Having begun to digest the first batch of DLC for Skyrim, I felt a slight sense of transformation come over me. Hair began to fall out, and my skin grew paler. I even began to appreciate the music of Annie Lennox. My teeth suddenly became sore and sharp, and I was no longer able to indulge in garlic-based meals.
No, it wasn’t a problem with vitamin D deficiency, due to long periods sat on the couch playing Xbox 360, but the choices I made in Dawnguard that led me down the vampiric path.
The downloadable content expands the world of Skyrim with new locations, weapons, and most importantly, quests. The concept is a dark one, with vampires, ghouls and cairns full of lost dead roaming the land in search of reincarnation or death; and you have a simple choice, as with many of the quest lines – join forces with the good guys, or the villains.
Within the two opposing branches of the storyline, there’s probably at least fifteen hours gameplay here, even for the most battle-hardened adventurer. There are new missions, new perk trees, new weapons, locations and armour. Perhaps for the inevitable attention this has received, it may seem like just one more quest line, costing rather disproportionately more than the ones already there.
But more importantly, there’s incentive. Personally, I felt Skyrim had gone a little stale – after three solid months and a couple of weeks gradual comedown, I hadn’t picked it up for a long time until Dawnguard came around.
Of course, I was frustrated by the download wait, and then the update wait, and then the realisation upon loading my last save game that I was hopelessly lost in some Dweemer purgatory – about an hour to wait while I fumbled round the deserted ruin for the exit, eventually escaping, before having to sell all my stuff before even contemplating setting off on another adventure. In fact I began to remember all the things that had wound me up about the original release.
And then I began to get hooked again. A soldier mentioned vampires, and I ventured off. The incredible thing was, as I realised whilst attempting to fast travel my way there, was that I hadn’t even been to Riften in the save game I had loaded, so couldn’t easily bypass the journey to Fort Dawnguard.
As my long, gruelling journey began, I started to appreciate and re-familiarise myself with the simple joys of life in Tamriel – mountain berry picking, smelting, wood chopping and killing massive mythical beasts. It showed me once again the huge scope of the game, even as I tried to narrow it down to the download experience I was supposed to be focusing on.
A few quests down the line, I found myself for the first time with a pair of companions to assist me. This inspired me once more – to leave the quest and get some serious scrapping under my belt. Lots of time was well-spent battling in a variety of as-yet still untapped dungeons, hardly any of which I even remembered from my initial play-through, which had ultimately been abandoned, rather ironically, because I was sick of being a vampire and didn’t want to carry on eating people.
Of course, with Dawnguard’s release, you get to be a rather more interesting class of bloodsucker – a Vampire Lord, capable of all kind of cool stuff. Sadly not really flying, although hovering comes as standard. Or you can choose to fight the darkness with the shining blade of Dawnbreaker. Or even reload your save, and do both.
That’s how to get value out of Dawnguard, for sure. Something in me still feels it’s cheating – a bit like holding the pages and peeking forward to the outcomes in one of the old classic Jackson/Livingstone Fighting Fantasy ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. Skyrim perhaps is itself essentially a massive 3D rendered tribute to such literature, the decisions you make being a key part of the immersion process.
Okay, there are downsides. Yes, there are a few technical issues – I drove myself off a cliff, quite literally, when a wayward waypoint insisted I do so, and there’s a few frustrating moments to be had in the depths of certain dungeons. But overall I felt Dawnguard was good value for money, because not only was it an enjoyable quest in its own right, but because it acted as a re-ignition key for the game as a whole.
Once again the whole province opens up and beckons to you with a curl of a finger – come back, come back and play some more. And that’s what download content should do – get the blood stirred for one last battle, so Dawnguard comes highly recommended for all Skyrim adventurers.
Format: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3 and PC version to launch shortly
Price: £13.71 (1200 MS points)