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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

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Skyrim's first DLC offers a broad array of quality new content that smoothly integrates into the game without feeling forced.

Being a vampire lord is all about abusing your physics powers.

Bethesda struck a certain tone with the numerous piecemeal add-ons to its recent Fallout games. Those bite-size wasteland episodes created relatively short, focused storylines that took place in discrete new environments and often compartmentalized the best facets of the core game, like exploration and player choice, that made it special to begin with. In stark contrast, Dawnguard, the first downloadable add-on for Skyrim, is more substantive and satisfying in structure and feel than any of the Fallout content. Where those add-ons were generally confined to a single new area with little or no connection to the game's original space, Dawnguard instead exists all over, inside, and around the land of Skyrim, not just adding a lengthy and well made central quest line but also sprinkling little morsels of major and minor new content into many a nook and cranny as well.

Vampires rule the central conflict of Dawnguard, as an ancient sect of especially powerful bloodsuckers has recently come back to prominence in the north of Skyrim and begun plotting to blot out the sun for all eternity. (Tamriel's vampires never have too much trouble with sunlight to begin with, but don't let that detract from the ominous threat of a neverending night.) Just a few minutes after loading a save with Dawnguard installed, you'll be approached by a courier or attacked by a roving pack of vampires, either of which informs you that the Dawnguard, the legendary league of vampire-hunters, has been reformed to fight the menace. You'll immediately head to the group's base to join up with them, and then set out to investigate the vampire lords causing all this trouble.

Dawnguard really caught my attention early on by giving me the chance to turn my back on the Dawnguard in the course of that first mission and join up with the vampires instead. While your choice of faction affects which set of quests you'll do early in the add-on's storyline, the majority of Dawnguard's plot and locations are pretty much the same either way. But who you side up with certainly affects the tone of your interactions with all the new characters, and there's a whole mess of unique side quests that go along with each faction. It's a nice, dynamic way to give you some control over the way things play out in your story, especially since it gives you a chance to take actions that sensibly correspond to the sort of good or evil character you've already played for dozens of hours in Skyrim.

Serana's got some good old family strife to deal with. Too bad her family's all vampires.

The add-on also does a great job of conforming to the state of your particular game world. I noticed several instances of characters unique to this DLC referencing what I'd done in Skyrim's main storyline, and commenting on the nature of the civil war as I'd left it in my playthrough. Some existing locations are also altered to go along with the vampires' activities. You need to be level 10 before you'll start seeing the ambient events that invite you to start the DLC content, but you'd want to be at least that high just to have developed some powers and skills to use in the new quests anyway. On the whole, Dawnguard feels well integrated with all the existing content in Skyrim, in such a way that you rarely see the seams between the two releases.

Whichever faction you choose, you'll get the chance to become a vampire lord, a new kind of super vampire that morphs you into a third-person wrecking machine similar to the existing werewolf form. The vampire lord is good for some laughs, since it has several physics-based powers that let you sling enemies around like ragdolls, and it also comes with some extremely useful powers like a teleport and enhanced night vision. But moving around in an oversized third-person creature form hasn't gotten anymore elegant than it was before--there are plenty of interior areas you can't even fit through as a vampire lord--and it takes a long time to morph into and out of, so I ended up not using the full creature form very much. (Luckily some of the ancillary powers like the night vision work in your regular form.) There's an entire perk tree devoted to expanding your vampiric powers (and another one for werewolves, if you happen to still be one of those), so if you do go in for the creature action, there's a good deal of customization to tailor your hijinks with. And it's a simple affair to cure your vampirism later if you want to try it out and then go back.

