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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dragonborn review

Elder Scrolls games, and Skyrim in particular, are almost impossible to see the length and breadth of. Dragonborn, the third DLC for last winter’s massive masterpiece, is no exception. There’s so much to see and do, it’s that much more impossible to not to be overwhelmed and lost. But, just like the main game, you won’t want it any other way. Whether you were enthralled or incensed with the last two extensions of Skyrim, once you take your first step off of the boat in Morrowind, you’ll agree that this was the expansion that you were waiting for.

If one word sums up the Elder Scrolls series, it’s certainly “scope.” If you’ve played Skyrim for only ten minutes, you can’t escape the feeling that you’re just a tiny speck on a vast canvas. This is something that Dragonborn recreates very well. The map for the island of Solstheim is sprawling, and getting from one end to the other on foot will sap close to an hour of your life away. A good chunk of the southern coast of the island is also aesthetically different than much of the rest of the game, which is a change of scenery that the game desperately needed.

The expansion's size notwithstanding, don't expect the gameplay to feel radically different from what's already been seen. The main quest involved dungeon-diving almost immediately after rolling into Morrowind, and not exploring the frontier. Granted, the beauty of this game is that nobody is subjected to a prescribed game path, but it was surprising to be told to get into a hole instead of seeing the world. Fortunately, there are an overabundance of quests that will take you all over the island, and these are so easily stumbled upon that, much like the regular game world, you’ll rekindle that joy of being totally lost and alone before you get ten feet out of the first city.

It’s unfortunate that Dragonborn doesn’t offer a lot of new skills or perks for your character builds. What it does offer is two new shouts: a super-powered armor suit that gives you outrageously buffed stats, and then the ability to ride dragons. Combat is their main use, though in ways this feels like a missed opportunity. While the Dragon Aspect (the armor) shout is useful for all kinds of combat situations (and turns some bosses into pushovers), riding around on any of the dragons feels gimmicky. Its only real use is to circle around a group of foes to cook them with the dragon's breath, and not to explore the countryside on their backs. Dragons will continue to strafe and loop around the specific area where you tamed them, and can fast-travel to any location previously visited, but control of their flight path is out of your hands, which is an absolute shame. Still, for battle purposes, putting your controller down to watch your foes helplessly fry 50 feet below is a gleeful gift that comes at the right time of the year.

The main quest alone is lengthy, lasting roughly five hours depending on your pace. Were it the sole reason to fork over 1,600 Microsoft points ($20), you might feel a little ripped off. But the size of the landscape, the amount of new weapons and shouts to score, and the fact that it’s almost impossible to not happen upon a laundry list of optional side quests makes Dragonborn a meaty, worthwhile expansion to the main game. By no means is it essential to the enjoyment of Elder Scrolls V, and the new loot and abilities will absolutely overpower your characters for the return trip back to the mainland. However, if you feel as though you’ve seen everything that Skyrim had to offer, then it’s time to download this DLC and say goodbye to everyone you know for yet another weekend.

Our Verdict

Buy it

This review was conducted on the Xbox 360.

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19 comments

  • D0CCON - December 6, 2012 3:46 p.m.

    This is the type of DLC I've been waiting for for Skyrim. It's fantastic.
  • Icehearted - December 6, 2012 4:17 p.m.

    As a PS3 owner I suppose I should look forward to never being able to play this game without problems, let alone never playing this DLC. On the bright side, with the $20 I could have spent on this I scored two other games that seem to crash less often. Not even trolling, I'm dead serious right now.
  • Redeater - December 6, 2012 4:46 p.m.

    I have the 360 version but I think I'll wait until the GOTY edition comes out for cheap on Steam and play it with those 50 mods. .......the way god intended!
  • obviouslyadouche - December 6, 2012 5:10 p.m.

    The fact there is a mod that lets you kill kids is reason alone to play on pc. I'm not a terrible person because kids in Bethesda games are all awful, those little lamplight kids in fallout felt the my wrath.
  • Redeater - December 6, 2012 6:38 p.m.

    I need to frame this comment and put it on my wall!
  • Fuzunga - December 6, 2012 5:12 p.m.

    My only complaint is that I wish there were more Morrowind environments. One of the first things I did was try to get the blacksmith's pickaxe back in Raven Rock which led me on an epic journey into the Raven Rock mines for one of my favorite experiences in Skyrim. Also, protip: Hang on to any East Empire pendants you find.
  • ObliqueZombie - December 6, 2012 6:27 p.m.

    I'm debating on getting this now for the 360 or waiting to get it on my PC. It's just really hard for me to play multi-platform games NOT on the system I've been embedded into for 6 years. Love my PC, though, and I already bought Dawnguard for it even though I never finished it.
  • Hyperion - December 6, 2012 7:29 p.m.

    there's also a 3rd shout in the DLC called Cyclone. creates a tornado.
  • Meleedragon27 - December 6, 2012 8:04 p.m.

    So, do we finally have a "Shivering Isles" expansion here (i.e., is Solstheim packed with as much new turf and stuff to do as the fabled Oblivion expansion)? I've only been playing it for a few hours (following objectives, then quickly getting distracted and wind up wandering the land aimlessly, as is the Elder Scrolls way) and it feels like it so far. I hope it stays that way - Shivering Isles was awesome and it'd be super if Bethesda did something of that scope again.
  • Hyperion - December 6, 2012 8:06 p.m.

    it's not quite that big. but getting closer.
  • Craza - December 7, 2012 1:49 a.m.

    I'm really enjoying Dawnguard at the moment, and definitely want to get this when it comes out on PC! Like I needed another excuse to get caught up in Skyrim again...
  • CrashmanX - December 7, 2012 10:27 a.m.

    So Dragon Mounts that you can't even control.... missed a real fine opportunity here Bethesda. Oh well. Hopefully there will be a mod for it.
  • patbateman17 - December 7, 2012 11:47 a.m.

    So no dings because it isn't working on PS3? I don't get how we give Bethesda a free pass on this stuff when other devs are making it work just fine for their multi-plat games (Portal 2 comes to mind - especially with Gabe indicating he'd never work with PS3). What a shame, this is the reason I have yet to buy Skyrim :(
  • joshuagutstadt - December 7, 2012 12:06 p.m.

    boss fight suck
  • gtaivac_ - December 11, 2012 10:58 a.m.

    Wait, I have a playstation, why am I here?
  • g1rldraco7 - December 13, 2012 11:26 p.m.

    That's funny, they recommend to buy it. I need to get it though so I can get back into Skyrim.

Showing 1-19 of 19 comments

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