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Most of you will stop reading after you see that score. I don’t blame you. There was a lot of hype for Dawnguard and even I was very excited for it. However, if you’re trying to figure out if that $20 price tag is justified, you may want to read on. I was disappointed but I can’t say I didn’t at least have some fun. However, all of that fun came from the Dawnguard side of the DLC expansion. Shortly after you begin the DLC quest you’ll be given a choice to either join Harkon and the vampires or stay with the Dawnguard. I don’t think I can really recommend anybody to play the vampires first. I did and it was very underwhelming. Let’s start there, actually. The vampire side.
Let’s get it said right now. Dawnguard’s best achievement is Serana. She is the best companion you can get in the game and thankfully she isn’t exclusive to the vampire side. She will find things to do while you talk to NPCs or craft. She is pretty strong and her spells are powerful. Her AI is much better than the other choices. She can’t die, either. However, that also means the best reason for going vamp is now out of the window. Bethesda really did not do this side of the DLC very well. You do not feel like you are in a group at all. In fact, besides one brief scene near the beginning of the vampire side, you don’t do anything with the other vampires aside from talk to them. The only vampire who you do anything with is Serana. Which isn’t so bad because she is the best character in the DLC but when you join a cult of powerful vampires and the way Harkon talks about it all, you’d think there would be more for the entire group to do. Perhaps you could storm Fort Dawnguard. Maybe go on some city raids. Something!
Yet, nothing happens in the DLC that gives me any feeling of kinship. There are storylines there that could have been explored. Two vamps wish to take the throne from Harkon, yet besides a little throw-away scene this is never explored. Even after the main questline, nothing changes. Very disappointing.
Also, the main quest for the vampires feels off. The whole time Serana talks about getting things done before her father catches them. Yet, Harkon and his goons never leave the Castle. There is no rush. There is no reason to actually do any of the vampire Dawnguard questline in any amount of time. Nothing is against you. Once you’re ready, you just head to the end and everything is sort of… waiting for you.
This isn’t even the worst of it, though. The Vampire Lord form, which looked so cool and has awesome perks, is incredibly weak. The change animation takes forever and enemies can continuously bludgeon you to death while it occurs. The powers are weak and the amount of life you get back using the Drain Life spell is hardly worth it. You can get a perk that allows you to get all of your life back if you power strike someone to death. However, Serana’s ice spike spell is so fast that she winds up taking your kill before you can replenish your health and then you die. In fact, when I wanted to feed and gain perks using the Vampire Lord form, I left Serana at the castle and went alone.
I find myself not even using the Vampire Lord form, even after getting all of the perks. It is just too easy to die and the animation is ridiculously long and makes you too vulnerable. If you don’t use the Lord form, you’re stuck with the normal feeding abilities. The more time without feeding, the more you get abilities and negative active effects. You can find yourself walking to a new destination while your stamina, mana, and health don’t regenerate. It gets really annoying having to stop questing for a bit to head to the castle and feed. Sure, you could feed outside of the castle but it isn’t exactly easy. You need to be stealthy and feed on sleeping people or use the seduction spell (which isn’t always available) to seduce a person into letting you feed on them. At this point, being a vampire just feels like a curse rather than a cool gameplay choice.
That isn’t safe, though. Hell, being a vampire at all in Dawnguard isn’t safe. You see, there are random times where you’ll run into a pack of Dawnguard who are trying to kill you. Your survival depends on one thing: which pack you get. If you get the Crossbow pack, you’re good to go. If you get the mixed pack with the one guy wielding a two-handed maul, you’ll most likely die. Thing is, Dawnguard gear and weapons do extra damage to vampires while the vamps get nothing in terms of gear to assist them against mortals. It really is overpowered vampire hunters against a “Vampire Lord” who can die in two to three swings of that maul.
Being a vampire isn’t as fun as the trailers and gameplay made it seem. Which is a real shame. This was the highlight of the DLC pack and it is very underwhelming. With Serana not being exclusively for vampire players, I can’t see a reason other than achievements to play this side of the story.
You start the DLC as a recruit of the Dawnguard. If you choose to deny Harkon’s “gift”, you’ll return to the Fort and continue the story as a mortal. Be warned, though. Both sides of the story are very similar and feature basically the same quests and areas. There is almost no difference in how the story plays out except who you go to as a quest giver. That being said, playing it out as a Dawnguard member feels right. Everything about what you are doing and the trials to overcome feel much more satisfying as a hunter rather than a vampire. There is a sense of desperation to finish the quest. It might have to do with the vampire raids on the cities. The entire time I played as a vampire I didn’t experience any of those raids. As a Dawnguard? You’ll see it plenty. It feels like you’re trying to stop the bloodsuckers not just for achievements and gear but for the city NPC’s, too. It feels like you’re fighting for Skyrim. Also, at a certain point in the story you’ll still be able to get Serana so you’ll enjoy the best part of the DLC.
The gear and weapons for the Dawnguard as sick and extremely helpful. Vampires will turn to ash very quickly with your new gear. The stuff you get during your time with Dawnguard is massively better than what you get with the vampires.
I really wish I did this side of the story first. I was so sure about being a vampire that I wanted to play the best side until after I saw how the story unfolds and the new areas. Still, I enjoyed the Dawnguard much more for the reasons above. It had better purpose, better comrades, better gear, and you didn’t feel gimped. It also helps that the final mission for the Dawnguard feels much more epic than the vampires. Whereas you basically just walk into where you need to be as a vamp, the Dawnguard raid it and act like true hunters. It is very awesome to play out.
Besides the story, you’re going to find new crafts like Dragonbone weapons, new areas, weapons, armor, and cool boss fights. You’ll find really fun Dragon fights along with a pretty cool final boss. Dawnguard has a ton of content for a half gig download. Sadly, some of that content is featured in the Soul Cairn. You know how I felt about the Soul Cairn? The same way I felt about the Fade in Dragon Age: Origins. The map for the area is utter crap. There are no quest markers and there is so much to do and get that you almost feel obligated to stay and find everything or you’ll miss out on some of the coolest stuff in the DLC. The Soul Cairn could be pretty cool, if the map wasn’t atrocious. The Snow Elf portion of the quest is very long, too. However, that doesn’t feel anywhere near as tedious as the Soul Cairn.
You’ll find a lot to like and dislike with Dawnguard, which makes me question the $20 price tag. The vampire side of the DLC, which was featured most, is very underwhelming. The Dawnguard side is pretty cool. The main story isn’t too lengthy. You’ll find plenty to collect but you’ll hate that most of it is in the Soul Cairn. Overall, I can’t say I’d recommend Dawnguard at the full price tag. At 800 points, I’d tell you to buy it right now. At 1600 ($20), I’d say wait.