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The first add-on to be released by Bethesda, Dawnguard packs a massive amount of new content to explore. Vampire slayers, the Dawnguard seek to eliminate the vampire threat that has risen to power in the northwest part of Skyrim. Vampires are appearing in large number and attacking the holds of Skyrim. The vampires on the other hand, hope to find a way to destroy the sun because of their weakness to it. Hearing a rumor from a guard in any hold, alerts the player that the Dawnguard is forming. Following the rumor leads the player to Fort Dawnguard, where the quest begins. Isran, the leader of the Dawnguard, asks the hero to search the Dimhollow crypt. Upon completing your search, you find a woman whom you later discover is a vampire, and Lord Harkon’s daughter, Serena. On her back is a large scroll, obviously an Elder Scroll. She asks you to bring her to her father, the leader of the vampires. Once you have safely returned Serena to her father’s castle, a choice must be made. Will you remain loyal to the Dawnguard, or will you join the vampire’s crusade, becoming one as well? A lot of content is added to the world of Skyrim with the Dawnguard add-on. Nearly 40 quests make up the storylines between following Lord Harkon, or remaining loyal to the Dawnguard. Over 80 NPC’s have been added to facilitate the new content over 24 new areas to explore. In addition to the NPC’s added, you can have demonhounds(vampire) or dogs(Dawnguard) join you as followers on your quests. New spells can be discovered for the conjuration and restoration trees, as well as three new shouts to learn. And between the Dawnguard and vampire factions, a multitude of new items can be found and made. Dawnguard is able to add most of the new content to every aspect of Skyrim. The new items, books, potions, etc., will appear all over the world of Skyrim, as if they were there from the beginning. This includes new loading screens, dialogues for NPC’s, and new enemies to fight. Leaving weapons on the ground can lead to a guard telling you that it is dangerous to leave them there, or a merchant asking if they could take left items for resale. There are also perks added for both the abilities to turn into vampires or werewolves. Similar to the skill trees, these perks enhance either forms to make them even more deadly. Between the two story lines, following the vampires and the Dawnguard, you can expect nearly 20 hours of additional content. This of course can change depending on how quickly the player rushes through quest. Alongside the storyline, the player can run into side quests that can be well worth completing. Finding Arvak’s skull or speaking to a distraught soul will allow the player to complete a quest in which they can learn to summon an undead horse, Arvak. Also, the hero can learn new dragon shouts such as Soul Tear, which casts Soul Trap, drains the target of its health, and if it dies within two seconds, raises the target to fight for you for 60 seconds. Other things to look forward to involve the Aetherium Forge, which three unique items can be made: a staff that can summon a Dwarven sphere or spider for 60 seconds, a crown that allows for two stone powers to be active at once, and a shield that causes enemies to become ethereal for 60 seconds when bashed. As well as unique enemies like Durnehviir, a very old dragon whom you can eventually be able to summon into battle. Similar to Odahviing, Durnehviir is actually a bit more useful in that he summons more like a conjuration spell, meaning he can be used in most indoor areas provided there is enough room for him. Dawnguard will want to be replayed in order to see both faction’s side of the story, and see the differences that take place. Fresh new content such as vampire and Dawnguard armor can be found all over Skyrim. Players who haven’t finished Skryim can download Dawnguard, and start seeing changes right away. Unlike the DLC available for other games, Bethesda’s first official add-on will keep you busy for hours on end.
A small add-on in comparison to the Dawnguard DLC, Hearthfire still gives plenty of new options for the player to consider. Inspired by the popularity of Minecraft, Hearthfire gives players the ability to build their own home, protect it from enemies, hire staff, and adopt children. While it doesn’t include any new quests, Hearthfire introduces new options, and expands content currently available. Building your mansion provides an addicting experience which seamlessly blends into the world of Tamriel as if it were there from the beginning. Usually an add-on introduces new content; however, to access the new content, the player is confined to a new area. This is one of the features I’ve always enjoyed with Elder Scrolls games, the smooth blending of new content with the old. Hearthfire adds clothing and toys for the kids you can potentially adopt, in addition to new furnishings for your homes. Like in Minecraft, players with OCD will enjoy building and furnishing their mansions. Fortunately, building a mansion does not require training a skill to make the items required. Apart from some obscure materials for random decorations, iron will be wanted in large supply. Most of what is needed to build the mansion can be found surrounding the land purchased. There are two mineral veins that can be mined to provide the quarried stone and clay you will need. Sawn logs are also now available for purchase from lumber mills, such as the one in Riverwood. Building your mansion consists of two parts, exterior and interior. After building the main hall, three expansions can be added. Each one of these expansions have specific features that can be chosen: an enchanter’s tower, library, kitchen, armory, trophy room, storage room, alchemy lab, greenhouse, and living quarters. What this means is that only certain features can be built upon each expansion, which narrows the choices that can be made. While it may seem repetitive to some, Minecraft enthusiasts will enjoy building the interior. Furniture and decorations can’t be placed in precise locations, but are unique to the feature the player chose when making the exterior. The living quarters allow beds and bedroom furniture to be built, which is required for adopting children. The armory allows for many manikins and weapon racks which can be used to display armor and weapons sets. The trophy room requires many unique items such as a troll skull for a troll statue, or horker tusks to mount a horker’s head on your wall. A fairly simple process in the game, adoption is quite misleading by today’s real world standards. Helping a child will open up the dialogue to adopt, or you can go through an orphanage such as the one in Riften. As long as a home of yours has a children’s bedroom with furniture you will be able to adopt the child. In addition to bringing your family to your mansion, you can also hire a steward. The steward provides a multitude of different functions in addition to being called upon as a follower. A steward is able to add livestock to your estate, they can hire a bard or caravan driver for you, and they can assist with furnishing your home. They can be asked to buy materials required to make furnishings in your home, as well as furnishing your home for you. A steward will remain loyal to you, and can only be removed by being killed. While Hearthfire didn’t add any story or exploration content, it did add about 10-15 hours of content to explore including gathering materials and furnishing the inside of your home. Unless you are looking to settle down in Skyrim, you shouldn’t expect too much adventuring with this add-on, but for those who enjoy world-building games like Minecraft, will find some familiarity with Hearthfire.
