Skyrim is officially out on the XBox live platform as of Tuesday and we take a look at the new content and what it adds to the game. (Beware Spoilers)
Fans have been waiting a long time for the first DLC to Bethesda's massively successful Skyrim game. Due to an exclusive deal with Microsoft the XBox got the add-on first with PS3 and PC users left waiting for at least 30 days and still with no clear announcement of arrival. Was the DLC worth the wait and is it worth the $20 (USD) purchase price? I won't keep you in suspense, the answer to both of those is yes. But what can fans except with the DLC?
Vampires and Werewolves
Anyone following the promos before the DLC was released knows that they were adding the Vampire Master beastform to the game. Some fans missed that they were also making improvements to the existing Werewolf as well. Both will have their own perk trees (accessed while in beast form only) that level up while you make kills and feed in that form - they do not use the normal level up system. Players that have already maxed out their characters have nothing to fear. You can also continue to be neither if you wish, though you cannot be both. protip: If you have cured your lycanthropy see Aela about getting it again now.
The core of the plot is a struggle between a Vampire Lord: Harkon and the Dawnguard: a group of vampire hunters. The player gets to choose his side eventually - at first you will be thrust into the Dawnguard role, but after the first mission when you meet Harkon you will be presented with the choice. protip: If you wish to stay in Dawnguard, you can even become a vampire later and continue to fight on the Dawnguard side.
The core plot offers a good day of steady play. One can rush through it or take their time in order to pace themselves, but there is more than enough to do for a DLC with just the main plot. As with any of the guild quests I would also recommend squeezing in side quests by asking the various Dawnguard staff "Do you need any help?" They will send you on little quests to hunt vampires, find weapon schematics and find unique weapons. It both adds to the game story wise by spacing out the main plot instead of rushing through it and adds to the cool new toys as well.
Speaking of new toys, the Dawnguard DLC adds a bunch of them. Let's start with non-plot specific add-ons: Dragonbone weapons are added to the game and they look good. Some fans say the modded versions available to PC users are better looking, I disagree myself but it's not like 1. They can't keep using them and 2. console users really get a choice in the matter. Another small addition that seems huge is the ability to craft arrows has finally been added to the game.
Now for Dawnguard/Vampire specific add-ons you'll find that all vampires in the game will now be sporting Vampire Armor instead of the necromancerish black robes or generic armor they used to wear. This applies to existing encounters as well as new ones. Also worth noting the armor looks great. With the Dawnguard you will eventually (don't expect to walk in the door and get all the options right away) the fabled crossbow, two colors of heavy Dawnguard armor, three colors/styles of light Dawnguard armor, a new axe and warhammer (both do extra damage to vampires) and shield and helmets. If you do those little side quests mentioned you can also learn how to create exploding crossbow bolts, enhanced crossbows and dwarven crossbows and just like arrows, you will be able to the craft bolts.
As for unique equipment I hate to put any serious spoilers in this review so I won't get too detailed, but there are several new pieces added and most of them are pretty interesting and have some interesting magical effects that work to make an item fun and useful even when compared to often superior (stat wise) vanilla game weapons. Players that want to stick with bows will have a couple decent offerings, and there are a couple other unique armors added, shields, etc All-in-all, plenty of new gear to customize your role playing experience. Pro-tip: speaking of customizing your character- head to the Ragged Flagon now and see the new NPC added there to change your characters appearance for a small fee (cannot change race or sex though).
What else can you add to your character that isn't just equipment? Well, would you like to go around with an armored troll? You can do that now. Or how about just taking along an armored Husky Dog? They have those too. Also in the followers area are several choices among Dawnguard troops you can take with you and what is being hailed as one of the best new followers in the game: Serena will stay with you for much of the main plot if you wish and you can continue using her afterwards.
New magic and new shouts have been added to the game as well. A couple are vampire/Dawnguard specific spells and I'm sure there are still some left to discover that xBox users are digging for. Mostly it seems that several new summoning spells are added so you can call various creatures to fight for you.
Adding more things to fight in an RPG/Adventure game is always something fans are looking for with DLC. Often we get reskinned versions of existing monsters passed off as 'new', but here we get a mix of both new and reskinned. Bethesda does a good job where it comes to reskinning a creature as they don't try to pass it off as something different, just another version of an existing creature as it should be. So you'll still fight lots of undead, but instead of draugr you'll have skeletons busting out of the ground or skeletons wearing armor. New creepy things underground added that give the chaurus a run for it's money and attack from the air. Gargoyles busting out of statue form to maul you. New dragon type with a new breath weapon attack and more. Pro-tip: when you fight frost giants, make sure to loot them and look for special gems, they help you get more cool stuff in side quests.
Did I say quests? Yes, aside from the main Dawnguard vs. Vampire plot and all the little sidequests, new encounters, radiant quests, etc. that come with it there are also other side quests added including one fairly substantial one that takes you back into the underworld of the dwemer ruins. Fans that have had enough dwemer ruins already will be pleasantly surprised at some of the new twists added as well as the reward at the end. Other smaller quests are added as well, tracking down new mystery books for the college, the unqiue gems you find on frost giants, not to mention the benefit of playing through on opposite sides of the faction. Pro-tip: don't expect the plot to be totally different on opposing playthroughs as much as the experience of playing a vampire vs. slayer.
What's not added
One thing players have been clamoring for have been spears and as of yet, no spears have been sighted in the DLC. I'd say it would have been discovered by now if it was in there due to not only adding the equipment itself but the new character animations for a new fight style ala what happened with the crossbow animation being detected early.
You also won't find any considerable swaths of Tamriel added to the map. No open areas branching into any of the surrounding kingdoms. The new castles for Dawnguard and the Vampires are just off the edge of the map and a little loading screen is added to get to each be it boat for one or cave for the other and after discovered you can fast travel straight there. The castles themselves are pretty substantial though and can be fun exploring.
The quests take you to new places that are big as well: The Soul Cairn, a sort of Blackreach sized alternate plane that is a little easier to lose your sense of direction in. More underground caverns, some massive in size, though linear in where to go. And a pretty sizable outdoor area that takes some work to get to and is also 'off-map' (seems to be north a bit) but quest specific, though you can fast travel directly there once discovered if you want to return.
What does all that mean? Nothing bad really, it's still a lot added and plenty to do, it's just a warning to players expecting to get to explore a chunk of Morrowind, Cyrodiil or High Rock... it's not going to happen on this DLC.
What else isn't happening in this DLC is anything to do with the civil war, thalmor or any other existing questline. We still have more DLC to look forward to though, so no reason to get concerned yet. Bethesda has already said they are working on more content, some bigger, some smaller for it's fan (and hopefully we won't have to wait as long for the next one).
Dawnguard is definitely worth the money for all it adds to the game. The main questline is as good as some of the better guild quests from the game (I'm looking at you Dark Brotherhood quest) and adds tons of new goodies to the game. There are several cool things that you encounter that I haven't mentioned here that elder scrolls fan will love.
It integrates pretty seemlessly and would recommend even making up a new (or somewhat) character to play through the story and mix it up with the rest of Skyrim as you play instead of shooting straight through. But to those that have done it all already: it still works for you as well. The new perk trees for Vampire or Werewolf let you level up still even if you are max level and the DLC gives you plenty to keep busy with for a few days of play.
Written or Contributed by: xaraan