The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dawnguard DLC Review
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Made2Game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dawnguard DLC Review Score: 7/10
Formats: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Reviewer: Mick Fraser
Given Bethesda's reputation for DLC (the infamous horse armour not withstanding), it's understandable that we went into Dawnguard expecting great things. Broken Steel and The Pitt were two fantastic expansions to Fallout 3, while Oblivion's Shivering Isles add-on is one of the best examples of DLC we've had the pleasure of playing.
Unfortunately, Dawnguard falls somewhat short of all three of these. It's not that it doesn't add anything new, because it does – and we'll discuss that shortly – but because the new stuff it adds is really just more of the old stuff.
Before we go on, we'd like to point out that more Skyrim is a good thing. Our James slapped a big fat 10 on it in November, and we're still playing it now almost 8 months later, flaunting our continued joy in the face of the numerous bugs and glitches that would dearly love to rob us of such fun. The big problem with Dawnguard – particularly if you install it before you've rinsed the original content – is that at no point does it feel new.
The Vampire Lord form looks impressive, and turning into bats is cool, but you won't overuse it
The meat of the DLC is a divergent questline involving the titular Dawnguard and their arch-nemeses, the vampires. If you’re past level 10 when you install the expansion you’ll be approached by a member of the Dawnguard and invited to take up the good fight by visiting their fortress. As with every other quest, you can choose to answer the call whenever you please (or ignore it altogether, but that’s a bit of a waste of 1600 MS, innit?) – but the longer you leave it, the more irritated you’ll become by constant vampire attacks every time you leave a building at night.
At a certain point you’ll meet the vampire overlord, Harkon, who will offer you the chance to become a Vampire Lord if you agree to help destroy the Dawnguard. Whichever choice you make you’re looking at between eight and ten hours of questing, either delving into dungeons, recovering lost artefacts or killing copious amounts of the other side. If we're honest, the added tasks sometimes swim dangerously close to filler territory, even going as far as to fluff out the runtime with dull collection quests.
Certain elements are very cool, though. For example, becoming a Vampire Lord will give you a powerful new form to transform into (and will cure your Lycanthropy if you’re already thus afflicted). Though it locks you into a 3rd Person perspective, it also balances this by allowing you to switch between melee and magical attacks and letting you upgrade your vampirism with a new perk tree (there’s also a new skill tree if you choose to tell Harkon to go suck his own neck and stay a werewolf).
The new skill trees make vampirism and lycanthropy much more enjoyable and worthwhile
Siding with the Dawnguard might not be as glamorous, but it’s equally as entertaining as you go rooting around in crypts and dungeons armed with your brand new crossbow. It’s a powerful precision weapon and packs a meaty punch when you thwack a bolt through a vampire’s eye. Bolts are scarce though, as you can’t craft them in the same way as you can now craft arrows.
Speaking of crafting, a new set of weapons is available for top-tier smiths (which is almost everyone thanks to the ridiculously easy-to-level smithing skill) crafted from all those Dragon bones you’ve been hoarding. They don’t look particularly pretty, but they’re high in damage and weight, great for melee specialists or for outfitting your housecarls.
New areas aren’t in great abundance considering the size of the questlines as they mostly look the same as all the other areas, though the Soul Cairn is quite visually impressive. A plane of Oblivion to which you’ll be sent for reasons we won’t divulge here, the Soul Cairn is strikingly vivid but, ultimately, mostly devoid of interesting things to do.
The crossbow is our favourite new addition. Precise and meaty, it's perfect for killing vampires - or anything else for that matter
Little additions like a spectral steed (still not as awesome as red-eyed old Shadowmere), a Hell Hound companion, mounted combat (nowhere near as cool as it sounds unless you’re a bowman) and tougher, legendary dragons (because, let’s face it, after you’ve killed your first thirty Skyrim’s standard winged lizards are a bit of a cake-walk) enhance what’s already there without feeling like game-changing extra content.
There’s also a problem with performance. Bugs and glitches are hardly a new devilry in Bethesda’s frozen north, but it seemed to us that with Dawnguard installed, Skyrim became buggier than ever before. Within an hour of play we’d become irrevocably stuck in several mountainsides and had to reload to solve the problem, and our rather expensively-decked-out Lydia simply kept on dying from sheer stupidity to the point that we eventually left her idiot corpse lying on a cavern floor and went and hired up Calder instead – who actually fared no better (it’s as if Bethesda are trying to persuade you to ditch the housecarls like yesterday’s newspaper and pick up the new companions instead).
The Soul Cairn looks great, but it's ultimately a big old empty space with some cool lighting effects
Overall, it’s impossible not to recommend Dawnguard to fans of Bethesda’s epic – after all, it takes Skyrim and heaps on more Skyrim – but it’s hard to argue that it’s truly worth 1600 points. It is more substantial than a lot of modern DLC, granted, but unless you’ve got a major compulsion for all things vampiric, you won’t find a great deal to hold your interest beyond the main game. Dawnguard is no horse armour, we’ll admit, but it’s no Shivering Isles, either.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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