Hearthfire Review (Skyrim DLC) (Xbox 360)
The land of Skyrim is a vast, varied and exciting land full of things every intrepid adventurer should experience for themselves. The brawling types can head into every scenario with their sword raised, prepared to bludgeon all those in sight. The more tactile player can use their head to consider how to approach a particular predicament. However, the role-player has had very little to do until now.
Hearthfire is Bethesda’s second attempt at DLC for their award-winning RPG mammoth Skyrim. The first introduced vampires to the fray and the second introduces the ability to create a house from the foundations and have total freedom in where that is, what the house features and who lives in it. It sounds great, right? Don’t be fooled by the pretence, because Hearthfire unfortunately chooses to bind you with limits even when trying to give you more freedom to experiment with.
The process of building a house with Hearthfire is moderately simple for anybody to understand. You purchase the deed to an empty plot of land and then begin creating your home literally from the ground up, from the walls to the wooden supports that keep everything sturdy. Once that’s done you can head inside and furnish each room with various furniture items, shelves and the like.
If you get bored with your current house or it’s becoming too small for you and your family – Hearthfire introduces the ability to adopt children – you can build more rooms or start over again. You can either have a mansion on your hands or a modestly-sized family home. Whatever you desire or require.
Where this disappoints is in how limited you are with where you actually build your humble abode. There are only three locations in which you can build on, all of which are pre-selected by the game. Want to build a house by the beach or on a mountain? You’re out of luck. The game wants you in three locations and no more, so all that empty space in the world that could’ve been used for building on remains unused.
Perhaps having an almost unlimited choice of where to build a house is something that was too much to consider plausible, but having more than just three locations would’ve been preferable nevertheless, as the current choices are very limited and don’t provide the player with as much freedom as they might expect.
In order to build your home, you need materials, and to get those, you’ll need to do some exploring in the wilderness or pop in to a general store in one of the towns. Each plot of land provides you with sources of materials you’ll need, such as clay and quarried stone, but other materials like iron ingots will need to be sourced. Once you’ve got those, you can then make them into further materials that you require, such as nails and hinges, to create the item you desire.
Collecting the materials to build a house is a lengthy, monotonous and incredibly dull process that rarely has a semblance of excitement. For example, if you need wood, you can head to a nearby lumber mill and buy it in packs of 20, all while enduring the same dialogue choices repeatedly. Travelling to and from stores with a pittance of iron ingots becomes irritating when you suddenly find yourself empty mid-construction, forcing you to abandon the efforts to go and find yet more. Hiring a steward to fetch them for you makes the process less of a drag but still laborious nonetheless.
Having to collect these materials wouldn’t be as much of an irritation if the end result was satisfying. Unfortunately it is not. The item you’re creating takes literally less than two seconds to construct via an option menu and unless you exit out of the construction interface and view your home after each item is built, you won’t even see your house being made. Suddenly so much time spent sourcing the materials to build your home seems like a waste of effort.
As mentioned previously, Hearthfire introduces the ability to adopt children and have them live in your home with a spouse and a steward if you desire. If you do, you’ll have to make extra sure to protect your home from invasions and attacks once it’s built and your family lives in it, as giants, skeevers and other beasts will attempt to raid it at frequent intervals.
While Hearthfire fails in other areas, it does succeed somewhat in incorporating this particular aspect of the role-playing experience. Finally being able to adopt a child adds that missing piece of the jigsaw as you could marry somebody before this DLC was released, just not create a true family. Those who enjoy this particular aspect of Skyrim will find the newly-included feature very interesting.
As mentioned earlier, once you’ve built a home, you are then able to enter the property and begin furnishing the indoor interiors of each room with various objects, such as beds, tables, wardrobes and so forth. Alongside those, the player can also fill the rooms with decorations such as wall-mounted trophies from kills they’ve made, display cases for showing off extravagant equipment or just some wall sconces to make the room brighter. The variety of furnishings available to use is surprisingly large. Unfortunately, however, this also comes with yet more restrictions.
Being able to build individual items of furniture for different rooms is welcome and implemented fairly well. However, you have no choice or control over where the objects are actually placed. If you want two beds alongside the same wall but with a small table separating them, you can’t. All you are able to do is build the bed and then the game will automatically place it in a pre-selected position. That is it.
The end result is that despite feeling as though you have the freedom to place your furniture wherever you like, therefore increasing the feeling of having your own ‘unique’ house, you are still strangled by the game’s restrictions. It makes little sense to not be able to place a bed in a position you want it in or to be able to put a bookshelf against a different wall. These are simple mechanics who’s absences are sorely noticeable. A ‘Sims-like’ system of total control wasn’t to be expected but something as basic as the aforementioned features would’ve been nice.
There are two main types of player that typically navigate the world of Skyrim: those that charge through the experience leaving no trace and those that take their time to appreciate the other elements of the game that don’t involve combat. Dawnguard – the previous DLC – was accessible to both types but Hearthfire is almost exclusive to one. Those that plow through the game will find very little use out of what Hearthfire offers while those that utilise the role-playing elements of the game will find few better uses of their money, even with its problems.
While the content gives the role-players much to do with their time, the rest will find that buying a house in one of the towns will be a cheaper, faster and more suitable alternative. After all, Hearthfire forces you to build a house it wants you to have, rather than the one you want to have, so buying a pre-made home isn’t much different in the long-run.
Hearthfire is unfortunately a highly disappointing and underwhelming slab of DLC for a game like Skyrim. It’s fortunate that the content will only set you back by a modest 400 Microsoft points but despite its small price, its misgivings cannot be ignored. What could have been a fantastic and significant gameplay mechanic to make an appearance in the game ultimately became a shadow of its own potential, costing very little but offering very little at the same time.Hearthfire Review (Skyrim DLC) (Xbox 360),