Played On: Xbox 360
Played For: ~25 hours to finish the new content.
DLC Cost: $19.99 or 1600 MSP
Playing Dawnguard for the first time was a bittersweet experience, as I originally played (and reviewed) the Playstation 3 version of Skyrim.. and we all know how that one turned out. I invested around 200 hours in to the PS3 version and even went as far as awarding Skyrim Cheap Boss Attack’s Game of the Year for 2011. When DLC was finally announced, I couldn’t wait to sink more money in to Dawnguard, but that was going to have to wait.
Dawnguard released as a timed exclusive for the Xbox 360 with a one-month exclusivity clause. After that month was over, we Playstation 3 sewer dwellers were still left without the DLC on the Playstation Store. Months went by and still, nothing.
Bethesda ran in to some coding issues where they just couldn’t get Dawnguard to function properly (much like the PS3 version of Skyrim, for some folks) and there was no ETA on when or if we would get to enjoy it at all.
I eventually gave up on waiting and bought Skyrim for a second time on the Xbox 360, and immediately picked up Dawnguard on Xbox Live. As any well thought out plan goes, I didn’t even start playing my 360 version of Skyrim again until almost a year later. Woops?
So here we are now. It’s July of 2013 and summer is usually a dead season for gaming. What better time to finally dive in to something I couldn’t wait to purchase a year ago and never touched, right?
I did a little research online to see when the “best” time to start the Dawnguard DLC would be, and the most common response was level 10. Easy enough.
My girlfriend and I sat down and watched that familiar scene play out where your restrained character is carted off for the chopping block before all hell breaks loose. We created our male Argonian, named him Mookey and were on our way.
Four to five hours later we were level 10 and ready to jump head first in to the vampire infested world of Dawnguard. We really had no idea what was about to happen. Our body was, indeed, not ready.
A group of guards walked by our scaly Argonian and we overheard them talking about Fort Dawnguard. A new quest was immediately placed in our queue to go visit the fort and speak with a man named Isran; the head vampire hunter. Along the way we met up with another traveller heading for the Fort, but he came off as weak and easily intimidated. Even as we entered the Fort, he fumbled his words before being trained in the use of the new crossbow weapon. After a few terrible shots, he eventually became more comfortable and confident as time went on.
We had an emotional attachment to this character because we got to see him go from a weakling to a fully-armored bad ass with a crossbow over the course of the DLC, even allowing us to take him along as a companion. As simple as it sounds, I really enjoy this type of character growth as it’s something a lot of people wouldn’t even notice.
As I mentioned earlier, Dawnguard introduces crossbows to the world of Skyrim. I wasn’t the biggest Archery fan the first time I sunk 200 hours in to the game, but we wanted to try out the crossbow at least once. One head shot lead to another, and 500+ kills later we decided that the crossbow was delicious and didn’t want to use anything else. Being able to take on side quests to enhance the crossbow with exploding bolts was just icing on the cake.
The plot surrounding Dawnguard is that a group of vampires are trying to fulfill a prophecy to eliminate the sun, thus taking over Skyrim. In the opening quests you rescue Serana, a vampire who happens to be the daughter of Harkin, the Vampire Lord. She’s also carrying one of the three known Elder Scrolls that show how to stop this prophecy from occuring. That is, of course, if you’d like to stop it from occuring.
The beauty of Skyrim is the ability to choose your factions and set your own goals. Dawnguard allows you the option of choosing between joining the Dawnguard or allowing Harkin to turn you in to a vampire.
Becoming a vampire comes with a handful of new abilities and an 11-point perk tree that you can apply points to by killing enemies with your new Drain Vitality spell or biting them in melee range. Drain Vitality is a channeled spell (you have to hold the button down) that drains the health from your target and replenishes your health instead. You can also seduce the living and ressurect the dead to fight for you for a limited time, as well as using night vision.
The vampire abilities didn’t really appeal to us as much as the crossbow, so we opted to decline Harkin’s offer and stuck with Isran and Fort Dawnguard for the remainder of the DLC.
Back at the Fort, there were new characters to recruit with each opening up massive amounts of side-quests and fantastic dialogue. Florentius, for example, served as a general goods vendor but was convinced that Arkay, a god, lived inside of his mind. This lead to plenty of back and forth dialogue options where he would approve of your actions, but Arkay would not. He also seemed quite clueless as to what was going on as he couldn’t even tell you what he had for sale or what you would encounter during your quests. His dialogue reminded me a lot of Blinkin from Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
These quests typically rewarded us with unique pieces of loot that have increased effects against undead and vampires, as well as upgrades to our crossbow and its ammunition. Side-quests eventually became tiresome, repetitive affairs that always consisted of going to fetch weapon plans from Dwemer ruins or assassinating vampires posing as travellers in one of the capital cities. We did plenty of them but the main questline was so interesting that we didn’t want to stop hunting down the Elder Scrolls and stop Harkin from fulfilling their prophecy to end the sun.
Dawnguard has a few new environments to explore and DLC typically doesn’t go that extra mile to make them feel like they’ve been there all along, but not Bethesda. They did an amazing job with Oblivion‘s DLC and Skyrim is no different. New caves and tunnels seem massive and endless, with flowing streams and neon plants to light the way.
One area in particular that was really awe inspiring had this amazing mountainous trail that was full of moths that you had to attract with extract collected from the surrounding trees. Another zone was more of a “nether realm” that reminded me a lot of the Oblivion Gates, crossing over to talk with lost souls and fighting new dragons. There was plenty to see that was both new and unique during our time with Dawnguard.
There is also a huge emphasis on the Falmer this time around as you encounter the two remaining Snow Elves who happen to be at war with each other. If you aren’t familiar with Elder Scrolls lore, Snow Elves were offered sanctuary by the Dwarves during their war with the Nords, but at the cost of their sight. As generations passed, the blind Snow Elves eventually became known as Falmer; or the Betrayed.
This storyline in particular took us both by surprise as we expected to be dealing with vampires exclusively, but the DLC as a whole was very rich in lore and story.
The Verdict – A-
Overall, we spent about 25 hours with Dawnguard which includes time spent exploring the new zones, finishing up side quests and completing the story chain. For $19.99, I think the DLC was worth every penny and includes one of the best storylines in all of Skyrim.
We did encounter a few bugs here and there, but this is a Bethesda game after all. Serena, our vampire companion, bugged out during an entire quest chain and would not stop asking us what was on our mind. Her ressurected minion would also cause us to break out of stealth which was brutal considering we are playing as the sneaky archer type.
The bugs weren’t bad enough to ruin the experience, but they did become troublesome from time to time. We also felt that the side-quests went from being entertaining to repetitive and boring, eventually opting to skip them altogether to maintain the flow of the primary story quests.
Still, in the end, the story, environments and colorful cast of characters we met along the way were some of the best in the game and I couldn’t recommend Dawnguard enough if you don’t already have it.