Skyrim’s final DLC "Dragonborn" has a very unique feel compared to the rest of the game, taking players to the isolated island of Solstheim first seen in The Elder Scrolls 3: Bloodmoon. The Dark Elf and Nord-dominated island sits at the very edge of the series’ known world, with small towns like Raven Rock etching out a living on what used to the the frontier of the contracting Empire. As well as being one of Skyrim’s most interesting settings, Solstheim also has a lot in common with the Living Lands, the setting for Obsidian Entertainment’s upcoming first-person RPG Avowed.
Solstheim has some fantastic lessons to teach Avowed. The setting has a unique relationship with some of the key tenets of the Elder Scrolls formula, and is able to come to life even more convincingly that most of Skyrim’s holds. Here’s what the Dragonborn DLC can teach Avowed, as Obsidian develops what some fantasy fans are hoping will be Skyrim’s sort-of spiritual successor.
As a frontier, Solstheim inadvertently overcomes some of Skyrim’s most common criticisms. While hold capitals like Whiterun in the main game feel suspiciously small for cities, the tiny settlements of Solstheim feel more realistically sized considering how isolated their populations are. It’s immersion-breaking when Nazeem assumes the Dragonborn has never been to Whiterun's Cloud District, which consists of one building usually no less than a hundred feet away.
In contrast, the townsfolk of Solstheim frequently reference their isolation and the small size of their settlement, despite Raven Rock being bigger than some of Skyrim’s other settlements like Riverwood and Rorisktead. Avowed could create towns which are the same size as Skyrim’s cities, but seem far more convincing as hastily constructed frontier towns than ancient seats of power no bigger than a fort.
While Solstheim is just a small part of Skyrim’s overall world, the fact that the open-world RPG formula's immersion fits so well into the frontier bodes well for Obsidian’s choice of setting. It’s unlikely that Obsidian would have been able to bring the large cities depicted in Pillars of Eternity to life without significantly shrinking them down, while the Living Lands provide a setting which could avoid the open-world RPG genre’s city scaling problem.
Raven Rock is one of Skyrim’s best towns when it comes to environmental storytelling. Each of Skyrim’s towns has some level of intrigue - there’s the feud between the Stormcloak and Imperial families of Whiterun, the chatter and tension surrounding the recent public execution of High King Torygg in Solitude, and the string of mysterious murders in Windhelm, to name a few.
Raven Rock throws players in at the deep-end by exploiting their own curiosity rather than making its main conflict clear from the get-go. When players go to sleep in Raven Rock, there’s a chance they’ll wake up at the Temple of Miraak, having been working the stone in their sleep. After discovering a similar building site near Raven Rock, players will have the option to ask the townsfolk about the strange structures. The locals, however, seem unable to quite remember if they built the obelisks on the island, and if they did, why.
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