It’s been roughly seven months since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim hit store shelves, and chances are most players of the game have not seen everything there is to offer in it. However, that’s not stopping Bethesda from plopping the very first “expansion” into our laps… and no, it’s not horse armor related this time. Dubbed Dawnguard, this content adds a new wrinkle to the overall plight of Skyrim and puts even more of an emphasis on one of the more popular aspects of the franchise: the supernatural.
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: Vampire Hunter… or Hunted
Release: June 26, 2012 (Xbox 360), TBA (PC, PS3)
ESRB: Rating Mature
Capitalizing on the latest popular culture trend (even though vampires have been part of Elder Scrolls lore for years), Dawnguard deals with vampires. However, these vampires aren’t hormonal teenagers or some other saccharine tripe… they’re mean, and nasty, and believe in a prophecy that will blot out the sun so they can roam Skyrim without issue. In the case of Dawnguard, you can join up with the vamps, or join up with the actual Dawnguard to end their reign of terror and stop the prophecy from coming true. Along the way, you’ll visit brand new locations within Skyrim proper, and encounter a race long thought extinct… or at least a race thought to be incapable of communication. The overall story generally plays out the same way, regardless of the faction you choose to represent, but they’re different enough to warrant checking them both out without feeling like you’re wasting 10-15 hours by repeating it.
In addition to the meaty main quest, there’s a surprising amount of “side” content, which pushes Dawnguard into a role as more of an expansion pack rather than just a simple add-on. In particular, there’s a massive sidequest that involves multiple Dwemer ruins and ends with a special forge to craft a unique item. It’s large enough that there’s an Achievement for it, which was not the case for any random sidequest in Skyrim proper. There’s also a new weapon, the crossbow. It works toward your archery skill rather than something brand new, but regardless of classification it’s an enjoyable weapon to wield, especially at higher archery levels. In addition, the game implements “perks” for being a vampire or a werewolf, earned by using their unique abilities in combat. The werewolf is an especially nice surprise, given how little attention it was given in the core game, despite it being such a huge part of the Companions questline. Finally, it’s now possible to visit the Thieves Guild in Riften and get a little cosmetic surgery. You can’t change your gender, but it’s nice to be able to fix your face if you have a high-level character and don’t want to start over just to fix something.
Dawnguard almost completely takes place within the original Skyrim map. Unlike most other expansions which take you to a different land, this content simply adds new locations to your map. That’s not to say these new areas are rehashes or lazy, however. A massive area dubbed the Forgotten Vale features a dark, damp, and complicated series of caves, along with an immense and beautiful outside area that has some of the best art design in the entire game. Note, though, that I said it almost completely takes place within Skyrim. In the main quest, you’ll encounter an area dubbed the Soul Cairn. While it’s not exactly one of the planes of Oblivion from the last game, it’s a huge – and very purple – area where souls trapped from Soul Gems hang out. This area is large enough to not only host a solid amount of the main quest, but also support a handful of sidequests. Good luck finding all the pages of dead weirdo writer’s book, though.
Obviously, the question is whether or not Dawnguard is worth the $20 price. In most respects, the answer is definitely “yes.” It’s absolutely a larger package than the $10 downloads from Fallout 3, or Fallout: New Vegas, yet at the same time it doesn’t have as much going on as the $30 Shivering Isles expansion pack from Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Instead, it fits right into that $20 sweet spot. If you’re completely exhausted from playing what was already on the disc, perhaps wait for a sale or even the eventual “Game of the Year” edition. However, if you’re dedicated to Skyrim and just want more to mess around with, it’s 1600 Microsoft Spacebucks well spent.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.