Return to Skyrim in Dawnguard [Review]

By Jeremy M. Zoss in Reviews
Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 10:00 am
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It has been months since I last set foot in the snowy land of Skyrim, a land where I adventured for countless hours. In my time there, I saved the world from dragons, became the most powerful mage in the land, lead a group of assassins and even became a werewolf. Like many who ventured to Skyrim, I did nearly all there was to do. And when no more thrills remained, I left.

But now the Dawnguard calls adventurers back to Skyrim to face a deadly threat: a vampire uprising.

As a dedicated fan of Betheda's open-world role-playing games, the phrase "first downloadable content for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" was really all I needed to hear to get interested. The moment I received a review code, I downloaded the content and dove back into the world. It took me a while to remember how to play after my long absence, but no time at all to discover the new content. A friendly guard told me that a group called the Dawnguard was reforming to fight vampires and that I should contact them. And just like that, I was off on a new adventure.

That new adventure carried me along in linear fashion for several hours, easily as long as some standalone action games. If your first criteria for buying $20 DLC is length of experience, then Dawnguard will not disappoint you. But if you're looking for something radically new in the world of Skyrim, then you might be let down.

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Dawnguard offers up a simple choice: fight against the vampires or join them. Either way you'll venture through largely the same quests,and visit the same locations. I chose to fight against the vampires, cutting me off from the DLC's biggest new addition, the vampire lord transformation. The vampire lord is similar to the werewolf form in that both transform you into a third-person beastie with a unique set of perks that can only be earned while you're shapeshifted into your chosen monster. The vampire lord gets a few unique spells, while the new werewolf perks grant you new tricks like the ability to summon other werewolves.

I wont' get too much into the story of Dawnguard not because I'm avoiding spoilers, but because it's simply so straightforward. No matter which side you choose, you're on a quest to find the key to an ancient prophecy that you're either trying to prevent or fulfill. Bethesda's games are always filled with great stories and characters, and judged against the company's previous work, Dawnguard's story and characters feel obvious and unmemorable. That is not to say that it's bad, but it wouldn't make my top five quest line list for Skyrim and if I were to make a list of my favorite quest lines from all of Bethesda's RPGs, it wouldn't make my top 20.

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Of course, the main storyline is only part of the appeal of Bethesda's DLC packages. They all include new loot and gameplay tweaks as well. Mounted combat has now been added, and it is exactly what you'd expect: a little buggy, but nice to have when you're too lazy to get off your horse to kill a bear. The new crossbow packs a lot more punch than most bows, but changes the feel of archery very little. The new Drain Vitality shout is now my go-to shout - it does exactly what the name suggests to your foes, which is very handy indeed.

There is a lot more to Dawnguard that I admittedly haven't seen yet, such as legendary dragons. Word online is that they don't show up until your character reaches level 70 or more. I'm going to keep playing until I get a chance to fight one. And that's the thing: no matter what Skyrim's DLC was, it was a foregone conclusion that I would play it and it would suck me back in. That's because Bethesda has created a gameplay formula and a world that I can't resist. The DLC itself isn't what's great, it's the core game that's great. Dawnguard provided me with a reason to explore what still remains in the core game. Despite all I've already accomplished, there is still much to do in Skyrim. I hear the Thieves' Guild needs some help these days.

This review is based on an Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher.


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