Skyrim: Dawnguard's new features revealed

Crossbows, new perks, and epic mounts in Dawnguard's all-new campaign

At the end of 2011 Bethesda opened Skyrim up to their annual Game Jam. The developers at Bethesda's studio added Kinect support, horseback combat and other features we've already seen in 2012's patches, but the bulk of the Game Jam's experiments are a part of Skyrim's first major DLC.

Dawnguard is a heavyweight, Shivering Isles-sized chunk of content where you'll join Skyrim's vampires to fulfil their cheerful plan to blot out the sun, or fight against them and purge the world of emo. Bethesda's behind-closed-doors E3 demo picks up five hours into the Dawnguard campaign on the vampire side, with the Dragonborn fully in the grip of neck-munching vampirism.


Your fellow vampire Serena has traced her mother Valerica to Castle Valkihar, far north of Northwatch Keep. An all-new area, Valkihar lies on an island far out at sea in an area shrouded on Skyrim's map. There you'll find a portal to Oblivion - an experiment conducted by Valerica which saw her become trapped in Oblivion's Soul Cairn with dozens of other lost souls.

Passing through the portal begins the quest Beyond Death in a deep purple world haunted plaintive spectral souls and aggressive skeletal Bonemen, apparently pissed off about being named "Bonemen". Here, in a prison cell, you'll find Valerica who explains how to end "the tyranny of the sun" and why doing so will be good news for vampires but bad news for Serena.

But let's steer clear of spoilers and stick to the Christopher Lee side of Dawnguard. Playing as a vampire opens up an all-new vampirism skill tree which powers your Vampire Lord form. With a tap of the left bumper you'll morph into a flying, spell-casting, blood-sucking, Buffy-bothering demon able to cast vampire magic or attack with razor-sharp claws. Vampirism works like lycanthropy in Skyrim; your monster form gives you new abilities but denies you others, but the risk is worth the reward once you've powered up your ugly side.

At the top of the Vampire Lord's three-pronged skill tree is the time-slowing Supernatural Reflexes, an instant paralysis spell, and Night Cloak - a cloud of bats which surround you and attack anyone looking to stick a wooden stake in your chest.

Of course, being a vampire means you'll have to look like death warmed up, avoid travelling by day, listen to shitty nu-metal and fight an entire army of vampire hunters. In Dawnguard's first hour you'll be faced with a choice - to fight with the vampires or against them - and fighting on the side of mortal men brings with it an all-new werewolf skill tree. It's another throwback to that Game Jam, along with improvements to the game's dungeons and the game's first epic mount, Arvak - a spectral horse you'll bring back from Oblivion and can summon at any time.


Bethesda's RPGs are almost impossible to demo at a convention and so the opening stages of Beyond Death are Skyrim at its most linear - a simple dungeon picked to show off Dawnguard's features more than its scope. At 1,600 Microsoft Points it's an expensive piece of DLC but it rewrites the entire land of Skyrim, giving every existing vampire an other-worldly makeover, adding a new shout, a new weapon and new magic to a world you'll already know well.

More than anything it's a chance to return to Skyrim and explore the land in a new light, or go all Lost Boys and drench the world in darkness.