If you’re a fan of The Elder Scrolls series, you’ll know an island called Solstheim. The setting for The Elder Scrolls III’s Bloodmoon expansion sits just off the coast of Morrowind, to the north-west of Vvardenfell. Bethesda is taking players on a whirlwind tour of the island in the brand new Dragonborn add-on for Skyrim. An expansion in the truest sense, Dragonborn not only grows the territory your Dovahkiin can explore, but also adds a ton of new quests, crafting materials, equipment and shouts. Despite some disappointing “could have been” items, it still manages to be the best piece of Skyrim DLC yet.
Let me start by saying that of all the single player games I’ve ever played, I spent the most time in Morrowind. The lore, the enemies and the environment all sunk their claws into my soul for over 200 hours. I loved everything about the world that Bethesda had created on Vvardenfell. After all this time though, if there is one thing that sticks with me the most (besides the f***ing cliff racers), it’s the music. Oh, the music. The Elder Scrolls series has a tradition of great theme music, but none has come close to the simple melody of Morrowind’s title sequence.
One of the first things that hit me when I set foot on Solstheim for the first time is the music, ripped straight from the third outing of the series. While you wander the island, you’ll hear several pieces of music from Morrowind repeated. This does more than anything else to set this expansion apart. Even in the icy corners of Solstheim that could begin to feel eerily similar to the frosted mountains you’ve spent a hundred hours exploring in Skyrim proper, the music helps set the tone. This is a different kind of place.
Of course, you’ll have no problem telling your starting point on the island from the rest of Skyrim. The environment here is incredible. The skyline is dominated by the Red Mountain. In the years since the Nerevarine defeated Dagoth Ur, the giant volcano has blown its top, destroying much of Vvardenfell and covering the southern shores of Solstheim with a thick coat of ash. Once a prospering source of ebony for the East Empire Company, in recent times the mine has dried up, and most of the population has left for greener pastures. The tone set by the still-erupting Red Mountain is palpable, and an incredible throwback for fans of TES3.
The content kicks off with followers from the Cult of Miraak attempting to kill the false Dragonborn (that’s you). You follow their trail to the island and discover that the townspeople seem to recognize the name of Miraak, but don’t quite know who he is. All this takes place while townspeople seemingly completely out of their own control labor around stones protruding out of the earth. As the story unravels, you’ll uncover the truth behind Miraak. I don’t want to give anything else away, because for an Elder Scrolls fan like me, finding out all the details was a great trip. I will say that you’ll get to explore the realm of another Daedric prince, and it’s a really well thought out experience. The whole main quest feels like the writers at Bethesda had just come off a 30-day Lovecraft bender, and the experience is better for it. The Daedric content is always among the most interesting, and the Lovecraftian touch sets it apart from anything Bethesda has done in the past. Unfortunately, the last battle of the main quest leaves something to be desired.
Not content with simply providing a solid main quest and a huge new island to explore (the map is around the same size as the Reach Hold in Skyrim), Bethesda has crammed a ton of great quests and dungeons in here. While many of the dungeons are of the Dwemer/Draugr type, you do collect some really great reasons to explore them. The sidequests here range from fetch quests to foiling an assassination attempt. One of my favorite quests involves a treasure map with a really great prize for those willing to find the Xs.
Among the most heavily publicized aspects of this DLC is the ability to tame and fly Dragons. If that sentence made you immediately close your browser window and go buy the content though, you’ll be disappointed. The Dragon Riding is unwieldy at best, and it’s not a viable travel option. It’s a fun novelty, but it will quickly frustrate most players. There are some really great new shouts here though, including the Dragon Aspect shout which increases attack power, armor and shout strength once per day.
I did run into one rather large glitch. When entering a dungeon, I immediately fell through the floor and down a couple of levels. Luckily, on reload of a previous save, I was able to reenter without issue, but it was frustrating nonetheless.
The expansion introduces several new armor and weapon types, many of which are returning features from Morrowind. Bone Armor returns, as does Chitin armor. You’ll also find a new crafting material, Stahlrim, and the new ability to create and enchant Staves. These touches, along with a wealth of unique crafting materials, went a long way toward reminding me that I was closer to Vvardenfell than Skyrim.
If you, like me, are a fan of the Elder Scrolls series, and Morrowind in particular, this expansion is a must play. There are so many great references and callbacks to Bethesda’s classic third entry that only fans will pick up on. Even for those of you who haven’t played Morrowind, but are looking for an excuse to jump back into Tamriel, this is a great purchase. There is plenty of content for the money, and it’s different enough to allow even those with over 100 hours in Skyrim to feel refreshed. It’s easily the best piece of Skyrim expansion content yet, and well worthy of $20.
Review copy of DLC provided by publisher.