The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dragonborn DLC

Skyrim’s new DLC, Dragonborn, is one of the most nostalgic experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game. If you’re a Morrowind fan and still happen to be playing Skyrim one year after launch (or looking for an excuse to come back to the game) buy this add-on ASAP. No seriously, don’t even think about it. Just do it. Oh, well… I suppose I should elaborate.

Dragonborn takes place on the island of Solstheim, a setting previously used for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind’s second expansion Bloodmoon. Those who’ve played Bloodmoon should expect to see many familiar locations, but with the eruption of Red Mountain 200 years prior, the entire southern half of the island has been covered in a thick blanket of ash. This adds some new things for Bloodmoon vets to see as well as showcasing non-Bloodmoon-specific throwbacks. You have netches roaming the coastline, Telvanni-style mushrooms sprouting in the southeast, and the Imperial-abandoned settlement of Raven Rock now controlled by the Great House Redoran.  You’re greeted with the familiar label “outlander” and the first thing you’re told is that you’re no longer in Skyrim. You’re now in mother fuckin’ Morrowind, you dirty n’wah.

The Oghma Infinium was only the beginning.

For those of you plebs who haven’t played Morrowind there’s still a huge amount of content here to appreciate. While Skyrim’s previous DLC, Dawnguard, only added some extra dungeons and outdoor areas, the island of Solstheim is an entirely new landmass to explore comparable to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s Shivering Isles expansion. On top of this you also have the forbidden knowledge of the daedric realm of Apocrypha at your fingertips. Apocrypha is host to a plethora of cool new powers (both passive and active) that you can unlock as you collect Hermaeus Mora’s black books, some of which really change up the game. The Lovecraft-inspired landscape of Apocrypha is riddled with enemies that severely lack variety and would be an extremely boring endeavor if not for its labyrinthine design and awesome visuals.

Despite being a cool nod to Morrowind’s ascended sleepers, seekers are not all that fun to fight, though they’re the exception to the rule. Dragonborn adds a much needed collection of new and interesting enemies, many of which pose a far greater threat than those native to the mainland. Yes, you still have draugr to kill every now and then (they were featured in Bloodmoon after all), but you’ll likely spend most of your time fighting the new ash spawn and the goblin-like rieklings. There are some other cool enemies I won’t spoil here as well as the addition of a “secret” boss that actually managed to one-shot my level 54, armor-capped dunmer. Those looking for more of a challenge won’t be disappointed venturing into Solstheim.

Bethesda also upped the ante on its dungeon puzzles. Many of them are actually a bit more complex and inspired than turning some stones with pictures of little animals on them (i.e. actual puzzles). You’ll have to think outside the box and use your environment in order to solve many of these. I actually got stumped on one of them for a bit.

Speak quickly, outlander.

As for player-oriented features, Morrowind’s chitin and bonemold armors return as well as Bloodmoon’s stalhrim weapons and armor. Each set is a fantastic reimagining that serves to please both the fanboys looking for their Morrowind fix and the Skyrim vets simply looking for more variety. Also, Nordic Carved Armor, mmmm yummy… you’ll know what I am talking about when you see it. There are also plenty of new magic items including armor sets with unique enchantments you won’t find anywhere else. Aside from fat lute, Dragonborn adds new spells, dragon shouts, alchemical ingredients, exploding spider bombs, player housing, new followers/“pets”, new spouses, powers, and more.

Am I forgetting something? Oh yeah, dragon riding. It sucks. I didn’t have high hopes for it to begin with, but once you finally mount up on your first dragon get ready to be underwhelmed. You can’t actually control the dragon other than telling it what to attack. If there are no hostiles in the area it’ll just fly in circles until you land or fast travel somewhere. You can cast spells while flying on it, but it doesn’t work very well. Unless you’re doing it for the achievement I’d pass on this entirely.

Having gotten this far discussing Dragonborn it’s a bit surprising I haven’t mentioned the quests or story yet. Well, that’s likely because unlike Dawnguard—in which most of its content was tied into the main narrative—Dragonborn is very much like the game that spawned it. Dragonborn is more about exploring Solstheim and continuing your character’s grand adventure in an alien land than it is about the central conflict. The story is there however, and while the main questline is brief there are plenty of other questlines available for players to discover for themselves.

The main plotline was interesting enough but it did suffer from the same issues many of Skyrim’s other storylines suffer from, albeit with some more interesting characters. The main villain is just some douche with no clear motivation that the player needs to kill, and the explanation for some of the plot points felt very convenient and uninspired. As always, Bethesda’s great at lore but sketchy when it comes to actual narratives.

The shamanistic Skaal haven’t really changed all that much in the last 200 years.

As I mentioned above some of the characters do in fact leave a bit of an impression (surprising, I know). Raven Rock and the Skaal village have NPCs that are a bit more fleshed out than you’ll see on the mainland, but most of this expansion’s personality comes from the Telvanni questline. A familiar Telvanni wizard from Morrowind (whose name I will not spoil here) steals the show with his obscene levels of snobbery and total disregard for the wellbeing of others. His questline is also very reminiscent of the absurdity present in the House Telvanni questline in Morrowind. Hermaeus Mora also plays an interesting role in the story of Solstheim, though he may have acted a bit… too direct at times. He’s always struck me as the kind of daedric prince that’d stick to the shadows and influence the mortal world by manipulating his followers, but in Dragonborn he doesn’t practice the same level of discretion he has in previous TES games.

The final point to touch on here is that of Dragonborn’s soundtrack. Nostalgia overload! A few Morrowind tracks return that feel so… right while playing this add-on. Considering Jeremy Soule’s been composing music for the franchise since Morrowind it fits right in with the original soundtrack. I just wish those tracks played while playing the vanilla content. There also seem to be a few new tracks as well that sounded spectacular. As always, Soule’s outdone himself.

Dragonborn is very much the expansion people have been waiting for since Skyrim’soriginal release. Many were disappointed in Dawnguard’s apparent lack of content, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Dragonborn is the Shivering Isles of Skyrim. You don’t have to be a Morrowind or Bloodmoon fan to appreciate the work Bethesda’s put into this add-on. Simply put, this is the expansion we’ve been waiting for.

The Dragonborn add-on is now available on Xbox 360 for $20 and is said to be released for PC and PS3 early 2013.

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  1. J.L. Hilton says:

    I’m one of the plebs who hasn’t played Morrowind, but now you’ve convinced me I really really should, because the island of Solstheim was my favorite part of TES:V.

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