Symphona Reviews - Skyrim: Dragonborn
Ahh, Skyrim, where to start. I'm one of those players who just can't say no to an in depth fantasy RPG. The Elder Scrolls series, naturally, does not disappoint. Although I had major issues with the scaling system in Oblivion, and thus barely played it, it's great to see Skyrim doing so much better. And the only thing better than Skyrim, is more Skyrim!
I'm not a completionist at heart, and it really takes one to "finish" an elder scrolls game. Sidequests everywhere, random locations to discover, unknown tombs you just have to find to get the hidden treasures within. Not to mention the incredible amounts of lore that is written, most of it as in game books, letting the players immerse themselves incredibly.
Once Dragonborn is installed you will be visited by some strangers and the questline can begin. From there you will make your way to Solstheim. And as soon as I got off the boat, I knew I was going to be happy here - building designs that I haven't seen since Morrowind! Don't get me wrong, the architecture in Skyrim itself is quaint, and fits the setting. But Morrowind was my first venture into the territory of open world RPG's, and holds a special place for me.
The main questline doesn't waste time, and you quickly find yourself bravely fighting against Miraak - The first dragonborn. You see him only in visions and in his control of the island's people, and so you start to free them. This is where the game returns to being an Elder Scrolls game - you have several objectives to complete in no particular order, as well as dozens of places scattered around the island. It was at this point that I first opened the map, however, and was somewhat disappointed. In no time at all I had crossed the island, from corner to corner. Having said this, I had been bypassing various things along the way, merely discovering them for later exploration. This is somewhat explained when you visit the side-of-the-road dungeons, but I'll get to that soon.
I will say this straight away - if you're looking for more skyrim, you've found it. More snowy terrain, wild bears (and were-bears!), new shouts, enemies, ores, basically everything you could want. Oh, and lore. Now, I am not a massive book reader in The Elder Scrolls - books are useful if they teach you stuff, or tell you where treasure is. But as part of the new content, you discover a way to visit the realm of Hermaeus Mora, the Daedric Prince of forbidden knowledge. And boy does he know his stuff!
You visit several sections of his realm, finding books by the bucketload, most of which I will have to assume are new content. And there's some real treats if you complete these areas - spellbooks to summon the creatures you fight in Apocrypha, and new once-per-day abilities. The realm is wonderfully built, and large enough to somewhat make up for the size of the overworld.
And I think this is the main thing - although the island itself is quite small, there seems to be a lot less in the way of "side" dungeons. I entered a barely named, unassuming dungeon, expecting a quick romp and a bit more loot as you get from most of the small barrows in Skyrim. Instead, I'm suddenly spending a good 45 minutes pushing through to find another entry to Apocrypha, itself with many levels to burn through.
I suppose I should talk about some of the flaws I've found. Many of them exist in the native skyrim game, so I won't talk about them much, but there are a few others. As mentioned, the relatively small overworld size is one thing, but to add to this the overworld seems to have continuous bad weather, and not many high spots. This delivered few occasions where I could actually see this wonderful island, and since sightseeing is one of the most beautiful things to do in Skyrim, I was a little disappointed. This was I think more of a problem in the north of the island, which was similar to Winterhold in weather, although there were dust storms in the south as well.
There are a few more problems that may annoy a lot of gamers however. Whereas I was happy to see more content and enemies, many people will be looking at this DLC for one reason: Dragons. More specifically, riding them. Unfortunately, it really isn't what we'd all hoped. It has more in common with a roller coaster than the wonderful dream of flying off into the sunset. Dragons will continue to do their usual flying pattern while you ride them. That means you have no control over the dragon beyond being able to fast travel on them, or picking targets to attack as they swoop along their pre-defined flight path. All in all, very disappointing as a mechanic. Word is that there are already mods in development that will fix this, and let you ride them properly. Still, having to wait for a mod to add in content that we were expecting from day one is a little galling. After a little digging around the net it quickly starts to sound like this rollercoaster dragon ride was implemented to allow the feature to be possible despite the limited power of consoles, which doesn’t surprise me in the least.
Those few negatives aside, having an official content update is always nice. And although there are an abundance of available mods for Skyrim, I’ve always felt a certain limitation from mods. Once you add more than your first few mods, they can start to interact with one another in disturbing ways. For example, one of my saves is corrupted so that I can never leave Windhelm by the front door, only by fast travel. Although it is perfectly possible to use mods properly, I’d much rather have some properly supported content like Dragonborn to load in. Back on hand, I haven’t seen any yet being low level, but I’m told there is much more in the way of late game items/equipment to be found, which is always good.
I’d love to give the expansion a higher score, but with the dragon riding mechanic being such a let down, I just can’t justify it. Still, saying that, the expansion is far more than just that mechanic, and the rest of the island makes up for it.