March 25, 2013
With vampire attacks on the rise in Skyrim, a faction of old vampire hunters called the Dawnguard have re-established themselves in the region and are looking for new recruits. Players soon find themselves as the central figure to the Dawnguard's eradication of all vampires and the vampiric faction's plans to attain a mythical weapon to forever blot out the sun, leaving the world at their mercy.
It's entirely up to the player which team they want to bat for, but be forewarned that they both largely follow the same path. It's a bit of a shame, but since this is downloadable content the developers can be somewhat forgiven.
The key difference between the two is equipment and abilities. Signing up with the Dawnguard lets the players get some pretty nice armor and weapons specifically tailored to fighting the undead. These range from crossbows that are tied to the archery skill tree, and armored trolls that are trained to fight at your side. Should you become one of the children of the night, you become a vampire lord which is a vastly different experience than becoming a garden variety one in the main game.
At the drop of a hat, the player can transform into a hulking, winged vampire with a unique skill tree that levels up with every victim drained of blood. Claws are good for rendering enemies, but you'll come to rely mostly on the magical abilities. Vampiric drain is good for boosting health in battle at the expense of your opponents, while grip renders them helpless as you suck the life out of them before flinging them across the room. There's even the option to summon gargoyles that will relentlessly attack enemies plus much more once the perks are unlocked.
Being a vampire lord is much more appealing given the abilities bestowed on the player, and it's not really feasible to play both sides in the conflict. Choosing to be a vampire is going to make you a target for the Dawnguard and vice versa. In any case, you'll come across new elder scrolls and the daughter of vampire royalty called Serana, who is a constant companion throughout the adventure.
She's much more fleshed-out than any other character previously seen and can be regularly engaged in conversation. She's essentially caught in the middle of the conflict between the two factions and her parents as well. It's easy to sympathize with her plight, and it's difficult for her not to grow on you with time.
Once the fun of being a vampire lord has been exhausted, players can take advantage of the new werewolf skill tree that works much in the same way. More blood spilled equates to more powerful perks being unlocked. None of the abilities are magical in nature, but the sheer, raw physical power is more than enough to make up for any perceived deficiencies. Another tiny perk to round out all of these additions is the face sculptor (though this option is unavailable if you're currently a vampire). It allows anyone to redo their avatar as they see fit, which is great if you felt you made a mistake.
Dawnguard has a relatively steep asking price for a downloadable add-on, but that's only because it adds so many fun new abilities and content. Its gothic, horror-themed vibe is a refreshing change of pace from the standard game and even if the core gameplay remains the same, Bethesda has done an admirable job of making the story more intimate and a companion that's much more engaging. The vampire lord perks themselves are justification alone, but throw in everything else and the price is entirely justified.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.