Its no secret that I love Skyrim. I've logged well over 100 hours with the game, and have played through as multiple character classes. So, when I heard about Dawnguard and its new vampire-focused questlines, I was excited to say the least. Bethesda's expansions to Oblivion never let me down, and I expected the same when it came to Skyrim's inevitable new adventures. I'm happy to say that it was a fun ride, but I cannot say it is a flawless one.
In Dawnguard, you are given the choice to join one of two new factions; the aforementioned Dawnguard, a group of vampire hunters gearing up to bring the fight to the worst inhabitants of the night the realm has to offer, or the Court of Lord Harkon, a group of immensely powerful Vampires on a quest to rule all of Skyrim. Both factions tend to follow the same general main questlines, albeit seen from different points of view sometimes, but what they offer in the way of side quests is where the expansion really finds its staying power. Wether helping rid the world of the vampire menace or finding more to join your dark cause, the side quests can be quite varied and are what really make the expansion worth playing.
The game also adds some new armor sets, many of which are not really worth your time. If you are a mage, however, joining the Vampires can grant you some great bonuses to your magicka depening on your armor choices. The addition of Crossbows is fun, but an overall unnecessary addition to the game considering how much faster and more powerful many of the bows in the game are. Horse mounted combat also makes its first appearance in the game, which is again mostly unnecessary but helpful for getting rid of smaller pests. The biggest and most obvious gameplay addition in the game is the ability to transform into the new Vampire Lord, which comes with its own skill tree which expands the more enemies you defeat while transformed. Unfortunately, you are forced to stay in a third-person perspective whenever transformed, which can be a jarring experience for those not used to playing the game in that fasion. There is no doubt that playing in this form makes you feel immensely powerful, but it is also a bit unwieldy compared to the already established combat of the game.
Unfortunately, being a Vampire Lord also means you are much more likely to run into bugs in the expansion. There are many areas in the game that cannot be traversed in this form simply because your character becomes too big to fit through many passages and doorways, and transforming back and forth between forms can take anywhere from 30-45 seconds at a time. That may not sound like much, but once you do it 10 or 15 times within the same underground tunnels, it becomes quite annoying. The game has a tendency to slow down greatly while transforming, and sometimes takes up to ten seconds to even recognize that you want to transform in the first place. Its an unfortunate situation that turns what should be the crown jewel of this expansion into more of a bother than anything.
Where the expansion truly shines, though, are its new locations. The two new factions each have their own home bases, Castle Volkihar and Fort Dawnguard, which both look fantastic. The castle in particular immediately makes my inner Castlevania fan happy upon first seeing it. Later areas in the expansion, especially the new daedric realm of Coldharbour and the frozen tundra experienced near the endgame of the expansion, are amongst the most memorable locations featured in any Elder Scrolls game. Your new companion for most of the journey Serana provides not only one of the most powerful companions the game can offer, but one most memorable characters the entire Elder Scrolls series has to offer. She is by far one of the most interesting characters you can come across in the game, and a very welcome addition to the franchise.
Dawnguard is a good expansion for sure. It could have been a great one, though. The reliance on assuming everyone is going to love being a Vampire Lord hurts the expansion quite a bit due to all of the bugs associated with being said Lord, but the journey itself is worth the price of admission. Just like how Shivering Isles surpassed Knights of the Nine for Oblivion, the next expansion for Skyrim will likely top this one. If that is so, this is a very good start overall.