Dawnguard: More Skyrim Goodness, With Stuff You Don’t Really Need

I played through the entire Companions Guild quest during my time in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and through the course of that time I became a werewolf and occasionally made use of the lycan transformation power that went with it. In theory, being a werewolf was very cool — in practice, I always found turning in to a werewolf to be lackluster and not particularly useful. It was an element of Skyrim I mostly ignored because it did little to alter how the game was played.

In Dawnguard, the upcoming DLC expansion Bethesda is releasing for Skyrim, players are able to take on the role of a vampire as they work through one of two opposing storylines. Among the new features that come out of that is the Vampire Lord ability, which is basically a bat-like version of the werewolf transformation. And like the werewolf transformation, it doesn’t seem particularly useful, although it looks very cool.

Think of it like this: If the werewolf form is a melee fighter, the vampire lord is a little more magic user. You get access to a lot of new spell effects — one in which you can grab people and drain life from them, another in which you can summon a gargoyle to fight for you. You also have some other nifty abilities like turning into bats and blinking across the battlefield. But while my demo was exceedingly short for anything Elder Scrolls-related — Bethesda PR hustled me out of my chair after about 25 minutes because more journalists needed to be accommodated — fighting as the big beast never felt all that effective, much like the werewolf.

That doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting new experience to try playing Skyrim a different way, especially if and when you power up the vampire lord with its various perks. Several sound cool, including summoning a cloud of bats to attack anything that comes near you — but when Dawnguard drops later this month, I doubt I’ll be spending much time as the vampire lord as I fight through dungeons and ruins, engaging bandits and draugr. It just doesn’t seem especially well attuned to battles with several enemies.

Nor will I be whipping out a crossbow anytime soon, necessarily, despite its being added to Skyrim in Dawnguard. The crossbow operates on the same skill tree as the bow does currently in Skyrim, and the differences in the weapon are thus: Crossbows are stronger, but take way more time to reload. Functionally, they operate in the same way: hold the button to ready the bolt, fire it by releasing. But the weapon itself seems too clunky and slow to be very effective a lot of the time.

Of course, that was just my experience as a player who favors stealth and assassinations over frontal assault or even a heavy emphasis on magic. But the takeaway is that Skyrim is adding elements that are riffing on things we’ve seen, and improving them. For example, vampire lord and werewolf powers now have their own skill trees where players who do like those things can improve them.

Much more interesting to me, however, is the fact that Dawnguard is bringing a lot more story content. To engage with the Dawnguard, first, you’ll have to contract vampirism as a matter of course in the DLC’s story. You’ll interact with a vampire lord bent on ending the “Tyranny of the Sun” by fulfilling a prophecy concerning a pair of Elder Scrolls that looks to plunge the world into darkness. Not all the vampires are down with that, however, so there are choices to be made in who you back — or you could pull a Blade and join the vampire-hunting Dawnguard and experience the other side of the story.

Even cooler, we get to visit a new plane of Oblivion in Dawnguard: the Soul Cairn, a realm where souls are sent by necromancers. It’s no Shivering Isles, so keep that in mind — it’s fairly desolate, although there are some ruins and some side quests to do there — but it’s still an interesting and ethereal place, and different from anything else yet experienced in Skyrim.

Exploring these new places and dealing with new characters, including the family of the mad vampire lord at the center of it all, is where Dawnguard really gets intriguing. Bethesda has also said the DLC pack will be of a pretty decent size — not so big as Oblivion’s Shivering Isles, but larger than the DLC fired off for Fallout 3, for comparison.

Having played a little Dawnguard, I’m very excited to venture into the land of Skyrim once more and to take on a sub-culture of the Elder Scrolls lore that hasn’t been explored before. Even if I don’t intend to be maximizing my vampiric powers or sniping people with crossbows, Bethesda’s upcoming DLC looks well worth a return trip.

Dawnguard hits Xbox 360 on June 26 and follows on PC and Playstation 3 sometime after that.

Follow Hornshaw and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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3 Comments on Dawnguard: More Skyrim Goodness, With Stuff You Don’t Really Need

Jeff Mills

On June 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

I think I speak for all PC and PS3 Skyrim fans when I say; “Screw you, Microsoft”

David Hughes

On June 18, 2012 at 10:23 am

I’m running hot and cold reading previews of Dawnguard but this one has me “hot” again.

Kevin

On June 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm

You see, this is what makes me love Skyrim, and wish other companies would pay attention. They add VARIETY to the way the game is played. They know that the most dedicated content monkeys will plow through whatever you give them. So they make sure to offer as wide a way to play it as possible.

Playing with a two handed weapon is RADICALLY different than playing one-handed. Early in the game when you really are a wuss, transforming into a werewolf is actually a great way to survive. So what do they do? Give perks to playing as one as your character gets stronger. Rather than dumb it down, they make it more complex, but that complexity is entirely optional.

EA doesn’t get this. I would say Blizzard half gets it but not as much as they used to.