Skyrim is stand-alone concept at this point in its lifespan. One can try to throw adjectives like “massive”, or “epic” at it, but it refuses to be simply just one of these things. Characters can be personal enough to develop a realistic care for them, and the adventure operates as a heroic escapade with literally endless set-pieces and possibilities. Extra content for Skyrim, therefore, can only do so much. With as much as there is to see and experience, hundreds of hours can go by without as much as a glance towards the main questline. So what is it about DLC that makes me instantly go bonkers, try to find my credit card, and purchase invisible Microsoft-bucks? It’s because content, even with the possibility it could never be played in Skyrim’s case, is irresistibly appealing.
That’s why the new Hearthfire add-on, costing you only $5, or 400 invisible Microsoft-bucks, could easily be missed. It’s not that it isn’t a fun, distracting little piece of content, it’s just quite simply, tiny. It is possible to spend hours in Hearthfire, toying with the various room and furnishing options, customizing your own personal estate. However, most will find solace in the fact that they’ve purchased $5 in non-respawning containers. I will admit, that for the first hour or two, I was totally motivated to outfit my snowy manor with furniture and servants, but after a while it became utterly tedious. The add-on implements several new resources, in the form of building materials, like nails, locks, panes of glass, and quarried stone. While it is obvious as to why these are necessary, all it manages to do is complicate things. Chests require a sawn log, nails, an iron fitting, 2 hinges, and a lock, but a lock first requires an iron ingot, and a corundum ingot and must be smithed, BUT, don’t forget to save some of your iron ingots for the nails or else… you can see where the “Furnish it the way YOU want” mechanic loses its appeal.
As far as actual options go, there are 3 properties purchasable to build houses on, as well as increased options to renovate the homes included in the game. Within those three properties, you start with a very modest house. This can then be upgraded, with liberal use of the aforementioned building materials, into a main hall with three wings. It actually does feel like you’re constructing your estate during this process, as I took real pride installing a tower library and a trophy room. Each wing has 3 options to choose from, with the expected bedrooms, kitchen, armory available, as well as some surprises in the enchanter’s tower and laboratory. It’s a shame you can’t have one of every option available, or that each wing was open to every option, as these choices are restricted. I found myself picking the bedrooms, library, and trophy room for my first house. And while I enjoyed 2 of the 3, the bedrooms ended up vacant, requiring a lot of tedious resources and children to occupy it, both of which I didn’t have. This ended up happening again, but only with the greenhouse, as you’re given the option to build an outdoor garden.
With these flaws in mind, and the possibility of a patch to straighten them out, I still find myself enjoying the house I’ve built. It is truly YOUR house when all is said and done, and one you’ve created. I could have boarded my characters in the posh mansions of Solitude and Windhelm, but I kept finding myself returning to my snowy estate with a triumphant look on my face. As well, once your house is occupied with a steward, bard, spouse, and children, there is a warming amount of energy I find absent in the cold, pre-built houses of Skyrim. Even though I was absent a bazillion iron ingots I would never be able to use to train my Smithing skill, I was proud of the house I’d proverbially built.