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After many hours of of traveling Solstheim and beyond I gained a good overview of the add-on. I found it to be overall quite enjoyable, but certainly not without its shortcomings.

Story

Setting

Solstheim Skyline
Solstheim is an impressive sight when first seen. Everything seems new and different, from the roaming Netch to the Ash wastes. The sky is shrouded in ash, making it at first difficult to even tell time of day, and Red Mountain is a constant sight to the south-east, continuously adding to the massive ash cloud above your head. The arcitecture of Raven Rock and Tel Mithryn, the new voice actors for the numerous Dunmer, the return of many music tracks from Morrowind, the new wildlife native to the Solstheim ashlands, and even the difference in lighting made by the shrouded sky, all create the illusion of something truly new. It does what fantasy is supposed to be, something alien and new, while maintaining enough familiarity to be relateable. Simply traveling the ashlands, you don't really feel like you're playing Skyrim, it feels like an entirely new game.

At least until you travel north.

The northern icelands of Solstheim cause this illusion to completely collapse. Traveling through the icelands bring on a terrible sense of familiarity, often feeling no different than a stroll through Winterhold or The Pale. All the native wildlife you'd expect to see are there from Snowberries to Mudcrabs, generic barrows and dwemer ruins dot the landscape, and even the ash clears from the sky to reveal the average and ordinary blue of the sky. It all seems too reminiscent of the Skyrim we already know.

Apocrypha is a level of alien with no relatablity, which makes it all the better for what it is trying to achieve. Unlike
Apocrypha
the Deadlands, the Soul Cairn, and even the Shivering Isles, Apocrypha seems strange beyond understanding. It is dominated by massive towers made entirly of books and scrolls, black tentacles sprout from the mysterious dark-green waters, the sky is a vibrant green sea shifting light with the same black tentacles sporting from massive black voids, hideous Seekers and Lurkers roam the infinite halls, and the world will twist, bend, stretch, and reshape itself around you at a moments notice.

Characters

With the new voices as mentioned before (which are all oddly English accents) it makes the Dunmer of Solstheim stand out as individuals. Many are given decent backgrounds and characterization, while some are just pleasures to be around, such as Neloth which is particularly humorous. There is no doubt that some characters exist for no other reason than population, but they are for the most part limited.

Atmosphere

Dragonborn Screenshots 6
As stated, the world is wonderfully atmospheric, and I could almost recommend it on that note alone. Along with the the information listed in the setting, Netch can be found wandering in small little families, the music inspires a sense of awe, adventure, and at times simple childish glee. I personally was simply giddy upon meeting Dusty, which calls can be hear from nearly anywhere on the island. The ashlands bring up several feelings of nostalgia from my few memories of Morrowind, especially with the tracks Peaceful Waters, Over the Next Hill, The Road Most Travelled, and Caprice returning from the original soundtrack. For whatever odd reason, the eerie cave song from Dawnguard (I could not locate the name of it) seems to return as well, but rather than being using in eerie caves it is used in peoples' homes, hurting the immersion due to this strange and ill-fitting design choice.

Along the coasts you may also see the addition of tides. The sea will swell and waves crash against the beach in certain places. While the sentiment is appreciated, and it does make things feel more atmospheric, due to general technical issues of the water looking like jelly and clipping through the ground when waves crash, it makes it odd to look at after a while.

Possibly most importantly, there is an illusion of scale. The island is in reality quite small, no larger than maybe a single hold, but doesn't feel small. It in fact feels quite large. Despite that there are so many locations packed into close proximity, reaching one from the other rarely feels like such a short distance.

Seeker Dragonborn Screen
Apocrypha is, to put it simply, strange. Not in a sense of being weird or different, but in a way that is past out-of-the-ordinary and simply beyond comprehension. The world is drastically different from the expected, making it really feel like a completely different dimension. This makes the world feel alien and completely unrelateable, which is actually a good thing because it is actually the point.

Gameplay

Nothing truly spectacular here, as the game is already made, so no much improvement to gameplay.

Spells

There was quite an improvement to the list of spells with Dragonborn, filling all the schools. New rune spells (including a paralysis-like rune which I had actually suggested in the past), summoned creatures, and new destruction spells. Most of these spells seem like rehashes of existing spells however, such as the Ash Shell and Bound Dagger spells. Nothing here is honestly going to give any mage wet dreams, but they seem to be less costly in magicka, so they may find a use.

