The first day I played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I had the unfortunate circumstance of contracting Porphyric Hemophilia, or ‘vampirism’ as it is commonly known. Cue the initial excitement of playing as an undead assassin, feeding on sleeping victims and skulking through the shadows... and getting pwned by fireballs every time I encountered a fire mage!
I knew all about the disadvantages of becoming a vampire from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. You are extremely weak to fire and should you forget to feed while you are traversing a dungeon for days, you become so hideous to the local NPCs that you can’t even set foot in a town to find a sleeping blood bag because people will attack you. So, I hunted down a cure. Even more annoyingly this cure required me to have a Soul Trap spell, which considering I was a thief, not a mage, did not go down too well. This would recquire me to up my conjuration skill considerably, wasting skill points on spells that I did not intend on using later in the game. Granted I could have found a soul trap scroll, but that required me to hunt around either shops (where our kind weren’t exactly welcome) or dungeons (where every man and his dog seemed to have fire spells!). I got frustrated and next time round decided to join the Companions straight away just so I could become a werewolf and become immune to all of this nonsense.
Needless to say, when Bethesda announced that their new DLC would revolve around vampires and vampire hunters, I was less than impressed. The plot sounded remarkably familiar (being a big fan of Night Watch) and annoyingly populist (who ISN’T doing the whole vampire thing right now - see Sasha Robbins’ awesome article). However, maybe this was a chance for Bethesda to expand the species further and create a better form of gameplay for this admittedly annoying creature. With an added skill tree, vampire perks and even an epic ‘Vampire Lord’ bestial form, the game looked promising. But what about people like myself who had taken the furrier option? Well, Bethesda thought of that too; with a werewolf skill tree and perks included despite the fact that you do not necessarily have to be a werewolf to be a vampire hunter.
The Vampire Lord form is definitely where the love and attention had been focussed, however; with new fighting styles being available, including being able to switch between dual wielding magic orbs or hack slash fighting; the ability to transport in a cloud of bats; the ability to fly with grandiose ‘Dusk ‘Till Dawn’ wings and of course the host of 11 different perks. These new abilities and the new form aside, however, you are still playing as a glorified ‘werewolf’ as you are unable to loot or pick up objects while in Vampire Lord form, making questing in such a body difficult. Should you stick with the more lupine choice throughout gameplay, the fighting style is very limited having not had much expanded on since the original game except for a few howling perks and extra strength. There is also the added annoyance that as a werewolf, you level up by eating enemy hearts; this does not count for vampires! So, in an expansion riding on the new werewolf abilities and the main quest of vampires vs. vampire hunters, we are unable to level up by eating the hearts of vampires! This seems like an odd oversight, when we can eat those of corpses, but evidently not the walking kind.
The story behind Dawnguard is simple enough: Vampires want to blot out the sun and are questing after a legendary bow which alongside the blood of a ‘chosen one’ will help achieve this; meanwhile, the Dawnguard are being reformed to help stop such a fate from coming about and you have to choose which side you are on (much like the Civil War side quest of the original game). While the story is simple, the added characters are interesting and useful; most notably Serana who proves to be a powerful follower with a rich backstory and well acted vocal artist. She also brings to added bonus of being a vampire follower who can turn you at your request should you wish it or you can even send her on a quest to cure her own vampirism and opt to join her. That being said, the interactions with the NPCs are often long winded and make the story plod, which is a shame considering how concisely they tend to get their stories across in the original game. Serana also has the annoying NPC habit of speaking too much during combat which has not been an issue with Skyrim followers until now.
The quests included in the initial Dawnguard plot-line seem patronizingly simple for players who have already completed the game; asking us to hunt bears and fetch Dwemer cogs! But they do get meatier as they go on. However, there is also a large amount of running around which can be extremely monotonous, most notably in the quest ‘Touching the Sky’ where you must traverse mountain tops, battling Falmer... filling bowls with water! - eerily similar to the previous quest ‘Beyond Death’ where you run around a sparse, eery wasteland and kill a set number of guardians, who all seem to live annoyingly far apart with not much action in between.
You will also find certain quests incredibly simple if you have completed the main quest, as you will already have gathered many of the items you are asked for. This seems a strange oversight for a game which was released in 2011 as many of the original players will have completed so much by now and leveled up to greater levels, rendering this DLC overly simple. This also raises the question of why a level cap increase was not included in this add-on. The werewolf and vampire skill trees, granted, add new dimensions of skill leveling but do not make up for those players who may have gone the whole hog and reached level 81 by now.
For £13.99 you are getting a new quest, sure, but not much in terms of gameplay content. The gameplay content that is added is dependent on you playing as a vampire or a werewolf, which is only a very small aspect of the game. You also gain crossbows and horseback content, but again this is not overwhelmingly impressive in terms of gameplay; though graphically and technically it is an achievement. It is difficult in this case not to compare the release to Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, which not only created a new and unique world with a giant main quest and numerous side quests but also new armors, clothing, herbs, plants and weaponry. Dawnguard seems lazy and run-of-the-mill by comparison.
The host of expected glitches oversights in this game are also evident of lack-lustre production. While the original game had many glitches, this could be expected for such a large and expansive game - for a small side-quest this seems unforgivable. Loading time is longer and certain aspects of the game disappear, including lootable bodies and quest items, the wait time is now glitchy as is sleep and many of the main quests require you to wait to talk to certain NPCs as they just don’t seem ready for you yet when you meet them. Some people have even reported problems with acquiring achievements and game breaking issues like being locked in rooms with no escape. Needless to say these things will be patched by Bethesda soon enough, but does the game quality warrant wading through these technical issues? Sadly no. While it is a fun enough side quest, it is overly priced for what you receive. You would be better off waiting for a combined edition in the future with whatever other add-ons they come up with next to get better value for your money.
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