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I've taken a bite out of The Elder Scrolls Online's new vampire abilities and I'm hooked

The Elder Scrolls Online vampire abilities
(Image credit: Zenimax Online)

I'm stuffing my lockpicks in a chest and pulling out my fangs. I'd never given much thought to becoming a vampire in The Elder Scrolls Online, but now that the Greymoor expansion has revamped vampires with flashy animations and new skills, my larcenous khajiit is considering a career change.

Ever since the Thieves Guild was added to The Elder Scrolls Online, I've become a casual player—I pop in to go on thieving and fencing sprees, or do a daily heist after a few story missions. I hadn't thought much about becoming a vampire in ESO. I was bitten early in my first TES IV: Oblivion playthrough years ago and remember it being a huge hassle. Unlike in Oblivion, growing fangs in ESO doesn't force you to stay indoors during the daylight. It just wasn't particularly interesting. Zenimax Online has fixed that with new skills, an ultimate ability, and an incentive to actually play like a hungry vampire.

Bite the hand. It feeds you. 

Not willing to try my luck waiting for a bite from a random NPC or generous player, I took the quick route and bought my way into the blood cult from ESO's cash shop, which let me drop right into the action. I headed for Morthal, part of the newly added Western Skyrim area, thinking I would create some foreshadowing for the city's vampire problem in TES V: Skyrim. 

At first, being a vampire is pretty similar to my preferred role as a thief. I crouch down and approach a lone NPC from behind, well out of view from any witnesses. Then instead of springing to pilfer their pockets, I treat them to a deadly nibble on the neck. Doing that gave me my first surprise.

When Zenimax Online said it had beefed up the animation for feeding on NPCs as a vampire, I was expecting one neat new animation I'd soon see repeated dozens of times. I figured it would be similar to the finishing move-style grabbing and stabbing animations for the Blade of Woe in the Dark Brotherhood DLC. They are similar, but even better by my book. I've counted at least four individual feeding animations and frankly they're cooler than what the contract killers get access to.

Seriously. Tell me that's not intense. 

I don't want to oversell these bitey new interludes as groundbreaking game cinematography, but they're sleek by MMO standards. The cinematic action shots remind me of the excessive, gratifying combat combos in Yakuza 0, though the bite can get just a bit wonky depending on any obstacles you and your victim are standing near.

As an incentive to get out there and dine on some folks, Zenimax has flipped the vampire paradigm of ESO's past on its head. Previously, becoming a more powerful vampire required you to do, well, nothing at all. Players became more powerful by not feeding on NPCs. Many would become a vampire and then go on playing as normal. They might slot in some of the special vampire active skills, but it was just as easy to benefit from some of the passive damage reduction abilities while sticking to combat skills relevant to your class. 

Now you've got to keep feeding to keep your bloody powers, which makes more sense and is a lot more fun. Each poor fool you bite will increase your power level, up to a total of four. At that point, your souped up vampire power will slowly drop over the next few hours. Now that maintaining those perks requires a bit of upkeep, I'll likely develop a feeding route just as reliable as my old safebox thievery routine. Or perhaps I'll be opportunistic and eat on the run.

The other big kicker for bloodthirsty players is the new Blood Scion ultimate ability that transforms you into a lord of the night. As a true master vampire, I grow some height, horns, and some serious abs. I instantly heal, get a boost to my maximum health, magika, and stamina, and heal for 15% of all damage I deal. Also I can see enemies through walls. Blood works in mysterious ways.

There is a downside to Zenimax's rework, if you were previously a casual bloodsucker—the new design pretty much requires you to go all-in on vampirism. As you feed and your power level increases, the magicka and stamina costs for your vampiric abilities eventually drop by a whole 24 percent. To offset that, all non-vampire abilities cost 12 percent more once you hit the fourth power level. Oh, and you'll get no automatic health recovery whatsoever at the top level of vampirism, so bring some normal snacks to heal up on too.

I'm no combat analyst, but it seems like a steep cost. If you get overzealous on your feeding, you'll be stuck with no health regeneration and an increased cost to all your non-vampire skills for the hours it takes to drop to a lower vampire rank. For players like me, that will probably mean keeping a full bar of blood-sucking skills, a constant fourth rank vampire status, and benching all their non-vamp abilities.

I don't think I'll give up on being a thief forever. After all, the passive vampire ability Dark Stalker reduces the movement penalty I get while sneaking, making my vampire/thief combo a match made in hell. After I get my wings under me as a newly-minted Tamriel terror, I imagine I'll go back to picking locks and pockets. I'll just need to stop along my route for a snack every now and again.

Lauren loves long books and even longer RPGs. She got a game design degree and then, stupidly, refused to leave the midwest. She plays indie games you haven't heard of and will never pass on a story about players breaking games or playing them wrong.