Skyrim’s Dragonborn DLC introduces great villains, Lovecraft, and poor dragon controls
Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released over a year ago, but its newly-released DLC, “Dragonborn,” shows the title still has legs. It’s Xbox 360-only for now, and costs 1600 Microsoft Points. Although no solid dates have been given, it’s expected to hit PS3 and PC early next year. It also makes libraries terrifying, a solid feat by any standards.
No matter your character design, you will always be the mythical Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn; hero of Tamriel and prophesied slayer of the World-Eater, Alduin. You can deal with demons, steal from poor, and kill the innocent, but in the end, your destiny is always that of a savior. The ‘Dragonborn’ DLC gives an alternate view of your powers and poses an interesting question: What if a Dragonborn was the villain?
The game begins with an interesting mystery. Cultists find you out on adventure, and ask if you are the fabled Dragonborn. Once they have discerned your identity, they attack. Search their defeated corpses and you’ll find a note that suggests the attackers have come from Solstheim, a small island situated kitty-corner between Skyrim and Morrowind. You set off to find out who has attacked you and why, and the reveal is unsettling. (Minor spoilers ahead)
Your foe is the very first Dragonborn, Miraak, and he has the power of the deadric prince of knowledge, Hermaeus Mora on his side. Miraak is suitably intimidating, as he puts down your first attempt to stop him handily, and rides off on the back of a dragon. It’s your interactions with Mora that stand out as the real treat, however.
Mora is a Lovecraftian presence, and as a daedric lord he rules over knowledge and secrets. He speaks in a slow and gentle, almost soothing tone that is reminiscent of a grandfather telling stories to grandchildren. That is, of course, until you keep a secret from him. Then he gets pissed.
I don’t want to spoil what happens or to whom it happens, but know that when Mora turns aggressive, it’s frightening. Likewise, his library – which you’ll explore during your adventure – is wonderfully twisted: books are stacked into tentacle-like spires and caverns, where rows upon rows of yellowed pages jut from the walls like jagged teeth. This macabre place is inhabited by Seekers and Lurkers, which are comparable to Star Spawn and Deep Ones, respectively.
Watching, listening to, and interacting with this Elder God wannabe and his realm is easily one of the best experiences Skyrim has offered thus far. The downside is it feels like wasted potential; the main ‘Dragonborn’ quest is only a handful of hours long, and not particularly difficult. I completed it in one afternoon, with a break for lunch and running errands.
Although the story of ‘Dragonborn’ is woefully short, there’s plenty to keep players occupied. In many ways, this is a mirror image of Skyrim‘s ‘Dawnguard’ DLC. Although I enjoyed it quite a bit, many found ‘Dawnguard’ to be too story-focused and linear, while not bringing enough additions to the game outside of a new questline. ‘Dragonborn’ reverses this: it’s short and a bit disappointing on the story front, but adds plenty of fringe benefits.
For starters, the island of Solstheim is a treat to explore, and you can do so at your leisure. Due to its proximity to Morrowind, Solstheim features much of the volcanic nation’s culture, climate, architecture, flora, and fauna. These aren’t the tame forests and barrows of Oblivion and vanilla Skyrim: there are Dunmer guards strutting about in armor molded from bones, houses built inside of giant mushrooms, and giant, flea-like creatures used for transport, and flying jellyfish-like creatures that float about the horizon like aliens.
Solstheim is just as influenced by Skyrim however, so some settlements and dungeons will seem all too familiar. Draugr, skeletons, and Dwemer constructs, oh my! Bandits and other various NPCs will wield new weapons and armor for you to collect, such as the Nordic Carved Armor, which moves away from Skyrim‘s viking aesthetic in favor of something more clean-cut and shamanistic.
There are several settlements, towns, dungeons, and landmarks to see on Solstheim, and while those who’ve played the Morrowind expansion Bloodmoon have seen this land before, it feels fresh. Meanwhile, those who haven’t experienced Morrowind finally get a taste of why the game enjoys such a fanatical following, even to this day. There’s nothing quite like riding a magical elevator of force up a mushroom house or stepping onto a silt strider.
You’ll also gain several new abilities throughout ‘Dragonborn.’ A new shout, Bend Will, turns animals, people, and even dragons to your side, while the Dragon Aspect shout gives you spectral armor that blends dragon with humanoid, and increases your damage output.
Mora can also alter one of your shouts to allow for added effects; I chose to increase Unrelenting Shout, so now when I Fus Ro Dah, I tend to disintegrate whatever I’m aiming at. The DLC’s final reward lets you respec your skills as well, so if you’ve been playing an archer and are ready to switch over to a sword-and-board style fighter, you can.
You can also ride dragons now, though honestly I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s jerky, feels unnatural, and the controls are horribly inaccurate. How these flying lizards manage such lethal fly-bys is a mystery, because I certainly couldn’t hit anything.
‘Dragonborn’ shows you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can have the lengthy missions and story of ‘Dawnguard,’ or you can have the world additions and new sights of ‘Dragonborn.’ Neither hits that perfect balance, but each is still satisfying in its own right.
Perhaps the best way I can summarize ‘Dragonborn’ is that it gave me the strength to put down the controller. There was a time where I couldn’t imagine letting go of a cool piece of equipment, even if I wasn’t wearing it. After fighting off the progenitor Dovahkiin in a gratifying final battle and dealing with the Cthulhu/Nyarlathotep of the Elder Scrolls universe, I felt that my world-weary Khajiit had faced all that could be asked of her.
I took my archer-thief cat-girl to Dragon Bridge, a small settlement overlooking a steep ravine. I stood at the edge of the bridge for which the town was named, and looked down. I popped open my inventory, and highlighted the “All” option. Drop. Drop. Drop, drop, drop, drop, drop. I let my entire adventuring career plummet into the watery depths, saving just a simple set of clothes, my wedding ring, and a gold necklace – a good luck charm from my wife. I turned around and saddled up, heading for home.
It felt like enough.