In Dawnguard, you can become a Vampire Lord. If you choose to, that is. Hours in, you'll face a choice - do you want to be a Vampire Lord or do you want to join the Dawnguard, the vampire hunters? You'll hear about the new content through Skyrim's guards, who tell you the Dawnguard are recruiting. The content will be available early on in the Skyrim game, but the real meat won't begin until level 10.
In our E3 demo, we're already hours into the Dawnguard expansion, and we're a level 29 Vampire Lord. We're in a tomb with a woman called Serana, who's either a vampire or had a very late night, judging by her red eyes. The quest we activate and follow with her has us summon stony steps to a place called Soul Cairn. It's an eerie, otherworldly place that's almost black and white. Skeletons and ghosts and ethereal balls of light roam around, and lightning strikes around us. Serana, it comes to play, is a very important part of the puzzle to find an Elder Scroll - the main quest - and to thwart the Tyranny of Sun prophecy that will wipe the vampires out. We'll leave the spoilers there, not that we got much further in.
A Vampire Lord is different to a vampire in the normal Skyrim game. You shape-shift to become a Vampire Lord, a bit like becoming a Werewolf, and you can Revert Form if and when you like. A Vampire Lord has two arms and two bony wings that have sprouted from its gnarled and twisted back. It's a devilishly cool look. The Vampire Lord is primarily a caster, similar to how the Werewolf primarily uses melee. The Vampire Lord can hover and walk. When hovering, the Vampire Lord uses magical attacks. When walking - a state changed by clicking the left analogue stick - the Vampire lord swipes with its clawed hands. Holding down the left bumper has the Vampire Lord flap its wings and fly-sprint, and the effect can be sustained for a relatively long time. The Vampire Lord can also walk across water by virtue of its hovering.
A Vampire Lord's inherent abilities are Bats, Vampire Sight and Raise Dead. Bats is a teleport ability that has you disappear and pop up meters away in a swarm of bats. Vampire Sight allows you to see things normal eyes couldn't, and Raise Dead does what it says on the tin. In the right hand, a Vampire Lord always wields Drain Life, and using Drain Life and Bite (we're not sure how Bite works) to kill enemies is how you progress in the Vampire Lord perk tree.
The right branch of the Vampire Lord perk tree has Power of the Grave, which grants bonuses to health, magicka and stamina, and Vampire Grip - a fantastic ability that has you drag enemies towards you, drain the life out of them and then toss them away like a piece of rubbish. Further down, there's Summon Gargoyle, which is self-explanatory, and Corpse Curse, which paralyzes foes.
On the left branch of the Vampire Lord perk tree is Detect All Creatures - dwarven automatons included - and Mist Form, which renders you invulnerable while your health, magicka and stamina bars refill. There's also Supernatural Reflexes, which slows the world around you while also speeding you up.
The central Vampire Lord perk branch has Blood Healing and Unearthly Will. The former restores health when you kill with a Bite, and the latter reduces the cost of Night Powers and Blood Magic abilities by 33 per cent. Further down, there's Poison Talons, which adds 20 points of poison damage to melee attacks, and Night Cloak, which surrounds you with a cloud of bats in combat that feed on enemies within melee range.
The drawback to being a Vampire Lord is that you're weaker during the day.
If you choose to join the Dawnguard faction and hunt the vampires, you'll gain access to the new crossbow weapon, which has a perk tree all of its own - but we didn't see this at E3. The Dawnguard are "kick-ass armoured hunters", we're told. They forge crossbows, so your new weapon can be upgraded and become powerful. Dawnguard can also have armoured trolls fight for them, plus there's a "whole new base you call your own".
The main quest of the Dawnguard expansion lasts around 10 to 20 hours, depending on if you rush or savour. Enticingly, you'll be able to use your Vampire Lord or Dawnguard characters in the wider, original Skyrim world. But once you've made your faction choice, you won't be able to go back, unless you load an earlier save.
We didn't have time to talk about dragons diving under water, mounted combat or any of the other features seen in The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim - Dawnguard trailer. The expansion arrives sometime this summer and will cost 1600 Microsoft Points.