Published on December 11th, 2012 | by Derek Strickland, Contributor
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Dragonborn DLC Review
Two hundred years ago Red Mountain erupted on the isle of Vvardenfell, spewing forth volcanic fire and ash all across Morrowind and cutting fiery swaths through the land with rivers of flame. The eruption killed thousands upon thousands of dunmer, wiping out dozens of cities and all but destroying many parts of the dark elves’ mainland. Despite the hardships they faced, the dunmer persevered and rebuilt their capital city of Blacklight.
Dunmer refugees migrated to the isle of Solsthiem (which is just to the northwest of Vvardenfell) during the destructive cataclysm, furnishing the land with their customs and ways, and transforming the abandoned city of Raven Rock into a bustling dark elf village. The architecture of the buildings mirrors that which is found in The Elder Scrolls III, beautifully rendered in Skyrim‘s amazing visuals.
Solsthiem’s southern coast is still caked and covered with volcanic ash today. There are many areas off the coasts that have perfectly shaped hexagonal formations of stones, much akin to the real-life areas known as The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. As you stand on the southern tip of Solsthiem, you can see Red Mountain spewing a steady stream of ash into the skies from its smoldering caldera.
In Dragonborn, the latest DLC pack for Skyrim, Players start their journey at the docks of Raven Rock, which has been reclaimed by dunmer and looks like a modern day reincarnation of Ald ‘Ruhn. There is a dunmer temple as well as various buildings of the dark elves’ distinguished architecture.
Multiple inquiries with various denizens of Raven Rock concerning Miraak point players to a mysterious temple at the heart of Solsthiem. The location is presumably the ruins of Miraak’s temple, the very place he sought sanctuary when he turned his back on the dragon overlords eons ago.
As the first Dragonborn, Miraak, served the mighty dragons, but he rebelled when he discovered his power. It was written that the dragons then smote both his temple and his form, erasing him from existence.
It is revealed, however, that Miraak isn’t dead, and that’ his unspeakable dark power has been reawakened.
His powers enslave most of the people on Solsthiem, making them toil during the night in their sleep, hypnotized by Miraak’s strange curse. Those that are controlled are constructed bizarre shrines around the six standing stones (the Sun, Water, Wind, Earth, Tree and Beast stones) which the Skaal believe have a special connection to the All-Maker, their divine supreme being.
“Here in his shrine
That we have forgotten
Long do we toil
That we might remember
By night we reclaim,
What by day was stolen”
–Hypnotic labor song
Upon arrival at Miraak’s ruined temple, players meet Frea, a fearsome Nordic woman of the Skaal who makes use a protective amulet which shields her from Miraak’s dreamcurse. Frea accompanies you within the temple, searching for a way to free her people, who have also been enslaved by the mysterious hypnotic spell.
When players reach the bottom of the temple’s defiled black depths, a single tome rests upon the mantle, one that’s infused with dark sorcery. Upon reading the Black Book, gamers are transported to the strange eldritch realm of Apocrypha (the homeworld of Hermeus Mora, the Daedric prince of knowledge and fate) and introduced to the sorcerous wizard Miraak himself.
A variety of Cthulu-like tentacled beasts are gathered around Miraak, something out of a Lovecraftian nightmare. The landscape of Apocrypha, the horrific dimension, is tortured and bizarre, with eerie green skies and a terrifying black tower stretching to the dark heavens above.
Apocrypha’s twisted planescape is a bit like a Skyrim version of Xen, the strange alien-dimension featured in Half-Life, with a whole manner of floating tentacled monstrosities and a general atmosphere of freakish and bizarre overtones.
The realm itself inspires an air of wonder and both terror that are one in themselves.
After accidentally being transported to the nether-realm of Apocrypha, Miraak scolds you and flies away upon a quite fearsome dragon. The unspeakable tentacled creatures zap you with their black magicks and send you back to Nirn, the living realm.
Frea, who oversaw your transition into the otherworld, greets you upon your return. After you tell her of what you’ve seen, she quickly decides that the Black Book should be brought to her father, Storn Crag-Strider, the shaman of the Skaal Village.
Storn has raised a magical barrier to protect the few Skaal left from Miraak’s dreamcurse, however, most of the Skaal are held prisoner and are toil with chisel and hammer at Miraak’s many enclosures. It appears that Miraak is trying to contain or stamp out the magical essences of the many elemental stones around Solsthiem–the Beast, Wind, Earth, Sun, Water and Tree Stones–as they represent a link to the All-Maker, the god-creator who the Skaal worship.
The stones themselves represent more than just a link to the All-Maker, but are also a balance to all things, which have inspired the Skaal to live in a manner in which they live with nature rather than trying to control it.
