Un-spoilery! The only bit that could be has been tagged as such, so if you’re a PC/PS3 player you can read on without worry!
After hours of turning my Xbox on and off, and then panicking because I realised I didn’t have 1600 Microsoft Points on my account, I finally settled in to play the much-anticipated Skyrim: Dawnguard DLC. I played the DLC through twice, with two different characters who were both around the level 45 mark. I’ve heard you can play the DLC quite easily as long as you’re over level 15, but I would advise saving A LOT since there are some largeish creatures that mob you a couple times through the main quest.
First things first: the mounted combat was, in a word, eh. On one hand, it was way better than having to dismount your horse every time a bear or bandit decided to run over and nip at your heels. On the other hand, it definitely wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be.
I was not personally excited about the vamps, but very much looking forward to the crossbows, so I sided with the Dawnguard for my first playthrough – my Imperial was also a Wereworlf and I wanted to explore the new perk tree. There are 6 (or maybe 7? I can’t quite remember) side quests you can take from the engineer NPC Sorine Jurard to improve both the crossbows themselves, and the bolts they use. Basic smiths can create and improve steel crossbows and bolts, but the final version will require Dwemer smithing abilities. The variety of crossbow bolts you can make have some really cool – and destructive – effects. Crossbows are basically as greatswords are to swords – pack more of a punch, but are slower to use. I also really like how the bolts are in a tiny quiver on your waist. Crossbows have a higher chance of staggering an opponent, and are very effective against all types of armour. As a vamp you can loot crossbows and bolts from Dawnguard enemies, but you don’t actually get to make them, as far as I can tell. Bummer!
Side quests for the vampire Lords involve turning and assassinating people – a bit less time-consuming than the Dawnguard quests, but less fun if you like exploration. The Vampire Lord form is a little bit more versatile than the Werewolf – you have magic as well as melee skills, it’s a lot easier to level up because you gain skills by draining life, instead of chowing down on bodies. Neither form can pick locks or loot, though – fair enough, since neither have pockets. It’s a lot easier to change back and forth from vamp to human (or elven, Khajit, or Argonian) and the benefits of Vamp form is that when you change back, you don’t have to re-equip all your stuff. What is it with werewolves and nudity?!
Dawnguard promises 20 hours of gameplay, which… if you’re just sticking to the main storyline, is probably not true. There are loads of side quests and explorations to be had which definitely add the hours – there are two quests within the Soul Cairn which can take a while since it is 1) FRIGGING HUGE and 2) there is no map for the Soul Cairn. This frustrated me a lot, and I heard accounts of the quest markers for the main story quest in the Soul Cairn being glitchy for some people – I cannot imagine how long that would have made that quest, which was basically “run to these three towers and kill some things”. Oy vey.
Despite the weird annoying-ness of the Soul Cairn, the other new locations were pretty cool. Fort Dawnguard looks extremely impressive from the outside, and you can use any of the members as followers if you decide you don’t want Serana following you around griping about the weather any more. The fort is also equipped with a full alchemy lab, arcane enchanter, and a full smithing set-up including a smelter around the corner. Many of the NPCs have things to sell – it’s like militarised version of the Ragged Flagon once you’ve finished the Thieves’ Guild storyline.
Castle Volkihar is opulent and gory. It’s packed with brooding, haughty vampires, each with their own political leanings. The head of the dark household is of course Hakon, Serana’s father, who ends up being your enemy in pretty much all the quests, since his goal of killing the sun won’t actually help the vampires that much.
*SORT OF SPOILER* Speaking of touching the sky, when you kill Vyrthur, take his armour. It’s awesome for those who trained in light armour, or if you’re a mage/heavy armour person, you can sell it for a nice bit of gold. It doesn’t have a helmet, but I chose the Aetherial Crown from the Forge anyway.*END SPOILERY BIT*
The Vampire armour comes in light only, but you can choose between black or red. You can either steal some off a corpse or pick it up in a room in Castle Volkhair. On a female character, the Vamp armour becomes a bit more dress-like and doesn’t look nearly as impressive. Dawnguard armour comes in light or heavy, and reminds me a little bit of the Blades armour, with that almost ceramic-plated look. Dawnguard armour can be blue, white/grey or brown and appears quite unisex. If you’re a light armour person, improved Ancient Falmer armour is better than both Vampire and Dawnguard options. However if you’re a heavy armour person, the new Dragonbone armour and weapons are pretty frigging awesome. I prefer the Daedric armour aesthetically and it does have better stats.
There is a new book scattered around Skyrim called the Aetherium Wars. When you pick it up it sets off a medium length and very worthwile quest, aiding the ghost of scholar/adventurer Katria. It requires a lot of running around Dwemer ruins, to be ready to kill lots of Falmer, Dwaren Spheres and Spiders. The end result is your choice of three very awesome pieces of aetherium-powered gear, so it’s definitely a great one to do either before or after the main story.
In the Soul Cairn, you can run into 2 ghosts who will give you quests. One is fairly quick/simple and results in a ghostly horse you can summon anytime, in the Cairn or in Tamriel. Yay! The other quests takes frigging ages because you have to search the entire Cairn for ten pieces of paper. PIECES OF PAPER. I have heard the reward is pretty good, but it takes a LOT of time and patience to finish this quest. At the time of writing I am 7/10.
While filling the Initiates Ewer you stumble on several Frost Giants, which are a kind of a cross between a regular giant and a snow troll. They’re pretty hard hitters, so I’d suggest taking them out from a distance if you’re under level 30 and/or alone. They have big jewelled eggs on them called Paragons, which can be slotted into a receptacle, creating a portal to locations explored in Touching the Sky, which holds some fairly impressive loot. Finding all the Frost Giants should take you a good couple of hours.
Is Skyrim: Dawnguard worth the 1600 Microsoft points?
If you loved Skyrim and wished there was more: yes, absolutely. Not only are there new skill trees, new quests, new NPCs, new locations, new weapons and armour but there are ALSO new creatures, new Shouts, new spells, alchemy items and Serana. I really enjoyed travelling with her, she’s not only great in battle but I love her voice. She does tend to repeat herself about the weather, though, and like the original vanilla game, there are a lot of glitches and some tedious running-around-forever bits. It’s a great mix of extra lore, puzzles, action and exploration.
If, however, you thought Skyrim was boring and over-rated, don’t expect any huge improvements or changes.
Personally, I thought the drawbacks to being a vampire lord far outweighed the benefits. I definitely enjoyed my first playthrough more. Overall, I loved Dawnguard and would have played it through both ways even if I didn’t want to write about it. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and find those last 3 pages now.
*all images taken from elderscrolls.wikia.com*