X360A Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dawnguard

Dan Webb

I'll admit it now. Since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim launched last November, the retail disc hasn't touched my disc drive. I guess when you plough 130 hours into a game in ten days, you’re going to burn yourself out, right? Correct! Skyrim’s Dawnguard is therefore a perfect excuse for me, and many others, to enter back into the world of Tamriel to tackle another threat – and net some more achievements in the process. Boom!

The main questline in Dawnguard is very reminiscent of the main questlines – in terms of length - from the retail version of Skyrim. It’s a little bit more engrossing than say the Thieves’ Guild, but doesn’t really match the dizzy heights set by the always-impressive Dark Brotherhood questline. In Dawnguard, Dovahkiin is tasked with stepping up to assist with the ongoing vampire threat in Skyrim. Well, being an Elder Scrolls game, that’s entirely up to you, actually. You can side with the Dawnguard and take it to the Vampire Lord, Harkon, or you can side with Harkon, embrace the vampire lifestyle and look to get rid of the sun once and for all.

To call Dawnguard DLC is actually a bit of an insult to the sheer wealth of content and effort that’s gone into the questline. In fact, the new areas and amount of new material in this Skyrim expansion puts a lot of retail games to shame. With a new Vampire Lord state, a new crossbow, as well as the ability to level up your Werewolf or Vampire state, there’s enough content to tempt people back. That said, if you’re like me and you don’t want to taint your Skyrim world, chances are you’ll probably side with the Dawnguard and find yourself adventuring in your human state, which almost defeats the object. Somewhat.

I will say, however, the only real problem is that the new environments don’t really distinguish themselves all too much from the full game’s familiar counterparts, meaning arctic tundras and dank caves are back in abundance. Sure, the new dimensional world, Soul Cairn, is all-new and inhabited with new enemies and side-quests, but the dimension itself is more of a wasteland with too much nothingness rather than anything else.

The missions themselves are nothing special in truth – get this, kill that, find this – but then again, they were fairly run of the mill in Skyrim for the most part. However, the setting, the story and everything else makes the experience truly feel like a part of the main game, but with a new narrative. One of the larger missions in the main questline does suffer from a distinct lack of waypoints and assistance along the way, which can be frustrating, but other than that, it was plain sailing. Yet the fact that the mission in question has a pair of dragons that dive through ice-covered lakes and dart out of them, we’ll forgive the lack of direction.

Perhaps one of the most interesting – and lengthy for that matter – quests was actually a side quest, with plenty of different and more interesting aspects enticing you to catch the end of this separate piece of narrative. That said, for high-level characters, most of the DLC is a bit of a breeze. My level 50, level 100 archer was taking down the new Frost Giants with two arrows and tearing through almost everyone else with merely a single bolt. There’s no real reward at the end of it either, with the main weapon we worked towards being about half as powerful as our current bow. D’oh.

In terms of achievements, they’re a pretty good list for the most part. There’s main story achievements, a side-quest achievement, some for levelling up the Werewolf and Vampire perk trees – which you can do in one playthrough, provided you didn’t kill Aela the Huntress – and a few other quirky ones too. The one that’ll frustrate most players is finding and destroying a legendary dragon though, which is rumoured to come around only when you’re at level 70-75. Now, considering I’ve been a level 50/51 for the last 50 hours in Skyrim, that’ll never be attainable for the likes of me, who plays how he wants, but has levelled up all he needs to max and thus won’t level up anymore. Is that a design fault? I think so, but it’s one we’ll just have to live with.

See, we’re over it already.

In terms of value for money, Dawnguard is an unmitigated success, offering at least a good 15 hours of gameplay for a mere 1600 Microsoft Points ($20). That's better value than most retail games, for a fraction of the price. It does seem like an odd fit though, seeing as there’s so much content in Skyrim in the first place, half of us won’t even scratch the surface of the game. It would have been nice to venture into new worlds and see vastly different environments with incredibly different set-pieces, but that's not really the case. Even Soul Cairn is a pretty lifeless husk of a world. Stunning, yes, but hardly appealing. So while Dawnguard is a typically enjoyable Skyrim romp, it's hardly an inspiring adventure. Still, any chance to jump back into Skyrim and enjoy another 15 hours or so of brand new gameplay, well, that’s just fine by us.

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