First impressions: Skyrim Dragonborn DLC

dragonborn box art

If there’s one compensation for being stuck at home with a sick child, it’s the possibility of bundling up the sleeping tot into your lap so she can snooze while you get on with the important business of saving Tamriel from its latest threat. Players of Morrowind will remember the island of Solstheim, and those of who you haven’t played have absolutely no excuse since it’s currently about 29p on Steam and is arguably the best game ever made.

Let’s process that for a second. Everyone I know who played Brink was disappointed because what they really wanted was just Enemy Territory with better graphics, and – having made the mythical “perfect game” – the developers seemed to ignore everything that was beloved about it and went off and did something else instead. Some penny seems to have dropped somewhere at Bethesda, because this time around they have delivered what is simply, literally, Morrowind. With better graphics. 

OK, so it’s 200 years later, but – here’s the delicious thing – Dunmer live for hundreds of years, so that Dark Elf you befriended back in 2002 might be your buddy now a decade (or two centuries) later. Not every character from Morrowind is here, but there’s Master Neloth and … oh, I won’t spoil it. I did feel rather sorry for my old boss, though.

Morrowind itself is clearly visible from the shoreline, though the inaccessible Vvardenfel lies smouldering from its constant eruptions. It’s painfully poignant to see it like that, and that sadness is reflected in its displaced characters, forced north onto Solstheim as refugees. House Redoran is the ruling House now that the Empire (and, by extension, House Hlaalu) has gone. They’ve taken over Raven Rock, so the architecture is a weird mixture of the characteristic Redoran style and the Raven Rock colony architecture you’ll remember from before. You can buy a house there after completing the usual help-the-villagers questlines. There is a Telvanni base, with their mushroom-tree towers, inhabited by the aforementioned curmudgeonly eccentric and his frankly odd staff. There’s the Thirsk Mead Hall and Skaal Village, and even one thing that I thought was missing and was disappointed not to see … until I uncovered its ruins, which left me feeling satisfied.

It’s a very satisfying expansion – the same shape and size as Morrowind‘s Bloodmoon, and you can even use your old Bloodmoon map to find your way around. There’s a main quest and dozens of side quests which have such a Morrowind-y feel that I actually felt surprised to hear the barkeep say his lines rather than just reading text off the screen. You can hop back and forth between Solstheim and Skyrim through a simple boat travel system to/from Windhelm, so you don’t need to worry about feeling trapped. Serana travelled with me quite happily, though you can recruit other followers there if you went alone.

Some of the great ideas are a little lost in the execution (that’s true of all games, I think), so the dragon-riding experience was akin to Mass Effect‘s Mako – With Wings! That said, ferfuxsake you get to ride a dragon, and the wonder of the gloriously Lovecraftian daedric realm is undermined only by its resemblance to Oblivion’s titular dungeons – both in terms of feeling self-consciously game-y (here’s the puzzle bit, here’s the two monsters, rinse repeat) and by its repetition. Again, this is mitigated because of the sheer mind-blowing awe that such an imaginative set-up inspires. (Things … with tentacles!)

As you might imagine, I’m not even close to finished, though I can confidently say this is analogous to Bloodmoon in the same way that Dawnguard equalled Knights of the Nine for length, depth and style. The fan-pleasing touches here are laid on so thick they stop just shy of parody, finding that perfect balance where it feels like the whole thing was exquisitely crafted just to make you happy.

Oh, and there are proper waves crashing against the shore. Waves! I’ve been wanting them to do that for years.

Dragonborn is a beautiful thing, truly worthy of the rank of “Elder Scrolls expansion”. I just hope my happy Dragonborn dreams can tide me over until I next get a chance to explore.

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