It’s not well documented but it is well known around my social circle about the very real and very sad affliction that haunts my existence. Yes, despite the bugs, stiff narrative, and WTF scripting I love “The Elder Scrolls” series. Dating way back for me with “Arena” and then up to and through “Skyrim”, I’ve spent roughly 90 real life days in my TES adventures, totalling over 700 hours across 7 characters in “Oblivion” alone. I’m not here for your pity nor do I want to be fixed. I merely need to set up a frame of reference before going further into Bethesda’s next DLC add-on. With that said, I’ll leave my personal obsessions on the side for now.
ANYWAY with “Dawnguard” being less than amazing and “Hearthfire” essentially The Sims-Lite, many fans were cying out for proper expansion pack on par with “Bloodmoon” and “Shivering Isles”. Bethesda meets us halfway with “Dragonborn”. But is it worth the 1600 MS points?
The short answer is yes. Double yes if you’re a big fan of the open-world, spellslinging, cave diving series. While “Dawnguard” featured a few new landmarks to explore, “Dragonborn” features an entirely new area with the rugged island of Solstheim. Littered across the island are ambient quests, new characters, foes, shouts, and loot.
The main story thread features an ancient and powerful Dragonborn who claims to be the first of his kind. After a few revelations and a twist or two, you will eventually learn who is really pulling the strings. On the surface, it’s a fairly straight forward tale akin to a medium length multiple mission quest from vanilla “Skyrim”. I don’t want to spoil what’s revealed, so just trust me that it takes place in a really eerie dimension of madness and you’ll meet an ancient darkness.
The only downside about the story is the length. At around 5 to 7 hours, my level 51 alt character from my “Dawngaurd” romp absolutely blew through anything that would remotely be a challenge, even on Master setting. That’s not to say you need to make a new character. Just keep in mind that if you’re exceptionally high level, and you like a challenge, bump up the difficulty or maybe try out a new class.
Difficulty aside, most quests involve you hiking from place to place in search of maguffin X as a solution to plot device Y. Occasionally, you carve up a few baddies , talk to a couple of wizzards, and a few odd puzzle will have you thinking for a few minutes. There aren’t many memorable NPCs which is really a shame becuase it really could have used another Serana (or better yet, Sheogorath!). All in all, it’s not exactly the most engaging of quests but it works for what it is.
Really, though, TES is arguably about exploration. So much so that threats, no matter how world-ending never really have any teeth. So in spite of a mediocre tale of ancient dragonborns and unfulfilled prophecies you’ll still have plenty of new, exciting secret things to discover on Solstheim. From pirate treasure to the mysteries of the Dwemer to riding dragons (FINALLY!), there’s a little bit of everything for everyone. I always get a thrill of just finding a really neat spot or a tucked away chest behind a felled tree and this is why we play these games. If there was an Elder Scrolls game that had no real main plot and was just a jumble of random quest with tons and tons of stumbling into hidden caves with loot and danger, I’d be first in line to play.
On the technical side, “Dragonborn” retains many of the glitches and hitches that plague these games. With around 10 hours clocked, I suffered no less than 5 systems locks. The old advice about multiple saves is still in effect here, folks. Besides a few freezes, I noticed a dip in framerate every so often and load times have increased somewhat- especially when travelling back and forth between Skyrim and Solstheim.
Graphically, not much has changed. It’s still beautifully rendered with flowing rivers, icy crags, and ashy shores. The new enemies have a little charm to them and nice to be able to beat up on something else besides the endless tombs of draugr. The Nordic armor and weapon sets look really cool and you’ll also find a few new crafting materials to pimp out your character for a new look.
At the end of the day, I think Bethesda is on the right track with “Dragonborn”. The other two DLC add-ons presented a neat if somewhat flawed first step for expanding the lore, while this one earnstly makes a case for a larger world. It’s also nice to see the basic gameplay improve with neat new features like the super Dovahkiin form, dragon mounts, and a very much appreciated end game ability to respec your character. I haven’t even fully explored the island but I’m already excited about what new lands and stories will be cooked up in future expansions.
[The Elder Scrolls V: Dragonborn available on XBOX for 1600 MS Points. DLC code provided by Bethesda. Played main story quest to completion]