The Elder Scrolls V: Dragonborn – Homecoming?

Hey, blog reader, it’s Damon once again, with a new update on my adventures in Skyrim and the expansions that I am blindly playing. I’ll admit that I didn’t expect to be writing up a blog post about my Dragonborn experiences so soon after the Dawnguard one, but here it is.
It took me so long to play Dragonborn because my first Elder Scrolls game was Morrowind, and I have really fond memories of my times on Vvardenfell and in Mournhold and Solstheim. It’s really hard to not try to compare the same locations when they are in different games, and I didn’t want to know what Dragonborn’s version of Solstheim was and end up completely disappointed with what I saw. There are things I like, there are things I dislike, and we’ll get to those here in just a moment.

Starting with the good things, I love the layout and feel of Solstheim, dominated by the mountainous terrain and the glacier in the north rising high into the sky when viewed from ground level. It is impressive, and it gives the feel of a harsh, rugged frontier a lot better than Bloodmoon’s Solstheim did, which was for me just more of a pretty, snowy forest, really.
Raven Rock looks fantastic, thoroughly Redoran, and I couldn’t help but have a big, wide, nostalgic smile when I found old local brews, Cyrodiilic Brandy, and Bonemold Armor that reminded precisely of what the Redoran Guard wore in Morrowind. It looked so spot on that I felt at home right away in the lands of my favorite House.
Fort Frostmoth has been beaten to hell and the years haven’t been kind to her, but while the layout of the settlement of Raven Rock has changed drastically since the founding of the town two centuries prior, the exterior of Frostmoth looks just like it did back in the day, just a little on the worse looking side, due to the Red Year.
So, I loved the terrain, I loved the scenery, and two of the more impressive and memorable locations for me, personally, look “right” to me, all things considered in the two centuries between visits. What does bother me is a slightly longer list, perhaps.
For one, I dislike the size of Solstheim in Dragonborn. In Bloodmoon, it was small, but it wasn’t so cluttered with extreme terrain like the large dominating mountains, the large Bulwark, waterfalls, etc, and even though it was a nothing commute from Frostmoth to Raven Rock or Frostmoth to Thirsk, for example, it felt a little larger than it was, because you were moving through so many trees, the fog that was used to cover the low draw distance at the time, etc, made it feel more impressive.
In Dragonborn, the large mountains, the high draw distance, and the lack of updating the size to reflect the new technology, the large and new additions, etc, made it feel small and cluttered, because Solstheim as a landmass is about as long and wide as it was in Bloodmoon. I honestly expected it to be larger than it was, even if there was nothing in any given area and it was just empty space to create travel time.
To accommodate the changes to terrain, stuff had to be juggled around. For instance, the lake that Thirsk sits on feels smaller, and instead of sitting on the east and facing towards it, Thirsk sits to the south of it facing towards the east and towards the nearby coast.
I dislike the updates to some of the locations, like Barrows. I could see a new settlement that changed owners within a handful of years of its founding looking drastically different, but I can’t for the life of me fathom why the heavily Dunmer population of Solstheim or the Skaal or Reavers would want to go doing all this weird architectural shit to the ruins. There are loads of places that I recognised the names of, and went to expecting nostalgia, only to look at it, say “it looks cool, but it doesn’t remind me of ‘home’ and isn’t what I expected”. Skyrim having cool barrows, fine, but I really see the simplistic style more in line with the Skaal and the simpler way of life.
 
If you are playing Dragonborn as your first experience with Solstheim, it looks amazing, but when you unconsciously want to compare things, it falls below expectations, because it isn’t recognizable anymore.
Next on the list, Neloth… My favorite Telvanni wizard reappears two centuries later to tell me “Dangerous knowledge is still knowledge, and therefore is useful. And in my experience, that’s the best knowledge”, or whatever he said, and YESS!!! That sounds like a Telvanni. He is just what I imagined a Telvanni wizard to be, as far as personality, and he was amusing to travel with, although I’m sure the Telvanni quirks were lost on Damon the Imperial.
His tower disappointed me. It was a few straight up, large mushrooms, and the Telvanni architecture I know in Morrowind had roots, pods, leaning bits, all this other interesting and alien stuff, and here we have a giant mushroom that looks like a mushroom… Boring!
Now, onto the main quest: SHORT. SHORT. SHORT. SHORT. SHORT!!!!
I came to Solstheim, did a touristy “explore Raven Rock, converse, do miscellaneous quests, explore the surrounding area” thing, and I went and checked out ruins and stuff, and when I finally got to the main quest, it took nothing to do it. I went to check out the stone near Raven Rock, went to Miraak’s Temple, escaped with Frea, learned Bend Will, cleansed the stones, went with Neloth to get the book, went into Apocrypha for 20 minutes or so, and then Storn, the Skaal shaman was dead and it was time to confront Miraak. The main quest took nothing to do. I spent a good 7 hours or so on Dawnguard (admittedly because I was always so lost in the Forgotten Vale, but it felt like an adventure because of it), and in 2.5 to 3, I’ve got the main quest nearly wrapped up, with another couple hours of faffing about on Solstheim.
I haven’t actually finished the main quest, so I have no feelings on the conclusion of the thing. I need to go back to the mainland. I have far too much valuable loot that I don’t want to drop, and Ota in the wiki’s IRC tells me I can get a house on Solstheim, but I don’t want a house on Solstheim; I want one in the mainland where the rest of the action will be when I leave Solstheim. I also need a new Dragon Soul to unlock the last of Bend Will, since Miraak stole the one from the dragon that jumped me, Serana, and Neloth outside that ruin we got the Black Book at, and I have no additional souls, needing to use my free ones on the old Bend Will words.
So, with the Shaman dead, his daughter telling me to go avenge him, and the fate of Solstheim in the palm of my hand, I am driven to depart by necessity. I need a new dragon soul, so it is time to go hunt and check a few of those dragon peaks I have on my map that are unexplored. Then, I might get a headstart on selling my loot in Breezehome and working on that house in the Pale for Hearthfire. Maybe I’ll meet my contact in Riverwood, get the horn of Jurgen Windcaller, learn the rest of Unrelenting Force, and do a small bit of Civil War and Companion stuff, which I’ve been pacing out instead of completing in one hit… Then it will be time to return to Solstheim, end Miraak once and for all, then wrap up my miscellaneous quests, leave, and never return.
I’ll wrap up this post by saying that while there is a lot I am let down by, unlike Dawnguard, I could see myself giving Dragonborn another couple of playthroughs, although it isn’t quite the same as Bloodmoon’s love is for me.
I shall return in a handful of days or so after I’ve done my stuff and wrapped up the main quest, then I’ll say what I really feel about the main quest for Dragonborn, although I’ll spoil it by saying my initial impression is that Hircine’s Hunt was more interesting as a main quest idea, as far as execution goes. But, that’s a post for another time.
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