The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was that rare breed of game that generated its own hype. Even if Bethesda decided not to spend one copper penny on advertising, Skyrim would have still been a runaway success based on its merits and innovation alone. A true evolution in how gamers perceive leveling systems, interpersonal relationships and character growth, Skyrim was the full realization of the rapidly growing sandbox RPG genre.
So naturally, the announcement of an expansion pack set the Internet into a frenzy, and as indicated by the overwhelming demand for beta invites, it goes without saying that Dawnguard is perhaps the most hyped DLC ever to be released within a fantasy setting. With all of this fan induced, overblown hype, the pressure on Bethesda to deliver is going to be overwhelming.
Vampires lie at the center of Dawnguard. Similar to how players could transform into Werewolves in the original, they will be allowed to morph into a blood-sucking creature of the night, should they choose to align with the Volkihar. Alternatively, they can join the Dawnguard, a group of vampire hunters, and help to defeat the vampire lord Harkon.
Apparently our new villain wants to unlock the powers of the ancient scrolls in an attempt to end the tyranny of the sun. Based on that alone, the premise feels as if it will be decidedly epic, but is raises the question, “What will be the repercussions on the world should Harkon win?” One thing that disappointed me about Skyrim is that the impact of your monumental decisions weren’t always immediately felt throughout the lands. If Harkons wins, will the world succumb to eternal night? Will crops fail and evil rule? If Dawnguard is to succeed on a high level, the consequences of your actions must resonate to all corners of the game world.
Secondly, the plot must differentiate itself the Companions arc. Granted, that arc was one of the coolest in the game, but the new powers bestowed upon players as a Werewolf were hardly overwhelming. Give players a reason to become a vampire, or subsequently to not become one and they will become more immersed. Thankfully, they’ll be able to switch off vampire mode whenever they want, but given that vampires already made an appearance in Oblivion, the arc may struggle to find its footing.
Combat must be engaging. Given the myriad of new abilities at your disposal via an all new skill tree, playing as a vampire should be fun but should also be viable. Remember, that if you choose to side with the Dawnguard you’ll open up a new Werewolf skill tree – there had to be some incentive for each path. And give Bethesda credit, instead of raising the level cap in order to grant players more perks, they choose to have perks open up based on how much you feed. It is this intuitive approach to leveling, where abilities are improved and unlocked through action, that propels Skyrim above the stale leveling traditions employed by most games.
So will Dawnguard live up to the hype? At 1600 MSP it’s going to be hard pressed, but from what we’ve seen, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. Although the concept of vampires feels a little bit too trendy for some, the general feeling is that Bethesda’s masterful execution will save the day. In so long as the ramifications of your actions permeate far and wide, and there is enough incentive for playing as both a vampire and a member of the Dawnguard, I’ll be shilling out the coin for the expansion pack to what went down as my favorite RPG of the past five years.