Continuing where I left off in the first part of this series, I am now more than 100 hours into this game including the add-ons, Dawnguard and Hearthfire. Very few games today can do what Skyrim has done, and so it should be commended. Including the DLC, the investment of $85 is worth every penny. Many games today fail at living up to their hype, making an unequal balance between their hype, cost, and time invested. The first week after release, a game’s hype falls dramatically usually due to a campaign being too short, or not rewarding the player effectively. Every game has a downfall, but because of Skyrim’s length and depth, it took longer to discover it. Quests were an interesting mix, the open-world formula made it easy to forget about the main storyline. Part of the reason is because each quest, or series of quests, has its own revolving stories; investigating a burned down house leads to killing a master vampire, joining either the Stormcloaks or the Imperials leads to capturing the opposing faction’s capital city, etc. For obvious reasons, the main quest of discovering that you are the Dragonborn and what that means is the most powerful. After meeting the Greybeards and attempting to retrieve an old horn for them, you learn of the long forgotten group, “The Blades”, who were actually dragon slayers. And along with this, dragons aren’t just returning, but are coming back to life. Alduin, an ancient dragon is able to resurrect other dragons, and while anyone can kill a dragon, only a Dragonborn can absorb the soul of a dragon, preventing them from being able to return from the dead. Not only do the various quests make the Skyrim world exciting and unique, the variety of character types makes each experience a little different. Picking up the role of a powerful mage, I focused heavily into destruction magic. I wanted to kill first and ask questions later. This is where I found the “Stagger” perk incredibly handy. When dual-casting a spell, overcharging it into a more powerful version, staggers any opponent for a moment. With reduced magicka costs to my spells, my goal was to make sure the enemy was dead before I ran out of magic. While my focus was on destruction magic, there are supplemental skill trees that are worth investing into. Enchanting is essential no matter the play style, eventually being able to enchant an item with two different stats made it possible for me to be able to cast any spell from any two schools of magic for free. This combination with stagger made the game extremely easy. I could now stagger any opponent, casting master level destruction spells for free. Increasing the difficulty helped balance the game more, but proved how powerful this setup became. Blacksmithing for a magic user is pointless, but I wanted to see Dragon Armor on my character. While a thief or warrior would benefit from upgrading armors or weapons, a mage’s only consideration is its use of doubling an item’s value. Lockpicking includes a perk which increases your chance of finding a magical item by 50%, in addition to the prior perk which increases gold find, I was able to find gear upgrades faster than working blacksmithing to learn how to make them. For those of us obsessed with money, the speech skill has many benefits including being able to increase merchant’s bartering gold by 1500, or persuading guards to look the other way. The first is especially useful as I would bankrupt every merchant I could find, selling the loot from my latest run. The latter is quite handy for the achievement of obtaining 1000 gold bounty in all nine holds. Along with selling everything, I enjoyed the perk in pickpocketing that increased my carry limit by 100. Having a party member carry items for me, I often spent more time selling than fighting. It was surprising to watch NPC’s interact with each other. Vilkas can train you in two-handed weapon combat, but you can also discover this listening to him teach another companion how to fight with a two-handed weapon. While what is said wouldn’t help you be a better fighter (in the game), in a real world setting the logic rings true. “Balance is key with two-handed weapons; you need to be able to counter the weight of the swing.” The story is rich and powerful, and I found myself surprised many times. Knowing how Elder Scrolls games go, I knew there had to be something revolving around the use of a scroll, but it wasn’t until the dragon resurrection that I realized what was going on. This story and the free-exploration formula is why Skyrim did so well for weeks after its release, in addition to the fame for being an Elder Scrolls game. From developing your character with near limitless choices, brilliant design and direction, and the amazing story, it is no wonder why this game did so well. I highly recommend it.
