What do you do if your game wins numerous Game of the Year accolades, pulls players even further into your elaborate world with engrossing lore, and spawns the kind of fan love that results in ill-advised cosplay choices, and sells a ton in the process? Why, you release DLC, of course.
Dawnguard’s narrative centres around the return of a Volkihar vampire lord named Harkon, who wishes to use the power within the Elder Scrolls to destroy the sun. The Dawnguard are an order of vampire hunters whose mission is to stop him.
Our hands-on with the much-anticipated Dawnguard began several hours into the story with our Dragonborn already a level 29 vampire, possessing the ability to change between human and vampiric forms at will, with each bestowing unique powers.
Our current mission paired us with Serana, an alluring vampire in the Anne Rice rather than Twilight mould, who is seeking her mother and the Elder Scroll she stole. One minor setback exists, however: her mother is currently in a state of death, and has thus been banished to Soul Cairn, a plane of Oblivion. Fortunately, a portal to that dead dimension has been found, and before long we're treading the paths of that wretched place as lighting splits a darkened, purple sky, and the wails of the expired swirl around us.
Castle Volihar is our destination, but the dusty and cracked earth that connects us to that crumbling fortress births blackened skeletons, and is home other creatures more at ease in the forsaken landscape. Not all encounters are hostile, but most are uneasy. The souls of the dead haunt the realm, some lamenting the choices that had sent them there, others simply disoriented and despairing, tangled up in the moment of their passing and unable to grasp the where’s and why’s of their current predicament. Mist and dread hangs in the air; bones and scrub litter the desolate desert-like expanse.
In human form, our weapon of choice is a crossbow, something not seen before in Skyrim. Powerful, but with a slower reload, it nonetheless dispatches our unholy assailants with ease.
However, it's as a vampire that the real fun is to be had. A quick transform and we are a rather gruesome-looking vampire, with nary a sparkle in sight. A new perk tree offers up a swathe of vampire lord abilities, and these prove highly entertaining to tinker with. Alongside the usual buffs, we can take on a mist form, cast a detect all creatures spell, slow time using supernatural reflexes, call in a swarm of bats to act as a camouflaging night cloak that attacks anything within melee distance, and summon gargoyles.
Vampiric also proves handy, tethering mid-range foes with an invisible life-sapping leash, before giving our hero the opportunity to toss them about like a rag doll. Then there is the float ability that replaces sprint; creepy and awesome in equal measure.
Serana’s mother finally located, we set about destroying some lords of the plane who would thwart our progress, before our playthrough comes to an end.
Dawnguard is doing right by Skyrim fans by adding a ton of extra content and changing the way many will play. At an approximate 10-20 hours, the main quest line offers an agreeably sizeable chunk of content, and the new environs and characters appear well-rounded.
It looks like 2011’s game of the year has an expansion worthy of its lofty status.