The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dragonborn DLC review: That old black magic

the elder scrolls 5 skyrim dragonborn dlc review that other 1

Let’s just clear the air right off the bat: riding on the back of a dragon is not fun at all. There, I said it. And I feel so much better now. The new Dragonborn DLC for Bethesda Softworks’ 2011 RPG hit The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim introduces dragon mounts at the end of the moderately lengthy campaign, but the reward isn’t really a suitable cap on the journey you’ll take. Fortunately, that journey is an excellent one, highlighted by a brand new land to explore and an assortment of secondary quests that add up to a great, big chunk of “more Skyrim.”

Much like the earlier Dawnguard DLC, there’s no indication when you first fire up your post-Dragonborn download save that there’s new content to be had. All of the pieces are there, and a knowledgeable player will be able to immediately head to Windhelm and hire a boat to the island of Solstheim, but the more proper DLC introduction comes when a gang of dragon-masked cultists attack without warning. They’re dealt with easily, and a quick search of their leader’s corpse reveals that they’ve been sent with one specific purpose: killing Skyrim’s Dragonborn hero.

Tracing the cultists back to their point of origin brings you to the island of Solstheim, a sprawling, mountainous landscape that was last seen in the Bloodmoon expansion pack (remember those?) for Morrowind. Longtime Elder Scrolls fans will no doubt pick up on familiar links between this DLC and the earlier expansion, but no prior knowledge of Solstheim is required. This is, for all intents and purposes, and entirely new open world environment for you to explore with lots of secrets to be found and 30+ new fast travel locations to unlock on your map.

the elder scrolls 5 skyrim dragonborn dlc review that other 2

It’s clear as you explore early on that something is amiss on the island of Solstheim. The natives seem normal for parts of the day, only to suddenly zone out and wander off to a nearby construction site established around an unusual rock formation. The island is dotted with these and the situation is the same wherever you go. Try to talk to someone working near a rock formation and they’ll respond in a flat monotone with some obscure phrase that sounds almost like a prayer.

You eventually come to learn that Miraak, the very first Dragonborn of legend, has returned in some form, and that he’s up to something nefarious. As the full picture comes into focus, your quest brings you from the shores of Solstheim to the surreal Daedric realm of Apocrypha, the home  of Hermaeus Mora. This god-like being and his home realm are a clear homage to the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. Tentacles stretch down from the yellow-tinted sky and fantastical nightmare creatures – the likes of which you haven’t seen in Skyrim before – wink into existence without warning.

Solstheim and Apocrypha together are the marquee features in Dragonborn. This is the heftiest DLC offering for Skyrim yet in terms of purely new content, and the new locations in particular are a joy to explore. New enemy types, such as the giant-sized, Creature from the Black Lagoon-faced Lurker and the aggressive, pack-oriented Ash Spawns throw up some added challenge, but the new land is the clear-cut star – as it should be for a game like Skyrim, whose greatest rewards are built on exploration.

The entire island can be circled in fairly short order, but an assortment of quests ensure that you’ll see every inch of it. The main quest is good for 5-6 hours of play, but a faction-length second questline focused on the bloody politics of dark elves offers another sizable chunk of narrative as well. Then there are the many one-offs tasks that you’ll acquire as you talk to people, including a couple of faction-specific ones for Thieves Guild members and werewolves. Rounding things out is a new player house, built into the most unusual of locations.

the elder scrolls 5 skyrim dragonborn dlc review that other 3

Once again, we come back to the environment. Solstheim is just as much a joy to discover as Skyrim was before it. There’s a markedly different flavor to the snowy, mountainous terrain, especially in the handful of settled areas that you’ll visit. It’s more than that though. A great disaster befell Solstheim at some unspecified time before your arrival, and evidence of the catastrophe is spread across the whole of the island. You’ll come across many unfinished stories as you explore, and while some feed into the secondary tasks that you can take on, many others are simply left a mystery, allowing you to fill in the blanks based on what you see and read. Bethesda’s talent for filling its open worlds with a sense of discovery is very much at the forefront of Dragonborn.

