2012 has been a very good year for games with a plethora of phenomenal releases. With all these good titles to play one could easily let past titles slip on by without any extra thought. As such it requires good add-on content for people to continue to come back to a title despite all the new games to play. One of our favorite games of last year, Skyrim, has had some uneven quality in terms of its downloadable content.
Its first pack, Dawnguard, was a story based quest pack that weaved a dark tale of vampires and a brotherhood of hunters. It was exceptional in nearly every way, adding a strong storyline, interesting new characters and game mechanics and weapons that altered the core game in interesting ways. Its second pack, Hearthfire, offered far less, focusing on player creation in the world, as opposed to story and mechanics based additions. Both of these content packs have led to Dragonborn, Skyrim’s most ambitious content pack.
From a simple glance, Dragonborn offers more than Dawnguard or Hearthfire. Taking place on the isle of Solstheim, a Nordic island granted to the Dunmer after the volcanic eruption of the Red Mountain, Dragonborn provides a whole new area to explore with a fully fleshed out storyline, plenty of sidequests and the ability to ride dragons. Due to its size and scope, Dragonborn feels much more like a fully fledged expansion pack than the previous DLC but it is also this size and scope that unhinges the experience a bit.
Upon loading up the game with Dragonborn installed for the first time, I was attacked by cultists claiming I was not the true Dragonborn. After discovering where these cultists came from, my vampiric companion, Serana, and I made our way to Solstheim where we noticed some odd goings on and we quickly became embroiled in a quest to save the island from a dark previous ruler. Unlike Dawnguard which, felt fully fleshed out from a narrative perspective, Dragonborn floats a little bit and it never really hit its stride with me. It is serviceable as a means to exploring Solstheim and does have a fairly satisfying conclusion, it just seems to be lacking that special ingredient that gave Skyrim that extra oomph.
Much like Skyrim proper, the majority of the fun in Dragonborn comes from exploring the island of Solstheim, which is a pretty hefty land mass. Unfortunately Dragonborn consistently made it difficult on me to explore due to its lack of natural pathways and its prevalent use of un-scalable walls. It became such an issue for me that I, a person whom hardly ever used fast travel in the core game, was using it to transport myself across the map because I dreaded its exploratory traversal.
Furthermore, despite having some notable architecture and the flavorful stylings of Morrowind, Dragonborn feels dark and uninviting. And while some of this can be blamed on the location of Solstheim, which is Northeast of Skyrim, and the residual effects of the volcano eruption, there is a bit too much lack of color. After a while everything begins to look the same. And whereas Skyrim was forgiven for its heavily noticeable bugs because of its immersive experience, Dragonborn cannot be because of these factors.
The biggest disappointment of Dragonborn though, is that it fails to deliver on its biggest selling point, flying dragons. Controlling the dragons is glitchy at its best and unfun at its worst. For a feature many have been clamoring for to be botched so significantly makes Dragonborn pretty hard to get behind. Still, even with its glitches and noticeable issues, Dragonborn is more Skyrim and that is not a bad thing. As any reason to return to Bethesda’s immersive world is a good one.