Review: Settling Down in Skyrim's 'Hearthfire'

You need to ask yourself, 'what kind of Skyrim player am I?' If you're the kind who is always on the adventure, ever watchful for a cave or castle to sneak into and loot, then you can stop reading now because Skyrim's latest DLC 'Hearthfire' is not for you. However, if you're the kind of gamer who loves getting deeper into your own fantasy world and has a strong connection to your character, then you might want to lay out the 400 Microsoft moonbucks for a chance to fulfill your pioneering spirit.

Since this is mostly a cosmetic addition to Skyrim you won't find any traditonal quests. In fact, there aren't any quests at all besides making a few land purchases. When you first boot up the new DLC, you'll soon run into a courier with a note about a new plot of land for sale. Just travel wherever the letter tells you to and talk to the Jarl and plunk down a few thousand septims and you're now the proud owner of some prime estate. This is the easy part. Now begins the fun.

Did I say fun? 'Cause I meant tedious busy work setting up your new homestead. Building a small house is simple enough as you're provided a handy workbench and chest full of enough raw material with the initial buy. Unfortunately, if you want to make any additions you'll need to find the raw materials. Fortunately, most materials are fairly easy to come by as there's a never ending supply of minable stone and clay near all building sites, but iron, steel, and corundum can only bought or mined. Expect to travel all over the world spending a good deal of time and coin collecting ingots. You'll also need a bunch of timber which can be picked up at most any mill for a small fee along with glass panes and straw from various shops. My advice is to clear out the inventories from all the major holds over the course of a few trips provided you have the money.

Filling up your house with furniture and decorations ends up being a fairly large time sink with all the back and forth involved. My first house took about 20 thousand and change for materials and about 3 hours of travelling from town to town. Granted, I had to battle a few times as surprise vampire attacks in a couple of major cities ended with several shopkeeps taking a dirtnap and seriously impeding my house building mission.

There's a pretty decent variety of additions to the main hall that can be built, though you can only have one of three for each wing leaving about 27 permutations for each house. You can replace wings at the drafting table anytime but you'll need to gather more materials each time so its wise to make each mansion dedicated for a specific use.

This ends up being one the things I dislike about Skyrim and Elder Scolls games in gerneral. You can't make the place you really want. Maybe it's just my playstyle but ultimately my house is just used for a large bank of old weapons and armor I don't use anymore. Each house pretty much feels the same as all the decorations are placed automatically as they're built without anyway to rearrange wall decorations, weapon plaques, etc. I want to make a great hall akin to a pared down guildhall; somewhere that can I can set up shop and rooms for all my adventuring friends, maybe even creating a kind of mercenary club that can be dynamically hired out for missions.

My problem is that want too much that is realistically possible. All in all 'Hearthfire' is an OK addition and I don't want to downplay the joy of becoming an home owner and building up a family; but honestly, if you're this invested in Skyrim you should probably be playing on the PC. With the dozens of quality mods created by the fan community, you'll never run out of things to do.

Hearthfire is available now for Xbox 360 for 400 MS Points.

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