The Dawnguard quest line is anchored by the add-on's new follower Serana, a good-natured vampire daughter who struck me as one of the more fleshed-out and sympathetic characters in the whole of Skyrim. Maybe it's natural that you'd feel more attached to a character who you spend a good 10 hours with, but Serana's embroiled in some good old-fashioned family drama and delivers enough well-acted voiceover that you end up feeling pretty bad about what she's going through. (It's worth noting that you're required to keep Serana as a follower for most of the storyline, in case you just hate using followers for some reason.) The Dawnguard quest line takes you to some pretty cool new areas, including a plane of Oblivion, a decrepit old castle with some nifty environmental puzzles, and a vast frozen valley forgotten by time. I found the quest in that valley to be sort of poorly laid out, which makes it drag on longer than it should, but otherwise the quests move briskly, and the whole thing culminates in a dramatic and explosive confrontation that's flashier than most of the stuff you saw in Skyrim itself.

Fancy a trip to Oblivion?

One of the best things about the Dawnguard package to me is that it makes a bunch of big and little additions to the game even after you've dealt with the vampires. You'll come out of the main quest line with a couple of crazy items, like a bow you can shoot straight into the sun to rain hellfire down on enemies, and there's a good number of other unique items that you can uncover through side quests. (A headpiece that lets you have two standing stone effects at once, anyone?) There's at least one lengthy side quest in a unique dungeon and with an associated achievement and reward items that I'm aware of, as well as new types of armor, a new tier of "legendary" ambient dragon to fight, and some new spells and shouts to learn. Heck, I ended up with the ability to summon a spectral steed out of thin air, which is pretty great since I found managing live horses to be cumbersome in the original game. Again, this stuff is spread around the world in a way that keeps this add-on from feeling too self-contained.

Dawnguard offers far more than a self-contained episode in the Fallout vein--which it should, at double the price--but it falls just short of the scope of a traditional, pre-Internet boxed expansion pack. Still, it's a fine way to expand the already immense content offering of Skyrim, especially if you're still actively traipsing around those snowy hills in search of more adventure. If Bethesda can figure out a way to combine this style of across-the-board enhancement with a more substantial new landmass in the next inevitable Skyrim add-on, it'll really have created something special. This is already a good start.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
61 Comments
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Edited by WilltheMagicAsian

Hey a review.

Edited by InfamousBIG

Come to the PC, you motherfucker.

Also, nice review Brad.

Posted by falling_fast

hope this doesn't break the ps3 version again

Posted by Fireburst

@InfamousBIG: Agreed, needs to come to PC now. Still, happy for DLC the size of expansion packs, looking forward to trying it out whenever it shows up on PC.

Edited by Droop

Damn timed exclusives. I hope this will actually make me interested in Skyrim again.

Posted by huser

Great review, though Broken Steel For FO3 did faintly touch on the expansion to the world kind of DLC. Apparently far less ambitious, but just for pedantic clarity's sake.

Posted by Sunspots

Hmmmmm........ anyone know the size of this download?

Posted by Red

Good review, actually makes me want to get back into Skyrim, although I think I'll migrate to the PC version.

Posted by Hilfemaster

dong-guard.

Posted by Ehker

Surprised Brad ended up enjoying it so much. Didn't expect much after all the major sites I've seen hated it, but at least he took his time to review this.

Posted by Sackmanjones

Yay for timed exclusives...

Posted by FLStyle

I have some questions if someone will humour me:

  1. Can you marry Serana?
  2. What happens in the storyline if you're already a regular vampire?
  3. Do NPCs attack you on sight in your non-transformed Vampire Lord form?
Edited by 234r2we232

"All hail the Dawnguard! All hail the Dawnguard!"

Brad was going to like this regardless. What I find funny is how people still believe these Bethesda games are about the player's decisions, when ultimately nothing in the world actually changes outside of some throwaway NPC dialogue.

And don't get me started on the "freedom to explore and play the game anyway you want" when the player is punished for clearing a dungeon they stumble upon by having to do it all over again if a quest uses that particular area. Super dumb!

Posted by Vinny_Says

@FLStyle said:

I have some questions if someone will humour me:

  1. Can you marry Serana?
  2. What happens in the storyline if you're already a regular vampire?
  3. Do NPCs attack you on sight in your non-transformed Vampire Lord form?

no,

you become a super vampire,

no.

