So, Skyrim is great. If you haven't played it yet, you really should, there is something in there for nearly everyone. I am not here to talk about Skyrim however, I am here to talk about the first official expansion to the game, Dawnguard.
At the time of writing, Dawnguard is only available for the 360, with a 30 day delay before it hits PC, and PS3. Being that my PC is currently a (very) expensive doorstop, I booted up my X-box, loaded an old save, and leapt in. Almost immediately someone approached my gigantic Nord and told me that The Dawnguard are recruiting. I promptly told him to leave me alone, I was much too busy exploring what else the expansion gave me to worry about silly things like plot development. To my surprise, the plot actually DID leave me alone; I was told where the Dawnguard were located, then left to my own devices. The next loading screen then told me how to access werewolf perks.
Werewolf perks? Oh THIS I had to check out. In the vanilla game, werewolves quickly found themselves irrelevant. There was no way to improve your damage, or heal other than eating. Late game, the best use for werewolf form was a very dangerous travel power with no map. I trekked my way out of town and transformed, eager to examine this tree.
To earn these new perks, you need to eat the hearts of anything you kill. The first step of the tree can be selected four times, and ups your damage by 25% each time. After that it splits off, one branch increasing your health and healing abilities, the other three talking about totems. I had to look it up, but totems allow you to change your werewolf's howl from a simple terror-inducing effect, to a tracking ability, and even a summon! The idea of rolling through a group of bandits with a group of werewolves appeals to me immensely, but to unlock the other howls you need to find totems, by doing quests at random for Aela the Huntress (conveniently my wife in this save file). The extra damage and health perks, however, add a noticeable punch to my werewolf, and were easily gained by clearing out some bandit encampments I had been too lazy to clean up before. Each level of the tree takes slightly longer than the last, but I use Werewolf form often enough that it never felt ridiculous.
After messing about as a werewolf for far longer than I would like to admit, I decided to finally give the rest of the expansion a try. I headed to the Dawnguard fort, met an NPC who I am pretty sure will die but I hope doesn't, and was given my first crossbow. I would love to go into an in-depth comparison of crossbows vs regular bows, but I am a very up-close-and-personal-your-head-is-on-the-floor-now kinda guy. I tested out the crossbow and promptly sold it. Crossbows seem to use the same skill as bows, so if you already use ranged attacks you will be in luck. Not too far into the quest-line for the expansion (which I will not spoil), you are taught how to craft them. So far I am only able to make steel crossbows even with 100 smithing, but it seems there is a side quest-line to change this. Two quests into this option and my crossbow ignores 50% of armour, and has explosive bolts. Some people were concerned bows would be irrelevant with the addition of crossbows, but near as I can tell this is not the case.
Vampires are, as you probably already figured out if you have seen any promotional images for this expansion at all, the centre-point of all of this. These are no Twilight vampires, they are horrid, violent, secretive creatures. I was given the option to transform, but turned it down, being madly in love with my new werewolf powers. Vampires have their own tree, and hideout, but require a lot more commitment than Werewolves. Like in Oblivion, you must feed regularly, or take damage during the daylight, not to mention attract attention. Feeding weakens your vampire strength however, a balancing mechanic I rather like. Vampires can also transform into a horrible form, complete with it's own skill tree, but having turned down the option, I am not sure what that entails.
There is a lot more to this expansion, enough that I haven't even feel like I haven't even brushed the surface yet. Everything I have seen feels like it is a part of this world, and not simply tacked on at the last minute. The new characters are diverse, and really add to the world, while the new locals feel properly epic. Bethesda has really out done themselves here, and I am really looking forward to exploring this expansion further. If you loved Skyrim (and who didn't!), this is definitely worth a look... but be careful. Some of us were lucky to escape Skyrim's grasp once, we may not be so lucky this time.