Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dawnguard
Welcome back to Skyrim ladies, gentlemen, elves, tiger and lizard-men. Bethesda have returned to the frozen north with a slice of vampire-centric DLC. Get your garlic and silver ready, it’s time to go vampire hunting.
When Bethesda promised they would be bring fewer but bigger DLC packs for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, (or just Skyrim from here on) very few would have predicted it would have taken over 6 months for Bethesda to return Skyrim. Has the wait been worth it or has it taken away some of the magic?
Let me start though by asking a question: how do you expand an expansive world like Skyrim? After all Skyrim isn’t just big, it’s deep too. Skryim is a package that offers such dense content that it’s hardly surprising that some parts overlap. Bethesda’s answer, in Oblivion and Fallout 3 at least, was to remove the player from the overworld they had spent the best part of 100 hours exploring and exploiting in equal measure. Oblivion’s Shivering Isle and Fallout 3′s Point Lookout expansions were the answer to this question and it’s easy to see that Dawnguard takes its cues from these seminal examples of how to expand an open world. The answer: provide more Skyrim!
While Dawnguard takes place in Skyrim, oh well there’s always the next DLC, Bethesda have added a couple of new areas to explore. Some fans will be disappointed by the fact that they are spending more time in Skyrim, especially after seeing the video’s of an already built Cyrodiil and Morrowwind, but these same players will be pleasantly surprised by the beauty of these new areas and the wonder that they inspire.
The Dawnguard quest line becomes available once players reach level 10 and they will be notified by a courier or by a city guard who will talk about the reforming of the Dawnguard in an old fort near Riften. After a short walk south-east of Riften players will find the entrance for Fort Dawnguard and first of the new locations is revealed.
Fort Dawnguard is, as the name suggests, a fort but not like the ones you used to make with pillows and blankets when you were a kid. The home of the Dawnguard is a castle fort that makes even the grandest of castles in Skyrim seem somewhat shy and retiring. It is here where players will get their first taste of the crossbow. The bespoke tool of the vampire hunting Dawnguard is an elegant tool. More powerful and accurate than a standard bow and arrow set-up, the crossbow offers players a power and silent method of dealing with enemies that is somewhat more satisfying that using a bow and arrow.
Overall though, the crossbow is a terrifically versatile weapon and welcome addition to the Skyrim armoury. Both crossbows and the bolts they fire can be crafted, courtesy a few side quests, and the skills are dictated by the archery skill tree so players that have put the time in to make their character the Robin Hood of Tamriel will be able to immediately take advantage of what the crossbow has to offer. There’s much more to Fort Dawnguard than just the crossbow though. As home of the titular vampire hunters it is the place where budding Van Helsings can recruit allies, quest for improved crossbow schematics and even purchase an armoured troll (really) to take into battle.
Fort Dawnguard isn’t the only grand old castle that players will get to see. After completing the first quest, players will have to escort an NPC to Volikhar Castle in the north of Skyrim. Home to some of the oldest and most powerful vampires in Skyrim, it resembles the court of a medieval king complete with a vampire lord who fancies himself as royalty amongst the undead. Castle Volikhar is, as you might expect, somewhat darker and grittier than Fort Dawnguard. Gargoyles line the entrance, corpses are laid out on the tables to be fed upon complete with all the macabre symbolism that goes along with vampires decorating the walls. It’s here where players get the chance to become a vampire or remain amongst the ranks of the living.
So what effect does this decision actually have? The most obvious is the questline the player will follow , but more importantly it dictates which new power and perk tree players will get to explore. In terms of the questline, the differences aren’t that different. Each faction is searching for the same thing so aside from some filler quests, players will find themselves completing the same quests for both sides from slightly different perspectives.
The overarching questline is largely enjoyable with some huge revelations about how vampirism came to Tamriel and, if you look hard enough, what Bethesda might be working on for the next DLC pack. It’s quite short though. Clocking in at around 5-7 hours it has the feel of an under cooked guild questline and after over 100 hours a lot of Skyrim veterans will feel that Dawnguard lacks the content they’ve come to expect. While the questline may disappoint the new powers that come with them certainly don’t.
The vampire lord and werewolf transformations offer players a decidedly different way to enjoy Skyrim. While both transformations are great fun to play, the vampire lord transformation is superior. It feels fresh and different, is visually impressive and changes the way may players will approach sections of Skyrim.
The new sights, sounds and quests in Skyrim come with a price and that price is performance. If we are honest, Skyrim wasn’t exactly Usain Bolt when it came to loading times but the addition of Skyrim has increased load times further. Everything from loading the add-on at the main menu to the initial loading of the overworld and entering buildings takes a frustrating amount of time.
Increases in load times aren’t the only problems with Dawnguard. Bugs and glitches remain rife throughout, it seems the patches and updates didn’t have the effect of fumigating Skyrim. A lot of these can be overlooked as they are mostly cosmetic but there is still the odd game breaker, missing characters, broken doors and crashes, that are guaranteed to frustrate. Mechanically too, there are problems. Although character movement and combat remain as fluid as ever, the real selling points of Dawnguard, playing as the vampire lord and enhanced werewolf, leave a lot to be desired.
The main issue here is the forced third-person perspective that makes combat and movement laboured, inaccurate and cumbersome. It also seems that Bethesda disregarded the size of their when building these creatures as may indoor areas are far too small for the vampire lord and werewolf to move around in. This is particularly disappointing as throughout Dawnguard, and beyond, have access to the extra power that these creatures give the player would have made the overall experience much more enjoyable.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dawnguard is a great start to expansion packs that Bethesda have promised players. Adding new weapons, characters, enemies, powers and quests to a game that was already bursting at the seams is an exceptional achievement for the guys at Bethesda. More importantly though, Dawnguard fits in to Skyrim in a way that similar expansions in Oblivion and Fallout 3/New Vegas never did. The world of Skyrim feels enhanced by the inclusion of Dawnguard and although it suffers from many of the same problems that prevented Skyrim from achieving perfection, it has so much to offer even for newcomers and veterans alike.