The World Is A Vampire
Don’t accuse The Elder Scrolls of selling out to the modern-day pop-culture vampire craze. The venerable role-playing series has been in the blood-sucking business for years, and so there’s nothing to forgive when Dawnguard, the first expansion pack for endless epic Skyrim, boasts a vampire-centric premise. In fact, you’ll be thankful Dawnguard went down this road.
That’s primarily because the new campaign – accessed at character level 10 or higher either by talking to city guards or meeting a courier – is effectively two games in one. As you delve deeper into the mystery of a vampire plague loosed upon Tamriel, you’ll be recruited by an ancient group of vampire hunters known as the Dawnguard – and you’ll have the option to either fight against the neck-biters or become one of them. I chose the former for my first play-through and plowed through in about eight hours, but that was with my high-level, high-damage Redguard warrior who didn’t need to spend time journeying to cities to buy or sell items. Your playtime may vary, but an average of 10-12 hours is a reasonable expectation. Double it to check out the other, far more interesting pro-vampire side and you’ve got a compelling package for $20. If it feels short, it’s only because the core Skyrim is almost infinitely long.
In joining the Dawnguard faction, the expansion pack starts a bit slow. The new areas you encounter aren’t particularly interesting to look at aside from a few pretty caves, but even those are a bit puzzling to navigate – unexpected after most Skyrim dungeons provide a quick way out after you reach the end of them.
The crossbow is the big new weapon class for Dawnguard. Useful...unless your'e a high-level warrior.
Things ramp up as you progress, however, leading to several breathtaking battles. One highlight took place in an open arena against a dragon and a plethora of skeletons. Under the heavy rain and darkened skies of the Storm Call dragon shout, lighting bolts cracked down upon the undead warriors, turning them into dust all around me as I dueled the dragon. Another great scene set on a frozen lake sees you take on two dragons as they dive-bomb through the ice and rocket back out near you. And still another memorable moment takes place near the end of the campaign, where I, an ally, her two summons, and my two summons (one of which was a dragon) went toe-to-toe against a massive throng of foes on a bridge. It’s just too bad the framerate chugs during these chaotic climaxes.
The more unique half of the game is the vampire half – a fact the game doesn’t even try to hide by repeatedly offering you chances to get turned into one of the bloodsuckers. This branch of the story is wildly different than its more traditional Skyrim counterpart, largely thanks to the new vampiric powers. Chief among them is the ability to turn into a Vampire Lord, which is much more fun than the lycanthropy quest line you may have already completed in Skyrim. You can float around, transform into a cloud of bats, and of course feed on human victims. It’s much more empowering than the existing werewolf abilities, and it’s got its own perk tree to boot.
The Soul Cairn area isn't very easy on the eyes...unless you love purple.
Dawnguard is not without its technical quirks – I saw numerous instances of serious clipping as well as some frustrating world map waypoint weirdness while playing on a final retail copy of the game – but nothing stopped my progress or truly impeded my fun.
Dawnguard is neither as meaty nor as cohesive as Shivering Isles, its Oblivion expansion pack counterpart, but then again it’s not as expensive either. The other issue, as with any Elder Scrolls add-on content, is usefulness. When you get 100-plus hours of gameplay out of the box, do you really want to spend another $20 for 20-or-so more? That’s up to you, but Dawnguard is certainly worth the investment.
Available on PC at the end of July 2012.
Article Source: IGN Skyrim Dawnguard Review
Jun 29, 2012 9:29 AM