Up to this point, expansions for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim have been somewhat underwhelming. We got The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dawnguard earlier in the year, which was pretty standard as far as full-fledged expansions go. It wasn’t bad, and there were some interesting questlines and items for sure, but compared to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s heralded expansions like Nights of the Nine and Shivering Isles, Dawnguard didn’t hold up. Later “expansions” like Hearthfire hold up even less so,  It’s clear that we’re hungry for some more Skyrim, and our pleas have been answered. Over a year has passed since Skyrim launched, with clamor for The Elder Scrolls series being pretty quiet, but this expansion should keep enthusiasm high for quite a while, as Dragonborn is the biggest and best expansion to Skyrim yet.

As soon as you dive into Dragonborn, you’ll immediately notice the cues that the expansion takes from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. That’s no coincidence, as you’ll be traversing the land of Solstheim, the location of Morrowind’s Bloodmoon expansion. This vibrant environment will definitely keep fans of The Elder Scrolls busy for quite a while. As far as narrative goes, it has its ups and downs. You’ll see the return of Miraak, a dragon priest who is none other than the original Dovahkiin, or Dragonborn. He’s not to keen on having another Dovahkiin prancing around and “tarnishing” his image. What the entire event culminates into is a little disappointing, but the journey there is nothing short of epic. While following the main questline will take around eight to ten hours or so, that’s not where the real meat of this expansion comes in.

This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as what Dragonborn has to offer to The Elder Scrolls universe. Skyrim’s dungeon system has proven to get a little stale as the months roll on, but this is an issue adressed in Dragonborn. Environments and caverns are still Skyrim-esque, but it will feel somewhat foreign, which is fitting for Dragonborn. It shouldn’t be downplayed how refreshing the new environment can be, what with all of the new enemies and locations for your Dragonborn to devour and conquer. Compared to the main game, Dragonborn is quite a challenge. Not insurmountable like the Legendary Dragons of Dawnguard, but I found myself dying far more than usual.

The vibrant landscape and awesome locations also come with some addicting quests, so be prepared to get into Dragonborn for the long haul. It’s nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to quests in The Elder Scrolls, but I found myself completely enraptured. With all of this fresh content, you also get all sorts of new weapons at your disposal. The new items and gear at your disposal are definitely worth the entry fee, even enticing the higher level Dovahkiin’s out there.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Not as fun as it looks, sadly.

With this expansion comes new features to The Elder Scrolls universe. Namely, you’ll be able to actually ride dragons. The catch is that you need to learn three dragon words to a new Dragon Shout that occurs toward the tail-end of the main game, so don’t think you can ride Alduin right out of the gate. Riding a dragon is best described as a huge pile of ‘meh’. You’re on rails, so there’s no real control to the dragon. It’s just for spectacle, and it’s a bit of a shame, considering the mod community has been making ridable dragons since The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Sure, you can tell him when to land, but this isn’t LAIR – you don’t have full control. Other new features are cool new dragon shouts that perform great tasks; from stat boosts to stronger weapons, you’ll need all of these at your arsenal to take care of some of Solstheim’s best baddies.

Until now, Bethesda’s claim of ‘bigger’ expansions didn’t feel like it had any substance. As mentioned, Dawnguard didn’t fully quench our downloadable thirst, and Hearthfire didn’t even come close. They seemed a lot more like Fallout’s various downloadable episodes, and forgettable as the months go by. This is not the case with Dragonborn, as the sheer size and scope of Solstheim make up for previous shortcomings. If future expansions for Skyrim are this plentiful, you’ll never get bored in Tamriel again.

Being a proper expansion, Dragonborn offers dozens of hours of content overall – not bad for $20. The expansion brings back that sense of awe and wonder you get when playing one of The Elder Scrolls games that we haven’t seen from any Skyrim expansion so far. Solstheim is such a refreshing location that I found it difficult to go back to proper Skyrim. You get accustomed to the enemy types, difficulty spikes, and miles upon miles of exploration on the island. You’ll get sucked into discovering all sorts of new locations and cities all over again, and it’s awesome that Bethesda nailed down that lacking aspect of The Elder Scrolls expansions this time around.

Dragonborn feels like the first true expansion to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, easily outclassing Dawnguard and Hearthfire. The catch is that Dragonborn also outclasses them in price. It’s a hefty $20, which is a lot to ask from an expansion. However, the game boasts dozens of hours of content at your disposal, so the $20 entry fee is well worth it. Bethesda has finally lived up to the claim up offering proper expansions, and I honestly can’t wait to see what’s next for The Elder Scrolls. Despite the disappointment of riding dragons, and a mediocre end to the whole Miraak storyline, the amount of quests and adventures you’ll have in Dragonborn could fill the shoes of a proper Elder Scrolls game.