Dawnbreaker bears a unique enchantment called "Meridia's Retribution" that works similar to soul trap in that each hit infects the target for ten seconds. If the target is killed within that time, it may explode. Over the course of ten seconds, the chance to trigger an explosion is
1 - (.75 ^ x), where x is the number of strikes. In other words, the more times the target is hit, the more likely the explosion is to happen. Also, the explosion only happens if the target is undead. It is not actually necessary for the killing blow that triggers the explosion to be dealt with Dawnbreaker. A second enchantment deals ten to fifteen points of fire damage with each hit. The fire damage depends on the Augmented Flames perk, dealing 12 points of damage for the first rank and 15 points for the second.
This blast will damage any nearby undead (including turning undead followers such as Serana and dead thralls, depending on level) and can cause any survivors to flee for a short period of time. Undead killed in the blast will crumble into ash piles. The fiery explosion has the same visual effect and functions as the Bane of the Undead spell. If one is a vampire, and is quick enough when the blast goes into effect, they can see this unique version of Bane of the Undead, is in fact named "Meridia's light." Note that this can affect Serana as she is a Vampire Lord. If the player is a Vampire or Vampire Lord, the explosion will damage and can kill the player if one is on low health, the same way it affects other undead.
In addition, this weapon has a very high number of charges; much higher than most enchanted weapons. Since soul gems restore a fixed amount of charge, this weapon will require more than a single grand soul to recharge it fully.
The Dawnbreaker can be upgraded with an ebony ingot and the Arcane Blacksmith perk, however, it does not benefit from any Smithing perks. This means that the weapon cannot be improved past flawless quality without boosting the Smithing skill over 100. This can be achieved by using enchanted apparel or blacksmithing potions to fortify Smithing.
Despite other swords having higher damage, the special enchantment makes Dawnbreaker very useful for dealing with several draugr at once. High-level draugr, such as a Draugr Deathlords, almost always attack alongside several lower leveled ones that can be killed in a few hits. The resulting explosion instantly kills low level undead and causes the high-level draugr to flee.
It is also an effective weapon against vampires. In addition to being very vulnerable to fire, they are also undead, therefore they are affected by the fiery explosion. However, if the Dragonborn is a vampire, the resulting explosion will affect them as well. Members of the Dawnguard may want to obtain it, as it will be helpful while fighting vampires, and especially helpful during the siege of Castle Volkihar.
The blast will also trigger by, and affect, the ash spawns in the Dragonborn DLC location of Solstheim, making it usefull against them as well. However, they will resist the fire enchantment, diminishing the weapon's damage potential to that of the actual physical damage it deals.
Two copies of Dawnbreaker can be obtained. This is achieved by casting a spell or using a shout with significant kinetic force (i.e., Fire Storm, Fireball, Fire Rune, etc.) beside the sword altar after defeating Malkoran and his shades. This will cause a copy of Dawnbreaker to fly across the room, while the original still stays where it is. Find and pick up the copy before obtaining the original from the altar, because doing so ends the quest and transports the Dragonborn outside the dungeon.
This section contains bugs related to Dawnbreaker (Skyrim). Before adding a bug to this list, consider the following:
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