February 16, 2013 by solomonlutze
If you were going to compile a list of problems with Skyrim, odds are good that “There isn’t enough of it” wouldn’ even cross your mind. Compared to Skyrim’s sprawling overworld and myriad sidequests, Dragonborn is a little more self-contained; it offers you a smaller space and a smaller main quest, both populated with all the love and attention to detail that make the province of Skyrim so captivating. Complete with new lands and quests, new shouts, and new challenges, Dragonborn gives you everything an Elder Scrolls expansion demands.
Dragonborn sees a return to the island of Solstheim, an island in the province of Morrowind featured in the Elder Scrolls III expansion Bloodmoon. After being assaulted by cultists, you’ll journey there to unravel the story of the first Dragonborn and the mysteries of the Lovecraft-style demon Hermaeus Mora. There’s also new equipment and spells to be had, new areas to explore, and even (after beating the main quest) the option to spend a Dragon Soul to deallocate perks from a skill tree, adding a much-needed respec option. All this, especially the respec, will give you a lot of reasons to spend more time with Skyrim.
If you’re a long-time fan of the series, some familiar sights from Morrowind are very, very welcome. The giant mushrooms that Telvanni wizards call home; the gently drifting herds of jellyfish-like Netch; and the arcing temples that house shrines to the Daedric princes call up all of what made Morrowind such a beautiful experience. Being called “Outlander” and “Sera” by the natives will make Morrowind fans feel right at home. The story also recalls some of that game’s atmospheric richness; unlike Oblivion and Skyrim, neither of which are very morally complex, Dragonborn will make you question the forces you are serving and the choices you make. That the quest is so short is a little disappointing, especially since your villain feels worthy of his own complete game, but as with all Elder Scrolls games there are a lot of distractions and details to flesh out the main storyline.
Controls and gameplay have a couple additions, but not necessarily as well as a fan would hope. The ability to tame and fly dragons has been added, and as great as it sounds the actual experience ends up being a little bit of a letdown. The controls are questionable, and pathing sometimes feels arbitrary and cumbersome. It’s sad that something so anticipated didn’t end up feeling more complete, but it’s still gratifying to lob lightning bolts at crowds of bandits from on high.
The enemies added by Dragonborn will carry about the same curve as those from the main game, which is a good thing when your character is decked out with all the spoils from Skyrim‘s main quest and itching for a good fight. It still doesn’t often feel like there’s an enemy requiring all your skill and cunning to defeat, but there are plenty of new ways to make monsters evaporate, and finding creative ways to dispatch enemies is as enjoyable as ever.
Most of what was added won’t feel especially new. There are dungeons to explore, words of power to learn, packs of goblins to do fetch quests for, and so on. The main strength that these things have is in their ability to tie together Solstheim as a believable border island, a place influenced by both Morrowind and Skyrim. The series does tend to focus on bringing locations to life, and this comes out in your side quests, whether that’s uncovering the ale stash of some bored guards or finding the lost treasure of an insane pirate captain. The tasks aren’t always challenging, but they’re world-building, and do a great job of fleshing out the setting.
Presentation – Pretty as ever, with some excellent visual throwbacks for fans of the series.
Optimization – Some disappointing technical bugs, but on the whole new features are fun and interesting.
Ingenuity – Dragonborn doesn’t innovate too much on the original game, but it does craft an elaborate and interesting setting quite well.
Sound – New voice acting and enemy sounds are up to par, though nothing ventures too far from what existed before. If you liked Skyrim’s audio, this will work for you.
Entertainment – Not a game-changer, but it complements and extends Skyrim very well, coloring in another patch of the game’s rich world with a little more detail.
If you own and enjoyed Skyrim, there’s no reason to hesitate on Dragonborn. It’s a fitting finale for the main character you’ve spent so many hours on. If you missed Morrowind, there’s even more for you here, and it serves to neatly tie Skyrim into the Elder Scrolls series. There’s nothing too sweeping or grand, and it probably won’t make you want to start the whole game over again. Dragonborn is well-crafted and wholly enjoyable. If any part of you wants to plant your feet in the snow and stick an ax in a dragon, it’s definitely worth your time.
GamerCheese score: 4/5