Jun 29, 2012
I had very high expectations for Skyrim: Dawnguard.
How could I not? Creator Bethesda touted it as the type of DLC that would feel like an expansion pack, a nice chunk of crazy new content for RPG fans to dig their dragon-weary paws into. And of course, Skyrim was one of last year's best video games. I spent some 80 hours exploring and inhabiting its massive, secret-filled world.
So when I popped in Dawnguard, I expected it to wow me. I expected amazing new environments, crazy new plot lines, whole new cities to see and slaughter. I expected to be utterly blown away.
That didn't happen.
Here's what you should know about Dawnguard, which Bethesda released earlier this week for Xbox 360 (and will release later for PC and PlayStation 3): It adds two divergent faction lines to the game. One has you allying with a castle full of vampires; the other has you hunting down and killing those vampires. Both stories task you with acquiring a MacGuffin or three, which means you'll have to run around the world map through locations both new and old, mashing your trigger buttons and sniffing through caves on your quest to Save The World Again.
Dawnguard also fills Skyrim with a handful of other quests, tasks, and random scenarios. As a vampire, I found myself constantly accosted by the eponymous vamp-slaying Dawnguard, who would suddenly pop up in every city I visited, tracking me down like I had an iPhone. This protagonist-detecting ESP seems limited to the computer. While playing as a Dawnguard, you are instead just chased by psychic vampires (some of whom will apparently kill random NPCs everywhere you go).
WHY: Because you've seen, heard, and played most of this before.
Type of game: RPG DLC
Platforms: Xbox 360 (played), PC, PlayStation 3
Released: June 26 (Xbox 360), Later (PC, PlayStation 3)
Type of game: RPG DLC
What I played: Spent close to 15 hours finishing the vampire quest line. Took my time. Explored the world. You know: Skyrim stuff.
Two Things I Loved
- Having an excuse to revisit the world of Skyrim.
- The vampire quest's new follower, whose name and nature I won't spoil. She's awesome.
Two Things I Hated
- Boring, vast quests. Boring, vast areas.
- The game seems buggier than ever.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "You liked Skyrim, right? Here." - -Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
- "Hope you like caves." -Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
Because of this DLC's nature, I should admit that I definitely haven't seen everything it has to offer. Although I finished the vampire side of Dawnguard's main story and saw a few of its new sidequests, I did not scour every location in the game in search of new content, and therefore it's very possible that I missed some awesome features. But what I did experience—and what your average new player will experience—was nothing short of underwhelming.
The new quests are underwhelming: other than a few cool new concepts—like murdering a civilian while wearing Dawnguard armor so everybody thinks the Dawnguard did it—you've seen everything here before. Go here; find this; kill him; get that. There's nothing here as unabashedly awesome as, say, a certain quest at the end of the original game's Dark Brotherhood plot line.
The new areas are underwhelming: one, Soul Cairn, is just a soul-stuffed clone of Skyrim's Blackreach. It's big, purple, and completely empty. To finish its quests, you'll have to spend a lot of time walking through vast stretches of sheer nothingness. You'll have to fight a mini-boss, walk ten minutes through nothingness, fight another mini-boss, walk another ten minutes through nothingness, and so forth. This is not particularly fun, interesting, or emotionally engaging. Neither is the part where somebody asks you to hunt down ten pieces of paper and you just groan, wondering if you've accidentally stumbled into an MMORPG.
The new vampire powers are underwhelming: you can't use potions or spells while in Vampire Mode, and worst of all, you're stuck in third-person perspective. Teleporting around as a swarm of bats and draining enemies' life is cool, but completely impractical for regular use. To use items, open chests, and get through some doors, you'll have to switch back to human form, which means you'll have to sit through a long, laggy animation sequence before you can do anything. This is very irritating.
Even the bugs are underwhelming: other than this ridiculous moment toward the beginning of the game, Dawnguard's many bugs and glitches couldn't even get me to crack a smile. Particularly unfunny was the part where my follower suddenly disappeared and I had to replay an hour of progress because I couldn't activate the next quest trigger.
The sheer lack of creativity here makes it almost hard to believe that the same team worked on both Skyrim and Dawnguard. Keen-eyed Bethesda fans might notice that some of the game's new features draw from the Skyrim game jam that Todd Howard discussed at DICE earlier this year, and indeed, interesting mechanics like water currents, dark dungeons, and skeletal mounts are all in there. But they're all minor moments. The game jam itself was far more interesting than any of Dawnguard's new content.
If I had to summarize Dawnguard in two words, it would be this: more Skyrim. For many people, that's enough—and if you're in that boat, you should most definitely get your hands on this DLC. But if you wanted something special, something unique, something that could give you that feeling of giddiness you got the first time you entered Bethesda's hulking role-playing game and started exploring its caves and cities, then you might want to look elsewhere. Or at least wait for Skyrim: Game of the Year Edition.
Jun 27, 2012
I'm still powering my way through Dawnguard, which Bethesda is calling an expansion pack. My review will be up Friday morning, so until then, check out some of these vids I found on YouTube that show off all of the new features in the DLC, which is available on Xbox 360 for $20.
(Spoilers for Dawnguard content follow.)
A Day In The Life Of A Vampire Lord
Complete with crazy new mount and other special Vampire-related powers.
The Twin Dragons, Voslaarum & Naaslaarum
Dragon twins? Dragon twins.
Dragonbone Weapons and How To Start Dawnguard Quest
Dragonbone weapons? Dragonbone weapons.
New Enemy: DeathHound
Death Hounds? Death Hounds.
Dawnguard - New Enemy: Gargoyles
In Dawnguard, Gargoyles start off as stone statues and then suddenly morph into nasty flying creatures. They also come in tougher classes, like the Gargoyle Brute.
