Release Date: June 26 (Xbox 360), July (PS3, PC)
Platforms available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Price: 1600 Microsoft Points / £15 / $20
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: Role-playing game expansion
Dawnguard is the first major piece of downloadable content for Skyrim, a game so vast in size and scope that we're still discovering new things to see and do more than six months after its release. That's not to say that a new plotline, quests and a handful of abilities aren't a welcome addition, however, especially when it involves an ancient race of undead bloodsuckers. The question is, can Skyrim's latest batch of DLC keep us hooked from dusk until dawn?
Dawnguard focuses on the struggle between humans and vampires, but not the same vampires that occupy dirty caves or locked basements, rather, a secret sect of Vampire Lords living offshore in Castle Volkihar. Players begin by tracking down the Dawnguard, a group of vampire hunters seeking to eradicate the ancient threat. It's not long before your character discovers a plot to use the Elder Scrolls to blot out the sun, and must choose whether or not to embrace the darkness.
The marquee feature is the ability to turn into a hulking great vampire with the press of a button. Not only does the Vampire Lord have its own perk tree, but it has lots of unique abilities depending on your stance. For starters, vampires can fly, or hover to be exact, bursting forward in a cloud of bats as a means of escape, or transforming into black mist in order to recover.
Vampires can also drain the life out of opponents, summon gargoyles, use telekinesis and raise the dead. On foot, vampires are unable to use magic, but can slice through foes with their deadly claws, before transforming back to human form to feed or use regular weaponry.
While this sounds impressive, and it does make for a unique experience, being a vampire is not without its problems, and we're not talking about love triangles. Morphing into something that's twice the size of regular characters has practical implications when trying to traverse caves and tight spaces, while those claws are no good for looting bodies or opening chests. The solution is to transform back into human form, an awkward and jerky metamorphosis that feels painfully slow, especially if the intention is to change right back. Vampires are also only available in third-person mode, which won't be to everybody's taste.
It also presents a few moral dilemmas. For those who have avoided the Dark Brotherhood, shunned the Thieves Guild and spent time finding and filling black gems to lift previous vampire curses, 'Dawnguard' pretty much thrusts players onto the path of evil. The alternative is to join the vampire hunters, but in doing so, you'll miss out on many of Dawnguard's unique selling points. The missions are also extremely pedestrian, requiring little more than fetching things and emptying dungeons.
Fortunately, it's the little things that make 'Dawnguard' such an attractive prospect. While we would like to see the development team introduce a more sizeable chunk of new land for future updates, both Fort Dawnguard and Castle Volkihar are impressive plots. Like the first time you gazed upon Bleak Falls Barrow, or entered Helgen as a prisoner, discovering these new locations is an experience to savour. There's also a visit to a realm with an entirely otherworldly feel, something that is certain to excite long-term fans.
Finding ways to utilise new abilities, all the while discovering new enemies, locations and treasures, is what makes Skyrim such an incredible gaming experience. Dawnguard keeps this tradition alive, offering a vast array of secrets and skills, which can be used whether tackling new quests or revisiting past favourites for a second or third time.
Judged purely on its merits as a piece of downloadable content, 'Dawnguard' doesn't quite live up to its rather steep 1600 Microsoft Points (£15 / $20) price tag. The plot, missions and marquee features aren't as strong as they could be, failing to leave much of an impression past the relatively brief questline. However, it's the little things that help Dawnguard capture that Skyrim magic, leaving players thirsty for more.
Copyright: Bethesda Softworks
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