The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an enormous game. From a system that spawns endless quests, to an in-game province that takes real-life days to thoroughly explore, Skyrim is downright huge! It’s also one of the best-quality games to be released in the past couple years, at least. The graphics, the engaging gameplay, the rewarding level-up system–it’s hard not to find something to positively rave about. With all of this going for it, you’d think Skyrim couldn’t get any better—or bigger.
However, publisher Bethesda Softworks has proven that even the most gargantuan of games can be expanded upon. Skyrim’s first major add-on, entitled Dawnguard, was released over the Xbox 360′s Xbox LIVE service on June 26th, with releases on the PS3 and PC due out later this month. Being an expansion to an already behemoth game, Dawnguard is certainly content heavy—adding on 10-15 hours of gameplay on top of Skyrim’s main questline and faction quests.
Dawnguard’s plot revolves around the resurgence of a powerful society of vampires living off of the northwest coast of Skyrim, in an enormous fortress called Castle Volkihar. The vampire presiding over the castle grounds, Lord Harkon, has a fairly macabre goal—to use the power of the Elder Scrolls to effectively ‘blot out the sun.’ Resisting the rising vampire menace is a new generation of an age-old vampire hunting clan called the Dawnguard. Lead by a very stern man named Isran, the Dawnguard is based in the southeastern mountains, beyond the city of Riften.
The entire questline can be initiated in a couple of ways. Your character can overhear city guards gossiping about the return of the Dawnguard, or more straightforwardly, a member of the Dawnguard itself will appear and request your presence at their keep. Either way, the questline proper doesn’t exactly begin until you’re given a difficult decision to make by Vampire Lord Harkon—embrace the power of the vampires, or return to the Dawnguard. Regardless of which side you fight for, the new questline will take you all over the province of Skyrim. Eventually you’ll end up in a new area—the ‘Soul Cairn,’ a realm of The Elder Scrolls’ analog of Hell, called Oblivion.
The added 10-15 hours of gameplay aren’t the only new additions to Skyrim courtesy of Dawnguard. The expansion adds several new things to collect, do and see. Dawnguard adds several new Achievements to pursue. Siding with Lord Harkon during the Dawnguard questline gives you a new form to transform into—the gargoyle-esque Vampire Lord, a truly frightening demon with incredible power. That, and the previously available Werewolf form, both have new, exclusive skill trees to level up. Maxing out both will net you two Achievements
Additionally, a new character has been added to Riften’s Ragged Flagon, whom you can hire to completely reconstruct your character’s face. This is optional, and the change is purely cosmetic. A new tier of dragon will now appear—these are called Legendary Dragons, and can in fact attack from under water. The Dawnguard expansion also finally enables you to forge Dragon-level weaponry. These are, as you might expect, the most powerful weapons you can smith yourself. The ability to craft your own arrows has also been added. There’s also a new Shout learnable—called Soul Tear, it literally rips the soul from its victim. A new steed is now available–an undead, blazing horse called ‘Arvak.’ Players that side with the Dawnguard are able to recruit an armored troll for assistance in battle. These trolls act and behave like most followers you’re able to recruit.
Perhaps the largest addition via Dawnguard, save for the new questline, is a brand-new weapon—the crossbow. The crossbow is first given to your character while at Fort Dawnguard, although more powerful ones can be forged after completing certain sidequests. Despite members of the Dawnguard claiming that the crossbow is the ideal weapon for disposing of vampires, take note—the new weapon really isn’t that great, and is certainly no better for slaying vampires than a regular bow, or any other arm for that matter. In fact, I found the crossbow to have a slower reload time than a standard bow.
As far as graphics and sound go, there really isn’t anything new that wasn’t already here before. Most of the new character voices are recycled. The new locations of Castle Volkihar and Fort Dawnguard, while interesting to look at and explore, really feel just like they’re ‘more of the same.’ And as with anything else Elder Scrolls related, Dawnguard isn’t without its bugs. Personally I haven’t noticed anything too major, but there have been reports of nearly game-breaking glitches from other gamers around the net.
Dawnguard is a truly great expansion to a game world-renowned as a masterpiece. If you have Skyrim on the 360, get it if you haven’t already. If you’re a PC or PS3 owner, get ready to delve back into the province of Skyrim—clear your schedules. Dawnguard demands your attention and doesn’t let it go.
Christopher A. Carlson
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