Yesterday at E3, I spent some time playing Skyrim's first big downloadable add-on, Dawnguard. Between my time with the game and my subsequent conversation with game director Todd Howard, I came away with the firm notion that Dawnguard is less a mere additional faction questline and more a full, proper expansion.
Ready for some delicious bullet-points? Of course you are. Mmm. Bullet points. Here's what I gleaned from my time with the game and my chat with Howard:
- The main quest has two different tracks, one for Vampire Lord and one for Dawnguard.
- Dawnguard will offer 10-20 hours of gameplay, depending on how you play.
- Even though the two story tracks are separate, they'll come together at various key points in the story. "Whatever the Macguffin is," Howard told me, "both sides come together around that point, and then it diverges afterwards."
- The demo I played was partway into the Vampire Lord track. The plot involved helping a woman vampire named Serana find her mother, Valerica, who had fled Tamriel to a plane of Oblivion called "Soul Cairn." We performed a ritual to open a portal to Soul Cairn.
- Serana lives in a castle called Castle Volkhar, which is located in a previously inaccessable region of the far northwest corner of the map, near Icewater Jetty.
- Serana and Valerica are both caught up in a much larger story involving pure vampires that followed Molag Bal. Those vampires are called the "Daughters of Coldharbor."
- There is at least one new dragon, named Durnivhiir. (Though I'm pretty sure it's not spelled that way? Anyway, he's a dragon. I didn't meet him.)
- Soul Cairn itself is a hefty chunk of land, and feels somewhat similar to the late-stage realm you visit in the main quest of Skyrim, only much bigger. There are multiple castles and fortresses around, and things are shadowy and mysterious.
- The plot involves an Elder Scroll. Yes! Another quest that directly involves an Elder Scroll!
- Soul Cairn is but one of at least two large new landmasses in the game. However, the story will also play out across the Skyrim we all know and love, which is really cool. Said Howard, "You're still going to be exploring the landmass that came with the main game, and then, I want to avoid quantifying, but there are at least two very large new areas. The Soul Cairn is one of them."
- The Vampire Lord works much like a werewolf in the main game—you can trigger the transformation with the right shoulder-button, and transform back at any time.
- Once you're a Vampire Lord, you no longer have access to your inventory items and can only use Vampire Lord abilities. The camera goes to third-person, as well, just like when you're a werewolf.
- The Vampire Lord's abilities include Raise Dead, a spell that presumably raises dead enemies and has them fight for you, Summon Gargoyle, which (duh!) summons a gargoyle to fight alongside you, Vampiric Grip, which lets you grab and throw enemies, Vampire's sight, which is basically night-vision, and the best one…
- BATS. Maybe I've mentioned that you can blast around as a cloud of bats? Because you totally can. Also, there's a second ability that lets you surround yourself with a cloud of vampire bats that damage your foes. Sort of like any other area-attack, only with bats and therefore superior in every way.
- The Vampire Lord also has his own skill tree, which includes a number of abilities centered around regenerating health and stamina by killing and sucking blood.
- Two of the cooler-looking high-level Vampire Lord abilities include Mist Form, which lets you become intangible mist as you regenerate your health and stamina, and Supernatural Reflexes, which makes every enemy in the world move much slower than you do.
- In terms of difficulty, Bethesda has taken high-level characters into account. Dawnguard overall as a DLC, adds things across the game for higher-level characters.
- Dawnguard is balanced assuming you're at least level 10. 80% of players are at least level 10.
- If you're a werewolf, becoming a Vampire Lord will cure you. You can't be both at the same time.
- There will be lots of sidequests in Dawnguard: "There will be [sidequests] within the factions," Howard said, "for the most part, they're anscillary things, miscellaneous quests that fill out what's going on in either faction. Kind of like the way the factions worked [in the main game.]"
- The sidequests won't all be tied to the main Vampires/Dawnguard storyline. "There actually a really, really good other quest in there with a really cool dungeon" that has nothing to do with Dawnguard's main storyline. Two really's! It must be good.
- Dawnguard expands the game beyond the main quest in a lot of small ways. "There's a lot of other things in [the expansion]," Howard told me. It's easier for Bethesda to talk about the expansion in terms of the Dawnguard storyline, but the team has lots of other things they've been working on that they want to put in.
Sound good to you? Sounds good to me. Dawnguard will be released on June 26th, exclusively for Xbox 360, at least at first. Howard wouldn't say when the expansion will be out on PS3 and PC. Hopefully not too long, because man. I'm sure I'm not the only PC player who really wants to play this sucker.
Geddit? Sucker? Because vampires. You know, they suck. Blood. It's… oh, nevermind.