Video games, especially the role-playing variety, love to make you feel special, much like an over-doting mom or dad (or both) dropping you off at your first day of school. You’re more or less suckered into believing you’re God’s gift to kindergarten. And then a bully kicks you in the privates and pulls down your pants in front of that girl you wanted to impress. As we all know, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim plays up the entire schtick about you being the chosen one all too well. You’re a rare being unbound by fate and blessed with the soul of a dragon that gives you access to some interesting powers (like throwing people off a cliff with a spoken word).
In a nutshell, you’re different. And no, not in the “haha you’re a mental patient” kind of way either. You’re a being with enough luck, will, and fortitude to weather whatever evil comes in your way and save the world. That is of course, until you play Dragonborn. You’ll soon realise you’re not so special after all because there is someone else, someone far more sinister, who wields the similar kind of power you do, locked away in an enchanted realm plotting his return. His name is Miraak and he is the first Dragonborn. From a narrative standpoint, it provides the proverbial kick in the nuts to keep you interested in a world where you probably spent more time roaming around and setting random people on fire than actually saving it from impending doom.
The quest line starts off rather immediately. All you need to do is make yourself present in one of the game’s major towns. On doing so, you’ll find yourself questioned by a bunch of cultists baying for your blood. A few freshly created corpses later, you’re on your way to find out what’s going on. Dragonborn takes you to the island of Solstheim. The land south of it is jagged, laced with red rock and ash thanks to a volcanic explosion. There’s an icy northern region complete with snowcapped peaks. You’ll visit monuments made of mushrooms, houses carved of rock and skulk around a new plane of Oblivion called Aprocrypha. It’s not a place to be trifled with, what with more tentacles than a hentai flick and obscene amounts of acid to make your stay a lot more frightening and even a bit trippy. All in all, Solstheim and Aprocrypha are nice additions to a world filled with a slew of interesting environments, having more than enough to keep it different while retaining a sense of familiarity to ease you in.
You’ll soon realise you’re not so special after all because there is someone else, someone far more sinister, who wields the similar kind of power you do, locked away in an enchanted realm plotting his return.
And speaking of familiarity, you’ll find yourself killing the same old draugs that inhabit the dungeons across the the land, but not that often. The nice people at Bethesda are aware that familiarity breeds contempt (especially if you’ve had 50-odd hours of killing the damn things), so there are some new enemy types to keep you busy. These include ash spawns— undead creatures that can cast fire spells, lurkers— swamp like monsters with oodles of claws, tentacles and poison to boot, and seekers — quick moving lovecraftian horrors that can clone and teleport. Needless to say, you’ll be doing a lot more than just putting Generic Draugr Number 56347 back into his casket.
New vistas and enemies aside, there are a bunch of new shouts that make the trip to Solstheim interesting. These range from being able to power up your armour, shouts and damage dealt to summoning massive cyclones on the battlefield. But the intriguing addition is Bend Will, which lets you ride dragons. You can use the winged beasts to attack foes or fast travel across the map, but forget controlling it’s flight because you can’t. The controls are clunky at best and the fact that you can’t enter any cities makes this feature feel underutilised and a bit of a gimmick. However, with a wealth of content and quests to immerse yourself in, you’ll be hard pressed to bother.
The main arc is around ten hours long, but you’ll be playing much longer thanks to the innumerable side-quests thrown in your way. They’re varied as well, with some of them being as simple as giving the townsfolk free samples of booze to get them to visit the local pub, to bringing down a legion of ash spawn led by an undead general. Rest assured, you’ll be playing this for a lot longer than you intended. Solstheim’s sheer size and scale (one-third that of Skyrim’s) has more than enough to keep you busy long after you’ve shown Miraak you’re not to be trifled with.
It isn’t exactly smooth sailing though. During the course of my play through, I encountered a few bugs. One of these involved the entire interior of a room not showing up on screen, forcing me to reload a save file. Another scenario had me rebooting my console because it inexplicably hung in one of the game’s earlier dungeons. So if you’re going to pick this up, save frequently
Compared to Dawnguard and Hearthfire, Dragonborn is filled to the brim with great adventuring in a land that’s ripe for exploration. Though it has a few buggy moments and a not-so complete feature, these do little to take away from what is a meaty, filling DLC that should have been labelled as an expansion pack since there’s just so much to do. It might not be special nor is it the chosen one, but it’s pretty darn close, which is more than enough reason to dust off your disc and go back into the world of Skyrim.