By: Craig Lager

Published: August 10, 2012 Posted in: Review

For anyone looking for a buying recommendation for Dawnguard, the decision making process is a simple one. If Dawnguard is for you then you have already bought it. You bought it blind of reviews, blind of meta-scores and blind of whether you heard that it was only ok, and you did it because of an unending interest for The Elder Scrolls. If you don’t share in this, if you have stayed your money and are waiting for a do or do not from me or anyone else, Dawnguard is not for you.

Dawnguard - bridge

That it could have been so good is the sad thing – it could have been for everyone. On the face of it you are promised vampires and darkness and interesting new places to explore. Bloodmoon and Tribunal offered basically these things too, way back when – but the similarities end there. Where the Morrowind expansions gave you whole new islands with new factions and large new quest lines that actually felt fresh, Dawnguard instead just settles for more content. More dungeons, more fetch quests, more armor, more spells – and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing and interacting with these things, but it just isn’t interesting or diverse enough from the normal Skyrim content.

The fact that there is such a wealth of Skyrim content already available doesn’t help much – both in the vanilla release and in the ever growing library of mod content. And you really can’t undersell the power of that mod content either; the community work produced over the last six months easily outstrips most of this new Official content both in terms of quality and in quantity. Through mods you can add huge weapon packs, armour packs, perks, balancing, and a wealth of new features so if we’re going to look at the base words of either “Downloadable Content” or “Expansion” then there is absolutely no competition between the Steam Workshop combined with Skyrim Nexus and this chunk of premium game.

Unfortunately the bulk of Dawnguards new content is a trudge that largely fails to capitalise on a couple of could-be interesting characters and races. For starters the vampires – the selling point of the whole thing – are disappointing and generic, entirely failing to be anything other than just mages in unique light armour. And there’s no real engagement there either – like, you know how in Oblivion you had a series of bad dreams before you turned into a vampire, and how in Morrowind the assassins tried to murder you in your sleep? Forget all of that. Instead: “Do you want to be a vampire? Yes/No” and then semi-related quests that include a selection of crawls through overly long Falmer dungeons – and with the Falmer possibly being the least interesting race to fight it does not bode well.

Dawnguard - mood lighting

That the climax of what amounts to an added on guild quest line falls so very flat only exaggerates the problems that are either with Dawnguard or possibly every Elder Scrolls game to date too. What could have been a dramatic emotion fuelled fight ends up as a bit of dialogue, followed by an ordinary battle which your curated army decides randomly to not be interested in, and then some more emotionless dialogue to tie things up. You had a shot here, Bethesda. You set the stage for something amazing, but you gave up on it.

Actually, that’s a theme throughout Dawnguard. If I had to speculate it would be that the Elder Scrolls “A team” threw around some concepts: ancient prophesy, vampire inter-family relations, amazing locations and a couple of surprising concepts, and then the “B team” came in to do the job. There are two whole castles here that go narratively unexplored, a wealth of characters that touch on interesting relationships without developing them and even whole races or creature types that don’t go beyond just existing. It’s a shame.

There are redeeming features percolating through though. An excellent, unique Dragon fight; staggering new areas (one of which is absolutely huge and Cyclopean); a twisted, fascinating introduction to the Vampires castle; a nice side quest regarding a sort-of-possessed mine and some surprising scripting make for some memorable moments. I can’t deny for a moment that my interest and entertainment has been piqued on several occasions, and maybe it’s just because the standards of Skyrim are so high that this this still feels disappointing.

Dawnguard - portal

Also,if you’re an Elder Scrolls super fan, there are a few lore heavy treats. In fact, meeting an old Morrowind character and having a lengthy conversation has been a Dawnguard highlight and if you’re the type that will actually read an in-game book then there’s some good stuff throughout. As with meeting one of the other ancient races, this stuff is great if you’re interested in The Elder Scrolls as a whole, but like I said – if you are then you’ve no doubt bought this already.

When it comes right down to it, Dawnguard is a decent enough content pack that is eclipsed by Skyrims already colossal mass. Bethesda have figuratively put an arrow in their own knee  in that by doing such a good job in the first place, and then having a community willing to make it into an even better job, “more of the same” doesn’t quite cut it or feel like a requirement to anyone outside of the absolute inner circle of the fanbase – especially at £14. It’s worth noting too that I’ve had to delve into console commands to make a quest work and have noticed a large amount of obvious glitchyness. Give it a miss until it’s far cheaper or part of a GOTY pack.

Craig Lager
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