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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard

This article first appeared on vgutopia.com

Continuing the tradition of releasing epic-scale expansions to its popular Elder Scrolls games, Bethesda had a high bar to clear considering how epic its latest entry Skyrim is on its own. The first major expansion to Skyrim, titled Dawnguard, drops the player straight into the middle of an all-out civil war between the expansion’s namesake, an order of elite vampire hunters known as The Dawnguard, and a large sect of vampires led by the mysterious Lord Harkon.

Unlike previous major expansions such as Morrowind’s Bloodmoon and Tribunal or Oblivion’s Shivering Isles, Dawnguard doesn’t have players journeying to an entirely new region but instead integrates itself into the base world similar to the Knights of the Nine expansion for Oblivion. That doesn’t mean there won’t be new areas to explore however, as players will get to delve into some brand new dungeons and lairs and will get to explore some new open-world locations such as a narrow, snowy valley overrun by Falmer and even a new plane of Oblivion known as the Soul Cairn.

These new areas contain their own unique puzzles and set-pieces; one particularly awesome moment has you battling a pair of dragons in the middle of a giant frozen lake, the catch is that the dragons can dive through the ice and reemerge wherever they please, putting a new twist on a typical dragon fight as the battlefield slowly shrinks around you.

Unique dragons aren’t the only new foes players will encounter either. Depending on which side you choose to join, the Dawnguard or vampires, you’ll have to contend with gargoyles, death hounds, armored trolls, and enthralled undead as you venture further into Dawnguard’s storyline.

To help you deal with these new threats, Dawnguard also includes a new tier of craftable weapons; Dragonbone weapons that deal more raw damage than Daedric but also weigh more, and an entirely new weapon type: crossbows, which can stagger foes at the expense of reload speed.

If you choose to indulge your darker nature and join with the vampires, you’ll be rewarded with the ability to transform into a terrifying Vampire Lord, complete with their own unique powers and perk tree. To keep things fair, Werewolf players also get their own perk tree complete with several unique abilities.

While Dawnguard’s story is nothing too terribly special, the new locales and environments you get to explore are absolutely breathtaking. From the gloomy and menacing Castle Volkihar, to the eerie yet oddly beautiful Soul Cairn, to the ruins of an ancient Falmer kingdom, Dawnguard’s atmosphere alone is worth its $20 price tag.

 A few minor glitches did mar the overall experience for me, but nothing that couldn’t be solved with a quick load. As always, players are encouraged to save often as some of the expansion’s later battles can be pretty brutal even on the lower difficulty settings. An especially annoying occurrence considering some of the more powerful baddies have lengthy speeches before the fight which have to be repeated if you are killed.

Overall Dawnguard is well worth the price of entry. A slightly uninspired story doesn’t detract from the rich atmosphere, stunning new environments, and extra features that only serve to make Skyrim an even more addicting and immersive RPG experience. Xbox 360 players can partake of all of Dawnguard’s wonder right now and PC and PS3 players can look forward to diving head-first into the Dawnguard-vampire war later this summer.

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and check out my other work at vgutopia.com, hookedgamers.com, and explosion.com

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