When The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim launched last November, it promised role-playing gurus an endless amount of content. Though those words ended up ringing true, it’s safe to assume that most of the game’s more devoted fans feel that they’ve conquered it by now, after putting in upwards of one to two hundred hours, if not more. After all, no matter how great or expansive a game is, close to seven months of regular questing won’t leave many stones unturned. That’s why the team from Bethesda Game Studios put long hours into developing Dawnguard, the game’s first major piece of downloadable content, which offers a new 10+ hour-long campaign for only twenty dollars. Now that the add-on is available on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, though, anticipatory speculation has turned into questioning whether the purchase is worthwhile.
Kickstarted through the passing of a rumor, Dawnguard places players into the middle of what is essentially a war between good and evil. It’s the titular Dawnguard and it pits vampire-hunting members against one of the land’s largest vampire sects, with each side wanting to eliminate the other. While that happens to be the gothic quest line’s plot synopsis in its most basic form, questing players will find that there’s more to it than meets the eye, including talk of a powerful ritual that could change Skyrim forever. Though in the interest of spoilers, that’s all you’ll get from me.
Going in, one should expect to learn more about the game’s digitally-crafted and incredibly expansive world, as well as the series’ titular Elder Scrolls. But while those educational experiences are welcomed and happen to be quite interesting, the add-on’s generalized conflict between good-natured humans and ferociously evil blood-suckers leaves things to be desired. For starters, there’s a lack of in-depth side quests aimed at making players feel like they’re a part of the Dawnguard, which is the route that I took. On top of that, it felt as if there could have been a much more in-depth storyline presented, with a much more interesting narrative. The story content that is provided happens to have its moments, but it’s far from memorable when taken as a whole.
Over the years, Bethesda has made a name for itself by creating open world role-playing games where morality is provided as a choice. Acting as a game-changing feature, it gives players an opportunity to really make their created avatars their own. It’s that included design that separates Dawnguard into two different quest experiences, with the chance to become a vampire presented early on. Those who like to play the role of the good guy can choose to remain a human vampire hunter, while those possessing devious intentions can offer themselves up to the blood-sucking overlord, in order to become a vampire lord themselves.
Those who choose to become a grotesque, sun-fearing creature will receive an alternate quest path that comprises the evil portion of the experience. However, it must be noted that the two story lines intersect at certain points, which makes sense considering the same underlying narrative runs through both of them. In the end, it all comes down to which side you decide to fight for. Will you remain a human, or will you take advantage of the opportunity to send Skyrim’s citizens fleeing as a flying vampire lord? It’s a decision that must be made, with pros and cons present for each side, including Dawnguard-exclusive crossbows and vampire-exclusive flight combat mechanics. Not to mention new werewolf and vampire perk trees.
Fallout 3, Bethesda Game Studios‘ last interactive adventure, really benefited from its post-release downloadable content packs. That’s because almost all of them provided something different, presenting unique locations and creative quest lines. As a result, some of those packs will never be forgotten by those of us who played them to death. Dawnguard, unfortunately, doesn’t have that same draw, and won’t stay with gamers in the same way. It’s decent, but will leave most of the folks who complete it with the feeling that it could have been a lot better. Though knowing Bethesda, the next Skyrim add-on will be much better. That was the case with the aforementioned post apocalyptic shooter, which saw its first DLC pack (Operation Anchorage) launch to minimal fanfare.
Now that all of its story and gameplay-related aspects have been detailed and dissected, it’s time to discuss Dawnguard from a presentation standpoint. Although it runs on Skyrim‘s game engine, the gothic expansion adds some interesting-looking new environments and some enchanting music, with the former list including a set of unique caves linked by portals, plus a disturbing and desolate Soul Cairn region. On top of those visual standouts, new enemies make an appearance with gargoyles topping the list. The winged beasts help flank the vampire baddies, giving them a helpful hand during battle. Breaking out from stone trappings, they feature bat-like animations, and their increased weight is always taken into account.
With Skyrim being an incredibly large, open world game, one cannot expect it to be glitch-free. The same thing can be said about Dawnguard, which piggybacks on the core game’s designs as mentioned above. However, there were times where glitches made it difficult to enjoy this new experience. During one pivotal quest point, its provided ally disappeared, forcing a lengthy trip back to a previously visited area. After the loading screen concluded, she rejoined my party, but spoke quest-related dialogue as if we were at our targeted location. Additionally, debilitating frame rate slowdown reared its head during one of the pack’s longest missions, making it nearly unbearable to complete.
One of the main draws of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is its ability to let players define their characters through their in-game actions. On top of that, it also provides fans the opportunity to dive into a seemingly endless stream of side quests, granted not all users have ventured far outside its main storyline. When it comes to Dawnguard, as well as any other future DLC pack released for the game, the former group will always be the developers’ main target. They’re the ones who’ve put hours upon hours into the game, and will always be the most loyal. As expected, those folks will find themselves more interested in purchasing Dawnguard than their peers, and will be happy that it delivers more of the in-depth questing that they enjoy. Though, unfortunately, when it’s taken as a whole, the new campaign doesn’t live up to its pre-release hype, delivering a mediocre experience that could’ve been quite a bit better.
This article is based on a copy of the DLC that was provided to us for review purposes.