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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.
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.
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?
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+
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Avatar image for sathingtonwaltz
Posted By SathingtonWaltz

@Hashbrowns said:

So I waited until about mid December to start playing Skyrim, but it's still the game I play the most, more than half a year later. Dawnguard's release was perfectly timed, coming out just as I wrapped up the last of the major guild quests. I'm over 200 hours in, and still can't get enough. It's fun to just walk through the game world, seeing what's behind the next mountain, even absent of any combat whatsoever. How many games are enjoyable on that level alone?

I hate to be hyperbolic, but there really isn't anything like Skyrim, and it is easily the most robust game I've played this generation. And so far, Dawnguard has only enhanced that status.

I feel you. When you do eventually get burned out on Skyrim, check out some of the older installments in the series. Granted, it certainly is hard to go back to those older graphics, especially those of Morrowind. Morrowind actually looks fine, but it's draw distance is really short even at max. You just never get a grand sense of the environment because of that.

Avatar image for hashbrowns
Posted By Hashbrowns

So I waited until about mid December to start playing Skyrim, but it's still the game I play the most, more than half a year later. Dawnguard's release was perfectly timed, coming out just as I wrapped up the last of the major guild quests. I'm over 200 hours in, and still can't get enough. It's fun to just walk through the game world, seeing what's behind the next mountain, even absent of any combat whatsoever. How many games are enjoyable on that level alone?

I hate to be hyperbolic, but there really isn't anything like Skyrim, and it is easily the most robust game I've played this generation. And so far, Dawnguard has only enhanced that status.

Avatar image for kyleea
Edited By KyleEA

i see 4/5 stars yet nothing bad said in the review. seems like a star was arbitrarily left out of the score, backed by nothing to me, unless you count "but it falls just short of the scope of a traditional, pre-Internet boxed expansion pack," an opinion which Brad only recognizes as negative because of the add-ons price level. If it were 5 or 10 dollars cheaper it would have gotten 5/5 stars? i hate when price factors into a review. guess it's normal though.

Avatar image for mercurialau
Posted By mercurialau

PC please.

Avatar image for laserbolts
Posted By laserbolts

Wish I had the points but 1600 is alot.

Avatar image for godlyawesomeguy
Posted By Godlyawesomeguy

@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!

If I remember correctly, this was also the case in The Elder Scrolls IV.

Avatar image for aounslaught
Posted By Aounslaught

@MariachiMacabre: Aaah. Thank you for the answer. The biggest reason why I was hoping the game will let me do both in one playthrough is because leveling up skills is such a grind at this point for me and it just seems like a waste of time because I'll need a secondary save on the same character. First world problems...

Avatar image for dedbeet
Posted By DedBeet

@Ehker said:

@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.

From podcasts I've heard and some things I've read, it seems that the trend is to turn on Skyrim at this point, same as I've seen with Oblivion and Fallout 3. Seems that Bethesda's games blows every one's mind at launch but, in the long run, some people seem to remember the flaws more than the things they loved at the time. Perhaps it's a side effect of how long one has to spend in their worlds to play through the games? Don't know, but I'm loving Dawnguard and look forward to whatever else DLC they have planned.

Avatar image for corvak
Posted By Corvak

Looking forward to it!

Between owning a powerful gaming PC, mods, and Xbox 360 stuff just costing more in Canada, I went for the Steam version, but I am glad to hear this pack seems worth it's price.

Avatar image for druminator
Posted By Druminator

Sounds good!

Avatar image for dropabombonit
Posted By dropabombonit

I kind of burned myself out on Skyrim by playing too much of it. Good to know when I decide to come back to it that there is great DLC for it

Avatar image for dan_citi
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.

Avatar image for xymox
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.

Avatar image for jasonefmonk
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.

Avatar image for mariachimacabre
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.

Avatar image for radixnegative2
Posted By RadixNegative2

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

Avatar image for grimhild
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.

Avatar image for ehker
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.

Avatar image for kerse
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.

Avatar image for mikefightnight
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.

Avatar image for thebigj_a
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?

Avatar image for thebigj_a
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!

Avatar image for quimstyle
Posted By quimstyle

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

Avatar image for godak
Posted By Godak

...But who guards the night?

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

Avatar image for crosstheatlantic
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."

Avatar image for aounslaught
Posted By Aounslaught

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?

Avatar image for thatprimeguy
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.

Avatar image for probablytuna
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.

Avatar image for redelectric
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!

Avatar image for lucianotassis
Posted By lucianotassis

Morrowind landmass DLC coming... :)

Avatar image for zippedbinders
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.

Avatar image for dancingjesus
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...

Avatar image for cjduke
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

Avatar image for august
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.

Avatar image for cyraxible
Posted By cyraxible

I cannot take anymore Skyrim. No thank yoo

Avatar image for manmadegod
Posted By ManMadeGod

@Sunspots said:

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

581.70 MB

Avatar image for grixxel
Posted By Grixxel

Too bad my skyrim is on PC :|

HURRY UP ALREADY

Avatar image for maurdakar
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.

Avatar image for artgarcrunkle
Posted By artgarcrunkle

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

Avatar image for robot_sneakers
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.

Avatar image for shadypingu
Posted By ShadyPingu

Come to PC now!

Avatar image for gullumf
Posted By GullumF

Bought it today will play it soon

Avatar image for gvalo
Posted By GValo

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

Avatar image for billthearle
Posted By billthearle

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

Avatar image for gvalo
Posted By GValo

Where does one find this headpiece Brad mentioned?

Avatar image for meatsim
Posted By MeatSim

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

Avatar image for flstyle
Posted By FLStyle

@Vinny_Says: Thanking you

Avatar image for vinny_says
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.

Avatar image for 234rqsd2323d2
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!

Avatar image for flstyle
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?
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