Bethesda

Dawnguard DLC restores vampires and expansions to their former glory

Dawnguard DLC restores vampires and expansions to their former glory

The Dawnguard expansion for Skyrim is, at its core, a DLC package focused on vampires vs. vampire hunters. But if you thought that was all there was to this substantial amount of content, you’d be depriving yourself. This is stuff you don’t want to miss. This DLC is huge, and feels less like a single-quest DLC plot and more like a full-fledged, good ole’ expansion pack. Dawnguard is as much of an expansion to Skyrim as Shivering Isles was to Oblivion, or Tribunal was to Morrowind.

The $20 expansion is out now for the Xbox 360, and should be available for the PC and PS3 in about a month.

It won’t take long to start up the new quest that leads to the Dawnguard content. Wander into town at night and you might find a small group of vampires attacking. Bump into a guard during the day and he’ll remark that he’s heard rumors of the Dawnguard re-forming. Either path leads to the same place: Fort Dawnguard.

This is a cohesive, lengthy addition to the game

It’s suggested that you be level 10 before you make this journey, but you may want to aim even higher. Some of the enemies and encounters seem designed to force you into using your overpowered Vampire Lord abilities, and if you choose not to join the ranks of the undead you’ll find the dungeons even less forgiving. You can, however, hire armored trolls if you’re out to kill the vampires instead of helping them. It kinda balances out.

You may want to come at this DLC with at least two characters, as the storylines for joining up with the Dawnguard vs. joining Lord Harkon’s vampires are different, and it’s not as cut-and-dry as you might first suspect. There are conspiracies left and right, and the people you can and can’t trust will surprise you. Take note if you’re fond of playing as a werewolf: the Vampire Lord form overrides your bestial form. There is no Underworld meets Skyrim fan-fic material here.

There is, however, plenty to take with you beyond Fort Dawnguard or Castle Volkihar, the strongholds of the vampire hunters and vampires, respectively. For example, should you have the capability to transform into either werewolf or vampire, you’ll gain access to new perk trees that function similar to the skill trees you know and love. These perk trees won’t help you level up, but the bonuses they give more than make up for that. As a Vampire Lord you’ll be able to transform into mist or summon a gargoyle. As a werewolf you’ll be able to form a small pack as you call for aid from another of your furry brethren.

There is much more than bats and blood. The Dawnguard will give you access to new weapons and armor, as well as the armored troll companions mentioned above. Sure they’re brutish and stupid. But. They. Are. Armored. Trolls. Visit the Thieves’ Guild for the chance to remake your face, stop by a blacksmith to craft new dragonbone weapons, and meet with a very special winged fiend/friend to learn a new shout that rips the souls from your fallen enemies and turns them into obedient champions of your will. Test all of these and more in the new dungeons, or on the incredibly challenging Legendary difficulty dragons. No matter what you do, you’re gonna be busy for awhile.

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give to Dawnguard however, is the fact that when I played my way through what few quests I could squeeze in, it felt like a true extension of the world I already knew and loved, not a separate entity. Sure, you can only reach Fort Dawnguard and Castle Volkihar through caves that lead into otherwise-impassable mountains, but it doesn’t feel as separated as the suddenly-appearing continents of World of Warcraft or even the extra-dimensional hop of the Shivering Isles DLC from the previous Elder Scrolls title.

Dawnguard doesn’t just change Skyrim, the expansion makes it better. That’s exactly what good DLC should do.