Published on December 17th, 2012 | by ~G~2
DLC Review: Skyrim: Dragonborn
Too Long; Didn't Read
Summary: Dragonborn does well to expand on the world of Skyrim, with fun new quests, spells and shouts. However, it fails to uphold some initial promises and falls short of the best Elder Scrolls expansions from the past. Worth the purchase... just don't get your hopes up about the dragon riding...
Dragonborn is the latest add-on for the brilliant Skyrim, but after the excellent Dawnguard expansion and the good (‘does what it says on the tin’) Hearthfire addition – will Bethesda further enhance the Skyrim experience, or will this expansion fall a little short of the mark?
You didn’t think you were the only one?
Assuming you have watched the trailer (below), you should know that Dragonborn brings you to Solstheim, one of the main islands of Morrowind and centers around the re-emergence of the original ‘dragonborn’.
Your Dragonborn adventure begins after you are approached and then (of course) attacked by a couple of cultists (this happened to me in Winterhold). You then find a note on one of the cultists bodies, speaking about someone named ‘Miraak’ – this then directs you to Windhelm where a ship which brought the cultists on is docked. The mystery really starts here.
The captain of the ship is hesitant to return to Solstheim, saying he can’t remember actually making the journey and that strange things were happening on the island. But after some persuading you are soon taken to Raven Rock in Solstheim.
Your arrival brings up some more questions. When asking about Miraak, the people of Raven Rock seem to recognise the name, but none of them can really express how or why. The only clues you have hint towards a dream and also an Earth Stone near the shore of Raven Rock.
Upon visiting the Earth Stone, you find several people attempting to build a structure around the stone. A single Dunmer looks on observing the situation – saying he’s curious to see what they are building. The people are repeating an ominous chant as they work, ignoring your presence. When you touch the Earth Stone you suddenly start building the structure too. However, you’re character is able to ‘break free’ from the spell.
So now, you have to find out why you were attacked back in Skyrim, who Miraak is, why no one seems to be able to say who Miraak is and what is going on with the zombie-like builders around Solstheim?
I won’t go any further detailing the main quest, I just wanted to give a bit of emphasis on the mystery which Dragonborn starts out with. Not only are you transported to a new part of Tamriel (the world in which the Elderscrolls games is set), but the locals are not at all helpful in helping you solve your quest.
It was a really fun way to begin the add-on – it almost felt like starting a whole new Elderscrolls title, with a fresh, unknowing outlook and a new ‘world’ to explore.
I know you…
Now, for long-time fans of the Elderscrolls games, this isn’t the first time players have ventured to the island of Solstheim. One of the Morrowind’s expansions, Bloodmoon, added the island of Solstheim to the game, just off the main (massive) island of Vvardenfell.
Back then it was a harsh wintery island, covered in snow and tall pine trees making up many wooded areas. But now things have changed a little.
The snow has been mostly replaced with ash in the south of the island and most of the trees have gone.
Skyrim is set some hundreds of years after Morrowind, in which time the Red Mountain (a volcano in the centre of Vvardenfell and key to the main plot of Morrowind) has erupted – apparently destroying most of Vvardenfell and spewing ash across to Solstheim and other surrounding islands.
This is made more evident as you leave Raven Rock for the first time, as in the far distance you can see the shores of Vvardenfell and the silhouette of the volcano with ash still pouring out of it. Unfortunately this is just a backdrop and you cannot travel to Vvardenfell, which is a pity because the island of Vvardenfell is one of the more interesting locations in the Elderscrolls games, with some fantastic creatures not seen in the other games and brilliant plat-life. It actually felt more like a true fantasy world than the other titles, in my opinion.
But all is not lost in this respect with Dragonborn. Bethesda has thrown in some familiar items for fans of Morrowind. A few Netches (weird floating jelly fish-like creatures) migrated over to Solstheim, after the Red Moutain’s eruption, there’s even a Silt Strider (a giant creature used as the main form of land transport in Morrowind) on Solstheim, though it said to be unwell (by its owner) and no longer travels. Which is a shame, but still nice to see a familiar creature on the island.
Then there is the location of Tel Mithryn, a property belonging to a mage and is made up of these giant mushroom-type plants – there were a few locations in Morrowind featuring these awesome mushroom houses. You will also face Reiklings, again from Bloodmoon, these small goblin-esque are surpisingly strong and their numbers make them highly formidable.
And to top it off, while travelling through Solstheim, gamers are treated to some of the original music from Morrowind, one I recognised is ‘A Road Most Travelled’.
…or do I?
There’s a few more locations from Blood Moon, such as Thirsk Hall, which can be found in Dragonborn, but on the whole Solstheim feels and looks different to how I (personally) remember it from Blood Moon. So even for fans of Morrowind, Dragonborn feels mostly new and fresh – and expands on the already excellent Skyrim experience.
