Following hot on the heels of the vampire-themed Dawnguard expansion, Hearthfire offers a somewhat different focus for those Dovahkiins who have had enough of dragon-slaying and want to try something new. As the title suggests, Hearthfire takes a more domestic approach, allowing players to buy plots of land and build new homes from the ground up, as well as adopting children and crafting their own furniture. If this sounds like a rather odd attempt to imitate The Sims, that’s because it is.
One of the biggest problems with Hearthfire is the sheer amount of repetition that is forced upon players. After buying a plot of land from the local Jarl, the player is introduced to two integral features – the drafting table and the carpenter’s workbench. The drafting table allows players to decide on the layout of their new property, whilst the workbench is used to convert stone, clay, timber and iron into the buildings themselves. This is where the repetition comes in because, in order to complete a house, and furnish every room, you will need a horrendous amount of materials. I spent about as much time fast travelling between towns, lumber mills and my construction site, constantly stocking up on iron and timber, as I did actually building the house. Furthermore, clay and stone are both obtained by mining them from spots in the environment, but the required quantities of these resources are so high that I spent incredibly long periods of time staring at my character as he swung a pickaxe against a wall. Never has a game that revolves around dragon-slaying seemed so dull.
Another problem is that, since the construction process entirely occurs whilst in the workbench menu, you don’t actually get to see your house taking shape behind you, unless you stop part-way through construction in order to make yet another trip back to the local blacksmith. However, I did like the fact that there are some chances to personalise your house – after building the compulsory entrance hall and great hall, you are given the choice of several different annexes, which include a library, trophy room, greenhouse and family bedroom. These options mean that you can build all three houses that come with the DLC and not have too much repetition in terms of rooms.
Sadly, decorating your new mansions is also an enormous chore, since this is also done via a workbench interface. Again, prepare to make countless trips to town in order to constantly stock up on supplies, mostly due to the fact that you need about ten billion iron nails to build a bedside table. The crafting process ends up being little more than a chore, and is made doubly annoying by the fact that you can’t choose where your furniture is placed – everything just appears out of thin air in its preordained position.
Out of all of the features that you can build in your house, only a few of them are actually useful or exciting. Building an armoury is a must for any Skyrim veteran, as it finally gives you a space with enough manikins and weapon racks to show off all of your exotic treasures. The trophy room is also a fun addition, as it allows you to show off your prized collection of stuffed animals and monsters. Beyond that, most of the other rooms add little that players won’t already be familiar with in their other homes, giving them little reason to return to their newly constructed mansions once they’re fully decorated.
Adoption is also a novelty and, like most of the other features included in Hearthfire, is made frustrating by the lack of guidance – you’re simply told to go to Riften and visit the orphanage, but are given next to know help with satisfying the criteria for adoption after that – the game just leaves you to figure out what to do by yourself, as it also does when it comes to hiring a steward for your house.
Extra features such as giant and bandit attacks on your new home bring a bit of much needed action into the mix, but after the immersive quests of the original game, plus the generous story of Dawnguard, there is very little in Hearthfire to keep avid fans of Skyrim entertained or occupied. Since most people will be playing this latest expansion after already completing much of the main game, it’s a shame that there aren’t more features that increase the content’s lifespan. However, with a price tag of only 400MSP, Bethesda’s latest downloadable offering is, at the very least, fairly priced, and will be a welcome addition to players who are keen to get a few more rooms to hoard their ever-increasing treasure stash in.
Skyrim: Heartfire is available to download now.