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Skyrim: Dragonborn: The Kotaku Review

Illustration for article titled emSkyrim: Dragonborn/em: The emKotaku/em Review

I've never played Morrowind, but when people rave about it—usually in sentences punctuated with faux outrage and admonishments like "How have you never played Morrowind???"—they like to play up its creative, bizarre world, a place where gods interact with mortals on a regular basis and wizards live in houses carved out of overgrown mushrooms.

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Skyrim's new downloadable content, Dragonborn, takes you back to that strange land. The result is the game's best piece of DLC to date, a self-contained adventure that feels like a legitimate—and legitimately good—expansion pack.

If you're anything like me, you were probably disappointed by Skyrim's last two DLC packs, Dawnguard and Hearthfire. While Hearthfire was just a housemaking add-on, Dawnguard sold itself as a full-fledged piece of DLC—DLC that I found rather underwhelming.

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Dragonborn, on the other hand, delivers on Bethesda's promises. Plunging you into Solstheim, an island located northeast of Skyrim and right on the edge of Morrowind, Dragonborn gives you a whole bunch of new stuff to play with: there's a new map, new types of weapons and armor, new dragon shouts, new cities, new enemies, and all sorts of new quests, from the mundane (find out where a wizard's assistant ran off to) to the insane (pick up a gem that turns out to contain the spirit of a goddess, who asks you to escort her to her temple and clear out the evil within).

You can also ride dragons, although that isn't nearly as cool as it seems.

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Illustration for article titled emSkyrim: Dragonborn/em: The emKotaku/em Review

WHY: Dragonborn adds a whole new world to explore, complete with an interesting questline, a lot of new things to do, and lots of dragons.

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Skyrim: Dragonborn

Developer: Bethesda
Platforms: Xbox 360 (played), PS3, PC
Release Date: December 4 (Xbox), early 2013 (PS3/PC)

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Type of game: Open-world RPG

What I played: Completed main questline in roughly 6 hours, then spent another 4-5 hours wandering around Solstheim and soaking in its world.

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My Two Favorite Things

  • Solstheim is a lovely, interesting island that is a lot of fun to explore.
  • The main quest line is fascinating, even if it ends with a bit of a whimper.

My Two Least-Favorite Things

  • Having to reboot my 360 because the game just randomly froze.
  • Dragon riding.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "I wish I didn't like this DLC so I could be like 'Dragonborn? More like Dragonbored!'" - Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
  • "Dragonborn? More like Dragonawesome. See? That doesn't quite work." - Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
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More importantly, Dragonborn re-evokes that feeling of excitement, that rush of untapped whimsy that massive open-world games like Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas are so good at offering. A new map brings with it new places. New dungeons. New quests to discover and rewards to unearth. It's an explorer's wet dream.

Sadly, with a game like Skyrim—and consequently, with its Dragonborn DLC—the potential is often more exciting than the results. Unlock a particularly tough door, for example, and your only reward might be a couple wheels of cheese and a chest with some worthless armor. You might find that an enticing-looking fortress holds nothing but a bunch of generic bandits. Quests might end abruptly and unceremoniously.

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The main quest's conclusion is similarly underwhelming, but in that as in all of Dragonborn, what matters is the journey, not the reward. It's the little moments of joy when you find a new location, or when you're exploring a corner of the map that nobody else would even bother exploring, only to find a hidden treasure or easter egg that you know the designers threw in just for you.

There are a few different types of dungeons to explore in Dragonborn, some better than others. While some temples and catacombs are just like every other Skyrim dungeon you've ever fought through, complete with draugr and blade traps, there are also plenty of great ancient Dwemer ruins to delve into. Some of these ruins have their own sets of puzzles—never quite Zelda depth, but they come close.

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A large chunk of the main quest also takes place in a daedric realm—a plane run by one of Skyrim's many gods—that I won't describe too much, to avoid spoilers. It's pretty trippy, though, and one of my favorite parts of Dragonborn was maneuvering my way through the swirl of foul black goo and gruesome fog that makes up that bizarre world. And I haven't even mentioned the Cthulu-esque squid demons. Squid demons!

You visit this realm, by the way, as part of the main storyline, which is like all video game storylines in that you have to save the world from a terrifying evil thing. This time, the thing is Miraak, an enigmatic being that seems to want to kill you for one reason or another. Oddly enough, as you ask around Solstheim for more information, nobody seems to know who he is. Yet the name sounds peculiarly familiar to everyone. Riddles atop riddles.

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This main quest—which is on par with Skyrim's best questlines in terms of quality and variety—took me roughly six hours to beat completely. There's plenty more to see and do on top of that, though. It is still Skyrim.

And since this is still Skyrim, you are probably wondering if Dragonborn is full of bugs. It is indeed. Random little glitches have become a trademark of the most recent Elder Scrolls (and Bethesda games in general) and Dragonborn follows suit. My game even locked up and froze completely once or twice. Royal pain in the ass.

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But. Bugs aside, Dragonborn is a great piece of DLC. Worth playing, worth exploring, worth leaping into like you're starting Skyrim all over again. Because there's nothing quite like opening up a new map and imagining all of the adventures you're about to find there. It's a feeling that can't be beat.

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DISCUSSION

"My Two Least-Favorite Things

Having to reboot my 360 because the game just randomly froze."

I like to rent my games before buying them. When it came time to buy Skyrim I rented it at a Redbox for $2 and was only able to play a few hours before the game completely locked up my entire Xbox (not just the game), the controller could not reset the Xbox. Before this I had run into a few other glitches where I had to save and reset the game to get the mission to continue. After it crashed the system and I lost all my progress I immediately returned the game and never looked back. I do not pay $60 to alpha test console games. I have played through huge final fantasy games with more on-world characters than Skyrim without even the tiniest hint of a problem.

My point is that I don't think we as consumers should act like it is okay for these huge studios to ship out such ridiculously unstable software. A glitch or two in the entire game I might put up with, but not when its hundreds and the game completely freezes every few hours and you have to lose all your progress. Just no.

tl;dr

The amount bugs and full system crashes in this AAA game is unacceptable.