Crossbows, mysterious pale women, and a castle packed with nasty vampires: although the first few hours of Skyrim's first downloadable content start off a little slow, they've got some awesome things to offer—and they hint at even more to come.
Dawnguard, the expansion pack-sized DLC that developer Bethesda releases today for Xbox 360 (and later for PC and PlayStation 3), is good at slowly but surely building your excitement. Since receiving a code late last night, I've spent about three or four hours (who needs sleep?) exploring and hacking through Dawnguard's chunk of the world. And I'm psyched to see what will happen next.
While playing, I jotted down some notes about the experience. For your reading pleasure, here they are.
(Spoilers for the first 2-3 hours of Dawnguard follow)
- The coolest thing you can do in this DLC, in my experience so far, is turn into a vampire. You get this ability by visiting a castle full of vampires, listening to the king's generous offer to give you his blood, and saying yes. (He threatens to destroy you if you don't say yes.)
- As a vampire, you have a handful of special abilities. From the main menu you can use Vampire's Servant, which reanimates a corpse to fight by your side for 60 seconds, Vampire's Sight, which improves your night vision, and Vampire Lord, which zooms you out into third-person mode and morphs your character into a vicious beast.
- As a Vampire Lord—which is where all your real powers come into play—you can't use regular equipment. Your blood boils when you enter sunlight. You can drain life and even transform into a swarm of bats (which is sort of like a makeshift teleportation skill.)
- Turning into a vampire limits your inventory options until you revert back to human form.
- Turning into a vampire will purge the werewolf blood from your system.
- Turning into a vampire is really fucking cool.
- But how do you get that ability? Let's take it from the top. When I log into Dawnguard for the first time—which is really just logging into Skyrim with the DLC downloaded and installed—I load up my old character, who had been hanging out in the city Whiterun. Immediately I'm accosted by a bunch of vampire thralls. Once I defeat them, a man named Durak comes up to me and orders me to go check out Fort Dawnguard, in the way southeast corner of the map.
- See, Fort Dawnguard is where a group called the Dawnguard lives. They fight vampires. Like Buffy, but with Viking accents.
- If you start random conversations with the guards, they talk about the new vampire menace and how they wish it would go away.
- Eager to see a bunch of cool new shit, I make my way to the new area, which is southeast of Riften. I trek through an area called Dayspring Canyon and pass Stendarr's Beacon.
- Fort Dawnguard is huge. It looks lovely and romantic in the snow.
- Outside Fort Dawnguard, I meet a man named Agmaer. He's a little runt. He says he wants to join the Dawnguard, but he's scared because he's never done anything like this before. I vow that when I become a vampire and betray the Dawnguard, he'll be my first victim.
- I see Durak training with a crossbow. We chat and he says it's the Dawnguard's specialty. He gives me one. "Nothing better for putting down vampires."
- Shooting the crossbow feels nice and twangy, just like you'd expect. But it seems to reload way too slowly to be practical in combat at all. Maybe my character—a level 27 mage/swordsman—is just not built for ranged combat.
- When I enter Fort Dawnguard, I fall into the floor. Talk about a groundbreaking experience.
- Leaving and re-entering the room fixes this issue. Soon I'm chatting with Isran, leader of the Dawnguard, who asks me to go investigate Dimhollow Crypt, where a bunch of vampires are hunting after something. My job is to find out what that is.
- I teleport near Dimhollow Crypt and make my way over there.
- Oh, fuck off Ice Wraith.
- I'm too powerful for this DLC—or at least the first few hours of this DLC. Everything dies very, very quickly. Even Master Vampires collapse in two or three hits.
- So the dungeon is fairly easy. I do get to meet a new enemy, the Gargoyle, which is essentially just a new skin to attack.
- At the end of Dimhollow Crypt, I find a vampire woman named Serana. She's casually carrying an Elder Scroll on her back. She asks if I'll help her get home.
- I take Serana to her home, the aforementioned vampire castle (located in the way northwest). It's called Castle Volkihar. Her father, the king, asks if I want to join the tribe.
- I am now a vampire.
- In order to gain new perks as a vampire—which has its own skill tree—you have to kill enemies using your Drain Life or biting abilities.
- Some of the higher-end vampire perks include Supernatural Reflexes, which slows everything down, Night Cloak, which gives you a cloak of bats (!) that feed on enemies within range, and Summon Gargoyle, which does what it sounds like.
- I don't know why anyone would ever choose not to be a vampire. Presumably if you denied the king's request, you'd go back and fight for the Dawnguard. But... why?
- There's a feeding pit. You can go up to human thralls and suck out their blood. It's hot.
- I'm introduced to some other members of vampire court, like the nasty Orthjolf and Vingalmo, two oddly named vamps who are apparently out to get one another.
- What's interesting about the vampire castle—and what will hopefully make this a cool plotline—is that everyone is just a straight-up awful person. Which will make for some interesting stories. Hopefully it's as cool as the Dark Brotherhood.
- It will take every ounce of restraint in my body to not go around every city in Skyrim, eating people and bat-swarming my way through crowds of dumb guards. Gotta finish the actual game so I can review it for all you lovely readers. You're welcome.
I'll have more on Dawnguard, including a full review, in the coming days.