Players are treated to an all new story quest (obviously), plus plenty of side quests. New armour and weapons have been added to the game – my particular favourite is the new selection of Nordic armour, which looks pretty badass.
And for magic users, there are a few new spells, powers and enhancements, plus new shouts to master. There’s also several new enemies to face, my particular favourite are the ‘Lurkers’ – big, strong and powerful monsters.
Unfortunately even though Dragoborn does a lot right, it can’t escape from a couple of annoyances, which did actually ruin some of the enjoyment for me.
Again, looking at the trailers for Dragonborn, and reading some early previews, you should know that a key feature that Bethesda added with Dragonborn is the ability to tame and fly dragons. Which sounds absolutely amazing, but it’s not.
Now I generally don’t like to swear in my review, but there’s only one way I can sum up the dragon riding for you: It’s. Shit.
I was led to believe that players would be free to ride a dragon wherever they wished. I could almost taste that feeling of soaring through the air on the back of my very own winged steed, after taming my first dragon.
But no, you jump on the back and your chosen dragon and it takes off, flying high in the air and then… nothing. All it can do is fly around, uncontrollably in a designated area.
The only control you have (in real-time) is using the dragon to fight enemies, but it’s awkward. You select a target (by pressing Y) and the dragon will attempt to circle it, so you can shoot magic spells at it. Or you can command your dragon to use its breath (which is more effective) and the only other real-time command is to land the dragon.
Now, the dragon can travel outside its designated area, but only by using the fast-travel from the map. And you know what? It’s pointless – your character can fast travel when he/she wants to anyway. And using the dragon to fight enemies just isn’t any fun at all.
As smooth as a bread knife:
My second issue is how ‘rough’ the game seems to be. Now despite all the issues Skyrim has had with bugs since its release, (backwards flying dragons, freezing, slowdown etc…) I, personally, haven’t had any problems… until now.
Dragonborn freezes a lot more often than I’m used to with Skyrim, it also suffers from low-res visuals in many areas. Without spoiling it too much, one of the areas you visit in the main quest has walls that are basically made out of books – but they look terrible.
Also one of the main dragons in the Dragonborn quest, Sahrotaar, looks awful – with really low detail, none of the texture the other dragons have.
I’m not sure if these bits are meant to have low textures/detail (I can’t imagine a good reason Bethesda would have to do that) but they just make the game look rushed.
No doubt the bugs and freezing in the game will gradually get solved with some updates – but for now, it can be frustrating when you are in the middle of an epic battle and suddenly the game freezes without warning.
Don’t panic too much though – you will make it through Dragonborn and have fun, but there were a few moments when I had to give up a gaming session early because I had forgotten to save in the last 5 minutes, the game had crashed and then I thought: “funk this sh*t”.
It’s no Jennifer Anniston, but I’d still ‘hit that’
The thing is, Dragonborn does do enough right to make it a worthwhile purchase. I’m glad I bought it – aside from a fun main quest, you’ll find some very enjoyable new side missions to complete, cool new weapons, armour and spells. And the island of Solstheim is just that little bit different enough to be engaging to gamers who might have become tired of Skyrim’s mainland adventures.
But one key thing about coming back to Solstheim and seeing some old creatures and locations from Morrowind, is that it shows how deep the Elderscrolls franchise really can be. This (as far as I’m aware) is the first time gamers have properly revisited a location from a previous title, and because each game is set in different eras of Tamriel, Bethesda is able to bring something completely new.
And because the finer details aren’t thrust into your face, it’s really up to the keener gamers/Elderscrolls fans to pick up on the events that have unfurled through the decades/centuries, such as the Red Mountain erupting and someone resurrecting an old general, who you used to take orders from in a previous game. It just furthers my personal love for the franchise.
Unfortunately Dragoborn really does let itself down with some annoying bugs and (worst of all, for me) the dragon riding is just a massive disappointment – which actually borders on being the pointless and basically unusable.
But with Dragonborn you do get some excellent side missions, new spells, shouts, weapons and armour. It also has some pretty great ‘boss’ fights and I did enjoy the feeling of being back in Morrowind, even if it wasn’t the main island of Vvardendfell.
…Just don’t get your hopes up about the dragon riding.
+ Hours of extra Skyrim adventuring (I lost count)
+ Fun new story quest and plenty of side quests
+ New weapons, shouts and spells enhance experience
+ Great to see Solstheim again, even if it has mostly been ruined by a volcano eruption
- Dragon riding feature is pointless and (frankly) shit
- With the expansion, the game seems to have become more buggy
- Key areas/objects with low-res textures (looks a bit rushed)