Dawnguard is the long awaited DLC for Bethesda’s Nordic epic Skyrim, touting up to twenty hours of additional quest content, revamping the initially useless Vampire trait and generally giving players an excuse to return to Tamriel that didn’t require trawling through the bazillions of available mods
Before I begin this review proper, I would like to preface it by saying I spent around 110 hours in Skyrim across two characters; I spent a lot of time wandering the world and while I don’t exactly know the game inside out, both characters I ran through the DLC with were high level and well equipped. The Dawnguard quests are only available from level 10 onwards, unless you’re playing on Novice difficulty, so I would suggest not attempting them until you’ve cleared the Alduin and Civil War storylines to have a similar experience as I did with this review.
Once you hit level ten, guards and townsfolk will start mentioning the Dawnguard, a group set on eradicating vampires from the land, which gives you your first waypoint into one of the game’s new areas. This doesn’t exactly expand Skyrim in the way you might think, as both of the major new areas are tucked away in the cloudy edges of the map like a red headed stepchild (if you are a red headed step child I’m sure your parents loved you and never tucked you into the cloudy part of the map) as opposed to fully fledged expansions of the land, neither of them requiring much travelling to reach.
So, high horse at the ready, you march off to find the Dawnguard; however, the only way to begin the new content is to join them. This leaves vampire sympathisers such as me the pleasurable feeling you’re playing a double agent, creeping into their castle and taking all their gifts with one hand and hiding your cape and pointy teeth the other. They take you on, slap a crossbow in your hand, and send you on your way to prove yourself.
The Dawnguard talk about the crossbow like every shot it fires gives a mammoth new tusks, but the truth is it’s a pretty ineffectual gimmick. Individual shots are more powerful than standard bows but when you reload at half the speed of a Horker in heat you feel like screwing the ballistics and instead, hammering them into the poor creature with your brutal, Nordic fists. Skyrim archers may hope to flourish while rapidly backpedalling with the crossbow; sadly I find it is still much too slow to be effective. I desperately tried to like it because it’s just so damn cool to stalk around ruins and dungeons like you’re about to go seriously medieval on some bandits; Alas it’s the ranged weapon equivalent of premature ejaculation – you fire one shot and embarrassingly fumble around to try and save the situation.
So after your second fight, hopefully realising the crossbow will never replace its predecessor, you’ll come across a coven of vampires, murder them all, and will duly be given the choice to become the Vampire Lord. This is easily the biggest new gameplay change introduced, it’s a tremendously powerful transformation and you can perform it at any time unlike the daily werewolf Beast Form. This new form comes equipped with a fancy set of new skills for draining the life out of your enemies and making the most out of the DLC. Choosing instead to remain loyal to the Dawnguard leads to a rather lacklustre experience in comparison, but both sides of the story have their merits.
This choice is final, there’s no going back, no way of defecting again halfway through, but this is actually a good thing. It makes Dawnguard feel much tighter and finally adds a sense of urgency to the game that the Alduin storyline never had. People didn’t seem too bothered about what happened outside the main story dialogue of the initial campaign, and it made going to Valhalla to slay a mighty soul stealing, world-ending Dragon seem as epic as hoisting yourself from the sofa to get more crisps. Dawnguard feels deep, persistent, and rewarding: you feel gripped to the core story rather than distracted by peculiar caves or the substantially more interesting side quests that hampered the momentum of the main title.
In standard Skyrim fare, the game shipped with a host of irksome bugs: when you’ve just finished crawling across a huge wasteland of souls, vanquished a series of mini bosses before doing battle with a deathless Dragon, the absolute last thing you want to happen is for the NPC leading the quest to forget her role and stand rooted to the spot, immovable by any console command or physical encouragement, occasionally adding insult to injury by screaming at you to follow her as she stands completely still.
These issues can quickly break the great flow of the story, and in this particular instance I reloaded the quest three times and even began a new game, always encountering the same bug. A game that benefits so heavily from its immersion can easily lose its appeal if players find themselves battering against faulty script. Dawnguard will need an urgent patch before people start wondering why they just spent £13.99 on something that doesn’t work.
Thankfully, most annoyances are quickly forgotten when things go right. Whether you choose to follow the path of the Vampire Lord or restore the fractured Dawnguard to its former glory, this is a fresh addition to Skyrim. With over 20 hours of gameplay added, it’s more than worth your money if by some cruel happenstance you’ve managed to run out of things to do in one of modern gaming’s biggest playgrounds.
Buy it for as little as £16.99 on
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.