Posted by FLStyle

@Vinny_Says: Thanking you

Posted by MeatSim

I am sure I will get this when I inevitably get sucked back into Skyrim sooner or later.

Posted by GValo

Where does one find this headpiece Brad mentioned?

Posted by billthearle

@GValo: You make it in the special forge from the sidequest Lost to the Ages

Posted by GValo

@billthearle: Ahh cool. I've only done the other half so that's why I missed it. Thanks!

Posted by GullumF

Bought it today will play it soon

Posted by Encephalon

Come to PC now!

Posted by Robot_Sneakers

Nice review, I beat the vampire side of the DLC and I agree with Brad. Also I never liked followers but after having Serana through the whole set of quests she grew on me.

Posted by artgarcrunkle

Bethesda should be paying Brad for great PR he does for them.

Posted by Maurdakar

Dumb criticisms from the peanut gallery remain dumb.

A whole ton of people love love love Skyrim and most Bethesda games, get over it and go back to CoD.

Posted by Grixxel

Too bad my skyrim is on PC :|

HURRY UP ALREADY

Posted by ManMadeGod

@Sunspots said:

Hmmmmm........ anyone know the size of this download?

581.70 MB

Posted by cyraxible

I cannot take anymore Skyrim. No thank yoo

Posted by august

@sofacitysweetheart said:

And don't get me started on the "freedom to explore and play the game anyway you want" when the player is punished for clearing a dungeon they stumble upon by having to do it all over again if a quest uses that particular area. Super dumb!

Yes, what an incredibly horrible punishment.

Think of the children.

Posted by CJduke

Sounds fun, I don't care at all about being a vampire lord, but the new quests sound cool as well as the new weapons and powers. I want that bow

Posted by DancingJesus

Disagree greatly with this review.

What an incredibly disappointing DLC.

You know what Skyrim needs! More ugly caves! Surely that's what's been missing. Oh and we also need more skeletons and dragons!

Really guys? That's what you came up with? Just comes off as downright lazy.

Besides the outrageous price point, the actual content isn't even that exciting. The vampire transformation is supposed to be the selling point, but it hardly works. Want to go down a staircase? Can't! You are too tall, now wait 20 seconds to transform back into a human. Overall, it just seems really poorly implemented.

Considering how much I loved Skyrim, I can't believe how much the screwed the pooch on this one. Shivering Isles this is not...

Posted by Zippedbinders

@Maurdakar said:

Dumb criticisms from the peanut gallery remain dumb.

A whole ton of people love love love Skyrim and most Bethesda games, get over it and go back to CoD.

If you think the people who have issues with Bethesda are CoD fans, you're clearly not paying any attention.

Posted by lucianotassis

Morrowind landmass DLC coming... :)

Posted by redelectric

Brad, did you not have any problems with Dawnguard increasing load times dramatically as well as crashing the game frequently while loading? Cause that's pretty much the experience that i've been having with this DLC. I want to like it more....but it pretty much broke skyrim for me!

Posted by probablytuna

It sounds like there's a tonne of stuff to do in this DLC, can't wait to play it when it's out on PC.

Posted by ThatPrimeGuy

@probablytuna: This, I glady await its PC debut as well as what the modders will do with its content. Steam Workshop alone has kept me playing skyrim for 200+ hours and i'm sure I'll be putting in at least 50 more once this hits steam.

Posted by h83r

I'm playing through tit right now, have gotten a couple of hours into the Vampire storyline, but I was wondering, to those who have finished this DLC - How does it handle the two factions? Like, I'm going through the vampire quests right now, and when I get done with that, will the Dawnguard quests be open for me still or will I have to reload a previous save?

