The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard ReviewJoe Shaffer
Dawnguard is not a DLC pack that likes to be ignored. As soon as you attach this expansion to your Skyrim campaign, the game will demand your undivided attention by randomly sending vampires to raid various holds throughout the snowy country. This may not sound like much of an issue to most players, but to those who wish to complete as many menial quests as possible, this is a state of emergency.
I was one such person when I first purchased Dawnguard. After downloading the quest pack, I decided to put in on a back burner so I could finish up a few other quest lines. I thought, "Oh, it shouldn't be a biggie." I changed my tune, though, when a gang of vampires raided Windhelm and slew a few quest givers, permanently denying me access to any quests previously related to them. Needless to say, my blood started to boil after that. I unsheathed my Dragonbone war axes in response and butchered any NPC in the vicinity who appeared to be a regular Hot Topic shopper. None were spared, not even the vampiric thrall who curled up in a ball and cried, "We are routed!" Damn right you are. No one botches my campaign and lives to tell the tale.
Suffice to say, I temporarily abandoned my then-current project and enlisted in one of Dawnguard's new factions. In particular, I selected the titular group of vampire hunters, sadly eschewing the chance to join the Volkihar Vampire clan. This also meant that I had to forgo their unique ability, which would allow me to transform into a vampire lord. Although the prospect of metamorphosing from an anthropomorphic cat into a winged, demonic bloodsucker was tempting, I tend to be a vindictive player who can't be bought by even the sweetest of bribes.
The trade-off for joining the Dawnguard was that I gained access to the crossbow and a handful of subsequent radiant quests that allowed me to upgrade the weapon. We aren't talking about mere strength upgrades, either. I uncovered texts that allowed me to purchase or create elementally-charged bolts or add armor-piercing capabilities to my missiles. That was neat and all, but it really wasn't anything spectacular. Moreover, it also didn't compare to what the opposition offered. In the end, I wound up siding with the team that provided a standard RPG weapon. On the flip side, I could have joined one that granted access to a monstrous transformation ability; one that reminds us that vampires can (and should) do more than glitter in the sun. Seriously, where's the balance?
Of course, both aforementioned features are just icing on the cake. If you're truly interested in Dawnguard, then I'm going to guess that the information you really care about involves quests, both storyline and radiant. Well...
In terms of radiant quests, you're not missing much in Dawnguard. For the most part, they're similar to the quests offered by Skyrim's other factions. In other words, both factions mostly task you with fetching items or clearing out caves. The only radiant quest I found interesting was one that involved exposing an undercover vampire in a jarl's court, then exterminating the pest. Beyond that, Dawnguard doesn't provide any worthwhile radiant quests.
Storyline quests, on the other hand, are very enjoyable. Mostly, this is thanks to the new locations that Dawnguard adds to the world map, many of which you'll visit throughout the quest line. While you will encounter a couple of generic locales and yet another forest within a cavern, there are a few new areas that are an absolute treat to traverse through. One of my favorites was a realm called Soul Cairn, which is a plane of existence that serves as an afterlife for sacrificed souls. There you travel across a bleak, shadowy land while fighting off wraith-like beings and various undead foes in an attempt to locate a character's mother. What truly makes the Soul Cairn worth visiting, though, are two other characters that inhabit it: the spirit of Jiub, a character from previous Elder Scrolls games; and a dark dragon called Durnevhiir. Meeting the latter culminates in a decently entertaining clash, and concludes with some backstory on the dragon and the acquisition of a shout used to summon him.
There are several other neat fresh additions in Dawnguard, including a vampiric follower named Serana who's actually quite useful. Her combination of punishing spells and speedy attacks may not always fell your opponents, but it'll damn sure soften them up. There's also a new location called Forgotten Vale, complete with a frozen lake holding a couple of surprise adversaries. Although this plug-in adds some noteworthy material, it isn't a thoroughly amazing expansion. Much of what you experience via Dawnguard feels like it should have been included in the original campaign in the first place. It doesn't pack the punch that a truly well made expansion does, nor does it provide anything that screams for an instant download.
Don't get me wrong, Dawnguard is worth downloading. I just feel that Bethesda could have done more with the expansion. Honestly, they would have been better off nixing the radiant quests in favor of side quests that add more to the Skyrim experience. Also, the developers were on to something when they created awesome sections to behold like Soul Cairn and Forgotten Vale. Why not provide more locales like those, fully decked out with breathtaking scenery and a few unique enemies? Ultimately, Dawnguard didn't blow me away like it should have, but it did at least provide me with a few extra hours of worthwhile entertainment. In the end, that's all that matters.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.