This year has been a year of disappointments in gaming for me and I’m sure many of you would agree. While I’m not outright saying the newest DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is bad, I was just disappointed by a lot of things, mainly everything Bethesda hyped the DLC to be. If you go in expecting a large island with a great story and finally being able to ride dragons, you will be disappointed like I was. However, Dragonborn is a good DLC for things other than what you were probably expecting.
Let’s start with the things Dragonborn does wrong. We’ve already had Dawnguard, a more linear DLC and Hearthfire, a house and family building sim, and now we have Dragonborn. For those of you that don’t know already, Dragonborn takes place on a separate island and map away from Skyrim, actually close to the island of Vvardenfell, the location of the third installment in the Elder Scrolls series (more on that later). Before you can start your adventure on this new island of Solstheim, you have to get there. The download is 786MB, larger than both previous ones, so expect some increase in loading times. Glitches have been a mainstay of all Bethesda games, but that’s one thing, freezing my Xbox is another.
After less than 5 minutes of playing, the screen froze as well as my console itself, forcing me to reboot the system. I hadn’t left for the island and I already had some bad impressions. That’s just the beginning though. While I didn’t have any other technical issues (ignoring load times), I did have many troubles with the DLC itself. First of all, how do you get to Solstheim? Well, that’s a great question. In Dawnguard, you overhear about the group and a marker is placed on your map. Even in Hearthfire, you are given a note from a Courier. Here, nothing.
This review is spoiler-free, but I will give you a tip here as you are initially given no direction whatsoever. You probably think you should find a ship at one of Skyrim’s several ports and you would be exactly correct to think so. However, it’s none of the ports you would expect. To be honest, I didn’t even realize Windhelm had a port but that is where you must go. There, you will find a captain who will give you passage to Solstheim for a sum of 250 gold. To even access this DLC, you have to have completed The Horn of Jurgen Windcaller quest from the main storyline. Another tip, this is a challenging expansion. I completed Skyrim and all DLC easily at level 30, but found myself dying multiple times on the island. I actually enjoyed the challenge, but it would have been nice for Bethesda to have warned about the difficulty. That definitely would have saved the hour or so total I had to re-do.
Stepping off the boat, you arrive in the Dunmer settlement of Raven Rock. For fans of the third Elder Scrolls game, Morrowind, this is for you. I still consider Morrowind as the best game of all-time for a reason and therefore loved the references and lore found in this DLC. The island itself is divided into two major geographical areas, the north being the recognizable snow-covered mountains from Skyrim, while the south area is a replica of the ashlands from Morrowind. Raven Rock is located in that southern portion and right off the boat, you will notice the strange architecture that is unique to House Redoran of the Dunmers. Raven Rock is the largest of the three settlements on Solstheim (possibly four depending on what you consider a settlement). Like I said, Raven Rock resembles the House Redoran cities from Redoran, while the other two villages represent the Nords and House Telvanni, respectively.
The thing I love most about Dragonborn is how it is an ode to Morrowind so much, even including familiar themes remixed. On the island, you will find many side quests, most of which are boring and/or tedious. Strangely, I was given a task of finding a lady’s lost book on wrecked ship which meant killing several bandits, but I was given two entire side quests where all I had to do was bring a man one piece of a specific ore and the other, just simply get his reluctant steward to make him some tea. Very odd.
My first side quest, which will also most likely be yours as well, was definitely the most memorable of all the things I did on Solstheim. That is quite sad actually. Being my first, I had the false notion that this was going to be amazing, little did I know that was the high point. In fact, for me, that side quest was more impressive than the entire main quest-line. Yes, the story is pretty forgettable. Your job is to stop the first ever Dragonborn and while that sounds awesome, the execution is done poorly. First off, like the beginning of the DLC, you are given nowhere to start. What happens is, eventually you are attacked by cultists and that’s when your quest begins. The problem is, there are some significant problems with the scripting of the AI.
Remember how I said I died several times? Well, the first came right after defeating the cultists and starting the main story. I ran into a group of new enemy bandits called Reavers and got my booty kicked. I had to go back 30 minutes prior and re-do everything, including fighting the cultists. I traced my steps, did exactly everything I had just done in the same order, came to the place where I met them, but they weren’t there. I waited 5 days and still no sign. I finally gave up and explored the island, which doesn’t take long to do. I played the game for about 5 hours, consisting of side quests and exploration, before finally running into those cultists again. That really sucked as I wanted badly to delve into the story. It’s too bad the story also sucks. There is no depth given to the story and length is terrible, lasting only two main dungeons and one final dungeon before the final boss. One of the two dungeons is just everything you’ve already done in a dungeon before and the other does mix things up with a ton of puzzles, but it’s too bad the puzzles just are more of a bother than anything. While the story is shallow, so is the final boss fight. For a DLC that killed me off so many times, I found no challenge whatsoever here. Yes, I did die the first time but only because I got bored and starting writing this review in the middle of it. As long as you at least pay some attention, this will be a cakewalk compared to every other creature you’ve faced on the island. After you win, I won’t spoil anything but you get one of the strangest rewards. It’s not that it’s necessarily bad, it’s just I didn’t feel like I got much compensation. Though I will say maxed out players will probably appreciate it more, leaning further to the fact this DLC was intended as endgame content, but never actually expressed as so.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot dragon riding and there’s a reason I almost did. For something I looked forward to just as much as anyone else (if not more), I was not pleased when it actually happened. Controls (well what control you do have) is clunky and hard to manage, I personally will not being using it again. The saving grace of the entire main quest is the final dungeon. The reason for that is the same for what is great about Dragonborn. Location, location, location. The dungeon itself is brilliantly designed that I found myself having fun there actually. Not to spoil too much, but you actually travel beyond Solstheim.
The island itself, the other secret place you visit, exploration, and lore for hardcore fans is what I loved about Dragonborn. While the island is small, it is varied enough that you will want to explore every inch much like you did on the mainland. The locales are brilliantly designed and this is where all the fun takes place. I even found myself enjoying reading all the new books as well. Dragonborn isn’t a bad expansion, it really isn’t, it’s just sad that everything that was expected to be the highlights are actually the issues. Don’t go in expecting anything, definitely don’t go in expecting another Shivering Isles expansion, and you will enjoy Dragonborn, especially if you loved Morrowind as much as I did. All I have left to say is: where’s my HD remake of Morrowind, Bethesda?
- Exploration is as amazing as ever
- A couple memorable side quests
- Hardcore Elder Scrolls and Morrowind fans will love the locales and lore
- Trip to a very interesting place
- New enemies, armor, and more
- A good bit of content to delve into
- Bring on the HD Morrowind!
- Don’t expect a lengthy, great story (play Dawnguard if you do)
- Don’t expect Shivering Isles for Skyrim
- Don’t expect dragon riding to be as awesome as it should be
- Just don’t expect anything
- Minor technical issues
- Poor House Hlaalu (not a spoiler, I promise)
Should you download it?
Well obviously you own Skyrim so I say yes. I did dog on it a lot, but it does capture what an Elder Scrolls game is all about: exploration, beautiful locations, memorable characters, and creating your own story and memories. That alone warrants a purchase.
This review was done with a review code provided by Bethesda, for review purposes only. Our staff at Gamer Syndrome greatly appreciate Bethesda entrusting me with the ability to review this DLC for our site and our thanks go out to them.
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