Dawnguard, the first DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, released May 1st on Xbox and August 2 on PC. Normally we try to have a review out as rapidly as possible, but as you know with Skyrim, there is nothing done quickly.
Writing a review is a little bit different from doing a full game. On one hand, the new content has to be evaluated, but on the other, rarely does DLC dramatically alter the base game. So it is with Dawnguard, there is plenty of new material, but the underlying game is the same quality he have come to expect.
Dawnguard adds several new items, creatures and abilities to the already near exhaustive list available with the main title. The storyline centers on a resurgence of vampire activity, an ancient prophecy, and a powerful bloodline of vampires whose abilities come straight from a Daedric Lord.
After reaching at least Level 10, the player will begin to encounter stronger vampires at random points while travelling. Guards will begin to whisper about an ancient order of vampire hunters, called the Dawnguard, which are reforming to counter the threat. With that, the quest begins, however, a player may also trigger the quest by intentionally seeking out Fort Dawnguard, located near Riften, and asking to join.
From there, the player is sent on several main and radiant quests, and must choose to either aid the Vampire Lords, or the Dawnguard in their mission; either path may lead to the player inheriting the power of the Vampire Lords for himself.
With the addition of several tweaks and patches along the way, Skyrim’s graphics have improved a bit since the original release. Still, some of the odd anomalies are still present. Of course with the various mods available from the Steam Workshop, it is possible to improve not only the performance, but actual look of the game on PC. Overall however, if you liked the graphics of Skyrim, these are the same graphics on the DLC.
Again, things have not changed from the original release. The sound effects, music, and character interactions are all identical to the main title, and of the same high quality. Of course, there are a few new sounds, voices and so forth, but the integration is seamless.
Most of the annoying “Crash to Desktop” issues have by now, been resolved, still a good number of those are due to modders and tweakers taking the time to figure out what is wrong. In order for me to see what the difference was, I uninstalled every mod I have, and reinstalled only those that do not specifically work to resolve issues with gameplay. I noticed that, while some things were resolved, others cropped up to take their place; though not a consequence of the DLC itself, Dawnguard is slightly less enjoyable than it could be because of them. Specifically on PC, issues with the Windows Mouse Pointer being visible in the game, which cause the game to minimize when you don’t want it to, and the inability of the game to lock the mouse on the main monitor on a multi monitor setup, seemed to have cropped up in later patches.
There are a few new abilities and items in Dawnguard, first is the addition of mounted combat, introduced in an earlier beta version, and of course the Vampire Lord skill tree. There are also new creatures, items, quests and locations; you may find yourself returning to previously cleared areas to complete one of these quests, and you will definitely be surprised by some of the faction specific items in the game, such as the Vampire Armor.
New weapons included the crossbow, which functions within the Archery Skill Tree, offering a higher damage rating in exchange for a slower rate of fire. These things are pretty powerful, and you can stack enchantments on them to create the Soul Burning Fire Crossbow (not that I believe in bastardizing anything). Ammunition can be harder to come by though, so you have to place your shots effectively.
Becoming a Vampire Lord in Dawnguard is possible at a few points, with the earliest being siding with the vampires in the early stage of the quests. This branch of play allows a vampire to eventually become as powerful as a werewolf, but sadly you still cannot contract both Lycanthropy and Vampirism. You can however, exchange between the two conditions, reinfecting yourself with either at certain points. The Vampire Lord has an alternate form, perks, and a skill tree that makes going the route of the undead hard to pass up…
Other things included are new dragon shouts, and apparently some new cinematic finishing moves. You also gain the ability to have a pet troll, complete with armor. Other creatures that are new are the Death Hounds, Gargoyles, and many many more… too many to name in one section.
When you tally it up, Dawnguard adds 24 new locations, 2 new factions, 39 Quests, 80 NPCs, 3 Dragon Shouts, 3 new Blessings, and over 40 Creatures, on top of what is already there. Most of the mods in the Steam Workshop for Skyrim work equally well with Dawnguard, but always be certain to read the description fully, so as not to crash your game.
If you really want to enjoy the DLC, load up either an earlier save, or start a new game. Yes, you lose all those nice little weapons and trinkets you made, but the reward of starting fresh, facing these new challenges as a lower level character is well worth it.
Oh, achievements? Yeah, there are some of those too, 10 in fact.
Get ready to sit your ass down and not move for a week or so. Dawnguard, like Skyrim, is not going to be completed in one gaming session. Sure, you could sprint through dungeons, avoid combat and flat out run through the DLC in a shorter time, but to fully enjoy this, you are going to need to take it slow. With all the new possible interactions, quests, and so forth, it really changes the game to something new, making even starting fresh something I enjoyed. Truthfully, I have not fully explored all the possibilities with Dawnguard, there are just too many. But, this article will not write itself, so as soon as I hit “Save” I am gong back to it!
Bethesda has always been good with DLC for their releases; like Fallout and Fallout New Vegas, I would guess we will see quite a few more. Things that are left unfinished, or seemingly so, are placed for modders to pick up and run with. You could be playing this game three years from now, and will be a different experience. Some speculation that even more DLC is forthcoming is reinforced by the fact that the data for the files in the game now includes new werewolf variants. Though you do encounter a few werewolves in the wild now, no new variants are introduced in Dawnguard, which makes me think that Bethesda is laying the groundwork for the next DLC early.
Dawnguard hit the shelf at about 20 bucks. Given the sheer amount of content that it provides, I would say that it is well worth it. I’ve noticed that other reviews of the DLC don’t rate it as high as the main title itself, but the simple fact is, if you are a fan of Skyrim, then you will be a fan of Dawnguard.
On the subject of review scores, I really can’t give the DLC a lower score on areas such as Sound and Graphics; while Bethesda did not make any improvements, neither did they take a step back.
Dawnguard introduces a list of content that would make it qualify as a standalone game in its own right. While the story itself has no real bearing on the main quest of Skyrim, neither did the other various DLC releases of Bethesda’s other games. If you want to start from your last save, you may get some enjoyment, but try it fresh; you will love it even more.