The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dawnguard
When Bethesda announced the Dawnguard expansion, I watched the debut trailer with trepidation. After suffering through the recent vampire media blitz spearheaded by Twilight and True Blood, I'd rather gouge out my eyes than suffer through another tale about the creatures of the night. But Dawnguard isn't just a vampire tale, it's an expansion of my 2011 game of the year. To get another taste of Skyrim, I ultimately determined I would gladly suffer through the plight of yet another bloodsucker.
The good news is for people like me who are over the vampire fad, you can join the Dawnguard and hunt the bastards down. For the sake of the demo, however, Bethesda handed me the reigns of a level 29 character who had gone down the other path and firmly embraced the dark gift of vampirism.
The mission dropped me several hours into the expansion. At this point in the story, the toothy protagonist had allied himself with a female vampire named Serana. From what I could pick up coming into the middle of the mission, it seems that Serana is an unwitting pawn in a power struggle between her vampire father and mother. Imprisoned in a tomb for decades, she is now entering a soul cairn where her mother is hiding out to confront her.
The soul cairn is populated by many lost spirits. As I move through the barren, rolling hills populated by the occasional spire, dead tree, or piles of bones, I come across a few side mission-giving souls in need of help. One shade is searching frantically for Arvak, the horse he rode in on. Wandering further toward the objective arrow, I come across a High Rock trader named Morven Stroud, who was banished to this plane by a neuromancer for selling him faulty product. He is only willing to trade with me if I gather 25 husks.
Skipping the side quests for the sake of time, I put on the blinders and march steadily toward the suspected location of Serana's mother. Along the way, the occasion skeleton pops out of the ground. Dispatching these minor hindrances doesn't take more than a few shots of the crossbow (which has 31 damage), and the new Dawnguard armor provides plenty of protection. After shattering a few skeletons with the crossbow I decide to test out the vampiric abilities.
Like being a werewolf in the Companion quests, you transform into the Nosferatu-like vampire lord by pressing the right bumper. Once you take this dastardly form, you can make devastating melee attacks or cast spells from afar. The vampires are given a few unique powers as well. Vampire Servant allows you to reanimate a low-level corpse to aid in your battle for 60 seconds, and Vampire Sight grants you night vision for 60 seconds. You can also use vampires tiny bony wings to fly for a short period of time by hitting the left bumper.
After taking down a few more skeletons we finally arrive at the hideout of Serana's mother. She's not happy to see her daughter, and even less happy she brought a stranger along for the reunion. As the two converse, I start to piece together what's going on. Her mother was once in possession of two Elder Scrolls, which her estranged husband Harkon needs to end the tyranny of the sun and bring permanent darkness over the earth. Obviously this would allow vampires to roam the earth unhindered, but the cost of achieving this is too high for the mother. As she explains to her daughter, to do this Harkon needs Auriel's Bow and the ritual sacrifice of Serana. To protect her vampiric offspring, the mother had forced Serana into hiding.
I propose to take on Harkon and spare Serana, and the distrusting mother reluctantly agrees to my proposal. She will offer the second Elder Scroll to me only after I defeat the soul keepers located at the tallest spires in the soul cairn. She also warns that a fearsome dragon is roaming this plane.
Serana and I travel to the first spire to take on a keeper, but before I have a chance to put him in the ground or face the new dragon the demo comes to a close.
As I left the booth I chatted with some Bethesda developers about what gamers can expect from Dawnguard. They say the size of the expansion lands somewhere between the Knights of the Nine and Shivering Isles expansions for Oblivion, with roughly 15 hours of gameplay. Along with the main quest, Dawnguard also features several new random quests and dungeons. Players need to reach level 10 before they take on the expansion, and much of the content is targeted toward those players in the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
I wish I had more time to explore the new content, but we won't have to wait long for the expansion. Dawnguard releases for Xbox 360 on June 26. The PlayStation 3 and PC versions should ship roughly a month later. To read more about this highly anticipated expansion, read our in-depth feature in the digital issue.