Bethesda Softworks had a generally good track record with its Fallout 3 downloadable content packs, but stated up-front that it wanted more meat to its content for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This set some weighty expectations, but at double the price tag, "Dawnguard" feels like much more than double the content of Fallout's DLC packs.
In fact, this is more like an expansion pack, in the classic PC sense of the term. Rather than venturing off into isolated areas for new story content, Dawnguard adds a host of new areas that are (mostly) integrated into the world proper. I was happy to find that the content created new nooks and crannies of Skyrim to explore, folding into the main game elegantly. The changes to both the world and my character seemed permanent and meaningful.
As overdone as the vampire motif may be, Dawnguard does manage to infuse it with some of Skyrim's familiar fantasy charm. The lore of the vampires, and the scrappy band of vampire hunting Dawnguard, each have their own rich history. And by branching these paths into two distinct factions, the game offers unique benefits based on your preferred play style. As a magic user to the core, the Vampire Lord path was the obvious choice for me. But the Dawnguard offers similarly appealing perks--more gear and an armored troll, to be precise.
It's only too bad that some of the missions repeat, seriously hindering the replay value. For lore-lovers like myself, going through the content twice with a strategic save is a must. But that also exposes that the two paths aren't entirely unique. They split to start, but afterwards they're mostly the same with some minor variations in dialogue and plot.
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Dawnguard's doesn't fundamentally change the control mechanics or combat. In fact, the forced third-person perspective for the Vampire Lord is frustratingly awkward and slow to transform, to the point that sometimes I simply chose not to use it. I also expected a little more punch out of the crossbow, considering it's such a major feature of the Dawnguard's extra gear.
Those are minor complaints, though, considering the long-term rewards. The Vampire path, especially, ends with the ability to radically alter Skyrim itself. I'd rather not spoil it for those waiting to play, but suffice to say it gives appropriate weight to a major choice, with a significant impact on gameplay. And considering the other additions, like the Legendary Dragons or the ability to change your face, the pack does pack a lot of extra features missing before.
Dawnguard's mileage will vary mostly based on how much you want more from Skyrim. As someone who loved the game for the ability to get lost in the world, it hits the spot of additional areas to find and lore to learn. As content that set out to be more of an expansion than a simple DLC pack, Dawnguard satisfies despite its shortcomings.
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games and expansion packs. Dawnguard was played on a retail Xbox 360 copy of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, with a DLC code provided by the publisher. For more detail (with spoilers), check out our Dawnguard Diaries.