Bethesda’s Dragonborn DLC is a beautiful, nightmarish love letter to HP Lovecraft. While the mechanics are much the same, the aesthetics are radically different as the player contends with the demons of Apocrypha – a tentacled mass of swirling green atrocities in service of Hermaeus Mora. After downloading the ($20) DLC, the player character is attacked by cultist assassins, worshipers of the First Dragonborn. The George Washington of Dragon Slayers is back from the dead to raise trouble in the new setting of Solstheim, a Dunmer settlement bordering Skyrim. Personally, while I considered Skyrim a game of unparalleled majesty, I much prefer the alien landscape of Solstheim. Certainly the mountainous region of Skyrim was a feast for aesthetes, but Dragonborn’s dizzying emerald labyrinths and immense deserts of Red Mountain ash were so compelling because they were like nothing I’d ever seen. Essentially, Skyrim is a CG trip to Norwegian mountain ranges. The Dragonborn DLC fully embraces its own fantasy setting, and the land of Ashen Dark Elves is completely distinct visually from Skyrim, more compelling because its immersion comes from being lost in an nightmare.
But while the visuals are radically different, the gameplay is near identical. Use your skills to kill things until they are dead. The only change to gameplay comes from a brief sequence near the main questline’s end which introduces combat while riding a dragon. Unfortnately, this sequence is disappointingly dull and involves simply selecting targets and pressing the ‘X’ button while your dragon uses Ice or Fire breath. The Dragonborn himself can target creatures while riding, but shoddy targeting makes this an exercise in futility. However, this sequence is extremely brief and while purchasing the DLC unlocks this for the main game, its novelty wears quickly.
But when it comes to a game like Skyrim, more of the same isn’t bad at all. The dovaahkin will walk away with fancy new spells, killer new threads, and a new land to conquer. Gamers wanting new combat or exploration mechanics will be disappointed but those interested in a refreshing change of pace to visuals and the story will find the Dragonborn DLC a dream come true.