Skyrim Dawnguard DLC Review

by Brent Roberts

Welcome my children of the night to the rebirth of your eternal salvation.  The everlasting sleep from which I have awoken has signaled the coming triumph of the vampires.  By utilizing the power that is locked deep within the ancient Elder Scrolls, the time has come for the vampires to claim victory over our most ferocious opponent that has taken the lives of countless vampires since the birth of our great species, the sun.  For too long vampires have lived in fear throughout Tamriel, and the opponent we feared the most was the sun, that is until now.  Now my fellow brothers and sisters of the night, now we have a new weapon and one that will guarantee not only the salvation of our people, but one that will spawn a new dawn of darkness that will forever reign in our glory!  The time has come my children, the choice is yours to make, and either take up arms against our cause and side with the Dawnguard, or heed the call in your soul and join your fellow brothers and sisters of the night on our quest to vanquish the sun.  For this choice is the core of the latest Skyrim DLC, Dawnguard and this is a question only you can answer.

Since its release, Skyrim has drained the lives of millions of fans around the world and the new DLC pack, Dawnguard is Bethesda's first attempt at providing content that stacks up to such iconic DLC adventures such as Oblivion's Shivering Isles.  Priced at a whopping 1600 Microsoft Points, Dawnguard is certainly expensive, however, the main question we have to answer is, is it worth it?  Well let's find out.  Starting things off in Dawnguard we find that we are caught in the middle of an ongoing war between a group of vampire hunters called the Dawnguard who are led by a battle hardened man named Isran, and a group of vampires led by the return of a Volkihar Vampire Lord named Harkon.  This is a great stage for a massive battle and there is plenty to uncover and explore as you traverse the Dawnguard DLC and make your choice on who to side with, the Dawnguard, or the vampires. 

When it comes to the fans of The Elder Scrolls, one thing we have come to demand from Bethesda is high quality adventure DLC that keeps us mesmerized for hours and days upon end.  Thankfully Dawnguard delivers on almost everything we would come to expect from the minds of Bethesda.  One of the new areas to explore is a desolate wasteland of wandering spirits called Soul Cairn.  This is one of many new areas to explore along your quest and will bring you face to face with one of the meanest looking dragons you'll ever face, Durnehviir.  This mighty undead beast bestows two gifts for you, one of them is a shout where you can summon him and the second amazing gift comes from summoning him the first three times, the gift of Soul Tear.  These new areas, weapons, characters, adventures are all things that we as gamers have come to demand that Bethesda perfect before release, and while thoughts may be racing through your head about how you will become the next almighty vampire lord, you may want to think twice about that because while the DLC is heavily focused on vampires, this is also the source of the greatest weakness of Dawnguard.  Let me explain.

When you transform into the vampire lord form the transformation itself doesn't happen in a flash, in fact sometimes it can take so long that you would have time to watch a movie.  The transition to and from your vampire lord form is incredibly unpolished and in some cases can become a tremendous source of annoyance.  For instance, let's say you're off exploring a new cave, and you want to find out where you have been and where you need to go.  Not a problem as you, in non-vampire lord form, calls up your map, look for the waypoint markers, and set off. 
Switch over to vampire mode, and things change dramatically, and not for the better.  Now when you press the B button in vampire lord form, no menu comes up on the screen, instead you're taken to your vampire skill tree where via mastering 2 different killing techniques you can learn new skills such as transforming into mist and healing your stats in the process, or producing a living shield of bats (Bethesda's version of Gears of War's RAAM shield).  While this sounds terrific at first, don't be fooled. 
Since now you have the ability to view your vampire lord skill tree, you now have no option to view the map, items, skills, magic menus.  So you can't see where you've gone, and you will have to venture on blind instinct and hope you find the right path to your destination.  The control when you switch to vampire lord is also hindered.  After you've switched the camera instantly fixes into 3rd person view where you can either hover over the ground and fire magic from your right and left hand, teleport, or click in the left stick to land and you can fight hand to hand "as the beasts do."  There are other powers you can gain by not feeding such as seduction, but ultimately the whole vampire lord sounded good as an idea, looked good when the details of the stats and skills were released, but then executed incredibly poorly.

This is my biggest problem with Dawnguard since the main quest line involves a tremendous amount of vampire content and it doesn't let you truly get to enjoy it.  Yes I know what you're thinking right now, you're thinking, "if the graphics haven't improved, and the control hasn't improved except for parts that have been worsened by the vampire lord control, and even though Skyrim is 80+ hours' worth of content and this DLC is 10+ hours more, is it worth 1600 Microsoft points?"  Without question, yes.  Dawnguard may not be perfect, but Bethesda has gone to great lengths to produce an incredible story and tons of quality content and that is the core of what makes The Elder Scrolls games stand out.  Now make your choice.


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