The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim already has a seemingly endless amount of secret caves, quests, and magical weapons, but the title’s first DLC pack, Dawnguard, adds another huge chunk of adventuring to the already massive world. There are new powers, quests, shouts, spells, weapons, and summons. It’s everything a Skyrim completionist could want, plus an engrossing storyline that takes you to new mysterious locations. Dawnguard delves deeper into the Elder Scrolls’ paranormal side, exploring the role of vampires, werewolves and a secret order of vampire hunters.
The content is accessible as soon as you download it, and there are no level requirements. If you are level 10 or higher, a conversation with any guard in any major city or town triggers a waypoint to the small cave that leads to a relatively small, isolated valley housing Dawnguard Keep. Once there, you’ll meet the rag-tag group of vampire hunters, called the Dawnguard, led by the vengeful veteran Isran. They’ve noticed that the vampires have been up to something and, naturally, they send their newest recruit (you) out to investigate.
The primary mission will take about 15 to 20 hours to play through, but if you take the time to jump into the rewarding side-quests, look at another dozen or so to clock in. In Dawnguard, vampires take center stage from the dragons in the core game. Once the vampire hunters set you up with a brand new crossbow and shoo you away to fight the blood-sucking undead, you'll eventually stumble upon an your second possible future home, the vampire castle Volkihar. Without going into too many story details, you're eventually given the choice between remaining a human, Dawnguard vampire hunter and fighting to stop the vampires’ devious plans for world domination or taking a pair of fangs to the neck from the Vampire Lord Harkon, one of the oldest and most powerful vampires in Tamriel, and becoming a Vampire Lord yourself.
The latter not only grants you the powers and weaknesses of becoming infected by Vampirism but also enables you to transform into a Vampire Lord. The transformation works similarly to changing into werewolf, except with an on/off switch rather than a time limit. You'll be forced into third person mode, you'll be attacked on sight in towns, and you're unable to interact with objects in the environment, except doors – which becomes slightly annoying when you are constantly switching back and forth between man and monster.
In the Vampire Lord form, you'll have access to powerful magic abilities that suck the lifeforce out of your enemies, raise the dead to fight for you, or telepathically force-choke victims. You can bleed victims dry using the bite attack or Drain Life spell, which earn points to spend in the Vampire Lord skill tree, which grants you even more powerful abilities like Poison Talons, Summon Gargoyle, or Mist Form. It’s immensely satisfying to embody an all-powerful Vampire Lord. You feel almost invincible one-shotting bandits and teleporting around the battlefield as a swarm of bats, but there is also a price for your newfound powers.
Daytime combat is out of the question as a vampire. Stamina, health and magic pools do not regenerate, so venturing out at night is your best bet at remaining alive – er… undead. The restriction grows annoying, since it handcuffs your ability to do something as simple as killing some bandits in a cave.
If you want to walk on the hairier side of bestial transformations, werewolves also get an ability tree of their own – but it’s less intricate than the Vampire Lord’s. By feeding on your victims, you’ll earn perks that add to stamina, as well as health and damage attributes that help your beast get stronger, but the most interesting unlockable abilities allow your werewolf to summon wolves and eventually other werewolves. Unfortunately, vampire and werewolf blood doesn’t mix, so you will have to choose one or the other.
Dawnguard adds a massive amount of content to the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The choices made in the main questline demand multiple playthroughs, there are entirely new, open areas to explore, and the story has more than a few epic moments. If you’ve seen all Skyrim has to offer and are looking for yet another adventure or you just want be an all-powerful badass, Dawnguard has what you are looking for. It’s a hefty purchase, but the quality you’ll get out of Dawnguard is well worth the investment, both in points and time.
This downloadable content was reviewed using the Xbox 360 version of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim Dawnguard.