Unlocking the secrets to the Black Book is the key to finding a way to stop Miraak once and for all, and not only free the Skaal but to return Solsthiem to its natural state. Once again the Dragonborn is chosen to battle an ancient, seeming indomitable evil who plans to reign upon the living and the dead with cruel magic.
The Dragonborn DLC adds in a nice variety of new weapons and armor: from classic pieces from Morrowind like Chitin and Bonemold to Bloodmoon-exclusives like Stalhrim, and even a few brand new weapons like Bloodskal blades. Players can purchase randomized weapons and armors from the merchants at Raven Rock, whose stores reset every 24 hours, and depending on your level they may have some pretty surprising gear.
Carved Nordic armor is another brand new addition to Skyrim, a set of definitive and stylish heavy armor that’s quite sturdy and retains an impressive armor rating. There are also new Nordic weaponry in the same class that features every type of weapon from daggers to two-handed greatswords.
Just like in Bloodmoon, players can acquire a Nordic Pickaxe to mine Stalhrim, an ancient and powerful ice-ore that can be fashioned into impressive and quite beautiful armor and weapons. Stalhrim weapons and armor also offer a bonus affinity for ice enchantments, fortifying frost damage or resistances when enchanted. Stalhrim armor ranges from light to heavy pieces, and really is pretty snazzy looking when equipped, looking much like solidified ice-crystal armor.
Along with the traditional Chitin and Bonemold armor–both of which can be fortified utilize chitin plates or bonemeal–there is a brand new fashion of weaponry known as Bloodskal that gamers acquire in the mysterious Bloodskal Barrows during the Final Descent quest for Crescius Caerellius.
Upon acquiring the blade, players have to solve a mini-puzzle, utilizing the Bloodskal Blade’s signature energy blast that is released during power attacks. The blade itself is a two-handed weapon that is quite powerful, releasing 30 points of damage in the energy blast along with the regular attack damage.
If the new range of weapons and armor isn’t enough, Dragonborn also offers additional Shouts and powers that are unlocked via dragon stones that are peppered throughout the game’s main quest. At Raven Rock’s temple, players can receive blessings from one of the three shrines of the Reclamations which offer small passive power-ups.
Each of the six standing stones also confer rather commanding daily powers, each keeping true with their element. For example, the Sun Stone offers a strong fiery inferno spell, whereas the Wind Stone unleashes a torrent of hurricane winds upon enemies.
The most impressive powers are the new Dragon Aspect and Bend Will shouts. The Dragon Aspect shout has three tiers: Strength, Armor and Wyrm, allowing gamers to become a force to be reckoned with:
“Once a day, take on the mighty aspect of a dragon, delivering colossal blows, with an armored hide, and more powerful shouts.”
The Bend Will shout also has three tiers: Earth, Mind and Dragon. Players eventually get to control their own dragon and fly the skies of Apocrypha, as well as use Jedi mind-tricks on in-game characters.
“Your Voice bends the very stones to your will. As it gains power, animals, people and even dragons must do your bidding.”
Also, when players complete every “chapter” of each Black Book–there are three in all; Epistolary Acumen, The Winds of Change, and Waking Dreams–they get to unlock one of three specific passive abilities that offer many helpful buffs.
“Why did you take over Thirsk Meadhall?”
“Hot Fire. Cold dizzydrink. Happy Tribe-Kin” —Riekling Chieftain
Upon completion of each Apocrypha Black Book mission players get to pick between one of three passive powers, some of which augment Shout powers and other in-game elements. When you kill Miraak you gain his robes, the favor of Herma Mora, and tak Miraaks place as his servitor. Also you get a chance to reclaim all your Perk points spent in a particular school for the price of one dragon soul.
Overall, Skyrim‘s new Dragonborn DLC is definitely the best add-on so far, featuring a plethora of weapons, armor, powers, shouts and a dynamic quest that arcs across the daedric realms. The return to Solsthiem is a fantastic journey that rekindles nostalgia within the seasoned Elder Scrolls gamer, and is a welcome vacation from Skyrim’s frosty expanse.
While Solsthiem is an icy isle akin to Skyrim, it does have its fair share of altering environments and adequately portrays a side of the dunmer race that isn’t seen anywhere else in the game. From an entertaining main quest that pits gamers against the very first Dragonborn who’s corrupted by Hermeus Mora’s promises of dark might, to a variety of humorous sidequests and everything in between, Dragonborn is an epic journey that you won’t want to miss out on.
+ Huge array of new weapons and armor
+ Well-designed main quest that takes players to a new realm
+ Surprising offering of humorous side-quests
+ Epic end-quest boss battle against Miraak
+ Riding a dragon using the Bend Will shout
+ Nostalgic journey that explores Solsthiem
+ Fantastic array of new Dragon Shouts and powers
+ Authentic Morrowind lore and history
– Apocrypha can be tiresome and annoying