Vampirism seems like it's been all the rage as of late thanks to the 'Twilight' book and movie saga. Unlike the vamps found in those works of popular culture, however, the ones found within Dawnguard, the first DLC expansion to Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, don't bleed glitter. It may be good, but is it worth it sucking $20 of your hard-earned money to download?
It could be argued that this DLC gives Skyrim owners two things in one package: a playable Vampire faction (with related quests) and a playable vampire hunter faction, known as the Dawnguard, complete with their own related quests. It could also be argued that there is only one that's actually worth playing.
Playing as a member of the Dawnguard faction proves to be quite satisfying -- especially in comparison with the should-have-been-really-cool Vampire faction. Once things kick into full gear, the feeling the hunters actually being the hunted begin to creep in as the player becomes the victim of sporadic and spontaneous vampiric raids. The various quests take place in a combination of locations both new and old and the faction's storyline and small cast of additional game-critical NPCs seen to fit right in with the rest of Skyrim just fine. In the end, the player really feels like he's experienced the providence as a member of the Dawnguard itself.
The Vampire faction, with all of the potential that it could have been the better of the two, proves to be very underwhelming. The feeling of belonging, something that the player gets as a member of the Dawnguard, simply isn't there and the faction has the NPCs that seem like they're just there to take up space. Furthermore, many of the quests are variations of those found with the Dawnguard faction, though with a handful of key differences. Also, the new follower Serena (the vampiress you find that sets the DLC's events in motion) is constantly encouraging the player to be quick, lest her vampire lord of a father catches them. While this sounds like it would be a problem, the threat never manifests itself.
Increasing the disappointment of the Vampire faction are the vampiric powers that vampire lord Harkon bestows upon the player should he choose to follow him. While the transformation to a visual beast of a vampiric beast looks impressive, it takes way too long to execute and comes with few perks worth mentioning. Those who decide to go the Vampire route should find it as little surprise should they never use the powers beyond the first few times.
Further complicating things in the DLC's "evil" faction is the inability to heal, regain stamina, and regenerate magicka. While mortals do these things naturally, immortal vampires need to return to Harkon's castle in order to feed and regain their strength. The game's fast travel feature makes this something simple to do (assuming the player isn't indoors or near an enemy), but the requirement to constantly do this quickly becomes annoying. In fact, playing as a vampire isn't much fun at all -- it's a chore.
Along with the two factions comes a small selection of new items as well some new non-vampiric/dawnguard (depending on faction) enemies.
Items of note include a new weapon type (the crossbow), a complete set of Dawnguard faction armor and faction-specific weaponry, and Vampire-faction clothing. Most of the Dawnguard faction items have something that buffs it against vampires. The Vampire faction stuff, however, does little to protect or buff against much of anything in specific. Dragonbone weaponry gets added as well, allowing the player to smith the items if their smithing skill is high enough.
On the enemy side of things, there are a handful of new baddies that the player will encounter. Outside of an expanded roster of vampires, there are also new Falmar (with their own new lootable items) and freakish flying Chaurus.
Dawnguard, as a DLC expansion, does add quite a bit to an already robust game, but it simply doesn't add enough. At least, not enough to justify the $20 asking price. For a game that costs $60 to begin with, asking an additional third of a cost for far less than a third-worth of new content is just too much. This DLC should be closer to the ten dollar range because regardless of how good (or bad, depending on which faction the player chooses) Dawnguard is, it's just too short and limited for the list price.
Final Game Guys grade: C+
(Bethesda supplied a download of this expansion for review.)