REVIEW: The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim Dawnguard DLC expansion (PC / Steam)

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Name: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dawnguard Expansion

Genre: RPG DLC pack

Platform: PC

Price: £13.99 (Steam)

After a long old wait since the release of the Xbox 360 version, Dawnguard, the first expansion pack for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, hits PCs through Steam. Is the lure of a vampiric adventure enough to tempt gamers back into the gigantic world once more, or is it time to lay down our swords and shields of Skyrim and move on? Read on to find out!

review-line.JPGFor all my love for Skyrim (check out my gushing review from last year if you need a reminder), I have to admit to having suffered from Elder Scrolls fatigue over the past few months. Bethesda created a mammoth, immersive, open-ended roleplaying game to explore with Skyrim, one that easily sucked up hundreds of hours of gameplay. At the same time, for a completist like myself, it proved exhausting, dedicating so much time to a single game. It was with some trepidation then that I approached Dawnguard.

Perhaps it’s the extended break I’ve had from the game, or (more likely) the quality of the content offered up by Dawnguard, but loading up the DLC pack on the PC version of Skyrim was like falling in love all over again. Significantly adding to the lore of the main game, and with plenty of seriously cool new features and abilities, Dawnguard is a worthy addition to the series.dawnguard-review-1.jpgDawnguard’s quest line focuses on supernatural vampiric forces. The Elder Scrolls hold a prophecy that foretold the discovery of Auriel’s Bow, a weapon with the power to block out the sun’s rays for good. That naturally makes it highly sought after tool by daylight-shunning vampires, who intend to bring an end to any hopes of getting a suntan in Tamriel. The Dawnguard forces look to stop the vampires from getting their hands on the weapon.

Which side of the fence of this conflict you fall on is totally up to you. Though the allegiances of each faction lead to very different results, the 12 main quests for each side are more or less identical in terms of gameplay. You’ll still want to play through everything twice to see how the different sides of the story play out though, and it’s a well-told tale throughout, featuring some of the most colourful characters to have graced Skyrim thus far. There are also some amazing set-pieces packed in here too, with a stand-out battle against an undead dragon and a horde of skeleton warriors.

Siding with either the vampire forces or the Dawnguard though does open up very different character choices and abilities. As defenders of the light, the Dawnguard work well if you roll a standard combat-focussed character, making them a good choice for returning players with high-level characters and powerful gear.dawnguard-review-2.jpgSide with the blood-suckers though and things become even more interesting. You’ll take on the ability to transform into a Vampire Lord, hovering above the ground, with a demonic appearance and brutal claw attacks. You’ll also get great magical perks, including the ability to raise the dead, summon gargoyles or death-grip enemies Darth Vader-style. It offers a whole new skill tree to work with, and it’s all very, very cool.

Developers Bethesda encourage gamers to take on the Dawnguard quests once they’ve reached level ten. But even a newcomer can get in on the new action here straight away if they choose to. That’s because, unlike other Bethesda expansion packs for the likes of Oblivion or Fallout 3, Dawnguard sees the game world extended seamlessly and naturally, rather than being an exclusive zone to explore. It’s handled very well; some quests require certain plot-specific items from the main quest to have been gained, and the way the new Dawnguard quests direct you to these is very cleverly achieved.

It’s a fairly expansive new stretch of land added with Dawnguard, with giant bases like Castle Volkihar for the vampires and Fort Dawnguard for the vampire hunters. There’s also the other-wrodly Soul Cairn and the huge Forgetten Vale. There’s the odd graphical flourish that sees the new areas glow with a purple haze (recalling the best of the Daedric quests), but those tired of caves and the corridors of castles and forts may find this largely similar to what has gone before. There are a handful of neat new monsters to slay though, which keep you on your toes while exploring the new zones.dawnguard-review-3.jpgPerhaps most exciting of all for hardcore gamers will be the new potential for mods opened up by Dawnguard. The modding community have taken to Skyrim like a duck to water, and it’s already extended the longevity of the game well beyond what’s available in the initial version. Dawnguard’s new content offers a springboard for many new ideas to flourish.

If there’s fault to be found, it lies in the usual places for Bethesda’s open-world games. Small bugs rear their heads every once in a while (we got stuck a few times in vampire-lord form, and map markers were sometimes a little off), and there’s the usual texture pop and FPS drops that sometimes occur in the game. Even almost a year after release, this game will still push your system hard.

What may prove more of an issue for some is the DLC’s value. At the very most, you’re going to squeeze 20 hours out of the Dawnguard DLC for that £14 asking price. Compare that to easily upwards of 100 hours for the £35 main game, and Dawnguard could look a little stingy. That, of course, would be a ridiculous assertion to make; Skyrim is almost unprecedented in its size, and 20 hours for an expansion pack is of course a sizeable amount to sink your fangs into.dawnguard-review-4.jpgreview-line.JPG

Dawnguard isn’t without its problems (carrying over many that still remain in Skyrim in fact) but it is still a worthy, lengthy addition to an already-excellent game. For lapsed fans and newcomers alike, Dawnguard offers yet another reason to head out onto the icy tundra once more.




Gerald Lynch
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