A first look at one of the game's daedric MacGuffins.
How To Get Your Hands On A Flaming Horse
It's in the Soul Cairn, which is very purple. In fact, it's one of the most purple areas in all of Skyrim. Maybe even the purplest.
How To Choose Becoming Vampire Or Dawnguard
Fairly early into Dawnguard, you get to decide whether or not to become a vampire. Here's how that goes.
How To Get An Armored Troll Follower
Yes, you can get your own armored troll. (Dawnguard only.)
Here's some video footage we just captured of Skyrim's first DLC, Dawnguard, which I've been playing today.
Watch me turn into a bunch of bats. Watch me drain peoples' lives. Watch me re-animate dead bodies.
No sparkles on this vampire, folks.
Jun 26, 2012
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.
Jun 25, 2012
This is Skyrim's first piece of downloadable content, Dawnguard, which comes out tomorrow for Xbox 360. I loaded it up for the first time about half an hour ago. Headed to the first new area, Fort Dawnguard.
The video above shows what I found there. Enjoy your first look at Skyrim's DLC in action.
(Exiting and re-entering the room seemed to fix this issue.)
Check out the rest of these new images for a peek into the first upcoming DLC pack for Bethesda's role-playing game, Dawnguard, which will be out this summer.
This is St. John's Fortress, located in Kotor, Montenegro. It's basically a greener version of the Throat of the World, an exhaustingly enormous landmark from Bethesda's popular role-playing game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. See the resemblance?
(I reached out to Bethesda this morning to ask if there were any real-life inspirations for Skyrim's 7,000 steps, but haven't heard back yet.)
I passed through the Eastern European city while on vacation last week and climbed St. John's Fortress. I took pictures along the way. Here they are:
(Note: last photo might be from actual Skyrim. Bet you couldn't even tell!)
When last seen, he looked like he was done for. Gregethor, the scene-stealing bearded shopkeeper from the enormously successful parody Skyrim 2012, was getting blasted in the stomach by his own Staff of Lightning. It appeared to be a fatal blow. I was so distraught I re-rolled a Breton in Gregethor's honor.
Well, the Grosjean Brothers, the twins who star in, wrote and produced Skyrim 2012, have good news. Gregethor is returning in their next episode, among many other big plans they have now that Justin Grosjean has graduated from Michigan State's film studies program and can put a lot more time on what was already a well-made project.
"There's something about Gregethor that makes you smile," Justin Grosjean told me. "We talked about killing him off because people loved him so much, they care more."
Portrayed by the Grosjeans' high school friend Greg Davis, Gregethor embodies many of the quirks and limitations of interactions in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where a homeowner will discover an intruder and simply—but still firmly—ask him to leave. The robbery of a disgruntled, cigarette-smoking courier (played with perfect deadpan by Matt Smith) was hilariously familiar to Skyrim fans.
"I happen to be an absurdly obsessed video game man," Davis told Kotaku, "and Skyrim was already many hours underway before this project came to my attention." So his pitch-perfect impersonation of the sleazy merchant Belethor, encountered early in Whiterun, comes from a great deal of exposure to the game. Davis, a student in music education at Oakland University, has been involved in theater and the performing arts in some form since second grade, rounding out the foundation of his performance.
"Seeing my likeness next to Belethor was thoroughly entertaining. I have always wanted to meet my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great," he says, stealing a joke from Skyrim 2012, "grandfather."
Neither he nor the Grosjeans say how Gregethor will return, but it's one feature of an elaborate sequel project they kicked off earlier this week. "We want this episode to be much grander and to blow people's socks off," Justin said. They're hiring on more actors to bring more characters to their reimagining of Skyrim, which looks a lot like their home of Clarkston, Mich.
A dragon character is the biggest ambition. They've picked out a voice actor from Justin's class, but need to give the thing a head. Designing that will take some time and effort, so the brothers are trying to raise $5,000 to deliver the fourth episode of project that's already gathered more than 3 million views on YouTube.
They've made other videos, but Skyrim 2012 is far and away the biggest hit. A full cut of all three episodes has been entered at the Phoenix Comic-Con Film Festival later this month. (The Grosjeans will be attending.)
"I think the reason that Skyrim 2012 was so well received is because it captures a world that is beloved by many and portrays it in a setting where people can not only relate to it on a personal but also relate the the rich world Bethesda created," Justin said. "I think it's easy for fans to enjoy because it's a joke that only they and the Bethesda community are in on."
That may be selling its appeal a little short. Davis—with his striking blond beard and looks he does not mind if you compared to Jeff Bridges'—said he's been recognized around Clarkston as much as he has been on Oakland's campus. "The best part of having played Gregethor has been getting recognized by people in everyday encounters," Davis said.
And if Davis and his fans are glad he's coming back, well, so are the Grosjeans. "He's so willing to commit to any line you give him, it was hard sometimes not to laugh on the set," Justin said.
"We knew deep down we were bringing Gregethor back," he said. "He's just too awesome."
In the lore of The Elder Scrolls V, the Snow Elves have been driven underground by the Nords. But the in-game legends about the mystical race make it sound like they're former badasses who've been laid low and are ripe for revenge.
Bethesda's already on record as saying that DLC for Skyrim will be rolling out in the style of expansion packs and these files certainly make it seem like that plan will be going into effect.
The patch Bethesda's hit RPG that PS3 players have been waiting for—y'know, the one that should get the game working the way it's supposed to—will be coming later today, according a tweet by VP of PR and Marketing Pete Hines. You'll also get those upgraded kill cams and a slew of other features in the 1.5 update, which is reportedly already live for the Xbox 360.