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The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard (Xbox 360) artwork

The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard (Xbox 360) review


"A worthy addition to the Skyrim saga."


Since I started my visits to the world of The Elder Scrolls on the XBox 360 with Oblivion, I obviously haven't been around for all the comings and goings in the series, but for the two games I have played, one thing seemed quite apparent: vampires were almost stunningly under-utilized.

Think about it. You have a faction of undead humans and your character can become one of them. Doing so grants a number of new abilities and stat increases, but makes going outside during daylight hours a dicey proposition. And yet, with the exception of a quest involving one Skyrim town, only a scant few vampires can say they're more than generic bandits with an increased focus on magic and the ability to inflict disease in combat.

Skyrim's first expansion, Dawnguard rectifies this problem by basing an entire plot arc around those night-stalkers. In much the same way that Skyrim could be considered to have a more vast and involving world than Oblivion, one could say that Dawnguard is a notable step up from the previous game's Knights of the Nine. While both expansions were essentially add-ons that give players a new faction to join and a series of associated quests, Dawnguard grants the ability to join one of two factions locked in conflict with each other, along with a few additional goodies.

After you've gained a few levels traversing the world with your character, you'll run into an orc who tell you about the growing vampire threat in tones that suggest "conspiracy nut; listens to too much political radio". Still, if you take him up on his offer to visit an isolated fortress to meet the leader of his vampire-hunting organization, you'll find that this guy's crackpot theory actually is based in fact!

As soon as you join the Dawnguard, you'll start noticing the sneaky bloodsuckers popping up all over the place. You'll be walking down roads, only to get assaulted by a group of them disguised as Vigilants of Stendarr. Visit a city at night and you might notice a creepy dude in black robes shuffling after you. That's a vampire who will attack you (and any nearby townspeople who get caught up in the ensuing conflict) if he gets close enough. Or he'll just follow you around if you notice him and, like me, run all around town while he just slowly stalks behind.

As time went on, I have to admit that I avoided a lot of these conflicts. At high levels, a lot of these vampires are absolutely devastating mages capable of massacring me with spells while I try to close within axe-swinging range. It's not easy to catch up to a constantly-retreating enemy when said foe is pummeling you with ice spells which sap your stamina and ability to move quickly, ya know?

Dawnguard added to Skyrim's difficulty in more subtle ways, as well. When I first played through the game, the difficulty seemed more balanced than in Oblivion, but I eventually got to the point where I was too strong for anything in its world to threaten me, barring a massive brain-cramp on my part. To help rectify this, a few monsters (particularly Falmer and Dragons) got extra upgraded forms. Even now, with a L59 powerhouse, I have to show a bit of care when battling Ancient Dragons, so I'd say they succeeded in adding additional challenge with this expansion.

But Dawnguard has a lot more going for it than simply making it tougher to move around Skyrim's world. Things start to pick up when you're asked by Isran, the perpetually grumpy leader of the Dawnguard, to explore a remote crypt that seems to interest local vampires. Reach the end of this place and you'll free a mysterious, vampiric woman from stasis.

This leads to the expansion's big choice. Serana (the now-freed vampire) is the daughter of Lord Harkon, a powerful vampire noble with very dangerous (and short-sighted) ambitions involving concealing the sun to create a world of unending night, leading you to decide whether to stay with the Dawnguard to fight this menace…or allow Harkon to make you a vampire lord (as reward for rescuing his daughter) and then work to bring him down from within.

If you choose to become a vampire lord, you'll be able to transform into a demonic creature loaded with all sorts of special powers, but you won't be especially welcome around your slowly-growing group of Dawnguard pals (or humans in general, at least while transformed). Sticking with your vampire-killing pals will allow the use of crossbows and various special forms of ammo, as well as a few other rewards.

Regardless of which side you take, Serana will be your constant companion the rest of the way, as while the Dawnguard isn't particularly friendly towards her, they're at least open-minded enough to listen to the vampire girl who wants to stop her evil father from turning their planet into a 24-hour buffet restaurant. So, every time you're on any important mission, she will be joining you for the duration.

At least for me, this was the most annoying part of this expansion. Through the entirety of Skyrim, I found any situation where I was saddled with an ally to be annoying, as I'm quite capable of building a character that can handle anything on his own. Those guys and gals just get in the way, making it hard to be sneaky, getting mad at me because they got between my battle axe and some monster or nailing me with their own long-range attacks. And for the majority of Dawnguard I had no choice but to endure a computer-controlled ally. Sigh…

Fortunately, the game gives you some awesome places to explore, making it hard to stay annoyed for long. The Soul Cairn is a vast and particularly hellish purgatory, while the Forgotten Vale provided an eerie beauty, along with a particularly memorable dual-dragon encounter and a boss fight that actually feels a good bit more epic than the inevitable clash with Harkon. Just getting to the Vale provided its own moments of interest, as you have to navigate a series of caverns. That excursion is capped by you speeding down rapids and over a waterfall while giant spiders drop out of the darkness. Even though I knew I could probably kill every one of them in one or two hits, that sequence still prompted an "Oh, crap!!!" reaction.

