This turned me into a seemingly all-powerful Vampire Lord, complete with wings. While you can’t actually fly you do sort of float around, and it is pretty cool for a while. You can either cast one of two types of magic, or land and go nuts with your claws. It feels empowering until you actually get into battle. Unless you happen to already be a mage with high magicka and magical ability, the spells will have little effect, and the constant need to wait for your magicka to recharge will make using them more tedious than fun.

Even as a level 41 character with a heavy, almost singular mêlée focus, my claws also did little damage. While some of later Vampire Lord abilities sound pretty cool, reaching them is more difficult than it should be, as I’ll go into later.

Suffice it to say, turning into a super-vampire was considerably less fun than I’d expected; especially when coupled with the need to sneak about feeding on sleeping people all the time, and the intense aversion to sunlight that can quickly grow into a 50% reduction of your health, stamina and magicka. If you’re already familiar with the intricacies of vampirism, however, the upgrade to Vampire Lord will be right up your street.

While I won’t spoil it by going into detail, I will say that just the Vampire path is substantial enough to please anyone looking for an engaging experience. It took me around 10 hours to finish, with very little side-questing. I suppose if you make a save before you make your choice you can reload and play the other path, doubling the length somewhat, as well as getting involved in one of the numerous new side-quests and diversions.

Some of the new locations are breathtaking and feel as well-designed as the best Skyrim currently has to offer. A highlight for me was the Soul Cairn, a desolate spirit world that forces you to learn new tactics and renews that sense of fearful adventure that’s lost once you reach a certain level of ability. A side-quest in this area also nets you a very cool bonus which I won’t spoil, provided you have the Magicka to support it. I’ll just say this; help out the guy with the lost horse.

Not content to simply dump new locations on you, Bethesda have included some neat new weapons and features to help you outside of the Dawngaurd quests. The crossbow presents a very effective alternative to the regular bow; it’s very accurate and powerful but takes an age to load. Dragonbone can how be used to forge weapons, usurping the previously peerless Daedric as the most powerful material.

New unique armour and weapons can be found on the various new and old kinds of enemies throughout the campaign, their usefulness dependent on your level I suppose. The addition of mounted combat makes the previously clunky transition between travel and combat that bit smoother, although the camera still goes nuts whenever you get off your steed. It seems the horses have been mostly fixed too, though this may have been included in the recent title update.

In addition to all this, a strange woman can be found in the Ragged Flaggon under Riften, who allows you to change your appearance for a price. Anyone who made some dodgy character creation choices at the beginning of the game will no longer have to live with them.

Far from simply being a reason to mess about, the Lycanthropy status and the new Vampire Lord status have been expanded on. When you’re in either of their beastly forms a quick tap of B will bypass everything usual and take you to a perk tree. By eating hearts as werewolf you can unlock the ability to call other wolves to your aid and make your enemies cower and run in fear. Or by drinking the blood of your enemies in combat you can enhance your Vampire Lord abilities to include a sort of Force Choke, a mist form and pack of bloodthirsty bats. It’s a neat idea unbalanced by the vast difference in difficulty.

A peek at the Lycan perk tree

Actually acquiring the correct sort of kills to earn perks as a Vampire Lord is notoriously difficult. You can either kill with the Drain Life spell when you’re flying or use a forward power attack when grounded to drink the life from your foe. In theory, that is. Both of these methods rarely work; the former is so ineffective a companion often kills the target first and the latter more often than not manifests as a simple claw attack, killing the foe but not biting them.

This leads to immense frustration as you desperately try to land a forward power attack at just the right time or hammer the Drain Life spell in the vain hope it’ll do something useful. Also, as most of the enemies you face along the Dawnguard quest-line are non-human, your only chance to level up is to set upon the towns and cities of Skyrim and piss everyone off. I suppose agreeing to be a Vampire Lord in the first place kind of implies you’re a bit on the nasty side, but considering how the game seems to funnel you towards this decision it seems unfair that it’s so difficult to progress.

Gaining skills as a Lycan however is simple; kill people and press A on their corpse to eat their heart. Being unidentifiable in beast form, you can ravage Skyrim by night and still move around unhindered in the day. Lycanthropy gives you the same resistances to disease and poison as Vampirism, without the weakness to sunlight that almost forces you to skip past every daytime.

The beast form is immensely powerful, allowing you to annihilate whole groups of people in a few swipes, and the Lycan abilities soon manifest themselves as a force to be reckoned with. It seems that the DLC makes remaining a Lycan (or at least resisting Vampirism) a difficult thing to do, yet makes being a Vampire so awkward and restricting, causing the detriments to outweigh the benefits somewhat.

Dawnguard is a brilliant piece of DLC that does everything it should. It breathes new life into the world of Skyrim through new locations, new characters and new quests to get lost in. The plot on offer is as epic as any of the larger side-quests in the vanilla game and will pull you in and keep you engaged right through to the very end, whichever end that may be.

The welcome addition of items and perk trees for the beastly abilities allows the DLC to live on past the quests it contains. However, the inelegant design of the Vampire Lord status makes it a tough one to live through and even tougher to enjoy, which is a shame considering how much it could have shaken up proceedings.

While the amount of content on offer is extensive, I still don’t think it justifies the 1600MSP price tag. Other titles have released substantial pieces of DLC for 1200 or less and there seems to be no good reason why Dawnguard should be so expensive. A number of new locations, features and characters doesn’t really explain the price hike; although, I suspect the guiding hand of Bethesda’s corporate masters goes some way to doing so. Compared to other overpriced DLC, however, it’s a meaty add-on that provides hours of new gameplay and some great features for those still knee-deep in the main quest.

So it’s up to you whether what’s on offer from Dawnguard is worth the money. There’s a good chance you’ve not played Skyrim for a while and this may tempt you back into Bethesda’s awesome world. Then again it may not; while there are new locations and weapons and things to do, the fundamental game is largely unchanged and I doubt it’ll convert any haters into fans.

It’s not made for them though, it’s made for us. Those of us who love Skyrim, who got lost in its intricate world and delved into its epic quests and unbridled freedom. If you count yourself within our number, one of the Dovahkiin, then Dawnguard is another epic adventure you simply cannot miss.


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