The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Dawnguard DLC Review

By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Jul 05, 2012

Dawnguard, the first DLC for Skyrim, promises to deliver a truckload of new content, but is it enough to give Skyrim fans a fresh set of legs? Find out in our Dawnguard review.

The Pros
  • Vampire and werewolf perk trees add depth to those roles
  • Fun, world-saving plot with awesome rewards
  • Crossbows!
The Cons
  • Vampire/werewolf transformations are often more trouble than they're worth
  • Lots of by-the-numbers fetch quests
  • New locations aren't very exciting
  • Nothing fresh here; it's basically just more Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim Dawnguard Review:

Remember when Shivering Isles came out? It was the DLC expansion for The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion that sent players to the realm of the Mad God, Sheogorath. The new landscape was brimming over with personality and its own unique identity. It set a standard against which all future Elder Scrolls DLC would be measured, and it's the standard we can't help but apply to Bethesda's newly released Skyrim DLC, Dawnguard.

That's really too bad. Dawnguard doesn't deliver nearly as much fresh content as its Oblivion predecessor did, but it very successfully manages to serve up a bigger helping of Skyrim for those who have scoured every inch of Tamriel's snowy north. The big strike against Dawnguard is that it isn't always as polished as it could be, and not in the fun "dragons flying backwards" kind of way.



Play Up The Positive

Let's start with the good though. Dawnguard is essentially Skyrim's take on a vampire adventure, highlighted by a new faction questline in which players must make an either/or decision to ally with the vampires or with the Dawnguard warriors that hunt them. In truth, the narrative eventually rises above the A vs. B squabble to make way for a proper world-saving (or world-ruining) plot. It's a fun diversion, roughly 10 hours per faction if you focus your energy on the main story and nothing else.

A couple of sizable new locations are introduced in the process, including an Oblivion realm and a forgotten vale (literally called "Forgotten Vale"), but nothing that necessitates the addition of a new quick travel map. Actually, I take that back. A quick travel map would have been quite helpful for visits to the Soul Cairn, the aforementioned Oblivion realm, but there's unfortunately none to be found.

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Added locations are always welcome, but the sense of discovery that is so essential to the Elder Scrolls series feels decidedly muted as you explore them. The Soul Cairn in particular is brimming with unrealized potential. There's so much ground to be covered in the shadowy realm, with crumbling ruins and rock formations dotting the landscape. And yet all you're really doing there is running around on a series of fetch quests.


Go Get This Wizard A Glass Of Merlot

This is actually true of the DLC as a whole, as much of the questing that you're doing feels like it could have been pulled from an MMO. Find 10 pages! Recover three Elder Scrolls! Gather water from the five wayshrines! For so much of the time in Dawnguard you're simply watching one more number tick off on a counter. In some ways it feels like a betrayal of what an Elder Scrolls game ought to be.

Apart from the story, there are also the expected assortment of new side quests, weapons (crossbows!), monsters, and the like. The biggest addition, however -- a Vampire Lord form and perk trees for vampires and werewolves -- is also the one that is most fraught with problems.

The perk trees themselves are fine and well thought out. Most players will already have 100+ hours invested into Skyrim by the time they pick up Dawnguard, so instead of tying altered form perks to experience levels, Bethesda tied them to each form's monstrous abilities. Draining life as a vampire or feasting on corpses as a werewolf increases your progress meter for the associated perk tree. It's an elegant solution that would make using these secondary forms all that much more enjoyable if the actual transformations weren't such a pain to deal with.


Same as with werewolves, switching to your Vampire Lord form locks you into a third-person perspective and limits your access to things like the quick travel map and inventory. Putting aside the fact that this doesn't really make logical sense -- werewolves are slavering beasts, sure, but you'd think that a Vampire Lord could maintain its ability to reason and read maps -- it's also a pain when you factor in the lengthy transformation animations.

What's more, Vampire Lords also sport a heftier build that prevents them from walking through many doorways and low-clearance corridors. Once again, there's little logical sense here. Werewolves may be creatures of nature, but vampires prowl in the dark recesses of the world. It's more than a little ridiculous that these all-powerful entities can be halted completely in a cave by an inability to crouch down slightly.


Living Up To The Hype

All of this amounts to a content-packed but ultimately rather disappointing first crack at Skyrim DLC for Bethesda. I can't help but think back to Shivering Isles. Forget the fact that it added a whole new continent to the game; there was also just a basic level of polish and completeness to it that feels absent here. Dawnguard still offers 10+ hours of Skyrim-y joy to the hardcore fan, but the mechanical faults coupled with the absent sense of discovery make it less of an accomplishment than it could have been.