Welcome to Solstheim.
Exclusive DLC is one of those modern annoyances that we’d love to see consigned to the scrapheap. Skyrim’s first proper expansion Dragonborn arrived on Xbox 360 way back in December, but PC owners have had to wait until February to get their hands on the content, and all so that Microsoft can claim some competitive advantage over Sony in the increasingly redundant and petty console wars.
With the previous Skyrim DLC (Dawnguard and Hearthfire) we didn’t care about the silly delays frankly, as Vampires are so 2009 and having to look after children in real life is traumatic enough for us not to look for a similar thrill in games. The thing is Dragonborn is different for two important reasons, firstly it’s actually a proper expansion offering up the small yet packed out Solsthiem island to explore and secondly it features players returning to the same locale which featured in the Morrowind expansion, Bloodmoon.
This expansion’s roots The Elder Scrolls series go way back to 2003, so it would’ve been nice if the PC platform could’ve been spared from the exclusivity agreement this one time – if only to repay fans which have been with this PC-centric series from the beginning.
Thankfully the overall quality of the Dragonborn expansion neutralises a lot of the resentment about this content being delayed, with the island of Solsthiem packing its own important story revolving around the original dragonborn warrior, an evil fella named Miraak. This ancient evil is trying to return to the mortal plane by enslaving the inhabitants of Solsthiem to create multiple shrines around the island, but as is so often the case with Bethesda’s quest lines – all isn’t as straight forward as it appears. Across the main seven quest chain you’ll meet all the major factions on the island and travel across the playable area and beyond with frequent visits to the green and ghostly realm of Apocrypha. This sizeable chunk of content will take you around eight hours to get through, but it doesn’t feel unnecessarily drawn out as the environments, particularly Miraak’s temple, and dialogue represent some of the best Skyrim has to offer.
The conclusion of this quest is also satisfying thanks to player being given the ability to use dragons as a means of transport, from great sways of the landscape to the other. This haphazard inclusion does stretch the engine to breaking point, but it’s cool to mess around with. Dragons won’t replace that reliable cliff-walking steed that has stuck with you throughout the rest of your Skyrim adventures, but riding flying fire-breathing lizards is good for an occasional giggle.
Activating this expansion’s content is simply a case of waiting around long enough in the world until a bunch of marauding cultists try and take you out. With our level 20 character we did have to finish up a few existing quests before this content would become available, but it wasn’t a massive deal. Players can even venture to Solstheim without this procedurally prompting, if they simply visit the appropriate shipmaster in Windhelm docks. Once the content is initiated the main and side quests unravel at a good pace with mundane activities like spreading a barmen’s latest brew off-setted by the more serious problem of Ash Spawn attacking the morally and fiscally bankrupt mining settlement of Raven Rock.
Solstheim itself is also a far cry from the realm of Skyrim with its own array of wildlife like the aggressive floating jellyfish known as ‘Netch’ and giant fungus towers inhabited by the dark elves. This is strange land filled with strife and a multitude of different parties looking to make a quick buck, but it feels cohesive and enjoyable to explore. Crafters and explorers will also be in their element, as there’s a bunch of new books, plants and ingredients to find in the wilderness. There’s even a new warrior to hire by the name of Teldryn Sera, who is not only really powerful but he also has a cool backstory to boot.
Impressively Bethesda has also made sure that this content can be tackled at the same time as the main Skyrim campaign, with players able to switch between Skyrim’s main continent and the island of Solstheim at will with companions following you either way on your travels. This functionality is hugely significant and some of the quests in this new expansion partner up with Skyrim’s campaign in some surprisingly brilliant ways.
Altogether Dragonborn is easily the best slice of downloadable content released for Skyrim thus far. The separate nature of the island gives quests a compartmentalised and focused feel and at the same time offers returning players the perfect opportunity to come back and play a character which they had most likely abandoned a long ago.
Sure it would’ve be nice if PC players had this content when it was released on Xbox 360 and at £13.99 this expansion is certainly on the pricey side, but now that it’s here Dragonborn represents a good opportunity to jump back into Skyrim.
“Worth the Wait”
Final Verdict: 84%
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