We catch a ride over to the island of Solstheim to check it all out.
By Jess Colwill on December 17, 2012 at 6:33 pm
Editor’s Note: As there’s no release date given for Dragonborn on the PC, and the content will be identical to the console versions, we’ve taken the liberty of performing our review on the XBox 360 instead.
If one were to look at the three chapters of DLC for Skyrim that Bethesda have released so far, its latest offering Dragonborn is the one most like an expansion of the original. If you’ll excuse an analogy this early in the review, it’s like taking the ingredients of your favourite cake and making a cupcake out of them. It’s everything you love, but smaller.
The start of the DLC may seem a little contrived. You’re minding your own business when some cultists come along, and attack you for ‘pretending’ to be the Dragonborn. Luckily, they have some instructions on them, telling you exactly where they came from and who they work for, which leads you to the island of Solstheim and the mining town of Raven Rock.
Once you’re free to explore Solstheim, you’ll find yourself doing exactly that. The island is far larger than I was expecting, and beyond the main quest, there are lots of little side quests and nooks and crannies for you to explore simply for the joy of exploring. It’s like you’re back in Skyrim!
Without spoiling too much, one of the places you will end up is the realm of Apocrypha — the domain of Hermaeus Mora, daedric prince of forbidden knowledge. If you’ve ever said to yourself “Man, Skyrim needs more Cthulhu,” then this is the place for you. In fact, there are little baby Cthulhus, called Seekers, floating about everywhere attacking you on sight and secretly reading books while you’re not looking. Apocrypha is confusing and labyrinthine, and H.P. Lovecraft would have been well at home here. But like all Lovecraftian tales, there is forbidden knowledge to be gleaned from the madness…! Fear not, I will say no more.
Now, while I keep saying that Dragonborn is like a tiny Skyrim, I don’t want you to get the impression that there’s nothing new. There are lots of new things: new enemies, new shouts, new environments covered in ash from the visibly nearby Red Mountain. The docile netch and their tiny netch babies in particular, are an addition that I appreciated. Nothing says, “I don’t think we’re in Skyrim anymore, Toto” than seeing some giant floating jellyfish on the horizon.
I enjoyed my time in Solstheim. For the days I was playing it, I would wake up and think, “Yay! Time to play more Dragonborn!” But unfortunately, I have one complaint, and it’s sort of a deal breaker.
Obviously I was playing on the XBox 360, as that’s the only platform Dragonborn is released on so far. So I was already dealing with abysmally slow load times. Sometimes there is lag after loading a new zone that is so long, you wonder if the game is crashing. But no, it’s just being ridic slow. After the fourth or fifth time the game actually crashed, though, I was ready to put my adorably pink controller through the TV. I wasn’t even doing anything particularly demanding. It would just stop mid-stride, and a primal scream of rage would escape my lips.
At one point, the upper level of a building didn’t even load properly. By the way, they build their houses underground here, so the upper level was where the exit was also situated. I ended up having to pull this stupid manoeuvre where I jumped from the top of the staircase toward the door, hammering the ‘A’ button hoping to trigger the door. It took me a few tries, but I eventually freed myself.
I never went in that building again. Just to be safe.
Long story short: if you enjoyed Skyrim, you will absolutely enjoy Dragonborn as well. It’s like taking your vanilla Skyrim cake, making a smaller cupcake out of the ingredients, and adding a pinch of ash and mushrooms (Mm-mmmm!). The main quest is interesting and engaging, as are the surrounds you explore. My only suggestion would be to perhaps wait for a patch to fix some of the bugs and crashes — or of course, wait until it comes to the PC.
- Surprisingly large map to explore
- Environment combines Morrowind and Skyrim
- Intriguingly Lovecraftian main quest
- Many side quests to keep you occupied
- Baby netches FTW
- Unstable, with occasional glitches and lock-ups
Dragonborn is currently only available on XBox 360, where it costs 1600 MSP. A release window for the PC version is given as “early next year”.