The return to Solstheim. For those big fans of Morrowind's Bloodmoon Expansion, it's like returning home after being away for so long and those familiar sites are no longer the same. Dragonborn is a mixture of nostalgia and change. However, it doesn't take long until the experience feels eerily familiar.
The journey begins with you getting attacked out in the wilderness by these strange cultists who claim you're not the true dragonborn. After you slaughter them, one cultists is nice enough to continue the trend of containing top secret orders for your assassination (I guess they have trouble remembering your name). You find yourself on a boat to Raven Rock, which back in the Morrowind expansion was nothing more than a scantly populated colony that grew as the player worked with the East Empire Company. Not anymore.
The dark elves of Morrowind, more specifically, of House Redoran have taken control of the colony. Right away you are hit with an explosion of deep nostalgia. The strange bug like buildings, ancestral tombs, bonemold armor of the guards, it's like Morrowind just went up a console generation. The beauty of returning to Solstheim for Morrowind vets is trying to piece together all the changes after hundreds of years. The Raven Rock mine, which was an integral part to the questline in Bloodmoon, serves as a fun quest in Dragonborn.
For me, I wandered around Raven Rock more to see all the changes rather than worry about the main quest. Raven Rock is on the coast of the island, and primarily covered in ash, which happened after the eruption of Red Mountain destroyed much of Morrowind and parts of Solstheim. Once I got a feel for the town of Raven Rock, it was time to begin questing, and more importantly, figuring out who this Miraak is, and his goal. Like any true villian, he's looking to wreck havoc on all of Solstheim.
The first major section of the main questline has you put through some ruins that look awfully similar to those of Skyrim. It should be noted that since Solstheim is an island pretty far north from Morrowind, it is close to the Skyrim region, thus making it much like Skyrim's environment. Unfortunately, that means you'll fight a lot of Draugr in Nordic Ruins, explore various Dwarven Ruins, and see caves filled with snow and ice. Unlike other Elder Scrolls content expansions in the past, don't expect wildly variant environments like Shivering Isles was for Oblivion. Solstheim is much like Skyrim, but with Morrowind assets sprinkled in.
However it's not all bad. Much like tradition with these content expansions, the Daedric Prince of Knowledge and fate, Hermaeus Mora makes an appearance and carefully examines the situation of Solstheim. Through various "Black Books", you will be transported into Mora's realm of Oblivion, known as Apocrypha. Perhaps the best areas of the expansion, Apocrypha is a weird forbidden realm of knowledge, where those who seek it never see the light of day again. This desolate zone is covered in mucky waters, floating pages from books, and Hermaeus Mora watching you with his many eyes.
Unlike other dungeons or caves, Apocrypha is primarily puzzles, or maybe better to consider it as an obstacle course. It's much harder to sneak around in this realm, the enemies tend to spawn right on you rather than walking around the zone waiting to be riddled with arrows. Important to mention that the enemies in the expansion are much stronger, the Lurkers are these gigantic creatures that spew odd tentacle like attacks at the player. On Master difficulty, expect to use lots of healing potions.
The primary goal in Apocrypha is to reach the Black Book in this realm, much like reaching the Sigil Stone in Oblivion Gates. Here the player is rewarded with a choice between three unique powers, for example, one ability might summon a daedra who will act as a merchant, or a power to augment you Unrelenting Force shout to make it even more powerful.
The main quest is pretty straightforward with some cool bits of back story, but it goes by so quickly that it feels more like one long questline than a full story.
I'd say most could clear it in about five hours, but it's a guess because I didn't play the main story right through. I'm more of an explorer who checks out a cave nearby, or goes inside that ruin in hopes of a new shout. Since it's so short, it's hard to really get into it. It starts and then ends rather quickly. Miraak does have some interesting dialogue, making him a much bigger badass antagonist than the lame and boring Vampire Lord of Dawnguard's expansion. Not to mention Miraak also looks pretty menacing.
Unfortunately for me, the expansion was a bit of a disappointment. I had so many hours of fun, but I feel the magic is slipping from these expansions. Solstheim is basically Skyrim with some Morrowind enemies, armor and weapons. Part of me would rather they made an expansion where it took you to a place far from snow and ice. An environment that is much different from Skyrim visually. The realm of Apocrypha is the only place with a unique look, the other dungeon types are exactly the same as Skyrim. It creates this "same old" feeling. "Oh another Nordic Ruin filled with Draugr. It's not like I didn't go through a bunch of these in Skyrim".
It was really cool to revisit Thrisk or Skaal Village, and I spent more time exploring every nook and cranny of this expansion than anything else. I rarely used the fast travel function because I wanted to see everything. Especially as I loved the Bloodmoon expansion, I still had an ingrained map of Solstheim from Morrowind that I could mentally compare how the ice lake looked outside of Thrisk Mead Hall from both games.
I loved seeing the Telvanni Tower, the nostalgic feeling of needing a levitation ring for my non mage to climb those towers back in Morrowind. Now in Skyrim, I just ride the stream to the top. I loved the little bits explaining the current political structure of Morrowind, the fighting between House Redoran and Hlaalu. The expansion did a good job with explaining lore from Morrowind, and how much had changed from that game to the events in Skyrim. Fighting enemies wearing Chitin armor is cool, too. These touches were truly well done.
To be fair, Skyrim's Solstheim looks much like it did back in the Bloodmoon expansion in terms of caves and ruins. After all, Solstheim had a strong Nordic influence, so it only makes sense that you would feel right at home upon entering the island. But that's why the choice of Solstheim is underwhelming. As the Bloodmoon expansion, it served as a diverse place that contrasted heavily from Morrowind's ashy planes. In Skyrim, the Dragonborn expansion feels like the vanilla game with some Morrowind items and buildings sprinkled in. In dungeon design, it's the exact same minus Apocrypha. And there lies the disappointment. Too much of the same with not enough new.
+ Miraak is way more badass than Alduin or Harkon, and a more interesting villain
+ The Morrowind vibe in Skyrim
+ Nice fan service and lore
- Short Main Quest
- Dungeons are the same design as vanilla Skyrim
- Very few new enemy types
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Thread: [PC] Skyrim DLC (Dragonborn)
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