Shouts

Dragon Aspect
The four added shouts; Battle Fury, Bend Will, Cyclone, and Dragon Aspect, don't really feel as new as they are, a byproduct of rehashing. Battle Fury is nothing more than Elemental Fury for your allies and Cyclone is just a less powerful Unrelenting Force. Bend Will allows enemies to be turned to aid you, including dragons. Dragon Aspect is very interesting, offering increased damage protection, a Konahrik's Privilege like effect summoning a spectral ally when near death, and reducing the recharge of shouts (bringing the possible recharge to a -60%), but seems to be a Greater Power that was placed in shouts category, which limits its use to usually only the most dire of engagments.

Weapons

The only truly new addition is that of Spears, which are supremely disappointing. While there are a few Rieklings which use them as spears, to the player they are limited to nothing more than a substitute for arrows, and due to their increased size and weight, much slower and less powerful arrows. Spears are so cumbersome that they are pretty much impossible to use at any distence beyond 10m, and even then you'll have to really aim well to manage the arc. Spears on the whole feel like a forced addition, included in no other way than name because it was something desired by the player base (which I also predicted I might add ;D).

Dragon Riding

As mentioned above, the Bend Will shout allows the ability to tame and ride dragons. Some players however were opposed to the idea of dragons becoming your personal "air-horse". There is luckly none of that, as Dragon Riding is an even greater let down. After you've tamed a dragon and mounted it, it is nothing more than weapon to be directed while you watch and wait. You have the ability to cast spells and use shouts on your enemies while riding, but at the height and speed your dragon flies, you will almost always miss. After dispatching all the enemies in the vicinity, your dragon will simply fly around circling the area indefinably. To move your dragon you must fast travel to another location, in which you and your dragon will be teleported to a new area it can fly in circles around (albeit with very little time passing in between). It is impossible to direct your dragon on a specific path, and thus not possible to use a dragon as an actual means of transport. Even when landing and dismissing your dragon, it will occasionally just turn around and begin attacking you again. It never feels like Dragon Riding adds to the game, but rather seems to interrupt it, often with awkward camera angles and your dragon flying into the ground in an attempt to turn around for the umptenth time.

Overall, as with spears, Dragon Riding feels like it was not an honest addition, and was added for no other reason than people wanted it.

Quests

Main Quest

Miraakmask
The main quest felt incredibly short and under developed. Most of the "clear this dungeon" quests whizzing by and details of the plot never be even touched on. His cultists tried to kill you, and he is brainwashing people, but you are really never given any true motivation to defeat Miraak. Supposedly he was a bad person in the past, but we never hear of his past, or what he has been doing in the mean time, or even what he plans to do upon his return. The game just kind of tells you he's bad and expects you to go along with it. The quest themselves equate to pretty much, kill cultists, go to Solstheim, fight in a barrow, kill a dragon, fight in a dwemer ruin, fight in Apocrypha, then go back to Apocrypha and kill Miraak. The final fight with Miraak is a great disappointment as well. It is certainly a step above the fight with Alduin, but lacks the elegant structuring of the fight with Harkon. The ending to the fight itself is really an even greater disappointment, but for completely different reasons. Ultimately the entire thing feels like it has a lack of purpose and motivation.

Side Quests

Karstaag Throne
The side quests are where it's at. According to my reference footage, I spent in excess of 20 hours simply exploring and doing side quests before I even touched the main quest, and had plenty more to do during and even after it. Some are of course the simple, "clear dungeon, retrieve item" and "acquire X amount of item Y", but there are some which tie into their own subplots and questlines. There are some which are just plain fun and well designed. I particularly liked the quest A New Source of Stalhrim, because it was more than about simply killing. The objective is to acquire 'an item' from 'someone that shouldn't have it'. I went in expecting having to just kill everyone as usual, but was given room for creative action. In addition to just killing him and taking it, you can pickpocket it from him, or even simply talk him into giving it to you and leaving. I used the last strategy and didn't have to kill anyone for the latter part of the quest. The quest The Kagrumez Trials was also interesting as it required the player to go on the search for the Kagrumez Resonance Gems before proceeding (which I luckily had already acquired beforehand), and rewards the new addition of Animunculi "pets" (which I would have like a lot better had the Steadfast Dwarven Sphere not been such horrible ear rape). The unmarked quest Summoning Karstaag, was a very good one, and I personally found the fight with Karstaag more difficult and actually more enjoyable than fighting Miraak.


I may also be making other blogs with more personal opinions and grievances in the future, should that sort of thing be appreciated.