Skyrim was an incredible game, and almost undoubtedly the best game of last year, but it was marred then by some not so stellar DLC. Dawnguard and Hearthfire were both lacking, and left us wanting for the kind of stellar post game content that Bethesda had provided us with after Oblivion (a game that ironically enough itself wasn’t all that great), and that Bethesda had promised that the DLC for Skyrim would be modeled on. Unfortunately, the first two major DLC releases gave the impression that the promises would be empty.
Thankfully, then, the third major Skyrim DLC release. the newly released Dragonborn, is flat out incredible, and one of the best examples of how DLC should be handled. With an entirely new set of locales to explore outside of Skyrim, and near fan favorite Morrowind, an entirely new questline that adds substantially to both general Elder Scrolls lore, and specifically, to Skyrim’s backstory, and finally, a lot of fan service to players who played and enjoyed previous Elder Scrolls games, and most notably Morrowind, Dragonborn nails it completely.
It’s a substantial download, at over 800 MB, and when you actually start the questline, you realize why: Dragonborn takes place on Solstheim, an island off the coast of Morrowind; across the expanse of the island, you will find the geography changing dramatically, from the now familiar snow clad rocky locales of Skyrim, to the more exotic scenery of Morrowind proper, replete with giant mushrooms and the like.
Dragonborn sees you follow the questline of the original Dragonborn, the Dovahkiin Miraak. After Miraak turned evil, he was banished to Oblivion, and he is now trying to return to Tamriel. Frankly, the story and the setup stop mattering after a while. Wheras the setup is great, because it adds substantially to the series’ extensive lore, after it sets the new questlines up, it gradually recedes into the background in terms of importance, eventually degenerating into giving you just an excuse to go perform the next task that you have been given. Sadder still, Miraak never really comes off as menacing, and after a while, his one gimmick begins to come off as genuinely comical, almost as if the game has become self aware at the sheer absurdity of the story it is trying to tell, and is now making fun of itself.
Where the storyline itself fails, pretty much everything else picks up on the slack. The locales in Solstheim are fresh and incredibly varied, and it feels like a miniature Morrowind/Skyrim hybrid all at once. The main questline itself lasts at least a good half dozen hours, following which there is at least twice that many hours worth of extra content, quite a lot of which is, in true Elder Scrolls tradition, banal, but most of which is impressively addictive. And then there is also the dragon riding.
Dragon riding is probably the most publicized feature of the new DLC, and it’s easy to see why, to the legions of new players introduced to the franchise via Skyrim, the prospect of riding a dragon after you tame it becomes so alluring. And while Bethesda went the really safe route and opted to make dragon riding an all on rails affair, with pre determined flight paths, that does not take away from the sheer freshness and absolute excitement of it, although it does become fairly boring once the sheen has worn off. Whereas right now, it is understandable that Bethesda opted to not have free roaming dragon riding in order to keep the player firmly within the designated playground, I hope one day, we get a game where we can use dragons to get to any part of the scenery we damn well please to.
In spite of its fairly obvious limitations, Dragonborn is brilliant. To any Elder Scrolls fan with Skyrim, it is recommended. To any Morrowind fan, it is recommended. To any Skyrim fan, it is recommended. To anyone who possibly feels that Skyrim somehow needs to provide them with more value for money than it already did, Dragonborn is recommended. It is a rare example of DLC done right, and is flat out the best Skyrim DLC available at the moment.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.