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.
This review was conducted on the Xbox 360.