The only real mis-step, as mentioned before, is the dragon riding. The quest-related shout that allows you to tame the great beasts can be used later on any standard dragon spawn (i.e. not a named dragon). Saddling up is easy enough, but Lair-comes-to-Skyrim this is not. Your tamed dragon will always fly along a set flight path in a lazy circle, and while you can fast-travel to new locations while on the back of the winged lizard, you can’t actually steer its movements in any way. The feel is ultimately that of a high fantasy Disney World ride, with the added bonus of being able to shoot spells at enemies if they happen to fall within range of your mount’s flight path.

To put all of that in another, more concise way: horseback riding is more exciting than dragonback riding. It’s a shame, the lone proper negative in an otherwise commendable expansion of Skyrim‘s world. It isn’t enough to make the DLC entirely skippable — there’s a lot of great content here for sure — but you’ll definitely want to think carefully about your purchase of dragonback riding is a major factor in your decision-making. Other than that, The Elder Scrolls’ return to Solstheim is a triumphant one and it makes a good case for immersing yourself once again in this fan-favorite 2011 release.

Gaming

The best HTC Vive games available today

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.
Gaming

Feeling nostalgic? Here are the 25 best Sega Genesis games

Although the company has since fallen into obscurity, Sega was an indisputable titan throughout the '90s. That said, here are 25 best Sega Genesis games that helped define its fabled decade.
Gaming

The best free-to-play games you can play right now

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Gaming

Fortnite Guides

Tips and tricks, challenges guides, user guide, and more Fortnite: Battle Royale is a mode that’s constantly changing and evolving over time. With each new season comes new challenges, weapons, vehicles, and limited time modes. Battle…
Gaming

Fortnite

Our full coverage Fortnite from Epic Games first arrived on PC as an early access game in 2017. Featuring a mode called Save the World, players could jump online with a group of friends to collect resources, build structures, and defend…
Product Review

‘Battlefield V’ shows up late for battle, but it's still unprepared

Battlefield V’s War Stories give us a new perspective on World War II, but the game’s lack of polish across both its campaign and multiplayer modes are almost impossible to ignore.
Deals

The best cheap-but-awesome PS4 game deals under $20

The PlayStation 4 has hit its stride in recent years and is now more affordable than ever. If you have a PS4 or are thinking of buying one, we’ve collected some must-have games. The best part? Each of these is just $20 or less.
Deals

Black Friday 2018: The best deals so far

Black Friday is the biggest shopping holiday of the year, and it will be here before you know it. If you can't wait until November 23 to start formulating a shopping plan, we've got you covered.
Gaming

‘Final Fantasy XV’ mod remembers the RPG’s canceled DLC and features

A Final Fantasy XV mod pays homage to the content canceled by Square Enix. Episodes Aranea, Luna, and Noctis will no longer happen, while the promised level-building tool and Mod Organizer improvements for the PC version were also shelved.
Gaming

Owners of ROM sites ordered to pay Nintendo more than $12 million

An federal court judge in Arizona has awarded Nintendo more than $12 million in damages in its lawsuit with the owners of two popular ROM websites. The sites must also be transferred to Nintendo's control.
Gaming

‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ parachutes onto PlayStation 4 on December 7

Following months of speculation, PUBG Corp. has announced that PUBG is coming to PS4 on December 7. The PS4 version includes all three maps and major features, and you can get some PlayStation-themed apparel items by pre-ordering.
Gaming

Struggling to survive 'Battlefield 5?' Our boot camp will keep you in the fight

Battlefield V's multiplayer component can be overwhelming, but you can succeed against the enemy with a little help. These are the tips and tricks you need to know to win in Battlefield V.
Gaming

What games were nominated for the The Game Awards 2018? Find out here

The Game Awards returns to Los Angeles for its fifth show this December. Here is everything we know about the event, including its location, where you can watch it, and games that were nominated.