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Dragonborn DLC Review

Wed, 12/19/2012 - 09:32 — SarcasmoJones

The events in Dragonborn, the third DLC for Skyrim, occur solely on the Dunmer island of Solsteim. Fans of the Elder Scrolls series will remember this island from Morrowind: Bloodmoon. Once a Nord settlement, and a source of ebony for the East Empire Trading Company, the explosion of Red Mountain left the southern half of the island covered in volcanic ash, and the ebony mines played out long ago. The East Empire Trading Company consequently abandoned its ebony mines in favor of more profitable endeavors. The island was donated to the Dunmer of Morrowind, by the High King of Skyrim, as a haven from their ash-choked and Argonian infested homeland. The residents of Solsteim have more to worry about than an idle ebony mine and ash storms: they are on a crash course with annihilation.

 
 
Where to, Mr. Jones?
 
Dragonborn may be started from any major city in Skyrim. Two masked men approached my character, the mighty Sarcasmo Fjones, and asked if I was the fake Dragonborn. After a brief scuffle I ransacked their corpses, they didn’t die well, only to find a note from some jerk on Solsteim ordering my execution for the pleasure of Lord Mirrack. I strong-arm a boat captain in Windhelm to take me to Solsteim to make the entire island suffer for spawning such worthless assassins. Arriving at the port city of Raven Rock I discover that a great portion of it is buried in ash from Red Mountain, which can be seen erupting across the sea. I find a city embroiled in its own incompetence: the leader of the local Thieves Guild was robbed twice, the island authority figure cannot exert his authority beyond the city limits, the city guard is addicted to some sort of drugged wine, and the town’s only ebony miner apparently never ventured more than fifty feet in his own mine. Add the fact that everyone in town chips away on a big rock, in a chanting trance, on a nightly basis and it doesn’t take a College Mage to determine that Raven Rock, perhaps the entire island itself, is in real peril.
 
 
Who’s This Other Dragonborn Guy?
 
Players will quickly discover that the little nighttime construction project in Raven Rock is duplicated at other big rocks all over the island. Asking folks on the island about this Mirrack character almost always produces confusion and a dream-like memory of a temple, located somewhere in Solsteim. Mirrack is not only Dragonborn, he is also a Dragon Priest with ties to Hermaeus Mora. Sound familiar, champion? To win a date with Mirrack, players must find Mora’s little black books of knowledge, sever Mirrack’s grip on the minds of the islanders, and get a couple of new shouts under their belts. You need to gain the knowledge that Mirrack possesses to even face him. This requires a bit of tomb raiding, a few trips to Hermaeus Mora’s little chunk of Oblivion, and a visit to a guy in a giant mushroom. 
 
 
The New Stuff
 
Bethesda is pretty good about including new goodies in the fresh batches of DLC goodness, and Dragonborn is no exception. In addition to the new real estate, there are some new arrows, a pair of enchanted scimitars, Stahlrim weapons and armor, a couple of new Dragon Priest masks, a two-handed sword that deals magical missile damage, a Poison Rune spell, Cyclone and Dragon Aspect Shouts, and a Bend Will Shout that, at its highest rank, allows players to subdue and ride dragons as mounts.
 
On your way to face Mirrack, players will find some new foes to try out their new goodies on: Werebears, new dragon types, Ash Spawn, Rieklings, Lurkers, Seekers, Morag Tang assassins, Bristlebacks, and a walking Dwemer ballista. Werebears are humans that turn into bears under a full honeycomb. Ash Spawn are an undead creation, often flaming (vampires beware), that inhabit the Southern ashes and can appear, with no warning, from the ground itself. Rieklings look like hairless, ugly Ewoks. They attack in packs and even sound suspiciously like Ewoks. Lurkers and Seekers are generally found only in the realm of Hermaeus Mora, but occasionally appear on the island itself. Bristleback are giant boars, typically used as mounts by the Rieklings. The Walking Ballista proved to be a particular pain in the ass. The ballistas can punch through armor and have a tendency to stun the recipient.
 
 
Same Old Shit
 
While Bethesda provided us with some new content, it does suffer from some outrageous programming issues that affect playability. These bugs are nothing new to fans of Fallout or the Elder Scrolls, but they never really go away, so they must be addressed...again. First, there’s the trademark Bethesda “freeze frame” that forces a restart. This is often misinterpreted, initially, as the trademark “extended framerate stutter” that you can often wait out. Second, I fell through the Windhelm docks trying to board the ship to Solsteim, the auditory hissing from the realm of Hermaeus Mora continued after I returned to Solsteim, requiring a restart, and the mannequins in my new house replicate Dragon Priest masks for some reason. Bethesda is known for developing games on a grand scale, and their bugs are just as big. Another gripe I have with this particular DLC was the inability to play as Good Sarcasmo and Evil Sarcasmo. The main game, and even the Dawnguard DLC, gave players the opportunity to play through as both hero and villain. Villains beware, you play the hero on this island. 
 
 
The Final Verdict
 
While it was good to see how Solsteim changed since Morrowind, my stay on the island was much shorter than my previous visit. With the exception of Thrisk Mead Hall and the Skaal Village, most of the places I visited on my first tour were buried under ash or water. The island is fairly small, it didn’t take long to discover every location on the map, and many of the locations are facades with inaccessible interiors. As much as I love Skyrim, I have neither reason nor desire to return to the island of Solsteim. Dragonborn is one and done.
 
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