The Elder Scrolls has always been a series worth looking into. Each installment to the franchise sets new standards for other current-generation video games. Bethesda Game Studios has created a unique niche in the RPG genre through character customization, style of play, but most importantly through the specific details that go into every part of every game. This trend continues with Skyrim, the fifth installment of the Elder Scrolls series. Starting the game up for the first time, you appear amongst a group of prisoners. Your wrists are bound, and you can’t move, aside from looking around. While it is unique to the Elder Scrolls games, the prisoner starting point is also becoming a tired theme. It sets up the story for Skyrim, but a thought that would be an interesting change would be to lead up to being arrested. We know of an ambush that was meant for the Stormcloak soldiers, so why not have a “teaser trailer” for the opening cinematic that depicts this scenario. Ending up with the same result, but there’d be a bit more story being told. Creating your character takes place just before the executions of the prisoners. Upon first glance, the graphics engine expresses its power through the use of shadows. Your character’s facial features show an extreme level of detail through the use of the sun’s light source. Individual bumps from eye brows, cheeks, etc., each cast their own unique shadow, which is something to marvel at for being drawn at run-time. Even though you don’t look at your character’s face through the majority of the game, this level of detail will continue throughout the rest of your adventure. Fortunately, a dragon out of legend appears and attacks Helgen Keep, and you barely escape with one of two soldiers. There is a plot choice here, you can choose to flee with either the Imperial or Stormcloak soldier. Whichever choice you make leads you to the same town of Riverwood where, depending on your previous choice, you can find sanctuary in one of two homes belonging to the family of whichever soldier you followed. Upon facing the dragon at Helgen Keep, the controller vibrates beautifully in-sync with its roar, landings, take-offs, and breath attacks. This synchronization between visuals, sounds, and feelings enhance the game’s presence ten-fold. The ripple of reality between real-life and the game’s world is cleverly disguised. This harmony of syncing continues when fighting three mammoths and their giant protector as you “hear” and “feel” just how close behind they are as you run your socks off in the opposite direction. Similar to previous installments, leveling up individual skills generally comes with using them. To be an all-powerful wizard, you need to use magic, and you need to use the strongest magic. Your skill in the arcane arts will increase faster with higher rank spells as opposed to saving magicka by casting lower ranked spells. With each skill level, a portion of experience is awarded to your character. While leveling up, you can choose to increase your magicka, health, or stamina, in addition to using a specialization point in a number of skill trees. In addition to the near-limitless character customization options, Skyrim’s NPC’s are also well-developed. Every NPC has an audible voice, but more importantly will talk to your character even though you are just passing by. They may even scold you as you accidentally kick their cooking kettle around their store. Likewise, overhearing conversations with other NPC’s can unlock side quests. Overhearing a group of Redguard Alik’r being asked to leave Whiterun leads to them asking you for help. They are searching for a woman that is a Redguard like them, and are willing to pay for locating her. Upon finding her, you can choose to help her, or find the mercenaries and tell them where she is hiding. Partying with NPC’s is also more interesting than in other games. In a quest with Farkas he tells you to meet him at Dustman’s Cairn to find shards of a legendary axe, Wuuthrad, for the Companions guild. Farkas actually walks, and leaves town on his own. Rather than “magically teleporting,” you can follow him all the way to Dustman’s Cairn, typically these kinds of things for the consoles can be very taxing to their resources. It bogs them down as memory is used to chart the NPC’s course, but somehow this is unnoticeable to the player! Like the NPC’s of Skyrim, there are many items to be found throughout the game as well. And a sort of OCD can be created with your obsession of customization. Some armor for example can be the same stat wise, but have different skins for their art assets, thus creating a slightly different look for your character and companions that you can “dress” up. Along with items you can use or wear, there are also many decoration items that are mostly useless, unless you want to pick how the inside of your house looks. Pots and kettles can be placed on a fire to look as if they were meant to be there, or you can place ornate jars on desks or tables and even place flowers in them. It takes a little bit of finesse, but for those who get picky about customization, it’s there for you to enjoy. Along with decorating your house, you can also populate your bookshelves! Books are more than just decoration however, the lore and mythology found in books, which can lead to random side and miscellaneous quests, have their own uniquely created content inside. In some cases, revealing how to get passed a door’s puzzle to open it, or to provide a small, permanent boost to skills, which makes every book worthwhile to open. Skyrim is a large world set within a larger world of Tamriel, which is slowly being revealed to us through the Elder Scrolls series. I eagerly await the DLC, Dawnguard and Hearthfire, as well as future Elder Scrolls games. Skyrim provides tremendous graphics, an engaging and unique story, as well as game play that will last for literally days on end. Having spent more than 20-hours on just one character alone, there is still much more to explore and do. I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer. If you haven’t checked out Skyrim yet, it is well worth your dollar to do so.