Unlike Knights of the Nine, Dawnguard offers a good bit more than just a new faction and its associated quest arc. Whether you choose your path with the Dawnguard or the vampire clan, both groups have plenty of Radiant quests to offer. While with the Dawnguard, I scoured dungeons to find plans for advanced crossbow ammo, rescued people kidnapped by vampires and prevented one of the beasts from infiltrating the Riften castle's court. There also is a completely unrelated quest added where you help the ghost of a researcher succeed in finding the mythical forge that was her life's work. That comes with the added bonus of potentially also finding the charlatan who stole her research and passed it off as his own. He discovered just how psychopathic berserkers feel about academic fraud when that day came! If you enjoyed playing as a werewolf in Skyrim, you'll also be glad to know that a perk tree was added for them, as well.

In short, at the very least, Dawnguard is a reasonably fun diversion that turns the Elder Scrolls vampires into something more than stock adversaries while sending you to a few beautiful and eerie locations, making it worth playing for any fan of Skyrim. That's basically what I got from it, but if I had a more varied style of playing Skyrim, I'd look at Serana as being more tolerable than the world's average sidekick, I'd be glad to have a perk tree to improve my werewolf transformation and I'd be bubbling over with glee to have a new vampire lord form with which to terrorize folks. When I bought Skyrim, I expected it to be bigger and better than Oblivion and I wasn't disappointed. The same holds true when I compare this expansion to Knights of the Nine. And that, folks, is what we call natural progression!

4/5

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 10, 2014)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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Germ posted December 12, 2014:

I've been enjoying a little Skyrim modding lately, but have for the most part been ambivalent about the official DLC. I think this review has pushed me over the edge and I'll probably pick it up on the next Steam sale.

Thanks for writing.
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joseph_valencia posted December 12, 2014:

Dawnguard is good, but you should definitely check out Dragonborn.
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Germ posted December 12, 2014:

Yeah, I'll pick up all three at the same time.
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overdrive posted December 13, 2014:

If you skip any, make it be Hearthfire. Seems to only add a bit of busywork (building houses in the general vicinity of Morthal, Dawnstar and Falkreath; adopting kids and potentially getting your family kidnapped by bandits...if the latter happened to me right now, I would give no fucks and they'd be bandit stew).

Thanks for the kind words about me review. In a few weeks, I ought to have Dragonborn done, too, since I'm saving the bulk of that for after the main game and I just have a handful of quests to do to finish the main, thieves and dark brotherhood arcs.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted December 14, 2014:

Definitely skip Hearthfire unless you're playing it on 360 (and it sounds like you're playing PC, anyway). I'm only saying that because I've never touched the 360 version, so for all I know it could still be skippable. As for the others:

-The PC version is pretty much redundant unless you're playing unmodded. There are mods available that can accomplish Hearthfire's ends without the idiotic limitations.

-I've played and reviewed the PS3 version of Hearthfire, and it's got an ass ton of bugs. I mainly downloaded it because I really wanted a place to display all of my specialty weapons and trophies, which turned out to be a horrible idea. Now and then the weapons I worked so hard to earn would randomly disappear for good. Others would be permanently stuck in a display. Even though it gave you the prompt to remove it, you wouldn't be able to. The worst were weapons that didn't remain in their displays. Some would fall onto the floor, others would slowly rise out of their positions, and others would become permanent fixtures of the house. I had one sword that progressively levitated off a shield display until it was sticking through the floor of an upstairs bedroom. It eventually vanished.

I'm not sure if these bugs carry over to the 360 or PC versions, but the PS3 release is definitely glitch-laden crap.
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overdrive posted December 14, 2014:

Yeah, I never even got into the "display your crap" stuff. All my cool unique gear goes right into the chest in my house in Whiterun. Except I did put my Whiterun Thane weapon on the weapon rack in said house. I wonder if it's still there...
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Germ posted December 15, 2014:

Yeah I'm on PC, modded, but still want to try Hearthfire. The content actually seems like it would give me a giggle even though it accomplishes what mods I already have installed already do. On Steam Sale it'll probably be like $.50 anyway.

Joe, I just read your review and I think your conclusion that "...if all you want to do is build a house, adopt children, and listen to awful lyrics belted out by a spoony bard, then by all means tuck in" pretty much describes my current interest in Skyrim almost perfectly.

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