The latest DLC for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has just landed. But is it a decent extension, worthy of your time and money?
There isn't much to Hearthfire, which would be a problem if it wasn't for the conservative 400 MSP price point. If it gets downloaded, regardless of how you feel about the content itself, your unlikely to feel like you just got visited by the Thieves Guild and given a once over. It is, at the very least, cheap.
For your investment, Hearthfire offers intrepid architects, builders and interior designers, the chance to explore a different side of Skyrim, one made up of wood, clay and nails instead of magic, swords and dragons. So it's not your standard DLC, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Hearthfire doesn't offer a huge variety of options and content, but fans of Skyrim will likely be interested nonetheless. It's effectively a home building kit that allows you to construct a dwelling to your personal tastes.
The side-quest - if you can call it that - starts with a messenger inviting you out to visit a nearby Jarl (I went to Falkreath, but there are other options). Upon arrival a plot of land just outside of town is offered, and only for the measly sum of 5000 gold.
Each new plot is furnished with a drafting table, a carpenter's bench, a chest and some materials to get you started. Plans are made on the drafting table, materials are crafted on the carpenter's workbench, and in the midst of all the sawing, a house starts to take shape behind you on your new plot of land.
The first house that can be built is a little cottage. Small, yet fit for purpose, it can remain as just that, should that be desired (although if that's all your interested in, Hearthfire probably isn't for you).
Should you decide to keep building, this tiny abode will become the reception room to the rest of the house. There are plenty of different ways of extending the building, and depending on how you've developed your character, there are features ready to suit all play styles.
The first way to extend a property is to add a large hall. This has a living space and bedrooms, and is far grander than the small cottage. Once that is constructed there are three slots available, and in each a new extension can be added.
If you're into alchemy, there's a tower that can be constructed to house all your equipment in the North Wing (you can also add storage or a trophy room there instead). In fact, all the rooms you would expect to find are accounted for, but there's not a lot of freedom to be expressive through decorations and architecture beyond simple decisions.
On the East Wing you can have an armoury, a library, or for those who go as far as cooking their own meals, a kitchen can be built. In the West Wing we must choose either bedrooms (which you'll need if you want to move in your spouse and/or any adopted children you're responsible for), a greenhouse or an enchanter's tower. In this respect the new homes are far superior to the dwellings that can be purchased in all the major towns dotted across Skyrim.
The only problem is that, despite having the ability to choose which rooms to add to your new home, you can't do much to personalise them beyond some arbitrary options. It's this lack of flexibility that frustrates more than anything else, and it's the main reason that I find it hard to recommend Hearthfire to anyone other than the most committed Skyrimmers.
Casual players will find it hard to be enthused by the lackluster options available, and whilst more dedicated gamers will appreciate having some new features to play around with, at the end of the day it feels like a slightly shallow experience that doesn't really reward as much as it should. This is not Skyrim meets Minecraft, which would've been great. Ultimately, it's a fairly prescriptive experience.
If you're not still playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, then Hearthfire offers very little reason to return. If you never left the chilly mountainous landscape, and are still enjoying the vibrant world constructed by Bethesda, then this DLC might be worth a punt. Just don't expect to be able to build your home with the same amount of freedom as you enjoy in the rest of the game.