The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim- Dragonborn DLC ReviewFebruary 6, 2013
Dragonborn’s storyline, though short, is a great deal of fun. But no, it’s not all good.
At this point, I’d probably be more surprised if Bethesda’s game content was perfectly playable at release, than if it weren’t. I wish I cared more, I really do, but I don’t. The fact is, even with the bugs, Dragonborn is still a wonderful addition to a game I’ve already sunk over 300 hours into. It’s tragic to say, because I don’t want to give developers the false impression that releasing content that frustrates players with at-times unplayable bugs is perfectly okay. It isn’t. But dammit, Skyrim is fun.
Let’s start with the obvious; Morrowind is not a pretty place. It wasn’t years ago before the volcano burst and turned everyone into screaming piles of flailing pre-ash, and it isn’t now. That, however, is part of its charm. The new map – and yes, it’s a large new map full of places to explore – is full of dreary, ashy skies and barren landscape as is fitting of a proper deadzone. There are mild reprieves scattered about, such as a mage’s hut made of enchanted mushrooms (it sounds more ‘Disney’ than it is) and the shamanic Nord area, but otherwise the new zone is rather depressing. I’m okay with that. Granted, the Dragonborn DLC takes place in only a portion of Morrowind, but I’d be surprised if the rest of it looked any better.
The storyline, though short, is a great deal of fun for those particularly interested in the Daedric world. I dislike spoilers, so I won’t go into it, but along the way you’ll be transported in and out of a fantastically designed dimension of nasty stuff. At higher difficulties, this content will challenge even hardcore vets of the series. Likewise, both the storyline and added exploratory content offer deeper, more meaningful gameplay involving sleuthing and puzzle mechanics.
But no, it’s not all good. I have two major issues with Dragonborn, one of which I touched on briefly and the other being purely subjective. That said, is it just me, or are the new armor/weapon sets hideous? I couldn’t help but be disappointed that, overall, the new equipment was bland and uninspired. This is particularly true for the set revolving around a very rare, enchanted ice component. I expected something menacing and worthwhile, akin to Ebony or Dragonbone, but what I got was low-grade looking leather with oddly geometric holes cut out to expose clunks of ice. Woo. I know this is subjective, an aesthetic choice, but Bethesda has access to some of the best artists in the biz. This was the best they could do?
People can act like this kind of thing doesn’t matter as much as they like, but you know that feeling when you first put on that Daedric set and thought, “Damn, I look badass.” Instead I’m confronted with a plethora of new things to own, and I’m excited by none of it. That’s what the modding community is for, I suppose.
Finally, coming back to the bugs, they are particularly nasty this time around and, at times, frustrated even my fanboy self to the point of walking away. Up until Dragonborn, I didn’t experience crashes, freezes or sudden drops in FPS, now I do. This seemed especially true when reaching a coastline on the new island; the game wouldn’t so much as crash as turn my screen white and render my mouse useless, so I could still alt tab and type but I couldn’t click on anything to close the game, forcing a system reboot.
There’s also a new and unfortunate bug that makes none of your shortcuts or clicks work when going from a standard pose to a combat animation, including something as simple as drawing your sword. The bug seems to fix itself after a few moments of spamming buttons, but this poses its own problems as you may find yourself attacking the wrong person in the hysteria to survive.
Then comes probably the worst, and most detrimental bug, one so ridiculous we’re even warned about it on the Dragonborn wiki. During the final moments of the culminating storyline battle, one that should be intense and powerful, the boss goes invulnerable and stays that way. Forever. If you kill him too fast, it happens. If you kill him too slow, it happens. If you kill his minions first, it happens. It’s a battle so heavily scripted that anything even slightly outside the parameters of what Bethesda evidently expects you to do to win will break the damned thing. I had to reset the game nine times before I found the magical combination to make it work. And yes, I removed mods prior to gameplay, already knowing they were unlikely to be optimized for the new content.
Save yourself the headache, and save just before you fight him. You’ll thank me later.