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First impressions of Skyrim: Dawnguard


That other big piece of RPG DLC out today, Dawnguard is the first expansion to Skyrim, with a premise centering around vampires and vampire hunters. How does it far? I couldn't tell you in whole, because I couldn't quite finish it just yet, but here's what I've experienced thus far.

Plot and premise (no spoilers): In other Elder Scrolls games, and the last two Fallout games, DLC quest usually began with a journal entry essentially prodding you into the direction of the quest. This time, it seems you need to head into a major town before someone will come up to you and say "Hey, we're vampire hunters. Want in?". This, of course, happened to me only after I bested a dragon roaming through town. So he'll send you off to Fort Dawnguard at the back end of Riften, where you'll get the crossbow (more on this later) and have to go investigate a dungeon filled with vampires who want something. And that something sets into motion a bloody feud between the hunters of Dawnguard and an ancient vampire clan.

It doesn't seem like a bad story, all up, but it doesn't go for the throat, either. I picked the Dawnguard side because I'm a traditionalist, and it felt like a straight mix between the Winterhold College quests and...whatever that warrior guild quest line was.. It keeps things moving but not to places very exciting.

It feels like the questline is trying to go for the same stakes as the main quest of Skyrim, but I feel Skyrim managed to adequately convey this through how aggressive the dragons were and how domineering their presence became, and I don't feel like the same has happened here. If you take the Dawnguard side, vampires will sporadically pop up in towns, assaulting the villagers much like dragons, but...they're only slightly more capable humans as opposed to the great forces of the dragons.

Gameplay: On the Dawnguard side at least, the majority of quests are straight dungeon runs, and are probably more combat based than the rest of the game. It's also worth noting that the dungeons seemed darker, so turn that brightness up or bring a torch or light spell. Aside from that, and a partner who will follow you for much of the proceedings, these dungeons seemed pretty run of the mill, albeit very long even by Skyrim standards. Not necessarily bad, but Skyrim didn't really lack for dungeons. Is there anything else to keep this expansion interesting? Well...

Enemies: The vampire force in vanilla Skyrim seemed tossed aside in favour of werewolves, which would have been good if they weren't so overrated. The vampires in Dawnguard are quite a bit better. Relying on bloodborn abilities that can really inhibit their enemies, such as draining health and crippling their speed, and also having these bitching yellow eyes sometimes, the vampires are a decent foe, though not spectacular. They have a unique set of armour this time around as well. They will sometimes have pets known as Death Hounds; black dogs with red eyes and a metal collae which is worth a lot as loot. They're kind of easy, but they look cool.

Also added to the mix are gargoyles, which seem like really good enemies. They're surprisingly fast and can hit fairly hard. My warrior could go toe-to-toe with one, but even just one more meant trouble. They can burst out of their shells which blend into their surroundings, just like "real" gargoyles and work well with the psuedo-gothic atmosphere a lot of the expansion provides.

Elsewhere, there are skeletons which took me one hit each. So that was lame.

Vampire Lord: Obviously, I didn't go this route, but early on, you have the option to have the ability to turn into a vampire lord, which seems like a transformation akin to the werewolf ability. I can't say for sure, but if it is like the werewolf ability at all, I want nothing to do with it. Lycanthropy actually made my character a lot weaker, completely antithetical to what the ability was supposedly there for. It appears as if vampire lords are a lot more balanced, with the ability to switch between a magic type and melee type on the fly, and they do look really cool.

Vampirism itself seems like the norm: you contract the basest form from fighting vampires, you don't cure it before you go to sleep in a certain amount of time, you're a vampire. Again, I tried to keep out of this as much as possible because I wanted to be as traditional as possible, but the option is there. It doesn't seem as if sunlight or fire are the big enemies for vampires this time around, but then I could just be bitter that neither worked against them while I was fighting them.

Crossbows: After years of absence from the franchise, the crossbow finally makes its return to the game, and you can get one basically from the start of the expansion. I gather it ties into your archery stat, which wasn't very high for me or it would have done damage against those bandits I fought. But the mechanic appears fine, with the basic advantages and disadvantages versus a regular bow. Again, it uses bolts instead of arrows, so it feels like a return to Morrowind if only in a small department.

I have one issue, and that is the secondary attack it grants you. It's a melee bash, but it looks to do not much damage but drains as much stamina as a two-handed power attack. Um, why? Otherwise, it feels like a fine addition to the Skyrim arsenal, and a welcome returning ally from Morrowind.

Horse combat: Apparently. I don't know first hand. I never touch horses in Skyrim.

"Final verdict": I don't think it would be really fair of me to make any real suggestions when I couldn't even get through one questline, which I knew going into would be the less interesting of the two anyway. Still, if I were to weigh up everything at this point, I don't know if 1600 MSP is worth it. Shivering Isles and many of FO3's and NV's expansions cost less but gave you more. It's a tough one. Maybe I'll get back to you when I finish it, maybe not.

Still better than the Carrie Underwood DLC that came out for Rock Band today, though.
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About Lowlander2one of us since 4:06 AM on 05.10.2011

I am an Australian journalism student, currently in his second year. There isn't much out of the ordinary about my upbringing. I'm just a guy wwho has been playing games for quite a while and enjoying them for the most part. My favourite genre is probably the rhythm game genre. Used to be RPGs, but I haven't really connected with any for a while.

I wouldn't consider myself a very theological or philosophical gamer, and I do tire of some of the devates that occure around games. STFUAJPG and all that. That doesn't mean I have nothing to say, just that I'm not the guy you come to for any sort of real opinion on serious gaming issues. My forte is the more spartan, critical stuff, like reviews and lists and what have you. Moost of my blogs have been reviews on game movies at this point, as a matter of fact.
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