Posted by CrossTheAtlantic

I haven't played this, so I can't comment on the game directly. I do, however, wish Bethesda did their DLC more inline with the expansion packs of Morrowind that both expanded the world of Morrowind (by exploring other parts of the territory) and created whole new areas. I guess it's not quite the seemless integration that seems to impress Brad so much here, and there's trouble with that, in Skyrim, we're already exploring the whole province vs just a portion. Still, it'd be neat if they could get that much back to "expansion-like."

Posted by Godak

...But who guards the night?

I will continue to wait patiently for my Skyrim: Arkham Batman Batman DLC.

Posted by quimstyle

@CrossTheAtlantic: Couldn't agree more, this was less an Elder Scroll's expansion, but more an add-on.

Edited by thebigJ_A

"Never"?!? How soon we forget. Show some respect! ;) Daylight was tough on a vamp in Morrowind. (You know, the best Elder Scrolls game!). You took constant damage in the sun, and could even kill yourself by resting if the sun came up while doing it.

Clan Aundae, represent!

Edited by thebigJ_A

@Ehker said:

Surprised Brad ended up enjoying it so much. Didn't expect much after all the major sites I've seen hated it, but at least he took his time to review this.

What major sites were those? All the major sites I've seen thought it was anywhere ranging from decent to pretty great. Or are we one of those people who thinks a 75 (or equivalent) is terrible?

Posted by MikeFightNight

Kind of Skyrimmed out from playing it so much when it first came out. WIth that said I think I still might check this out when it comes out for PC, maybe not right away but eventually.

Posted by kerse

@MeatSim said:

I am sure I will get this when I inevitably get sucked back into Skyrim sooner or later.

I bought it so I could just see the new questline, and the first thing I did was craft stuff for like 2 hours. Not even new stuff, just stuff I'd been wanting to make, the second thing I did was play through a bunch of sidequests on the way to the DLC, if that gives you any indication lol.

Posted by Ehker

@thebigJ_A said:

@Ehker said:

Surprised Brad ended up enjoying it so much. Didn't expect much after all the major sites I've seen hated it, but at least he took his time to review this.

What major sites were those? All the major sites I've seen thought it was anywhere ranging from decent to pretty great. Or are we one of those people who thinks a 75 (or equivalent) is terrible?

Hate is a bit strong... just a negative perception I got after reading Joystiq and seeing the Polygonscore, but looking up metacritic it's doing alright around 70.

Posted by Grimhild

I'm really just waiting for the PC release so I can use the new assets in the CK. Teehee....

Spooky forests, engage.

Posted by RadixNegative2

I think I'll wait till it's on PC at half the price.

Posted by MariachiMacabre

@h83r said:

I'm playing through tit right now, have gotten a couple of hours into the Vampire storyline, but I was wondering, to those who have finished this DLC - How does it handle the two factions? Like, I'm going through the vampire quests right now, and when I get done with that, will the Dawnguard quests be open for me still or will I have to reload a previous save?

No, the Dawnguard are hostile as soon as they see you, as long as you're a Vampire Lord and there are actually random encounters where they will show up and attack you. Even in a major city. Not sure if you could do it if you cured yourself but I doubt it because it wraps itself up pretty definitively. And after playing as a full power Vampire Darth Vader, you won't want to cure yourself.

Edited by jasonefmonk

Great review, Brad! I'm getting close to the 400 hour mark so I will definitely download this up when it hits PSN in a few weeks.

So far the patches have been good, with the new DLC they seem to be getting better. I hope they keep coming for a long time.

Posted by Xymox

Nice read. I burned out after about 130 or so hours, so it might be nice to grab this and jump back into the game for a bit.

Posted by Dan_CiTi

@thebigJ_A said:

"Never"?!? How soon we forget. Show some respect! ;) Daylight was tough on a vamp in Morrowind. (You know, the best Elder Scrolls game!!). You took constant damage in the sun, and could even kill yourself by resting if the sun came up while doing it.

Clan Aundae, represent!

Yeah, in III and IV it was bad, being a vampire was very bogus in those games. Dawngaurd seems to make it actually fun though.

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