I’ve left it far too late to write about this, since I was engrossed in the game all evening. Yes, it’s belated, but in my defence I’ve also been playing it on the Xbox and have completed Hearthfire in the interim. Besides, fans of Skyrim will no doubt have played it anyway and organised their own thoughts, but if you’ve been holding off, here’s what you need to know.
1. It’s a bit like Knights of the Nine
If Oblivion‘s mini-expansion appealed, then this is along those lines in length and feel. Its play time is extended since you can choose to side with the vampires or vampire hunters, but there’s a lot of crossover regardless so you’re really playing out one story. Bloodsuckers aside, they have this in common:
- about 8 hours playing time (I took much longer because I like to explore)
- heroic knights
- fancy castles
- ancient legends
- great level design
2. Great level design
This deserves its own listing. Each part of the quest just feels really nice – each location is imaginative and unnecessarily pretty (and usually a whole lot bigger than it needs to be). Anyone fearing that just because it’s not on its own island that there’s nothing new to see is wrong – they’ve done some nifty things via the whole cave-to-a-bit-you-*cough*-never-noticed-before schtick and there are some moments that will make you gasp. The actual things you have to do – i.e. the quests and levels – are nicely handled. It just feels slick and well-thought-out.
Your vampire companion is the single most important reason for getting this DLC. She’s the best companion I have ever used in any game – she’s got good dialogue and personality, interesting backstory, and is really handy in a fight. She also doesn’t get lost very easily. My initial plan was to play this DLC and then revert to an earlier save and uninstall it to continue with my previous savegame-story, but now I just could not imagine playing without her. I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about her – and her “this better not be all the crap you can’t be bothered to carry around” line when you open her inventory cracks me up every time.
4. It’s more fun NOT as a vampire
That might seem counter-intuitive, since you get all the swishy animations and new powers and whatnot as a vamp, but being undead is a PITA. You’re allergic to sunlight (which is inconvenient – even if sunlight doesn’t actually kill you, it’s majorly irritating), have to interrupt your quests to feed regularly, and if you go into Major Gnarly Vamp Mode, it’s a pain to move around and I can never remember which control does what or how to revert back to my regular shape.
5. You get to meet someone you didn’t know you missed
But I won’t spoil that for you. Or another squee-inducing encounter that will tickle the lore buffs.
On reflection, I’d say it’s slightly longer and better executed than KOTN, and about on a par with Fallout 3‘s expansion The Pitt. I don’t want to oversell it, because it wasn’t the most amazing game experience I’ve ever had in my life, but it’s fair to say that Dawnguard is about as good as DLCs reasonably get.
Now, of course, to figure out how to clean up those castles: can’t be letting them go to waste, now, can I?