To the people of Skyrim, the Dawnguard represent the battle against vampires. They are a group of fighters sworn to battle the evils of the night and have recently reformed, owing to the resurgence of bloodsuckers in the Nordic lands. They, in effect, represent one of few hopes against the growing vampire situation.
To you as a player, Dawnguard, the first DLC for Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, represents vacillation. While it is still just as fun being within the world of Skyrim and having the freedom to do so much, the expansion doesn’t seem to add a whole lot to the original experience. Compared to the likes of Bethesda’s Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas DLC, Dawnguard falls short of the precedent, leaving me hard up in ways to recommend it for its full price of $20.
What Dawnguard gets right, though, is its tight integration with the rest of Skyrim. Whereas the Fallout-type DLC was always sectioned off like a little experiment they were afraid would contaminate the rest of the game, Dawnguard is just a part of the world. Albeit, getting to the new Fort Dawnguard takes a short cave trek, but you’ll spend a good two or three hours in new territories. That said, it is a bit disappointing that out of the eight or so hours these new quests will take, only a third of it will feel new, but given that it feels natural in the context of vampires affecting all of Skyrim, I’m inclined to let it slide. Things take a rather neat turn when you discover a portal within Castle Volkihar.
And of course, you’re not immune to a little vampirism. Right from the get-go, you’re given the choice of either siding with the vampires or sticking with the Dawnguard. While choosing to remain a human (or werewolf, if you’re already all up in them Lycanthropy guts) will get you access to the fort, crossbows (the sadly only new weapon type of the DLC), and Armored Troll followers, allowing the vampire lord Harkon to have his way with your neck will grant you the ability to become a Vampire Lord yourself. This will strip away your werewolf powers (which can be later regained), but for the most part, it’s a massive improvement.
You first gain access to a completely new skill tree where upgrades are earned by sucking the souls out of people (you also get a new werewolf skill tree). Some skills include a health, stamina, and magicka boost, time bending, and transformations into mist and bats. For werewolves, you earn new skills like the ability to summon an ally werewolf are earned by devouring the hearts of corpses.
And this is all fine and well (especially when you can suspend an enemy in midair while draining their health), except for the fact that actually controlling yourself in Vampire Lord-form is horrible. You are automatically kicked out to third-person view where, as anyone familiar with Skyrim will know, is painfully awkward. And it doesn’t help that in your transformed state, you take up so much of the screen that there were times when I just couldn’t even see where I was headed or what I was fighting. Most of the time, I just stayed in my human form, which also saved me from waiting through the protracted transformation sequence after digging through menus for the non-hot-keyable transform ability.
But there are some new additions that are well worth your time, such as new Dragonbone weapons and a couple new shouts. The Dragonbone cutlery is supposedly stronger than Daedric weapons, but I’m not totally convinced just yet. The Soul Tear shout, though, is pretty neat, as you can both fill a soul gem and raise an undead minion with it.
Crossbows are a little disappointing, however, as they are effectively bows but with a longer reload time. They do instantly fire at full strength, but I figured you would have been able to dual wield crossbows. You do get a sweet bow later on, though, that lets you literally rain fire down from the sky onto enemies, so I guess it’s hard to get too bent out of shape about that.
In fact, it’s probably the little things like that to find the proper joy in Dawnguard. The story is largely inconsequential and a bit drab (though Serena’s arc is, despite being about vampires, quite relatable) and the biggest draw of being a Vampire Lord is more bothersome than interesting, but you are also given a new, more difficult type of dragon to fight, the ability to summon a ghostly steed, and new, fairly fun enemies.
However, twenty dollars for an eight-hour trip where I wasn’t even enjoying most of it doesn’t seem like a great proposition. If it were something more like ten dollars, then that’s something I could fully endorse. I mean, it’s definitely a close call and really is more about what you enjoy (more bestial engagement) contrasted with what you find annoying (more bestial engagement).
But hot damn, that fire bow is crazy.