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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dragonborn Review

28 February 2013

Just like the divide between the Imperials and Stormcloaks, people are torn when it comes to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Most of us became enthralled the first time that dragon filled the sky as our head's lay on the executioner's chopping block. We stayed glued to our controllers after hundreds of hours exploring the vast and snowy landscape, completing what felt like thousands of quests, and slaying an endless supply of dragons. We were lucky enough to work through some potentially game-ending glitches and bugs while living the life of a Dragonborn.

Then there are those who hold a grudge against Bethesda for releasing a flawed game on the PlayStation 3 and failing to properly fix the problem in a timely manner. Both groups have their rationale and as I side with the former, I ask that you try to put aside your frustration and anger with Bethesda. Try and forget those long months without a proper fix for the horrible glitches in many PS3 versions of Skyrim. Don't mind the fact we've waited patiently for a successful fix and even longer for the new content our Xbox 360 friends were enjoying over the last several months. It seems Bethesda has fixed the major issues for PS3 gamers (so far) and now that the three downloadable content add-ons are all available on PS3, we can once again pleasantly waste our lives in a fantasy world.

With the release of the Dragonborn DLC on PS3—more of an expansion than today's typical fluffy add-on content—those two divided sides have a perfect reason to come together. Everyone deserves to enjoy this terrific new content. There is a large new world to explore as we're taken away from Skyrim's arctic setting and brought to the Morrowind era's Solstheim Island. With so many new locations to uncover and dungeons to explore, you can easily spend dozens of hours revealing every crevasse of Solstheim's desolate shores, arid planes, and rocky mountains. There is an interesting story complete with a main quest series, plenty of miscellaneous and side quests, new NPCs, new enemies, even new dragon shouts. Heck, you can even ride dragons—that’s not as cool as it sounds, though.

All of this new content is great, without a doubt. But it is still tucked into the Skyrim formula. Quests generally send you into a dungeon to recover something then back to your original quest giver who instructs you to ask someone else for help. Seriously, can't you just send me to that person without running your errands? Some of Dragonborn has that standard go-get-me-that quest structure but at least a fair portion is tucked into trippy new settings.

Those trippy new settings come courtesy of the main storyline, which sets you in pursuit of the original Dragonborn. Entering the world of Hermaeus Mora, a Daedric prince, via Black Books is something that feels uniquely unfamiliar to the rest of Skyrim. In these dungeons giant tentacles reach up from the black and acidic water to slap your silly face, the sky is filled with eyeballs, Seekers do their best to set your head spinning as they clone themselves out of your reach, and walls of books create a labyrinth to ensnare the feeble-minded. These dungeons are the true star of the new content. Yes, it's all still enclosed in that Skyrim quest system, but at least the setting feels fresh, even mind-bending.

The bulk of the story quests prepare you to battle Miraak, the original Dragonborn, by eliminating these worship stones scattered throughout the island. These worship stones put the dismal residents under something of a curse. With the help of some new friends, you'll learn how to blow the worship centers to the ground and free the brainwashed inhabitants. It's all a surprisingly enjoyable experience, albeit too brief. After eliminating all the worship stones, collecting the Black Books, and exploring Mora's realm I found myself face-to-face with Miraak. The main story is too fast for its own good and after about five or six hours, you'll have accomplished your mission and be free to do as you please.

Anyone who spent time in Skyrim knows that the main story is not even half the fun; it's not even a quarter of the fun. The same goes for the Dragonborn DLC. While the story quests are enjoyable and worth the short playthrough, the real pleasure comes from the numerous side quests and getting to know the island's residents—you know you're playing a good role-playing game when you want to know more about the random characters you meet in villages and cities. I spent far more time wandering around the island and chatting up random NPCs than I did working through the main quest.

After you finish the main quest, there is yet another unique experience. The highly touted ability to ride dragons is available after you unlock all three words of a new shout. Keep your pants on; it's not nearly as fun as it should be. Your shout allows you to essentially tame a dragon, hop on its spiny back, and go for an on-the-rails ride. You don't have the ability to freely control your beast, instead you give it commands while in the air to lock on enemies, attack said enemies, and land. Neat! That's really all there is to it. The skeptic could put a lot of fault on this feature, but it's only required at one point in the game. After you try it a couple times, you'll probably never think to give it another go.

It is certainly worth noting that the PS3 version has extremely long load times. This is nothing new for Skyrim players, but if you've been away for a while, you'll have to sit patiently for that dungeon to load up properly. In addition, there are a fair amount of recycled voices for NPCs--there are also excellent new additions. Again, this is nothing new for Skyrim, but at times I thought to myself, "wait a minute, aren't you that merchant I met in Windhelm?" If you have been away for a while, you may notice Skyrim hasn't aged all that well. This is especially true if you've played the PC version with user-created mods. Dragonborn, like Skyrim, has some jaw-dropping environments, but it definitely looks grainy on the console.

The Dragonborn DLC is a perfect reason to jump back into Skyrim. With unique dungeons to explore, an interesting island to uncover, new enemies to defeat, a captivating (yet short) story to play through, and tons of side quests, you'll probably once again neglect your job and family for just another hour (or ten) playing Skyrim. What's worse? If you like it you'll probably want to head back to the mainland and waste another year of your life adventuring in some fantasy land. OK, so that's not a bad thing, just a fair warning.

-The Final Word-

With its large new map, unique dungeons, and captivating story and side quests, Skyrim's Dragonborn feels far more like a complete expansion than basic add-on content. Familiar issues persist, and riding dragons isn't all that cool, but it's certainly great to play more Skyrim.
  • Large and interesting map to explore
  • Unique dungeons and worthwhile main quest line
  • Tons of new sidequests and NPCs
  • Riding dragons is a letdown
  • Main quest is rushed
  • Familiar long load times, grainy graphics
8.0
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