Skyrim: Dawnguard: The Kotaku Review

I had very high expectations for Skyrim: Dawnguard. How could I not? Creator Bethesda touted it as the type of DLC that would feel like an expansion pack, a nice chunk of crazy new content for RPG fans to dig their dragon-weary paws into. And of course, Skyrim was one of last year's best video games. I spent some 80 hours exploring and inhabiting its massive, secret-filled world.

So when I popped in Dawnguard, I expected it to wow me. I expected amazing new environments, crazy new plot lines, whole new cities to see and slaughter. I expected to be utterly blown away.

Here's what you should know about Dawnguard, which Bethesda released earlier this week for Xbox 360 (and will release later for PC and PlayStation 3): It adds two divergent faction lines to the game. One has you allying with a castle full of vampires; the other has you hunting down and killing those vampires. Both stories task you with acquiring a MacGuffin or three, which means you'll have to run around the world map through locations both new and old, mashing your trigger buttons and sniffing through caves on your quest to Save The World Again.

Skyrim: Dawnguard

Developer: Bethesda

Platforms: Xbox 360 (played), PC, PlayStation 3

Released: June 26 (Xbox 360), Later (PC, PlayStation 3)

Type of game: RPG DLC

What I played: Spent close to 15 hours finishing the vampire quest line. Took my time. Explored the world. You know: Skyrim stuff.

Two Things I Loved

  • Having an excuse to revisit the world of Skyrim.
  • The vampire quest's new follower, whose name and nature I won't spoil. She's awesome.

Two Things I Didn't

  • Vast quests could have more action.
  • Bugginess

Dawnguard also fills Skyrim with a handful of other quests, tasks, and random scenarios. As a vampire, I found myself constantly accosted by the eponymous vamp-slaying Dawnguard, who would suddenly pop up in every city I visited, tracking me down like I had an iPhone. This protagonist-detecting ESP seems limited to the computer. While playing as a Dawnguard, you are instead just chased by psychic vampires (some of whom will apparently kill random NPCs everywhere you go).

Because of this DLC's nature, I should admit that I definitely haven't seen everything it has to offer. Although I finished the vampire side of Dawnguard's main story and saw a few of its new sidequests, I did not scour every location in the game in search of new content, and therefore it's very possible that I missed some awesome features.

New quests: other than a few cool new concepts -- like murdering a civilian while wearing Dawnguard armour so everybody thinks the Dawnguard did it -- you've seen everything here before. Go here; find this; kill him; get that. There's nothing here as unabashedly awesome as, say, a certain quest at the end of the original game's Dark Brotherhood plot line.

New areas: one, Soul Cairn, is just a soul-stuffed clone of Skyrim's Blackreach. It's big, purple and completely empty. To finish its quests, you'll have to spend a lot of time walking through vast stretches of sheer nothingness. You'll have to fight a mini-boss, walk 10 minutes through nothingness, fight another mini-boss, walk another 10 minutes through nothingness and so forth. This is not particularly fun, interesting, or emotionally engaging. Neither is the part where somebody asks you to hunt down 10 pieces of paper and you just groan, wondering if you've accidentally stumbled into an MMORPG.

The new vampire powers: you can't use potions or spells while in Vampire Mode, and worst of all, you're stuck in third-person perspective. Teleporting around as a swarm of bats and draining enemies' life is cool, but completely impractical for regular use. To use items, open chests, and get through some doors, you'll have to switch back to human form, which means you'll have to sit through a long, laggy animation sequence before you can do anything. This is very irritating.

Other than this ridiculous moment toward the beginning of the game, Dawnguard's many bugs and glitches couldn't even get me to crack a smile. Particularly unfunny was the part where my follower suddenly disappeared and I had to replay an hour of progress because I couldn't activate the next quest trigger.

Keen-eyed Bethesda fans might notice that some of the game's new features draw from the Skyrim game jam that Todd Howard discussed at DICE earlier this year, and indeed, interesting mechanics like water currents, dark dungeons, and skeletal mounts are all in there. But they're all minor moments. The game jam itself was far more interesting than any of Dawnguard's new content.

If I had to summarise Dawnguard in two words, it would be this: more Skyrim. For many people, that's enough -- and if you're in that boat, you should most definitely get your hands on this DLC.

But if you wanted something special, something unique, something that could give you that feeling of giddiness you got the first time you entered Bethesda's hulking role-playing game and started exploring its caves and cities, then you might want to look wait for Skyrim: Game of the Year Edition.


    Bethesda makes mediocre DLC at best, look at most of the Fallout add ons for proof.

      Mmm. I didn't even like Skyrim lol.

      You serious? The only FO3 addon that sucked was Anchorage. All the other ones were bloody awesome.

      Also, crossbows. I'll be getting it because of the crossbows.

        Nah, the pitt sucked too, as did dead money, honest hearts and lonesome road in new vegas.
        I liked broken steel cos it let me keep playing, but the only one I really enjoyed was old world blues.
        I agree most of there DLC is average or crappy

          Most of those are from Obsidian, not Bethesda. If Bagmup was talking about F:NV DLCs then yeah, I totally agree, they all suck. But they didn't make the FO3 DLCs, and Bethesda didn't make the F:NV DLCs.

            So wrong - honest hearts, Lonesome road and OWB are great.

          Also, the Pitt was my favourite DLC, and Old World Blues was in my opinion one of the worst things produced for a Fallout game, so our opinions clearly differ :P

        +1 Point Lookout was awesome

    Sounds awesome to me, More Skyrim is exactly what I want! If it takes you 100+ hours and an expansion pack to see that you don't like the Skyrim formula of play, than there is something very wrong with you.

    For me it has very rarely been about main missions it has always been about loosing your self within the world.

    Shivering isles was great, strange new environment, new art, crazy quests, interesting cast etc. It's a pity this doesn't live up to it.

    There'll be more DLC. This looks ok, but I reckon I still have another 50hrs of vanilla Skyrim and my pile of shame before I get it.

    Well, that's disappointing. I was at least hoping for a bit of grandeur.

    The cross bow is fun but you get punished if you take the vampire path as only dawnguards can buy/learn to craft them. It means you have to search each dawnguard you kill in hopes they have a few bolts.
    I agree the vampire powers are a bit underwhelming. I love the transform into the vampire form but I constantly feel like I'm being punished for it. The transformation animation is long so if you have companions along (as you have to in a couple of quests) they'll kill everything before I finish transforming. Has also made the xbox version a more unstable. I keep getting really bad freezes.

      Installing Dawnguard totally scrambled my Skyrim (PC), to the point it was crashing every five minutes or so. Some people have no problem with it, but if you aren't one of those lucky people, you will curse the day you heard of it.

    The ending was incredibly underwhelming for me particularly as I was just trying to 'get it over with' near the end of the DLC.

    The new environments are probably the most visually impressive in Skyrim, but aren't particularly fun play-spaces.

    OP is crazy! Horse Armour was THE BEST!

    This guy obviously never took his dear sweet time to actually read about what to expect from this DLC... I read and researched about this DLC well before a month of its release on the Xbox 360 and had no problem when it arrived. Loved it. Well worth $20. Most games that come out today are $60 and have only 8 hours of game content/story. This DLC provides 10-20 hours of content for just $20. Heck of a deal. End of story.

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