I have thought about writing a first review here on Game Debate for a long time, but couldn't figure out what game to do it for.
But last night, as I played through the last quest of the Vampire storyline it suddenly came to me I could write about this. Bethesda's latest, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Dawnguard expansion.
Mind you I have only played through the Vampire storyline so this review is based solely on that experience.
Since the day Dawnguard was released for Xbox (damn console gamers..) I had made a new character and wanted him ready, around level 25, (but not too ready, level 60 :p) for the pc release.
Since I was sure I would choose the Vampire side I chose a Dunmer to play with to further increase the effect when becoming a vampire. I played until level 25, advancing primarily on sneak, archery, light armor and 2 handed weapons. As soon as I reached level 25 I stopped playing, waiting for the PC version to be released.
Dawnguard starts with a rumor (I believe that's how all Elder Scrolls expansions started) that someone is reforming the ancient and long lost order of the Dawnguard, an order which specialises in vampire hunting. The order is now reformed because apparently, the vampires are up to something.
When you reach level 10 or above you have the chance of being contacted by a courier who informs you and guards in certain cities are talking about it. If you're having trouble starting this questline just travel to Riften and walk around a bit. As soon as you hear someone talking about the Dawnguard, let them finish and the quest will automatically start, giving you that handy quest pointer we've all grown accustomed to since Oblivion. You follow that pointer up to a cave entrance, leading into a canyon. And that's all I'm giving away, I'm not writing a walkthrough here ;)
- Of course an Elder Scrolls expansion comes with extra armors to wear. I expected armors of epic proportions for the Heroic Dawnguards, and the most sinister and dark yet stylish armors for the vampires. If you have the same expectations I fear you are heading for disappointment.
- The crossbow is back! After 208 years the people of Tamriel found a use for this weapon again.
Though it's nice that the crossbow is back, don't expect too much of it. It uses the same perk tree as regular archery. It is different from archery on three points everybody knows; it does more damage, is slower to reload, and it fires bolts that fly straighter than arrows. Both vampires and dawnguard can use this weapon, but only the dawnguard have acces to the best model.
- Vampire Lord and Werewolf perk trees.
Aside from the fortresses of both sides, the "Soul Cairn", and some extra dungeons don't expect the extra landmasses like we've seen in the Shivering Isles or Bloodmoon. The new locations look epic though. I personally think that in every Elder Scrolls game, Bethesda has always managed to make your surroundings look like they're supposed to. It's a craft they master and used very well for this expansion.
They succeeded in bringing back the Elder Scrolls atmosphere I missed a bit when playing Skyrim.
I can be short in this section. Other than new sound effects for the new moves, not much has been added. So no new music.
Also don't expect to hear a lot of new voice actors. I never noticed it before in Skyrim until someone kindly pointed that out to me, and ever since I can't help but be bothered with it. And that doesn't change in Dawnguard.
This section may come as a surprise since it's an expansion and the graphics should more or less be the same as the main game. I added this section because I wanted to mention I did experience severe drops in framerate. I play Skyrim at 60 fps with occasional drops to 55fps, which without fraps would be unnoticable. But in Dawnguard I get only 40 fps in some locations. 40 fps is of course still very playable but others may not have the rig I have. The drops don't necessarily occur when there is a lot of action, but seem to linked to the location. So I think this has to do with bad clipping. Maybe future patches will take care of this problem.
The story for this expansion is good, but compared to the depth an length of the Shivering Isles, Bloodmoon and Tribunal it fails to reach the same heights. (See what I did there? :p)
But then again it has more "body" than Knights of the Nine.
This is probably the most important section.
The big change is obviously the Vampire Lord. When choosing the vampire storyline you are learned, by Harkon himself, how to transform yourself into the Vampire Lord. The effect of changing, and the change itself are epic. But that's my opinion, as I'm sure it will not take weeks before mods come out, altering the appearance of the Vampire Lord to look "more epic".
As a Vampire Lord you have two stances. 1: On the ground. You walk around as the Vampire Lord quite like you would as a werewolf. And fighting is the same, as you fight with left and right claws. I wouldn't even be surprised if they used the same animation for that.
The second stance is floating above the ground. This is when you are most powerful. With the right hand you cast a destruction spell at your enemies, damaging their life and slightly healing yours. Various spells like grip can be assigned to the left hand. Moving around while floating stays floating. Sprinting while floating makes you move faster and use your wings. But it's still floating. This was a bit of a letdown for me. Not that I was expecting to fly around like a dragon, but still I would have loved to go higher than just 2 feet off the ground. It would have been cool to fly around as long as you had enough stamina. Fighting gameplay would have been a lot cooler. And, to be honest, easier.
Those who feared the Vampire Lord would be overpowered can rest assured. We are not. In fact I have found that, when battling the Dawnguard as a Vampire Lord, you better have a strong companion, or try to fight them one at a time. Because two at a time has proven to be a very difficult challenge on multiple occasions. Sadly, you have more of a fighting chance fighting in your human form.
Being a human vampire also has it obvious gameplay changes. First of all, you won't die when you're in the sun ;) But it will reduce your maximum health, health regeneration, maximum stamina and stamina regeneration. And you need to feed. Regularly. If you don't, you will get stronger (attacks do more damage) and you get new spells. But also weaker, as in even less maximum health and no stamina in sunlight. The more you feed, the more human you are basically. At night you are stronger in every way.
I have given this DLC a total score of 8.5. And to be fair, that may be because I'm an Elder Scrolls fanatic. I have pointed out all issues and downsides I could think of for this game and listed them above. All the while perhaps neglecting to mention how absolutely awesome it has been playing this expansion.
Value to price for this expansion may be a bit low as it only adds 20 hours of gameplay to the game (roughly 10 per playthrough, vampires and dawnguard) for a price of €20. So after careful calculation (!) that gives me a price of 1€/hour. Which is a lot, especially if you look at the value to price you get for Skyrim, but still worth it. Really worth it.