Hi guys! Despite the evidence of your senses, my blog is not strictly Elder Scrolls themed, but I thought I would do something nice for my PS3 and PC brethren by giving a spoiler-free review of the new DLC expansion for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which if you have been away from the internet since a month before E3 is called Dawnguard.
Let’s start with the integration into the existing game. I think that, with the exception of a few blips where vampire attacks on towns (a new feature I actually like) will happen before you hit the level to start the quests, the integration is smooth. There are new enemy types within old enemy types who will appear in pre-existing dungeons. My primary example is female Falmer and “Falmer Warmongers” who wear a new heavy armor variant. I am told that pre-existing vampire caves are also re, aha, “vamped” to include gargoyles and death hounds, two new enemy types that I enjoy fighting, but I have not yet seen this firsthand. Two new dragon types, revered and legendary, now appear at high levels. They use a new Shout, which you too can learn, that drains vitality. Both types look very visually interesting and are fun to fight.
So lets talk, now that the integration is done, about plot and setting. As the ad campaign stated, there are two factions, the Volkihar vampires clan that was formerly just a name in a book and the Dawnguard, an order of vampire hunters. The expansion invariably starts you off with the Dawnguard themselves. They are led by Isran, a Redguard so extreme in his methods of vampire hunting that even the resident extremists from the vanilla game, the Vigilant of Stendarr, think he’s what we would call “a bit weird for vampire hunting.” The first quest sets up the initial choice. After finding a mysterious vampire woman named Serana in a cave, you bring her back to Castle Volkihar where her father Harkon offers you the full power of a Vampire Lord. This “blessing” will wash your blood clean of lycanthropy, should you have it, and start you along the path of a night walker.
I, being the goody two-shoes that I am, chose the Dawnguard side, using a werewolf character. I do not know how different the two sides are, so I will not speak to that. However, the adventure truly begins, and I shut up because of spoilers, when Serana seeks you out at Fort Dawnguard itself to ask your aid.
The new locations are great. Fort Dawnguard looks like a huge, imposing and well-equipped stronghold when it is restored and Castle Volkihar is a dark and threatening place in the mists of the far north. You can almost feel the oppressive stuffy heat and stench of blood when you walk into the latter.
Of the two “large” new worldspaces only one was given much attention in the ad campaign so it will be the only one I’ll name: the Soul Cairn, returning at last for the first time since Battlespire, is a dim and creepy place. The unsettling and spooky aesthetic is spot-on for the place where the Ideal Masters, mysterious and powerful beings, lord themselves over those who were foolish enough to try to trick them. As for the other new locale, I will say only that it is beautiful and sad, and that the new music drives the sadness yet farther.
Now last but not least, character. Whatever you wind up thinking of Serana, she is an actual character with likes, dislikes, insecurities and flaws. This is important, because most of vanilla Skyrim’s followers were no more fleshed than every other NPC. That was enough for random aquaintances and passers-by, and some of the non-follower characters like Ulfric and Paarthurnax actually did have a lot of really good moments that happened off-screen, but if Bethesda is going to have character moments for NPCs and have follower characters those two groups would do best to overlap heavily. Just as long as the option to explore alone stays. Personally, I really like this development because it shows that Bethesda can tell a personal story, and have the follower’s story strongly effect that of your own main character, while still telling a great world-scale story that is heavily reliant on pre-existing series lore.
So I say if you have an xbox, get it immediately. If you don’t, I highly suggest that when it comes out on PS3 and PCs you get it. It is very close to Bloodmoon for Morrowind on my scale of “how much I like this Elder Scrolls expansion.”