[How you access Dawnguard: If your character is level ten or higher, you can hear rumors about your destination from guards. You can also obtain a note from an NPC with a marker. If you're below level 10, the Dawnguard HQ is southeast of Riften through a cave; head there]
After a myriad of useless DLC drops, Oblivion finally got it’s proper swan song — the universally loved Shivering Isles expansion. After we were insulted with horse armor, $5 thirty minute quests, and $5 buildings that were free mods on the PC version, fans finally got their wish for a meaty piece of content.
It seems as if Besthesda was willing to take this stance right out of the gate, as the very first piece of downloadable content is in fact a full expansion. Dawnguard seeks to uphold the Elder Scrolls legacy with a full twenty hour quest, and a ton of extra content. Unfortunately, all of that content comes with a full price of $20, so strap yourself in if you’re on the fence with this one.
Dawnguard starts off like any other Elder Scrolls quest, but after a few hours, it quickly takes a stark turn. I’m going to do my best not to spoil anything plot-wise, but you can probably gather from the coverage and screenshots so far that you can become a vampire at some point. It’s at this crossroads that you get the final decision to accept (or reject) the pinnacle of vampire evolution — the Vampire Lord.
Turning into a Vampire Lord, initially, feels like one of the coolest moments in the entire franchise. As a giant hulking monstrosity and not just a mere human-looking thing with glowing eyes, it has it’s own spells and powers, and the ability to both hover and cast spells, as well as walk along the earth and claw it’s enemies to pieces.
The vampirism aspect of Dawnguard isn’t half assed gimmick here, as it has a fully functional skill tree, with it’s own perks. In order to boost your abilities, you need to use drain life or actually bite your victims.
Fluff wise, there’s a lot of cool mechanics that really suck you into the lore, giving the DLC it’s own unique voice. You’ll learn a lot about past and present lore items, ranging from Snow Elves, to Moth Priests, to Oblivion itself — old school TES fans will probably get a lot of enjoyment here.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Besthesda game without some wonky glitches, most notably dealing with the Vampire Lord form itself. Since it’s so tall, there’s a number of story areas I couldn’t fit into, forcing me to revert back into my human form, and switch back wherever applicable.
Since the form change is delayed by a few seconds before the ability even triggers, this can get extremely frustrating. Additionally, while it isn’t a glitch, not being able to pick up items or interact with corpses or chest as a Vampire Lord is extremely frustrating — again, having to morph back and forth can get tiresome — Bethesda should have allowed the ability to play most of the DLC as a Lord.
Also, trying to do anything before you are completely changed (or reverted) can trigger glitches as well. I had to restart my save a number of times because I got stuck in the ground, stuck frozen on my horse in Vampire Lord form, and so on.
Funnily enough I was able to get out of one game breaking floor fall glitch by transforming into a Vampire Lord to glitch out. Oh that Besthesda!
Glitches didn’t stop at the Vampire Lord, however. In a few instances, quest NPCs would become hostile with no provocation, forcing me to reload an old save, losing at least thirty minutes of progress. Luckily, I was able to use some trickery to not get them to become hostile, by staying in certain areas at certain times in the quest. Like any Bethesda game, save often, and be prepared to be your own QA department.
While the DLC is blood-centric, you don’t have to be a vampire. You can choose to side with the Dawnguard, which basically allots two entirely different DLC playthroughs. Depending on your personal preference, this can be either a blessing, or a curse. Personally, I’m a huge fan of vampire lore (especially in TES series), so I was only truly interested in the vampire questline, and only did the Dawnguard side for the purposes of this review.
Bethesda has gone on record saying that the DLC will offer “20 hours of playtime” — this is pretty much spot on, if you account for the fact that either faction is providing about 10 hours each.
That isn’t to say the Dawnguard side is boring however, as it’s about on par with some of the best quests in Skyrim. As a result of your initial alliance with the vampire haters, you’ll gain access to a crossbow — a weapon many TES fans have been clamoring for.
To be clear, Dawnguard adds a few extra castles, caves, or mountain-tops around the fringes of the existing Skyrim region — it doesn’t whisk you away into some magical new land, and force you to complete a lengthy set of tasks before you can return. Naturally, you will be doing some quests within the original game’s boundaries and towns.
The DLC pack also brings a number of secret additions to the plate. For instance, werewolves, although not the focus of this particular DLC, have an additional skill tree. There’s also a number new dragons, extra homes, new shouts, and unique DLC items to be had.
Skyrim: Dawnguard will not blow your mind, but it’s a decent addition to the Skyrim franchise, so long as you’re willing to buy into the vampiric premise. There’s a number of lore-rich encounters that long time TES fans will love, and a number of extras that help pad the package.
Unfortunately, it’s a tad shy of greatness, due to a heap of technical issues and questionable design choices. Bethesda will need to work harder to top Shivering Isles.
This review was based on a digital copy of Dawnguard for the Xbox 360.