The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dawnguard|
Skyrim was an amazing game, in its breadth of experience, its amazing world, and the sense of (granted, often unfulfilled) ambition that filled the world. Dawnguard was an inevitability, and while smaller and less ambitious in scope, it still manages to provide the dizzying heights of environmental amazement, and the dull throbbing headaches of realizing that some mechanics just don't quite work out that characterize a trip to Tamriel. Still, despite its drawbacks, Dawnguard more than justifies returning to Skyrim.
The Dawnguard experience begins on a low-key note, with chatter about the reformation of the Dawnguard, a brotherhood of vampire hunters. It continues until you check out Fort Dawnguard, their base of operations and a gigantic castle which dwarfs any in Skyrim. Before long, you find yourself caught up in a vampiric plot to end the tyranny of the sun. Whether you're working for the bloodsuckers or staying loyal to the Dawnguard, you get some perks along the way. If you stay as a vampire hunter, you get access to upgraded crossbows (provided you can pillage the technology for them from Dwemer ruins), armored trolls to fight with you, and access to the ancient fort which gets repaired as the quests continue. If you betray them and become a vampire, then, well, your primary reward is being a vampire. A vampire lord, in fact, which isn't quite as hot as it sounds.
Like being a werewolf in the core game, being a vampire lord transforms you into a beastly alternate form that cuts you off from your inventory, talking to people, opening chests and interacting with the environment in pretty much any way other than opening doors. While this made sense as a werewolf, and was more or less tolerable on account of wolfishness being a limited-use ability, the mighty, arcane vampire lord forgetting how to open a box is jarring, and the frequent transformations in and out of the form make it worse. The fact that your giant goofy wings make you sidle through doors.
While there are mods to fix the interaction issues on PC, the fact that the vampire lord's main attack is a large, life-draining area of effect spell is a major issue. The fixed third person camera makes it a pain to aim, and more often than not I'd end up reloading after an encounter because I accidentally murdered my NPC partner. Despite the array of useful sub-abilities, such as melee, bat swarms, and gargoyle summoning, I quickly shelved vampire lord form and did the quest line as a regular, unlordly vampire.
The quest line is only part of the experience, however. Once you've resolved the crisis over vampires trying to blot out the sun one way or another, you're left with the run of one of the two gigantic castles, and an array of followers ready to point you at things that need doing. Vampires will scheme, collect ancient artifacts and otherwise make themselves shadowy occult nuisances, while the Dawnguard will work to keep the populace safe and grow their ranks. Like in the core game, the radiant quests will keep you going for a while.
While most of the content Dawnguard adds has you mucking through caves and dungeons, it certainly doesn't slouch on their quality. It adds a number of fantastic vistas that regularly left me in awe, whether I was intruding on hallowed ground to learn from the Elder Scrolls, raiding the Soul Cairn, or taking the pilgrim's path through an ancient snow elf holy site. Whether you're fighting on an icy lake, monsters breaking through around you, being swept through rapids in a cave, or marveling at the hidden glades and the architecture of dead races, Dawnguard brings some of the most incredible environments that Skyrim has to offer. While the gameplay is still basically the same, there's still more than enough reason to get it if you feel like going back to Skyrim. The price of admission might seem relatively steep, but given how much there is in the base game, unless you've explored every inch of space, it's probably worth the price of admission just to have a point to launch from.