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The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim - Dawnguard

Mike and Ed team up to review Skyrim's first DLC

Skyrim's Dawnguard DLC pack left us in a terrible existential quandary. There are two storylines to choose from, vampiric or anti-vampiric, but OXM's writers only have access to one decision-making brain apiece. How on earth would we deliver a comprehensive assessment without tying one man down for an unconscionable 20 hours? The answer was as elegant as it is screamingly obvious - have two people play the game back to back.

The Dread Testimony of Edwin von Thirlwell
Skyrim's Dawnguard expansion is missing a critical line of dialogue. Let's call it the Proportional Response. It goes something like this: "You never studied biology at Vampire School, did you, Lord Harkon? Yes, the sun's a pain in the fangs, but killing it off with a handful of Magical Endgame McGuffin seems a bit of an extreme solution to the "problem" of a modest stat cut when we travel around in daylight. Have you taken the ecological consequences into account? Can't have agriculture without photosynthesis, and without agriculture, there won't be any mortals to feed on. Look at the bigger picture."

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Sadly, Bethesda's script writers skim over such pressing details, and the result, in my Skyrim savegame, is Perpetual Night, or at least Perpetual Night providing I keep it topped up with regular doses of Magical Endgame McGuffin. The locals don't seem to mind. They probably think plants spring up at the bidding of mystic space dragons, or something. I'm almost reluctant to feed on them, frankly - the Stupid may be contagious.

Besides a counter-productive hatred of the sun, vampires are typically characterised by ineffable boredom: the result of untold centuries spent watching people commit the same old mistakes over and over, such as buying Elder Scrolls games on release day before they've patched out the major glitches. Boredom certainly sums up the experience of being a Vampire Lord, Dawnguard's headline new feature - boredom punctured by glistening spikes of aggravation.

It's a simple problem of power: once you strip off your skin and reveal your true self, you're all but unkillable. I went from being a highly confused level 30 Archmage, caught between magical schools like a sheep in wire, to a titanium-skinned flesh-copter of doom. Vampire Lords get access to Blood Magic while they're airborne, the entry-level manifestation of which is a life-absorbing area effect attack capable of draining groups to husks in seconds.

On your left hand, meanwhile, you've got an array of Necromantic abilities like Vampiric Grip, which allows you to Force Lift (shhh, don't tell LucasArts) some of the expansion's toughest foes and throw them into walls. Run out of magicka? Never fear, pet. Just click the left stick to descend to the ground and whale on mortals, combine harvester style. Honestly, you can't lose. I dare you to try.

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The result of all this is that potentially interesting encounters become exercises in clocking up overtime. And those spikes of aggravation? Well, they're mainly the result of Vampire Lord transformation sequences, which are slow to load in and take upwards of five seconds. Stir in an incredibly helpful new Follower armed with Life Drain and Reanimate Corpse, and you'll find that most fights are over before you've even shrugged on your Drac Rags, depriving you of the specialised XP you need to scale the Vampire Lord perk tree.

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