Monday, August 6, 2012

Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard PC Review

I poured around a hundred and fifty hours into The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim after it's initial release and over a hundred into Oblivion. Days of my life have been devoted to exploring Tamriel and Cyrodil.  Suffice it to say, I am a fan of the series and was excited for the first DLC of the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dawnguard to launch on PC.  That wait was over as of two days ago when Dawnguard became available on PC.  The game has been available on Xbox for a month due to an exclusivity deal between Microsoft and Bethesda; however, the game is not yet out on PS3 due to some technical bugs according to Bethesda.

For the duration of this review I will assume the reader has watched the initial launch Trailer for Dawnguard and has played a good bit of the initial game.  No other spoilers are in this review.

Official Dawnguard Trailer

The PC version of Dawnguard is actually relatively stable.  I had problems on the initial launch of Skyrim where the game would crash every couple hours.  The expansion did not crash or enter a bugged quest for my entire play-through; however, stuttering during very graphical scenes did still occur.  This can be slightly annoying as the game looks great and runs great on my Crossfire 5770 video cards 90% of the time on high quality.  I also did encounter some slight graphical anomalies during the playthrough where the water level would lose its affect and get "cloudy".  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of crashes that are sin-ominous with the Elder scroll series.

Combat wise, Dawnguard introduces two new aspects to the game.  The crossbow is added to give us ranged folk a little variety.  More exciting on paper is that Dawnguard introduces mounted combat.  Fans of the Elder Scrolls series have been looking forward to this for years.  Unsurprisingly, it's clunky and mediocre in it's current state.  I still would rather it be clunky and in the game then non-existent.  In the end it's still a great addition.  The movement of the horse is really the big limiting factor with mounted combat.  To give an idea, that clumsiness of the combat in Oblivion is exactly how mounted combat feels in Dawnguard.  With that said, I was able to take a Blood dragon down with little to no problem.    The potential is huge with this addition and I hope Bethesda focuses on improving mounted combat.

Dawnguard, like the original Skyrim will give the player a early choice in whether they wish to support the vampires or those who oppose them, referred to as the Dawnguard.  As such, there will be a completely different story line available for a second playthrough.  I am thankful for this as I began my first Dawnguard playthrough on my level 51 Wood elf thief who has completed the main story line and all Guild Quests.  I found this to be a mistake.  My character was too powerful and never received an upgrade.  Only a few instances of the story line were difficult on normal difficulty.  I would recommend trying to play the Quest line with a mid level character if at all possible which I will do on my next playthrough.

The introduction of the Dawnguard DLC also brings the edition of two new skill trees.  There is now a Beast Mode skill tree which can upgrade the players Werewolf abilities making them more powerful and giving a better reward for using the form.  I rarely used the form in my initial Skyrim playthrough so this is a welcome edition.  As is evident in the trailers for the game there is also a new form the player will encounter in the expansion.  No matter the choice you make you'll be able to play with the Vampire lord form.  When upgraded it becomes extremely powerful and you look pretty awesome too.

The main Quest line took me a little over eight hours to complete.  I did a few side quests but there is still more to be done.  Bethesda quotes ten to twenty hours and I believe this is a accurate assessment.  My initial eight hours might seem short but after investing a hundred and fifty hours into the initial game, I had a lot of way points that were close to the new objectives.  There are still multiple side quests to do and another whole different choice to explore. The player will encounter two new areas. One, The Vale, has the same aesthetics of Skyrim proper.  The other, has a very unique art style that I found refreshing.  It reminded me very much of the Shivering Isles expansion for Oblivion.  The DLC story line is unique but doesn't have the 'wow' factor of the Skyrim quest line.  It would be more appropriate to classify it with one of the Guild Questlines considering what it delivers story-wise.

Dawnguard is a decent expansion to the Elder Scrolls arsenal.  Is is really worth  the launch price of twenty dollars? On one hand, there's another ten to twenty hours of content between two playthroughs in this expansion.  On the other hand, the Knights of the Nine DLC launched at ten dollars for Oblivion. I would have liked to see the price a little lower; maybe 15 dollars.  If you loved Skyrim, you should play Dawnguard, but there is no hurt in waiting for the DLC to go on sale.  I give Dawnguard a 3.5 out of 5. While being a great addition to Skyrim, the bugs are still there, the price is a little high, and the Quest doesn't really have that 'wow' factor. It's good, not epic.

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