It's not as fun as it sounds.%Gallery-157878% It's telling that I played through most of Skyrim's fang-ridden DLC using my regular character, rather than transforming into the vampire lord ... creature available in Dawnguard. Playing as the vamp isn't enjoyable at all. He's locked to a third-person view, and the camera seems unable to get over the hulking beast's shoulders. When "shooting" one of his two powers (sap energy or raise the dead), I found it nearly impossible to hit my targets consistently.
Using his two claws for melee worked even less effectively, and transforming between the creature and my normal self caused the game to shudder. The screen often froze or glitched out in a way that worried me. I only mention this because the time it takes to transform, combined with the possible bugs, makes transforming in the middle of combat problematic at best, effectively forcing me to use the vamp's limited selection of powers, or not use him at all.
The content kicks off innocuously enough. After meeting the vampire hunters that give the DLC its name, a series of jumbled events (aren't they all?) led me to a choice: continue to hunt the vampires that are regrouping in secret, or choose to become one. In terms of gameplay, this means a crossbow for hunters or the ability to transform into a freakin' vampire lord (the dude below). You also get a crossbow either way right from the jump.
Post-transformation, I set out with fellow vampire Serana into ... some caves. There we encountered skeletons, some vampires, falmers and Dawnguard hunters. The caves (or tombs, or crypts, or whatever) were more than vaguely reminiscent of the lengthy time I'd already spent with Skyrim. Worse, that lasted for the first five or six hours of the content, though I admittedly snuck through many areas and quietly removed enemies with my crossbow, voluntarily prolonging the experience.
That tactic only worked at random, however, as enemy levels were all over the place. Sometimes my vampire lord red-ball-of-attack only chipped away a small bit of damage, while other times it took out skeleton #4,584 in one hit.
Yes, there are gargoyles now. They're something new to kill, and they're kind of neat, but I didn't encounter many. The usual cast of cave-dwelling miscreants that I've come to expect from Skyrim were all there, but only rarely did I fight something genuinely different (giant mosquitoes pop up later on).
I enjoy Skyrim's combat quite a bit, but not enough to carry another 16 hours of gameplay. It made up the majority of my many, many hours with the original game, and it just barely sustained my time with Dawnguard. But the new content - what little there is of it - isn't offering anything in the way of entertainment, and the vampire stuff is distinctly worse than any of the original combat. If I couldn't revert back to human form, I couldn't suggest you try this content at all. Even as a fan of Skyrim, it's not an easy recommendation.
This review is based on final code provided by Bethesda. Skyrim: Dawnguard is available on Xbox Live for 1600 MS Points ($20).
Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons; see: Skyrim review.