Bethesda have had a tendency in the past to lose focus with their DLC offerings. Whether it be the expansion packs that don’t quite slot in alongside the game they’re meant to be expanding upon or expensive content that offers very little to extend audience gratification – Skyrim has undoubtedly been one of the busiest Bethesda releases in regards to its catalogue of DLC extensions.
While Dawnguard and Hearthfire padded out the experience of traversing the hefty landscapes of Skyrim quite nicely, they ultimately leaned too hard on misplaced gimmicks and poor narratives that may have easily alienated every type of fanbase other than the die-hard Elder Scrolls nuts. With Dragonborn, however, Bethesda seem to have tackled all these issues by heading back to basics – providing gamers with a comprehensive DLC package that rekindles the flame of what made Skyrim such a significant game to begin with.
Yes, after the recent months whereby the hype had officially dispersed I finally revisited a game that had provided me with so much joy little under a year ago. The DLC downloaded with ease and within moments I was re-immersed in what can only be described as “Skyrim #2”. That, above anything else, is one of the most successful achievements I’ve ever seen with a piece of downloadable content – it makes its gamers fall back in love with the game. Boy is that sweet.
A decent narrative spear-heads Dragonborn’s reasonable 5-hour campaign (with a bulky 20+ hours with side-quests galore), as you find yourself heading to the island of Solstheim to uncover the mystery behind an emerging cult who are marking the arrival of “the first Dragonborn”, a corrupted priest named Miraak. As fans of the original will know, you alone were meant to be the only “Dragonborn” so naturally this doesn’t wash and now you must venture on a quest to halt Miraak’s naughty schemes. This narrative is solid enough to keep gamers engaged throughout, although I must admit Miraak isn’t used as well as he could have been. He’s a threatening, malevolent antagonist – yet aside from one battle during the game you don’t ever really encounter him. Strange, but I guess what you don’t see is often more potent than what you do…
Graphically the game stands up to any of the previous expansions that Skyrim has offered, with the engine running smoothly with fairly minimal bugs and texture popping issues. This is quite an impressive feat as the island itself is roughly a third of the size of the full Skyrim map. There’s a lovely nod throughout many of the varied landscapes Solstheim has to offer to the Bloodmoon expansion for Morrowind, and that is in the form of a village where all the houses are made out of mushrooms. For those who haven’t played some of the Elder Scrolls’ previous iterations then this may just feel like the producers took one massive acid trip and made the most clichéd stoner village known to mankind. But it isn’t, it’s a curt nod to a beautiful and well respected entry to the Elder Scrolls franchise. Nice touch.
The majority of the gameplay is creative and varied and you’ll find you often use the skills you’ve honed throughout the main Skyrim experience to great effect while you travel around Solstheim. There’s plenty of upgrading to be done and puzzles to be solved (some of which I’m pretty sure will stump a great deal of gamers out there). There’s detailed tombs, caverns, crypts, volcanic rock to enjoy and dastardly demons to endure when braving Miraak’s realms, the haunting Apocrypha. Some may also see this next part as something of a reward, however ultimately it falls down as another disappointment – and it’s a good thing they didn’t rely too heavily on this USP… and that is the fact that upon completion of the game you will finally unlock a dragon shout that allows you to ride on the back of a dragon throughout Solstheim and Skyrim. Yes, that’s right – you can ride dragons… It makes sense, you are Dragonborn, after all…
Sadly though this doesn’t manifest itself very well when it comes down to final execution. You’re very limited as to where your dragon will actually travel to you’re never quite in control of it at any point. When you want to attack enemies, you’re genuinely better off hopping off the dragon and fighting them yourselves as it often swoops up and away and back again selectively choosing when to annihilate the opponent with fire. The camera zips and zooms all over the place too, making me feel this was a neat feature they didn’t really have time to iron out before retail. It’s essentially a handy tool to just fast-travel around the world on. Saves you 10 bucks on the back of some guys’ horse and cart.
All in all, Skyrim: Dragonborn is a worthy DLC that reignites the passion and drive I think many of us felt during our original playthrough of Skyrim. Dragonborn is Skyrim’s champion, and with a fantastic storyline, an incredible world full to the brim of special events and nods back to the wonderful games of old and indeed a few neat ideas that are nearly executed correctly – this is a solid expansion that more than justifies it’s hefty RRP.