The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dragonborn DLC for Xbox 360
It’s no secret that I love Skyrim. No seriously, I really love Skyrim. It appeals to everything that I most enjoy about gaming. Sure the combat is extremely ropey, the character animations are terrible and the writing isn’t even that great, but I don’t care about that, because I just want to explore. However, Skyrim isn’t my favourite Elder Scrolls game, oh no, that would be a little game named Morrowind. I sunk a frankly terrifying amount of time into Morrowind; I loved the island of Vvardenfell, in it’s beautiful weirdness, and the truly alien culture of the Dunmer. The Roman influenced Cyrodill of Oblivion and the Nordic influenced Skyrim, as great as they are, could never come close to a land absolutely brimming with weird and wonderful sights. I was therefore, frankly rather giddy with the news that the newest Skyrim DLC will return us to Solstheim, an island midway between Morrowind and Skyrim which was previously featured as the setting of the excellent Morrowind expansion pack Bloodmoon. Although this DLC, Dragonborn, doesn’t quite capture the Morrowind magic, it still almost had me weeping with nostalgia at times, and is an excellent slice of Skyrim in its own right, and is definitely a great improvement over the Dawnguard and Hearthfire DLCs.
Solstheim does tread a line between the geography of Skyrim and Morrowind. The snowy mountains in the north certainly aren’t far away from Skyrim, with Morrowind style mushrooms found in the south. Things have changed in Solstheim since Bloodmoon however; the eruption of the Red Mountain between Oblivion and Skyrim has coated the south of the island with ash. As much as I liked Dawnguard, it missed the point of what made Skyrim great, and thankfully Dragonborn does not make this mistake, and gives us another big, beautiful world to explore packed to the brim with stuff. There aren’t any huge cities on Solstheim, but we do have the town of Raven Rock (which Morrowind veterans will remember actually founding in Bloodmoon), as well as the return of the Skaal Village and the small Telvanni holdfast of Tel Mithryn in the south east. Solstheim really is Skyrim in miniature, which is really what Skyrim DLC should be. A lot of the game takes place in Apocrapha, the plane of Oblivion which is the demesne of the Daedric Lord Hermaeus Mora. Apocrapha is utterly trippy, and a fun break from the more grounded land of Solstheim.
Dragonborn kicks off as the player character journeys to any major city in Skyrim, where they will be attacked by mysterious cultists bearing a note from Solstheim. The cultists worship Miraak, the first Dragonborn, who desire to bring down the protagonist as a pretender to the title. Miraak was sealed on Solstheim by the Dragon Priests, of which Miraak was originally a member before betraying them. Miraak has gained the support of Hermaeus Mora, who has been helping him to return to the physical plain. The Dragonborn journeys to Solstheim to take down Miraak and free the island from his thrall. In addition to this main quest, we have the plethora of side quests which define the Elder Scrolls series.
The main storyline is…actually kind of poor. In this regard Dragonborn is actually weaker than Dawnguard, where I actually really enjoyed the main storyline. Miraak never feels as potent a threat as he should, and feels oddly underplayed. However, Hermaeus Mora is a much more interesting character, and his scenes steal the plot. The main plotlines has never been the most important aspect of the Elder Scrolls games, and there are lots of much more compelling mini narratives within side quests. The weakness of the main plot, whilst disappointing, doesn’t take away from the experience nearly as much as it would in other games.
The player won’t be doing much new in the gameplay department in Dragonborn, and if the basic gameplay of Skyrim didn’t reel you in during the main game this DLC won’t change your mind. The biggest new gameplay addition is the ability to tame and ride dragons, which is much much less cool than it sounds. The player isn’t given any real control over the dragon, and it all feels a bit clunky. This feature seems shoehorned in to appeal to those who have been begging for this feature since the game’s release, but the Skyrim engine simply isn’t quite robust enough to do this sort of thing justice. Despite being marketed as a major selling point of the DLC, it’s really not that important to it; Dragonborn would have been just as great without it. However, if you’re thinking of playing this DLC because of the dragon riding, I’d give this one a miss. If, like me, you just wanted another big beautiful world to explore, then this DLC is a godsend.
I’ll confess something right now that a reviewer should never confess; I’m incapable of judging this game objectively. You see, as I first left Raven Rock and began to explore the rugged southern coast of Solstheim, music from Morrowind began to play, and with that my abilities to think rationally about this DLC became utterly compromised, so contorted by nostalgia was I. Jeremy Soule is one of the most underrated composers in gaming, and his beautiful score adds huge amounts to the experience. The voice acting is…well, pretty much the same as Skyrim’s, with many of that voice cast returning. I didn’t think the voice acting in Skyrim was too bad, it was certainly much better than Oblivion’s, but it’s hardly excellent. Still, it didn’t draw me out of the experience, and there are some amusing and tragic characters mixed into the experience with well delivered performances.
Dragonborn is one of the most complete and satisfying pieces of DLC which I have ever played, and a real must for anyone who loved Skyrim, especially people who played Morrowind. Even if you haven’t, Solstheim is a great location packed with interesting people, places and secrets. Alas, my PS3 and PC playing friends don’t have access to this product yet (it should be coming soon, but Bethesda don’t exactly have the best record with this sort of thing), but if you have this game on Xbox 360, I highly recommend giving Dragonborn a download, even if you don’t normally ‘do’ DLC.