The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim "Dawnguard" Hands-on Preview from E3 2012 -- Batborn RisesBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Jun 12, 2012
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim will get a little bit bigger in a few weeks when Bethesda releases Dawnguard, the first major DLC drop for 2011's open-world RPG. You've seen the revealing gameplay trailer and in all likelihood signed up for the upcoming beta test, but wouldn't you like to hear a few more specifics about what can be expected from the upcoming download pack?
A select few members of the media were given hands-on access to a portion of the pack in a behind closed doors demo at Bethesda's E3 2012 booth. The session started a few hours into the roughly 15-hour long DLC, with the player character already held tightly in the grip of the pack's reformulated take on vampirism and about to embark on a quest into a realm of Oblivion known as the Soul Cairn.
I'm going to keep this write-up as spoiler-free as possible, but suffice to say that the events of the DLC's story make accompanying the vampire Serana on a trip to the Soul Cairn a necessity. While you'll find some new ground to explore on Skyrim's main map in Dawnguard--to the north and west of Solitude--the Soul Cairn offers another significant chunk of real estate for you to visit, though one that appears to be lacking its own, discrete fast travel map.
We'll get to the Oblivion plane in a moment, but first I want to tell you a bit more about being a vampire in Dawnguard. Your transformation in the DLC turns you into a vampire lord, which allows you to assume a secondary form complete with its own set of powers. It's similar to how being a werewolf works, only with a few additional quirks.
The winged alternate vampire lord form--you can see it clearly in the Dawnguard gameplay trailer--is only playable in a third-person perspective. It has two basic modes of attack: the default, in which you can smack around enemies using the left and right triggers, and a more magically powered option, which you activate by clicking in the left analog stick, as you would to go into sneak mode as a human.
Clicking the analog stick while in vampire lord form causes your avatar to start levitating a foot or two above the ground. Any powers that you assign to left and right triggers are usable here. The vampire now has a dedicated perk tree, with more abilities unlocking as you suck the blood out of an increasing number of victims. The werewolf is also similarly boosted with a new perk tree that levels up as you feed on corpses, but it didn't factor into the E3 demo.
The vampire lord starts with the Drain Life and Reanimate Dead abilities, but an increasing array of powers unlock as it levels up. One of your early basic attacks is Vampiric Grip, which pulls an enemy close while dealing out choking damage. Later on in the tree you'll be able to perform a variety of other vampire-y feats: summon gargoyles, assume an invulnerable, healing mist form, rely on supernatural reflexes to slow down time, and wrap yourself in a cloak of bats that automatically feed on enemies in melee range. There's also a "bats" power that takes the place of sprint, allowing you to zip around quickly by turning into a flock of bats.
And yes, that particular ability is just as awesome as it sounds, though the range only covers relatively short distances.
The Soul Cairn is much darker than any of the fiery planes of Oblivion that you visited in The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. There's a bluish-purple pall cast over everything and lots of half-destroyed stone structures scattered about. Your goal in this realm is to visit a castle in the central area, though you'll need to complete a quest in order to bring down the barrier that surrounds it.
There's more to do in the Soul Cairn than the main quest path as well. While exploring, I meet up with a spirit named Jiub who doesn't seem to realize at first that he's dead. He's a narcissist who has written and lost a book that runs through his life story; it's up to you in this "Impatience of a Saints" quest to seek out his 10 missing pages.
The Soul Cairn hides other surprises as well. A load screen info notice mentions that a dragon named Durnehviir roams around the realm. At one point, I also spot a black-colored skeletal horse spitting out purple flame behind it. There are also soul fissures scattered throughout the landscape; interact with one of these while you have an empty soul gem in your inventory and you'll automatically fill it.
I also use the many fighting opportunities that the Soul Cairn presents me with to sample the DLC's new weapon: the crossbow. Unlike the standard bows, the crossbow has the ability to fire off a shot immediately once it's loaded. The reload time isn't as long as it could be, but there's definitely a bit of a wait after you squeeze off a shot. It's a welcome addition to the game, bringing a unique, new flavor to your arsenal.
There's plenty that I didn't get to see during the E3 demo, but the bits I tried felt very promising. For those who are fighting off the sadness of not getting into Bethesda's Dawnguard beta, take heart in the knowledge that you'll be getting a lot of content for your $20 investment when the DLC is released in a few weeks.