It is understandable why Skyrim was voted game of the year by so many media outlets last year. It was so expansive, addictive and streamlined that anyone could easily get lost in its well crafted world and stay there for hundreds of hours, not wanting to leave. Eventually though, the content will run dry, not even the creation of a new character or two re-igniting the need to carry on playing. This is where downloadable content or expansion packs such as Dawnguard, come in. Like Bethesda’s previous helpings of DLC for Fallout 3, Oblivion and Morrowind, Dawnguard adds a new quest line, new weapons and new abilities to draw you back in.
Dawnguard puts you in the centre of a conflict between the once lost vampire hunters, which the DLC is named after, and the vampires. However these aren’t your simple run of the mill diseased, cave dwelling vampires like in the pre-DLC game, these are Vampire Lords. You have the option to join either faction, resulting in at least eight to ten hours of story each side.
Gameplay is unchanged since the base game, besides the games update improvements. The main add on is when joining the vampires, they grant you the ability to become one of their Vampire Lords, similar to the lycanthrope transformations, adding more depth and crazy abilities to your already powerful character. When you are transformed you will often feed in combat unlocking a new progression tree separate from the standard one. Traversal also becomes easier in this form as you can float on water or transform into bats to dodge attacks or reach slightly higher ledges than your jump can. Moving around can be hampered in this form though, examples of this include not being able to enter certain doorways because of your height, or scared citizens and guards attacking you as you move through town. Vampires aren’t the only ones that get a new skill tree, werewolves now also have the ability to upgrade themselves, so if you don’t like sucking blood, you can just shred people instead.
A new companion is also added in this expansion, Serena, a twenty-something looking, Vampire Lord. While this doesn’t seem like it adds much, as there have been followers in previous games such as Fallout 3 as well as in Skyrim. Serena adds weight, humor and compassion into the mix. Most followers don’t talk unless spoken to and are just boring more than anything. Serena, however, during Dawnguard’s main quests will comment on the environment, current happenings and such. This draws you into the world more whilst also giving you someone to care about during your adventuring, more than just a pack mule.
Like vanilla Skyrim, Dawnguard is beautiful to look at from afar: great vistas, nice lighting and modeling, textures look great when not too close. When you do get close up, things look a bit muddy but not enough to take you out of the experience. The new environments look imposing, breathtaking and fantastical like you would expect, with one purple area in the middle of the expansion being one of specific praise. The new equipment designs fit in with the world, whilst looking different enough that, customising your character is enjoyable again. Voice acting in Dawnguard doesn’t suffer like past Bethesda games have, with a large variety of new voice actors bringing some great performances. Music is also your usual Skyrim fare, meaning, great.
Adding an extra ten to twenty hours on to a game that can last upwards of a hundred hours, may seem like a drop in the ocean, for many they may have seen all of the content that skyrim has to offer. The new skill trees and transformations, add a good amount of variety to what was already a relatively varied combat system, making a continued, or even another, playthrough with these new abilities more appealing. It is also encouraging to see a companion that isn’t brain dead following you around, who can hold their own and even help you out in tricky situations. Lastly, while not all story threads were interesting in Skyrim, Dawnguard is engaging throughout, offering a new perspectives and information of characters and factions that were shrouded in mystery.
1600 Microsoft Points is a lot to ask for a single faction storyline, even if you can replay it from both sides of the conflict. What makes this more apparent is comparing this to the size of Bethesda’s previous expansions, of around the same size, which have been 800 Microsoft Points. Giving you a reason to come back to the wonderful world of Skyrim is what ultimately matters and at the end of the day, if you can stomach the cost, it will give you hours of fun and may spark your interest to carry on playing a simply fantastic base game.