Skyrim recently got its first expansion, adding new areas to explore, companions to chill with, enemies to slay and weapons with which to mow them down. It has some horror themes to it, as it expands on the vampire mythology a bit and offers you the chance to assume the role of a Vampire Lord and enjoy the many perks that come with it. Or you can choose to side with Dawnguard, an ancient faction of warriors dedicated to hunting down and eradicating the vampire menace. Either way, Dawnguard is destined to be incredible, right? Well, not quite.
The Baby Factor: If Skyrim were to indulge in the sexual deviancies that come with a passionate night of vampiric lovemaking, Dawnguard would be the result.
It’s no secret that Skyrim set the bar pretty high for RPGs when it released last November. The attention to detail astounds me even after spending way more hours in it than I can comfortably admit. Salmon swim upstream, butterflies hover over flowers, packs of wolves hunt mooses (meese?), dragonflies skim the surfaces of lakes, it’s incredible. I’ve never seen something like it over the course of my gaming career and I likely won’t see it again until the next Elder Scrolls game comes out and we all have to pick our jaws up off the floor again.
One of my minor complaints about Skyrim was how it really only grazed the surface of the vampire mythology. More observative gamers were able to glean a bit more with the help of certain quests and books like ‘Immortal Blood,’ but for the most part its potential was largely left untouched. Dawnguard fixes this, for the most part, by giving you the rare opportunity to not only join one of the many ancient covens scattered about the world, but to also join the elite ranks of the Vampire Lords.
Doing so will bestow you with some pretty impressive powers, like the ability to transform into a powerful creature of the night. Unfortunately, this membership doesn’t come without its costs. Some of the powers, like the summon gargoyle and barrier of bats skills are pretty useful, but you get the best powers fairly early on. There’s also the issue that while you’re in this form you can’t interact with the environment outside of destroying it; that means you can’t loot bodies, open doors, solve puzzles, etc. You’ll need to watch the bizarrely long transformation back to your original form before you can do anything but kill stuff.
If fighting for all that’s good is more your bag, then I suggest you join the Dawnguard. As a member you’ll be able to enjoy a slew of light-based powers, armored troll and new wolf followers (these can be used in addition to your human/elf/etc. companion), and the powerful crossbows. I tried both before deciding the Dawnguard kicked substantially more ass than I originally thought they would. This decision was based primarily on the awesome crossbows.
And the explosive/ice bolts.
The armored troll might’ve had a hand in it too.
(Warning: the next paragraph has a small spoiler!) There’s a brand new companion for you to bring on, and with a few exceptions, she rocks. Her name’s Serena, and she’s an ancient vampire whom you save from a mysterious stone prison. She’s crazy powerful, though sadly, she doesn’t transform into a Vampire Lord during combat. She also has this annoying habit of repeating the same line of dialogue, usually something like “What can I do for you?” again and again until you get some space between you and her.
There’s already plenty to do in Skyrim, and for the most part, I’m not terribly happy with the 10-20 hours worth of new quests Dawnguard offers. It’s a lot of “been there, done that,” and there are way too many fetch quests. You’ll fetch blood for goblets, people, blueprints, more people, and even pages from a book. Seriously? It feels like we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel here.
Be warned: this expansion is riddled with bugs, some of them game breaking. I came across a bug in the Broken Oar Grotto–where one of the side quests is located–that trapped my companion, Serena, inside the cave. She couldn’t leave, no matter how hard I begged. If she were a normal companion, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but in this case Serena is required to finish the main quests, so it broke the game. There were miscellaneous other issues like missing NPCs, misplaced markers on the map, etc. as well.
Dawnguard could’ve felt significantly more epic than it does. I wanted to see the vampire covens band together to enslave mankind forcing the Dawnguard to have to recruit an army to stop them. Instead, it’s one coven fighting a group of people with crossbows. It all feels so small scale, like the world doesn’t hang in the balance when it actually does. As it is, this is a decent expansion that also happens to be pretty damn buggy. It’s a little disappointing when you compare it to the game it’s expanding, but it certainly isn’t bad.
The Final Word: If you absolutely must have more Skyrim then by all means, buy Dawnguard. Otherwise, I suggest waiting for the price to drop and/or a patch to come that fixes some of the many bugs.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Skyrim: Dawnguard.