X360A Review: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC
Written Monday, December 03, 2012 By Dan WebbView author's profile
To say Skyrim’s DLC thus far has been a tad underwhelming when you compare it to the main game is a bit of an understatement. The DLC for last year’s Game of the Year hasn’t even come close to matching one iota of brilliance that oozed out the main game. It’s a tough ask, of course, but we expected so much more from Bethesda. Enter their latest piece of DLC, Dragonborn, a piece of DLC that Bethesda are calling their “greatest” Skyrim DLC to date, which we whole heartedly agree with. To say it’s their greatest piece of Skyrim DLC to date doesn’t actually do it justice though, because at times, Dragonborn comes close to matching the main game in terms of its experience.
Dragonborn sees Dovahkiin head to an island just off the coast of Morrowind, a part glacial, part ash-covered island known as Solstheim, where he must confront the first Dragonborn, Miraak. The devious antagonist somehow has a hold over the island of Solstheim and after the pesky swine makes an attempt on your life in the streets of Skyrim – conversely, rather than wait for this random act, you can just jump on a boat at Windhelm – it’s your job of savior of Skyrim to thrust your hips elsewhere and put a stop to his antics… after all, it’s the right thing to do. Don’t think this is a tiny little island either, oh no, in fact, it’s damn pretty huge. With mountains, ash-ridden shores from a nearby volcano, huge waterfalls and white water rapids, the town of Raven Rock, the village of Skaal, the wonderful mushroom village of Tel Mithryn, brand new dungeons, forts, and much more, Solstheim is a mini version of Skyrim and a new piece of picturesque beauty to explore and sink your teeth in to.
That’s actually part of the lure of Dragonborn; in fact, it’s most of the DLC’s lure. The island of Solstheim and its content seems like a self-contained, mini-adventure, something akin to the main game itself but on a much smaller scale. The initial lure will be the enjoyable main-quest line that sees you get knee deep in some solid puzzles, meet some new characters, crawl some brand new and intruiging dungeons, all whilst taking on some brand new enemies – you even get to tame dragons, although it’s somewhat of a disappointment as you don’t get full control over them. Like the main game, once you’ve finished with Dragonborn's main questline though, you'll feel like you haven’t scratched the surface of what the island has to offer.
The main questline will probably take you a good six hours or so, but after that there’s so much more to sink your teeth into, whether that’s exploring, side-missions, dungeon crawling, and so on. In fact, I had just as much fun, if not more, heading off on a side-quest into the mines to investigate the truth behind a mysterious death. Not only was I rewarded with the final piece to one of the new Dragon Shouts, a new unique blade, some interesting puzzles and some epic sights along the way, but I also got my hands on my first non-main-quest ‘Black Book’ – one of Dragonborn’s new quest types that act like small combat and puzzle arenas.
Thanks to the new enemies like the Lurker, the Riekling, Ash Spawns, Netchs and more, it almost feels like a sequel at times because of it – much like The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned felt like with GTA IV. Bethesda haven’t skimped on the content here one bit, and with new Dragon Shouts – one that allows you to tame dragons as mentioned supra – a new rare material called Stalhrim to craft new pieces, new pieces of armour to buy or mould like the Bonemold armour, new weapons, and so much more.
It’s not perfect though, and there are a few bugbears that are likely to mildly irritate, whether that’s not being able to find a merchant when you desperately need one, the odd crash, some stodgy frame-rate moments, long load times and there was even an odd occasion where it rewarded me an achievement only to take it back – I’ve never had that before, so save often (a quick reload remedied that in case you’re interested).
Don’t let that put you off though, they’re very minor in the grand scheme of things. With an enjoyable set of achievements too that opt to encourage exploration and reward players who experience the best the DLC has to offer, as opposed to grinding, you're in for a treat all round. They’re not going to be a 5 minute job by any stretch of the imagination, but finding the Black Books will be rewarding enough even without the achievement, so it’s a double win!
Dragonborn left me with the same inclination that Skyrim’s main game left me with after I had finished with the main questline, and that’s that I just want to explore and milk as much content out of it as I can. After 10 hours, there’s still stuff I want to see and places I want to go. If you felt letdown by Dawnguard or Hearthfire, then try not to let that put you off, because what Bethesda have created here is exactly what Skyrim fans would have been crying out for… and that’s an experience that captures the brilliance of the main game but in a much more bitesize manner. We can’t recommend this piece of DLC enough.