Have you been skulking around the lands of Skyrim, preying on those lone travellers foolish enough to risk a journey in the darkness? If not, now might be the perfect time to start, with the release of the first downloadable pack for Bethesda’s adventuring behemoth. Should you decide to follow the light and resist the power on offer, you can choose to become a member of the order from which the content’s name is derived, slaying the abominations of nature and making a name for yourself among the humans. It’s an add-on of two sides, but does this make for a quest worth biting into?
At level ten and above, your character will hear of an ancient vampire slaying order named the Dawnguard from any major city. Once you’ve been recruited for an investigative mission, the tale opens up and allows you to ally yourself with either the vampiric lords (gaining one very fancy transformation which puts lycanthropy firmly in its place) or maintain your allegiance to the Dawnguard. Rather than presenting you with a story filled with moral shades of grey, it’s clear as you glance around the room in which the vampiric form is presented that one path is considered good and the other evil. Once again, taking the route of righteousness is the lesser path where fun is concerned, though you will be handed a new crossbow which, strangely enough, is better for dragon slaying than it is for taking down ground-based foes, including vampires.
Playing as the vampire lord is empowering in its own right, though like when playing as a werewolf on the Companions quest line, the form is only viewable from a third-person perspective. You have a glide which is faster than a sprint (which will come in handy during one particularly irksome area which we’ll get into later), ability to teleport at short distances and even have a new skill tree with unique perks which unlock as you feed. There are a few extra bells and whistles with this latest content, but nothing that will fundamentally alter the experience. This is no bad thing if it’s simply more of Skyrim that you’ve been anticipating.
And for better or worse, more of Skyrim is exactly what you’ll be getting. This isn’t akin to the expansive Shivering Isles found in Oblivion, but is more sprawling than the Knights of the Nine, providing you with a few new expansive areas ripe for exploration. You’ll be tasked with going from point A to point B, journeying through dark caverns (at times making Candlelight magic an absolute must), slaying all manner of beasts. The problem is that a few of these quests are much, much too long, in turn throwing the pace off kilter. You’ll find yourself traipsing through darkness in the hopes of discovering a bright location soon; true enough, Dawnguard features some fancy locales, but the effort it often takes to get to them can be exhausting to the point of harrowing.
Conversation is a big part of what makes this downloadable content worth playing, as although you might not be completely sold on the plight of the warring factions, your new companion is interesting, well voice-acted and has much to say for herself; she serves as the central figure of the story and is genuinely likeable. Thankfully she’s also immortal, being injured in combat rather than permanently killed. It’s this character who pushes the content forward and makes you want to see things through to the end, and the development team appears to have been very aware of this given some of the later dialogue choices.
In one standout moment you’ll be doing battle with two dragons over an icy lake, where they plunge headlong into the icy waters and shoot up from anywhere to surprise you. As always, it’s the unique challenges like this which become the most memorable, and will be remembered for all the right reasons. Sadly, this can’t be said for the Soul Cairn; a dreary plain of Oblivion filled with skeletons, lost souls and so much walking that it’ll test your patience as well as your stamina bar as you constantly hold down the sprint button. If the purpose of this place was to make you feel depressed in a desolate landscape then the developers have had their way – it’s long, ugly and contains little of note. It is, however, central to the quest and is forced upon you regardless of your chosen faction.
As this is Skyrim, it’s unsurprising that this new content comes with a fair share of bugs and glitches. You may find that a quest giver’s mission won’t activate properly and they become trapped in a looping animation (which appears to be the most documented issue and one we experienced during our own playthrough), forcing a quick reload from the most convenient auto-save. It’s a shame that gamers are still experiencing this kind of problem, but such things seem inevitable in a title so expansive. You’ll get around ten hours of game time with this download, which isn’t too shabby overall.
Dawnguard is a mixture of old and a little something new, but it’s also a case of success and failure. In trying to present an epic pilgrimage, the game becomes exasperating and a chore, but in attempting to do new things it occasionally sets itself apart from the side-quests discovered in the main game. There’s nothing earth-shattering or fresh from an artistic standpoint, but Dawnguard has its high points, a very welcome companion as well as new powers for you to play around with. Whether or not you consider this worth the 1600 MS points will depend on just how desperate you are to return to the world of Tamriel.
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