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Skyrim: Dawnguard Review

by Matthew F. Hibben

Skyrim’s first Expansion, Dawnguard, has just been released.  With the initial release doing so well for Bethesda, over half a billion in sales, Dawnguard has huge shoes to fill.  This Game Tech article reviews Dawnguard and explores the pros and cons of this installment.

The Story

Dawnguard begins during or slightly after the events of Skyrim, depending on how far into the primary campaign the player is.  The central conflict of Dawnguard is struggle between the Dawnguard forces and a powerful vampire coven.  The story begins with the player receiving an invite to join the Dawnguard forces but quickly gives the player the option to switch sides (to the vampires) after a few quest parts.  For the purposes of this play-through I decided to side with the vampires as I had not actually become one while playing Skyrim.  The story itself, at least the primary quest chain, is engaging with the same type quality voiceovers and scripted events fans of Skyrim have come to expect.

The Setting

The Dawnguard Expansion takes place within the Map of Skyrim, and to my surprise the blocked off routes leading in and out of Skyrim were not utilized. 

New explorable areas are instanced, meaning that for the most part they are not areas players can explore via the main map.  Many new landmarks like the Dawnguard Castle, the vampire’s coven, and an otherworldly realm called Soul Cairn are places players can explore through the expansion. Soul Cairn is similar to Blackreach in that it is a large explorable region, however it doesn’t have nearly the expansive feel or sense of completeness.  While Soul Cairn seems incomplete; the concept behind it is interesting, a receptacle for the souls including those we use as soul shards.

New Features

Many new features come with the expansion including a new weapon type “Crossbow”, a new tier of craft-able weapons “Dragonbone”, a new Perk system for Vampire Form, many new vampire only abilities, and some new monster types.

The crossbow is a new weapon type in Dawnguard, after arriving at the Dawnguards’ castle.  The crossbow itself is a cool new weapon with a well designed animation, and my only problem with this new weapon type is that you cannot create other versions of it like Daedric, which severely limits use of them due to poor damage.  In addition to the crossbow, there are also many new craftable items, including arrows of all types and Dragonbone weapons.  The Dragonbone weapons are a damage boost compared to the previously best in slot Daedric, however I feel they could have done more to design the models, as they feel phoned in.  In addition to the new weapons added are crafted arrows, which are available in all varieties up to Dragonbone.

Vampire Lord (VL) form is a new morph similar to that of werewolf form.  The VL has both a large array of abilities as well as a Perks system to learn more.  The VL perk system improves the way normal skills do, as players kills NPC’s through Blood Magic or by bites their skill bar increases and rewards Perk points which can be spent to improve the VL’s skill set.  The VL form itself is impressive and well rendered with a host of cool abilities.  It’s important to note that you can only play the VL in third person.

My problem with VL form comes from implementation.  While in VL form the player cannot loot items from both fallen enemies or from chests/items in the environment, or interact with friendly NPC’s. 

To compound this problem of environment interaction is the fact that it is very cumbersome to switch between forms, primarily switching back into human form from VL.  The ability to switch into VL form is treated just as any other power (while in human form) which is tied to the powers keybind or controller, however while in VL form the power to switch back cannot be saved, and always seems to revert to a different ability, so switching back into human form always takes UI navigation to complete.  Personally I think the ideal implementation for VL form is to give it a set keybind like Stealth, so that players can quickly switch back and forth. 

Final Thoughts

While Dawnguard has a number of issues that really irritate me, I still think it has potential for being a good first expansion.  If Bethesda can roll out some patches to improve the functionality of the VL class as well as touching up some of the more hurried graphical issues, then I can see Dawnguard really being a positive and enjoyable experience.

Dawnguard Review Video

  • 1.
    The Story
  • 2.
    New Features
  • 3.
    Features Cont.
  • 4.
    Vampire Lord
  • 5.
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