The biggest question that needs to be answered with Skyrim‘s first 360-exclusive-for-a-long-time-then-finally-hits-PC-but-we’re-still-waiting-on-the-PS3-version DLC expansion, Dawnguard, is, “Is this worth $20?” The intended audience has likely already invested dozens – if not hundreds – of hours into the world of Tamriel. And the game’s infinite procedurally generated quest system means that you’ve already been blessed with all the extra, non-essential game content you could ever need.
But then you remember The Shivering Isles, Oblivion‘s $30-and-worth-every penny DLC expansion. You recall Sheogorath, the Sean Connery-esque god of craziness. You remember the two distinct questlines, each offering a completely different experience for those forward thinkers with multiple save files for easy backtracking. Dawnguard has none of that. Dawnguard has vampires – creatures without souls. How fitting for an expansion lacking that same valuable asset.
At the beginning of this new quest, you get to decide: become (or remain) a vampire and assist Lord Harkon in bringing eternal night to the world, enabling the vampires to rise up and claim dominion over the entire land, or work for the good guys – the vampire-killing cult, the Dawnguard – and kill the night walkers before they blot out the sun with the magical artifact, Auriel’s Bow.
Becoming a Vampire Lord yourself (the “side with Harkon” route) let’s you morph into a winged, shirtless, angry gray guy whenever you want. While transformed, you can throw life-draining fireballs with your right hand and reanimate one (and only one) corpse to fight by your side with the necromancy spell in your left hand, all while floating around on a red mist. Being able to raise an entire army of undead minions would have been a blast if you could reanimate more than one corpse! Alas, as soon as you raise a new fallen friend or foe, your other one dies. At least you get a sexy new vampire lady sidekick who, no matter how suavely you ask, will never sleep with you. True story. That’s actually a speech option.
Hit the sneak button while in Vampire Lord mode and you’ll drop to the ground, where your vampire claws make some formidable melee weapons. Basically, you become a werewolf. Kill enemies with your right-handed life-suck spell while floating around, however, and you’ll earn experience toward new Vampire Lord perks, making your transformation even stronger. If you’d rather decline Harkon’s invitation to his vampire guild, you can always be a werewolf; there’s a new perk tree for that particular form, too, which is leveled up by eating fallen corpses. However, while you can transform to and from a Vampire Lord at will, you still have to wait out your werewolf form transformation. And then you revert to your human/Argonian/Khajiit form nude and fully unarmored, forcing you to suit back up again manually every time. Now I know how the Incredible Hulk feels. What a hassle.
Besides that, there’s a new crossbow weapon – slower to reload and move with than a standard bow, but much more powerful. And, perhaps in response to Notch and Mojang’s new game Scrolls, there are actually a handful of Elder Scrolls in this expansion. It’s like Bethesda was sitting around brainstorming ideas, and one guy in the back shouted, “Hey! Maybe we should actually put some Elder Scrolls in our Elder Scrolls game?” Genius!
Now here’s the thing. The Elder Scrolls series has always paled in comparison in the story-telling department to other modern RPGs like the Fallouts and Mass Effects. The gameplay is solid, and the world is massive, but I personally can’t remember more than a handful of quests from Skyrim, Oblivion… even Morrowind. Combined. And I’m 100% certain that none of them ever affected my emotions in the way that, say, Journey did.
Dawnguard was a chance to prove that, not only can you the player create whoever you want to be in this fantastical world, but your character will actually embark on some meaningful, memorable adventures. The biggest problem with the infinite quest system in Skyrim is that, once you see the man behind the curtain pulling the strings, the reality that nothing you do actually matters begins to set in. Sure, you’ll discover a new cave. Maybe pick up a better helmet. And you are able to do this literally forever. But… why? To what end, and for what purpose? Dawnguard is Bethesda’s chance to give us a reason. In the end, however, it’s just more of the same, but this time you can morph into a guy that’s pretty much just a werewolf with ranged attacks.
And here’s a kick in the head: there is no reason to re-play Dawnguard just to see the other questline. Whereas Shivering Isles gave us two wildly different paths to tread, Dawnguard does not. Instead, both paths take you to the same new locations within Tamriel. The only difference is that on the Harkon side, you’ll be picking up an item in a certain cave, while on the Dawnguard side, you’ll meet a man there. In that same cave. And you’ll have the same sidekick with the same dialogue no matter which side you choose, too. I think I found out where that extra $10 for Isles went: new locations and variety. It’s more of a letdown than that first time you realize that every Skyrim bounty mission is the same.
Still… Skyrim is one of the defining games of this generation, a glorious example of what games can be in the modern age, and a monument to how far we’ve come as a species. More of that can’t be bad. At its heart, however, it’s just more of the same “go to X and kill/steal/pick up/defend Y.”
Fetch. Do it again. Like it. Good boy.
3 Gumballs out of 5