The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dragonborn Review
Its fair to say that the previous expansions to the Bethesda’s mammoth RPG have somewhat underwhelming. Dawnguard, while enjoyable, didn’t offer enough bang for your buck retreading old ground and despite adding a new quest and a transformation into a lumbering, overpowered vampiric brute that was incapable of even the most basic of tasks. Hearthfire, on the other hand, was little more than a virtual building kit that wanted players settle down in a land that very few were finished exploring.
Bethesda’s latest offering however, is a glorious return to form and one that proves without a doubt that they are truly the masters of world building. It may have taken more than a year of waiting, but Skyrim finally has the DLC expansion it deserves. Humans, Elves, Argonians, Khajiit welcome to Solstheim, the first Dragonborn has returned and there can only be one.
Dragonborn, like all the other great quests in the Elder Scrolls series, begins in mysterious fashion with the player being accosted by a group of cultists who bare an uncanny resemblance to the dragon priests that frequent the more difficult of Skyrim’s Nordic ruins. After dispatching them in suitably violent fashion, the player learns that they were acting on behalf of a character named Miraak and that he awaits news of your demise on the island of Solstheim. A short boat ride later, the player arrives at the port town of Raven Rock and it becomes apparent that Solstheim has a lot in store.
Dragonborn takes place on the island of Solstheim, which is located between Skyrim and Morrowind, and unlike both Dawnguard and Hearthfire gives players an entirely new location to explore. Formerly lush forested areas have become blackened markers in the thick ash fall of Red Mountain, the towering fungal towers of a Telvani master wizard stand as a monument to Dunmer province and the frozen mountains all present the combination of influences that make Solstheim such a wonderful place to explore. Solstheim is a compelling area to explore thanks to this unique environment. With a raft of locations to find, dungeons to loot and Dwemer ruins to explore, players will not be disappointed with how Bethesda have once again realised an extremely popular part of Tamriel.
There is a lot of exploring to be done too and thanks to Solstheim being a new area to explore, Bethesda have managed to rekindle that feeling of wonder that players will have no doubt felt the first time they were let loose in Skyrim or when they escaped the dungeons of the Imperial City in Oblivion. Speaking of Oblivion, there is also the chance to return to one of the seemingly inexhaustible planes of Oblivion. This plane being Apocrypha, the home of Hermeaus Mora, the Daedric prince of knowledge and fate.
Apocrypha is a stunning example of how Bethesda are as accomplished in creating otherworldy locals as they are the sprawling Nordic inspired worlds they have become known for. Being the prince of knowledge, Mora’s domain is adorned with ruined, ancient tomes with whirlwinds of loose pages making numerous appearances. This plane of Oblivion is suitably ominous and eerie making the rather bland Soul Cairn from Dawngaurd seem trivial by comparison.
There’s lots to see in Dragonborn, but there’s lots more to do. The main quest line lasts between 5-10 hours depending on the player, but there is a veritable shopping list of side and miscellaneous quests that extends the play time to easily beyond 30 hours of actual gameplay. This is ignoring the huge number of skill based activities players can embark on.
There are 5 new armour types for players to craft and improve, new ingredients to create new potions and even new opportunities for enchanting. More importantly though, there are new Shouts to be found that give players the chance to enhance their characters even further. The most noted of these is, of course, the Shout that allows players to tame and ride dragons. Unlocked through the main questline, it does exactly what the word wall says, allows players to mount and fly dragons. Not bad for an expansion I think you will agree.
Dragonborn is a hugely accomplished expansion to an excellent title but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suffer from the same problems have plagued the series so far. Dragonborn has the customary bugs and glitches that have become infamous amongst the playing community. Most are minor issues, as they are usually are, with missing pieces of furniture or NPC’s not appearing after fast travel etc. However, there are others that make the gameplay experience unbearable at times. Lock-ups and crashes are commonplace and occur far too frequently.
Whilst it is understandable that not all bugs and glitches can be picked up, surely Bethesda would have a better success rate at dealing with them by now. Problems with programming aren’t the only issues, one of the real draws of this DLC is the ability to tame and ride dragons but that too has a number of issues players will have to contend with. Having dragons as mounts is an interesting concept, especially in a world as large as Skyrim is, but unfortunately it fails to live up the expectations.
The actual movement of the dragons is difficult, more often than not players will find themselves merely being taken for a ride rather than being in real control. This problem is compounded by a rigid camera that prevents players from using dragons as a viable means of transport. Dragon riding becomes little more than a novelty because of this, which is a real shame it could have played a central role in the way players enjoy exploring both Solstheim and Skyrim as a whole.
Bethesda’s latest addition to its seminal RPG experience is by far the best to date. The combination of a stunning new location, an incredible amount to see and do and the chance to further develop the players multitude of abilities makes Dragonborn a must own for fans of Skyrim and the Elder Scrolls series as a whole. While there is the same old problems that players will have to put up with, Dragonborn is a much more rewarding and entertaining experience than Dawngaurd. Players will appreciate the new area to explore given the pack as a whole has a much more complete feel that warrants ‘expansion’ status. Dragonborn is the best of the Skyrim experience that will provide a challenge for players and reignite that sense of awe that has no doubt gone missing in the hundreds of hours of play time over the last twelve months.