I know what you’re thinking. After seven months of playing through The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and knocking out around 300 hours of content you’re starting to feel a little gypped. I mean, only 300 hours? What the hell was Bethesda trying to pull anyway? So now that you’ve crawled every dungeon, filleted and deboned every dragon, become the master of every faction and made it that little bit safer for the little people you’ve sworn to defend it’s time to kick off your Dragonscale boots, hang up that Daedric Greatsword and chillax for a little while, right? Wrong… (un)dead wrong.
You see, a bunch of bloodsuckers have started to claw their way back into Tamriel with various nefarious plans afoot. Something to do with a vampire princess going all Sleeping Beauty in a crypt, an Elder Scroll and blotting out the sun, you know, that old chestnut. Standing directly in the fang-bangers’ path stands The Dawnguard, an elite vampire dusting outfit that desperately needs your help if you choose to offer it. The choice is yours. Do you stand up for the poor UV challenged and misunderstood vampires and become a creature of the night? Or do you don a pair of sunglasses, start blasting the techno backing tracks, practice your raspiest Blade impersonation and start kicking some ash?
Both options have their own rewards. If you side with the vamps they’ll turn you into a Vampire Lord complete with its own skill tree and perks. This ability will overwrite any werewolf blood coursing in your veins and give you a slew of new options. You can suck the life blood from enemies with your fangs or simply drain it magically, reanimate the dead to fight by your side (corpse life!), sport some kick-arse wings and teleport short distances by transforming into a swarm of bats.
Alternatively, if you prefer the simple things in life, like not bursting into flames in sunlight, The Dawnguard may be more to your liking. You’ll help them recruit specialist members, clear out vamp lairs and even recover schematics for the new upgradeable weapon, the crossbow, and you’ll want to as the fully tricked out crossbow ignores 50% of your enemy’s armour and has exploding bolts. Hell yeah!
Regardless of the choice you make, each faction’s plot is different enough to warrant dual playthroughs. They both feel completely different as you focus on your new abilities and even if you just smash out the main quest Dawnguard comes in at about 20 hours (combined) making it well worth the discerning Skyrim fanatic’s time. The vampire princess, Serena, is your stalwart companion through thick and thin even if you side with The Dawnguard and is always a valuable ally.
Without giving away too much you’ll defeat hellhounds, other vampiric undead, in thrall warriors, take part in an outstanding ice-lake battle, an epic boss fight in a nether realm and well and truly have your skills tested. There are also some vampire styled dragon shouts to discover affecting stamina, magicka and health. Mid-range characters (level 25-35) will get the most challenging experience. Those of higher levels may find it a bit of a breeze.
But it’s not all rainbows, blood feasts, brooding and sparkling in the sunshine. The Vampire Lord form has its own set of problems. It takes several seconds to transform and can leave you in the lurch at times. Many dungeons don’t have enough girth to accommodate the form, which can be frustrating as you switch between them. Some of the larger skirmishes suffer from a serious drop in frame-rate and while sporadic, it is annoying nonetheless.
The vampiric tone is enough of a departure to reinvigorate interest in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and tempt gamers back for another round but the same frame-rate issues and glitches abound taking a little bit of the shine off it. It’s well worth a look, just know what you’re in for.