Story: The vampire lords of old have returned, why now exactly is unknown. Regardless, at this exact same moment the Dawnguard miraculously appear and you get the choice to join either side and either suck the blood out of everything that moves or crossbow the shiznit out of vampires. Later, a plot about the vampires wanting to blot out the sun using Elder Scrolls is brought to light (no pun intended) and a magical bow appears, thanks to the help of a really cool cameo character. Sounds like just another faction to me.
Sound: No new music, and the new voices such as Harkon the Vampire Lord and Isran (Dawnguard leader) both sound like extreme interpretations of people with lung cancer. On the other hand, crossbows have a satisfying *kt-chink* when they lodge a bolt in the enemies’ body, so all is forgiven. Sound: 6/10
Presentation: There isn’t a lot of new content that you can repeatedly visit, with the two biggest additions being Fort Dawnguard and the Vampire Fort with a hard-to-spell name. But most of the quests take place either in an already present location or some awesome place that can only be visited for that specific quest. Such places include the Soul Cairn, a purple and black realm of depression where all used soul gem souls go to. In the Cairn there are badass flaming purple ponies, ghosts and a special undead dragon, which are all a great diversion from the usual Dwemer ruin. For me, the one location that really sticks out in Dawnguard is the Forgotten Vale, which is the mythical snowy mountain area that the original Skyrim trailers had but were never present in-game. This is where you battle on thin sheets of ice against dragons over a waterfall, and all other kinds of awesomeness that are non-revisitable. Presentation: 8.5/10
Gameplay: Gameplay varies drastically depending on whether you’re a Dawnguard or vampire, but they both suffer from the same fatal flow: They don’t feel new. Vampirism feels the same as Lycanthropy in that you can’t open chests, can’t loot bodies and it’s impossible to navigate small areas. Dawnguard just feels like more of the same archer gameplay plus some fancy crossbows. I spent the majority of my time in this DLC playing as the dawnguard, so I’ll be more in-depth about that. The only truly new gameplay elements are the crossbows which aren’t very powerful and I still opt for my best bow, and the armored trolls. Now, I normally don’t gush about such small things, but these trolls are awesome. It’s like if you put giant plates of metal armor on a gorilla and had him as a sidekick. Better yet, you can keep your companion with you at the same time so it’s adding one more soldier to your personal army.
One non-story related gameplay element worth mentioning is the newly added Werewolf tree. It expands greatly on the previously weak (at high levels) werewolf, and allows all sorts of town-rampaging that was previously impossible. Abilities range from summoning a werewolf ally to getting twice as much health from feeding on hearts, and overall it’s just a more gruesome (better) experience.
There are two major issues with Dawnguard’s gameplay, aside from its lack of new faction abilities/diversity. The linearity is the most shocking by far from a Bethesda product. Most of the locations aside from the two mentioned in the presentation category are single-hallway/corridor affairs that have a terribly bland rinse and repeat feel to them that makes the quests actually feel like a chore and not an explorable adventure. The other major gameplay flaw is in Dawnguard’s horrifying number of technical shortcomings: Quest markers in completely obscure locations, items not appearing for the proper quests, new shouts not functioning past the first word and all other kinds of nonsense. I encountered almost all of these, as have many other people who are searching for bug fixes via the internet, and it’s a real pain to deal with. I almost would’ve prefered if the developers just spent one more month touching it up and then releasing it to all platforms at the same time. I mean, seriously, why did they even have a beta testing session if within the first two quests the directional marker is glitched? Gameplay: 6/10
Length: The main faction questline took about eight to nine hours, give or take. There were a handful of sidequests and new items to beef up that time, but overall for twenty dollars you’re just not getting your money’s worth. The DLC tells its story and then it’s done. Length: 5.5/10
Overall: The first Skyrim DLC gets a 6.5/10. Some cool new locales and an awesome cameo aren’t enough to justify spending the full twenty smackers on this disappointingly linear and bland expansion pack. I recommend this only for diehard Skyrim fans and the most hardcore vampire players.