There are few games of recent memory that I have sunk as much time into as I have Skyrim. Sure I have a few playthroughs of Mass Effect 3 but the total playtime doesn’t come anywhere close to my 100 plus hour Skyrim save. From that perspective the Dawnguard DLC add an additional 8-12 hours of playtime depending on how far into the game your save is.
The Dawnguard content can be accessed after level 10 by either talking to a town guard or being approached by a member of the Dawnguard. For those starting with a low level character the total playtime will be much longer and will run somewhat parallel to the Skyrim’s main story.
While the vampire genre has been done to death in recent years, Dawnguard’s vampire centric storyline feels like a natural part of the Elder Scrolls lore. Vampires have always seemed to be minor characters within the narrative of Skyrim and it is great to see an expanded story centered around them.
The story that you choose to follow has two branching paths: either join an ancient league of vampire hunters known as the Dawnguard or join the ranks of immortal vampires who want to destroy the sun. Both stories have their ups and downs but only the vampire side gives you a new form. As opposed to being a boring old vampire you now have the option to become a vampire lord. As with the werewolf ability, your Skyrim character can now transform into a half man-half bat creature that looks like it just flew straight out of hell. Along with this new form are some cool new powers like the ability to turn into a cloud of bats, fly around the countryside and even feed on humans by using an unholy death grip.
Both werewolves and vampires are given new skill trees that allow them to upgrade and expand their powers. While the Skyrim requires you to level up in order to put a point into a traditional skill tree, the vampire and werewolf skill trees require you to feed on human blood or eat their corpses.
The story and quests available for both vampire lords and vampires hunters are a lot of fun but the best thing about the Dawguard DLC is the epic scripted moments. Littered throughout some seriously large and expansive dungeons are battles that rival some of the most climactic moments of any Skyrim quest. There is one moment in particular that stands out as a highlight of the Dawnguard DLC. After journey up the side of a mountain I had to cross a frozen lake to get to the next checkpoint. Little did I know two ancient dragons lurked below the ice and proceeded to break through and attack. While two dragons may be hard to handle at once, both dragons continually dove through the ice and tried to come back up directly below my feet. It is one of a few epic moments that make Dawnguard a great piece of content for Skyrim.
Unfortunately some of these epic moments are tarnished by a slow frame rate. During the final climactic battle my frame rate really dropped when there were dozens of enemies fighting on screen at once. The slow frame rate at certain points in the campaign and some serious clipping issues are the only mechanical issues I identified. While there were some minor problems with the story and character logic the overall story and presentation was exactly the kind of experience I wanted from this DLC.
My ability to recommend this DLC largely hinges upon your personal preference for Skyrim quests and whether or not you are tired of vampires. From a lore standpoint I believe this DLC is a must. There are also a ton of new weapons and abilities that will definitely enhance the core Skyrim gameplay. The amount of quests, expansive dungeons, new characters and new weapons are well worth the $20 price of the DLC.
This review is based on a downloadable copy of the 360 version of Skyrim: Dawnguard.