Let’s get this out of the way: you’re going to find the dragon riding in Dragonborn disappointing. You can’t steer the beast or land wherever you want, and while you can direct your dragon to attack enemies, you probably know by now that dragons aren’t that good at killing things, and you might as well dismount and do it yourself. So, that sucks, but luckily there are other rewards that make Dragonborn worth your time and money.
"While Apocrypha looks impressive – as if HR Giger took a flamethrower to a bookshop – it isn’t much fun to be in."
This Skyrim expansion takes place on the frostbitten island of Solstheim in Morrowind, where a series of mysterious shrines and brainwashed acolytes hint at the reawakening of the original Dragonborn, Miraak, who is unhappy to find an off-brand imposter running around slurping up dragon souls. Before a fairly typical boss fight with Miraak you’ll have to repeatedly visit a plane of Oblivion called Apocrypha, and while it looks impressive – as if HR Giger took a flamethrower to a bookshop – it isn’t much fun to be in, featuring repetitive fights with the same two demons and lengthy searches for switches that open gates.
But it’s not as if main quests have ever been the best part of The Elder Scrolls. It’s all about the side quests, and Solstheim is home to an abundance of NPCs who mill around hoping someone will come along and solve their problems for them. Invest in a mining operation that unearths far more than precious stones, solve puzzles to unlock the tomb of an ancient dragon priest, foil an assassination to acquire a new subterranean home, and complete loads of other quests and missions – some trivial, some extensive.
It’s all about the side quests, and Solstheim is home to an abundance - some trivial, some extensive."
There are also new followers to recruit, such as a clanky, sputtering Dwarven robot. Finally. At least one quest is reserved for higher level characters: there’s a treasure map leading to enchanted armour and a gaggle of ghost pirates, but it’s restricted to players over level 36.
Fans of Morrowind will be pleased to see some familiar creatures, like the Netch, who hover benignly unless provoked, and the Riekling, fierce little goblins who ride boars into battle (also available as followers, provided you help a particular tribe with their pesky Nord problem).
While Solstheim isn’t massive, there are plenty of ruins and caves to explore, as well as some charming overworld locations, like a town where the homes are built inside giant mushrooms. I reckon there’s about 25 hours of content, with new spells and shouts, new weapons and armour to find and craft, and some fantastic new abilities (I can now summon a ghostly drum that feeds me stamina, and my attacks and shouts no longer hurt my followers).
Dragonborn also seems highly stable: I haven’t experienced a single crash or glitch. Apart from the so-so main questline and the repetitive labyrinths of Apocrypha, the hours I’ve spent questing in Solstheim have been well worth it.
Expect to pay: $20/£14
Release: Out now
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks