There are few problems in life that cannot be solved by a great deal of running away. It’s a lesson I learnt long ago playing Oblivion – whilst many of my friends battled their way through hell’s minions, I’d sprint through the daedric realm at a dead run, dash up the demonic towers and grab the crystal in some bizarre tribute to memories of watching the Crystal Maze as a child. It’s apparently applicable to most demonic realms, as Dragonborn was quick to reveal to me.
Dragonborn is Skyrim’s latest chunk of DLC. Since its release on the 360 several months ago, Bethesda have done the usual and slipped out the PC release as if it was some kind of big secret. As a result, it was a few days until I spotted its presence on Steam, but nevertheless, seeking adventure and peril I donned my steel armour and settled down for a trip back to one of my favourite fantasy realms.
After putting aside the game a few months ago, it’s been a while since I properly delved into Skyrim. The conclusion of my last adventure saw my nordic warrior Druss hang up his axe and settle down to life as a married man, and aside from the occasional passing bandit and wandering troll, life seemed good. There was that little problem with vampires a few months ago in the Dawnguard incident, but now the most exciting thing in Druss’ life is finding enough wood to build an extension.
Bethesda have evidently learnt from their past mistakes. Whereas Oblivion’s Knights of the Nine expansion met with many complaints from fans who had absolutely no idea how to access the new content, Dragonborn deals with this problem by rather proactively immediately sending a group of bizarrely dressed assassins to kill you. Following a brief investigation with a sharp axe and a fond farewell to your family, you find your way to the shores of Solstheim, where a new set of adventures awaits.
It’s been several years since I set foot on the shores of this nordic slice off the shores of Vvardenfell, but I’m sure this place used to be bigger – I’m guessing a volcano going off next door can have that effect on geography. Tragically, a massive eruption has destroyed Vvardenfell, setting of Morrowind, which erased any hopes I’d had of skipping across to the mainland to wreak vengeance on a flock of cliff racers.
Whilst it may be canonical to cover a large chunk of Solstheim with ash and dying vegetation, speaking as a tourist it doesn’t exactly enamour you to the location. Expect to traverse vast swathes of brown and grey punctuated with the occasional dead bush and burning tree. Things do improve somewhat as you rise into the hills, but with the icy mountains and glaciers you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’d ever left Skyrim to begin with.
The native wildlife is equally hostile to your presence. Ash demons and burnt spriggans pester you during your travels, and a race of surprisingly hostile tiny blue people have a tendency to stab you in the shins with their tiny pointed spears. And of course, there are dragons. There’s always dragons, swooping down from the sky for just long enough for you to bash their brains out. You’d think they’d have learnt to just leave you alone by now.
In contrast to its predecessor Dawnguard, Dragonborn is home to a decent batch of side-quests. There’s enough going on across this large island to make exploration feel rewarding again. A plethora of old temples, abandoned ruins and mysterious caves await you on your travels, and while there is a main quest driving your wanderings, you can quite happily spend several hours strolling to and fro, safe in the knowledge that adventures will befall you.
And befall you they do. Soon after arriving on Solstheim, a spot of light reading will send you plunging into the new realm of Apocrypha, home of the Daedric lord Hermaeus. Whilst Dragonborn’s new daedric plane certainly looks impressive enough, seemingly torn from the imagination of Lovecraft himself, in reality it consists of only two types of new demonic NPCs repeated ad-infinitum. I soon found myself returning to my old technique of just sprinting through the dungeon and grabbing the artifact at the end of it that worked so well in Oblivion. I was hoping for grander adventures in this mysterious plane than just jogging through simple tentacle-filled dungeons, but at the very least it makes a change from the snow and ash covered landscape of Solstheim.
The other marketing drive for Dragonborn was dragon-riding. Who wouldn’t want to sit astride one of those magnificent beasts and take to the skies? Well, me for one. Those things are clumsy, violent and more likely to slam into a mountainside than take you where you want to go. The integration of this often demanded feature appears to have been added more as fan-service than anything else. You can command your winged, scaly beast to land, lock onto targets, and attack in a vaguely apathetic way, but that’s it. Any dreams you have of flying freely around Skyrim, wreaking havoc on villages are going to have to stay dreams for now, or at least until the modders get their hands on it.
Like all the best Elder Scrolls DLC, Dragonborn doesn’t just add a quest, it adds a place. Whilst you’ll burn through the main quest in just a couple of hours, there’s enough happening on Solstheim to keep you occupied for a long time to come. Take your time, that’s my advice – Soak in the sights and sounds of Skyrim’s newest addition, and when you tire of that, hit it with an axe.
Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available – PC, 360, PS3
Platform Reviewed – PC
Review based on a purchased copy
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