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This review was written for Gaming Nexus.
Fortunately for us all, Bethesda has a habit of continually
releasing downloadable content for games that don't exactly need it. While the new content for Fallout 3 and
Oblivion did nothing to drastically alter the games, it gave fanatics more of
what they loved in the first place. Skyrim's first DLC Dawnguard is no
exception to this motif.
Eight months after the base game's release, and players are
still returning to the northern expanses of Tamriel to discover the surfeit of
secrets the region has to offer. For those who feel like they have actually
made a dent in the game, their quest list just got considerably longer. The
expansion's playtime is about twenty hours, with more for those dedicated to
seeing everything the download has to offer.
Dawnguard offers explorers a binary quest line much like the
Civil War conflict between the Stormcloaks and Imperial Legion. Choosing
between the titular Dawnguard vampire hunters and the vampires themselves
unlocks a host of new plotlines and abilities. The first time my Argonian
transformed into the hulking Vampire Lord, a chill ran through me as I had to
rethink everything I knew about combat in Skyrim. Gangs of bandits succumbed to
my health drain ability, while their comrades' corpses rose to assist me. A choke
power reminiscent of Darth Vader's made quick work of solitary foes before they
were tossed carelessly out of my way.
A full perk tree allows new abilities to flesh out the
vampire experience, while those who have reaped the rewards of the Companions quests
will be pleased to see the same for their werewolf characters. The Dawnguard
offers its members armored trolls for hire, and the new crossbow is given to
players almost immediately for both sides.
After my initial skirmishes as a vampire lord, I grew fairly
tired of my alternate form. My imposing figure made it impossible to fit
through the majority of doorways in the claustrophobic dungeons beneath Skyrim,
and the transformation process cost me health in the midst of heated battles.
Furthermore, many switches couldn't be activated in vampire form. I found
myself preferring the magic and combat abilities my character was already
skilled with, due mostly in part to the arduous process of reverting back and
forth between vampire lord and dragon slayer. The new vampire form is simply a
distraction from the characters players have invested so much time in.
The mood of both quest lines delves into the macabre on more
than one occasion. A vampire base that looks as if it was pulled straight out
of a Castlevania game lends itself well to the overall tone, and reanimated
skeletons are commonplace in combat. Although it is rather boring, an alternate
plane of existence fits well into the narrative of Dawnguard. In fact, the plot
drives the gameplay forward for the duration of the DLC. The hunters and
vampires both have their own unique missions with characters propelling the
player into the next quest. Notable moments include a tense battle on a frozen
lake, an attack on a massive castle, and a dive into the depths of a Skooma
drug ring's den.
Elder Scrolls lore enthusiasts will not be disappointed over
the course of the new content, as the histories of ancient races and powerful
artifacts alike are explored in detail.
The new characters present in the addition provide valuable insight into
the events, some of which hearken back to Oblivion. It was rewarding to meet a
certain character that bridged the gap between series installments so
The chief criticism of Skyrim remains relevant in the game's
first DLC. Several quests required me to reload a previous save when a
character didn't trigger the start of a quest properly, and at one point I
actually fell through the floor and the abyss underneath until I paused to
load. The bugs aren't as common as they were in the original game before it was
patched, but they still remain an annoyance for those who don't save often.
In the end, Dawnguard doesn't add vast new stretches of
wilderness to explore or new game mechanics; it merely builds on what made
Skyrim so great to begin with. The main quest will captivate those who have
exhausted the majority of storylines in the base game, but players will
inevitably be drawn into exploration once again. Dawnguard is almost guaranteed
to elicit more than twenty hours from your schedule, so stay away if you have
any real priorities at the moment.
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