Vampires have always been a part of the Elder Scrolls Universe. They slink in the shadows of dark dungeons and caves, waiting to infect unsuspecting travelers with Sanquinare Vampris. With the new Dawnguard expansion, Skyrim’s vampires are brought right to the forefront. With a branching storyline allowing you to either join a powerful group of bloodsuckers or join the Dawnguard and push them back to the holes where they belong.
The story in Dawnguard starts at the same place regardless of the path you choose. After hearing about the rebirth of the Dawnguard and finding their fortress, you go wandering deep into a vampire infested ruin on orders of the titular fang hunters. That’s right, even if you want to side with the nightstalkers, you’ll start out fighting for the “good guys”. Then you’ll run into a vampire central to the main story who asks you to escort her to her home. That’s right, even if you want to side with the vampire hunters, you have to help a vampire.
It becomes clear pretty quickly that they did things this way to show you both of your potential “bosses” and the places they call home before forcing you to make a decision. Unfortunately, it starts the story off on a very awkward foot where either you’re a vampire hunter helping vampires or a vampire lover helping vampire hunters. All this makes more sense as the story plays out, and it might not be a big deal to some people, but if you’re the type of person that takes their character’s “personality” into account before making decisions, just know in advance that you may have to suspend that a bit.
After the big choice, things diverge a bit. As you roll through the 15 hours or so of content here (for each side) you’ll end up in a lot of the same places regardless of your choice, but with different objectives. The missions range from boring fetch quest style snorers to some that rank among the best in the game. Plenty of very interesting characters with great connections to the lore star in Dawnguard, even providing some backstory to a couple of Skyrim mysteries. Both sides have interesting pieces to discover, and the voice acting is top notch. Overall the story on display here is very strong and is probably my favorite faction questline in the game.
The biggest stars of Dawnguard aren’t the characters, story or the missions however. No, that prize goes to some of the most incredible looking environments Bethesda has unveiled to date. Two environments in particular, the haunting Soul Cairn and the breathtaking Forgotten Vale feature the kind of visual diversity that greatly adds to an already incredible looking world. These places also have some really well designed unique enemies to hack into tiny, well designed bits.
In addition to all this, Dawnguard introduces multiple new gameplay pieces. Crossbows make their return after a disappointing absence in Oblivion and vanilla Skyrim. This is a very satisfying weapon to wield, especially when combined with special elemental bolts. You’ll also get some unique armor pieces with good to great stats. The DLC also expands your crafting abilities to allow for the crafting of Dragonbone weapons and arrows. My favorite thing in the whole expansion though, is the bow that you get near the end of the main questline. Combined with two special kinds of arrows, this bow creates what might offer the best weapon effects I’ve ever seen in an RPG. I don’t want to spoil anything, so all I’ll say is when you get it, aim at the sun.
If you’re like me, you already invested a considerable amount of time in Skyrim. If that’s you, Dawnguard is well worth the $20 investment. Not only will you get some great loot, a top notch story, and some new running mates (possibly including a troll wearing armor-go ahead, read that again-I’ll wait) but you’ll also be drawn back into the game to the point where you’ll forget why you stopped playing it in the first place (unless you’re playing on the broken nearly beyond hope PS3 version, in which case I’m so sorry). If you have even a passing interest in vampires that don’t live in Washington or go to 6th period Social Studies, then Dawnguard deserves a spot in your library.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.