The lights are on
Yesterday, Bethesda released Hearthfire, the second piece of DLC for Skyrim. Unlike Dawnguard, which featured a lengthy questline, Hearthfire involves less structured content that allows players to slowly construct their own homesteads. Is this enough to draw players back into the vast world of Skyrim? Let's look at the pros and cons.
Good: You get to build a house. There are three plots of land available for purchase, and they cost 5,000 gold each. Though you can technically buy and build on all of them, I’d recommend just focusing on one.
Bad: Customization options are minimal. This isn’t The Sims, where you get to design the layout of your dream home. Everyone’s houses look basically the same, starting with a small cottage and adding on a main hall. The wings you add to the main hall can vary, but not enough to give you much of a sense of ownership.
Good: You can hire a steward. Bring a follower to your home (after you’ve added the main hall), and you will get a new dialogue option that will appoint them as the steward of your estate. Having a steward is great – they can outfit your house with new stuff, plus you can purchase new building materials (which can be a hassle to obtain) directly from them, streamlining the process.
Bad: My favorite follower, Aranea Ienith, didn’t qualify to be a steward for some reason. Your favorite follower might not, either. I don’t know what governs who can do the job or not, but I was a little disappointed that my go-to companion couldn’t handle things. I had to use my housecarl from Whiterun, Lydia, instead.
Good: Everything you need is in one place. Once you have a steward, you can ensure that your home has all of the conveniences you could want: alchemy and enchanting tables, a travel cart, ample storage, a trophy room, a personal bard, and more.
Bad: Everything you need comes at a price. The property costs 5,000 gold alone, but then the bard costs 1,500, a horse is 1,000, and the building materials aren’t free, either. This isn’t unexpected, but low-level characters will definitely need to save up a bit to get things rolling. Also, while you are given easy access to most of the necessary materials, you’ll have to get your own iron. Iron ingots are an integral part of the house-building process, so I recommend buying up at least 50 of them before you get the whole process started.
Good: It’s more Skyrim!
Bad: It’s not really more Skyrim. It gives you another place to call home, but it doesn’t give you anything in the form of fun quests or items. Your finished manor is very cool, but for all the work and money involved, it doesn’t provide much more than the standard homes you can acquire as part of the main game.
Final verdict: Building a home in Skyrim is satisfying, but it isn’t a must-play experience. If you’re a high-level character, you don’t have much reason to buy Hearthfire, since you have already passed the point in the game where it would be the most useful. However, if you’re a first-time player (or looking to start again from scratch), developing your homestead alongside your character could be a lot of fun – and it only costs $5. This would have been great as an out-of-the-box feature, or even DLC near release, but releasing 10 months after the base game puts Hearthfire at a disadvantage, since most players no longer need what it offers.
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