Welcome to part two of our Skyrim DLC Dragonborn review playthrough. Check out part one, if you haven't already, then abandon all remaining hope and read on.
Good news, everyone! After about 70 hours of play, I think I've worked out how to make fighting things in Skyrim fun. The secret consists in letting other people do the fighting for you. For instance, I've met this Skaal woman called Frea. She's a dab hand with a blade - two dab hands, in fact - she auto-casts Stoneflesh all the time and most wonderful of all, she doesn't get annoyed when I blunder into her from behind, farting ice spells like a snow-filled washing machine.
I teamed up Frea while exploring a certain temple, constructed by the telepathically enslaved servants of a certain Miraak. Yes, the same Miraak who recently sent a bunch of his favourite altar boys to Skyrim in search of the "false" Dragonborn, aka yours truly. Yes, the same altar boys who I eventually treated to a jolly good thrashing, with the aid of an equine version of the Incredible Hulk.
I've met Miraak himself now, too, and without giving away any story details he's quite the card. I particularly enjoyed how he belittled my dismal career as a dragon-slayer (finish Alduin off before tackling the Dragonborn expansion, and you'll get different lines of dialogue here). "You've only managed to kill a few dragons," the man brayed, sprouting some swish Dragonskin gauntlets, and set a pair of octopus demon-things on me for emphasis. "Sticks and stones, old chap," I fired back, chuckling maturely while they slapped me to the floor with massive paddles of lightning. "Sticks and stones."
I can do the whole gauntlets thing now too, having picked up the Dragonshout "Dragon Aspect" at a handy Word Wall. (Incidentally, is there anyone out there who doesn't think the Word Wall sound effect would make for an awesome ring tone? But I digress.) They come in gosh-darn useful when you're fighting Ash Spawn, a new species of humanoid foe that resembles a grumpy bag of charcoal, but wages war very much like standard-issue Necromancers and Draugr.
Dragon Aspect is the only new power I've plucked from Solstheim's grizzled fastness thus far - a number of new Dragonshouts await down the line, plus spells that let you encase people in ash, for hoots and hollers. I have, however, managed to load up on enchanted gear and protective magicks. It's a dog-eat-dog life on the island, see, not that there are many dogs here. The other in-game day, I strolled up to an organic-looking rock and it turned into a small squashy spider, which jumped onto my chest and exploded. Silly good-for-nothing rocks.
This generally sound defensive strategy has, admittedly, proven counter-productive at times. During one particularly tough brawl with Draugr Death Lords, deep in Solstheim's underbelly, I toggled and equipped so many Cloak spells, amulets, Shouts and what-have-you that I was unable to see for particle effects. It was like huffing into a bong filled with Unreal Engine 4. Frea always knows exactly what to do in these situations, thankfully. She went and stood on a nearby pressure panel, causing a large spiked log to swing down and bounce me straight into somebody's battleaxe.
Dragonborn has been described as a "true" expansion, as opposed to the bitty fare we've had to put up with since publishers discovered they could coax people into pre-ordering by way of exciting novelty hats. It's certainly got the scale to justify the description - the island is the size of one of Skyrim's nine holds, and stuffed with villages, cities, ruins and dungeons. On the other hand, I'm slightly underwhelmed by the aesthetic.