The new Skyrim DLC: Hearthfire was released today and we have a review, as well as some tips for players getting started on the homefront.
As we did for Dawnguard, here we will discuss if the new Hearthfire DLC for Skyrim is worth the money and how it stacks up to some of the expectations for it.
Hearthfire was released today as a DLC for XBox at a whopping cost of 400MS Points or $5. That right there makes it hard to deny that it will be worth the cost, but will it be the right fit for every player? Not necessarily...
What does the add-on do for you?
It will allow you to purchse property in three of the holds (essentially the three holds where you didn't get to buy property in the standard game, excluding Winterhold - probably due to getting the arch-mage quarters). So, ignoring the "hold" names and giving you city names, your choices are: Dawnstar, Falkreath and Morthal. Or of course, all three if you desire.
Once you purchse the property and travel there, you will find a work area where you can begin planning and constucting your home. Though made up of many smaller stages, the main construction consists of five parts: First you build a small home and can simply use that if you wish. If you want something larger however, you will then be able to add onto that small home, turning it into essentially an entry hall for the main two story structure that is built. The final three steps will be wings on each side and rear of the house.
Your options on the wings are where you get a chance to customize your home a bit. Unfortunately, though there are enough options to fill your home full of all sorts of shelves, mannequins, weapons racks, etc; you will not be able to create entire wings to each specialty or 'theme' there is for characters; instead you will have to pick and choose. For example, options consist of armory, trophy room, storage room, enchanting tower, alchemy tower, library, kitchen, and green house - but you will only end up with three of those once your wings are added on. So if you play as a warrior, you will be able to create something grand with armories, trophy rooms and more. A mage can create a home with three tower wings for library, enchanting and alchemy. Someone after a more standard home can create wings with a kitchen, green house and storage. So unless you purchase all the homes and create different themes for each, you won't have it all in one home. Though, like I first said, you will be able to have enough storage and display options to still have access to everything a complete jack-of-all-trades adventurer will need in one home, you just won't get entire "theme" wings for everything.
The outside of the home can also be customized a bit with animal pens, stables, smelter, smithing areas and a few other options. You can also add farm animals, carraige drivers and more after you get your steward. The three different homes also have one unique outside options a piece: Falkreath gets a beehive if you desire, Morthal a fishery and Dawnstar a Mill. New animations have been added for working the mill, as well as working the Oven in the possible kitchen add-on.
A few tips for players diving into home-building:
Each property will come with enough supplies, sans Iron - you may want to stock up on Iron Ingots to make nails, hinges and more - to build the small home option. Once you decide to add onto that, you'll have to gather supplies. Sawed Logs can be purchased at the Half-Moon mill in Falkreath. If you speak to the woman there, she says she only serves Falkreath, but whatever logs you buy from her go into a "pile" that shows at any of the homes for use. Whether it was a bug or not for me on my playthrough, no other mill offered the option to buy logs, nor did cutting them myself add to my total.
You will also need large quantities of quarried stone and clay, both of these can be found on your property in unlimited quantities. Check the surrounding stone around your property, you'll find a section (usually with a pick-axe beside it) that has some slightly whitened veins through the grey rock and will give you the option to mine the rock. The clay is usually found resembling a dirt pile near the log stack in each area. For the rest of the materials you are on your own. Iron Ingots, you will need A LOT of them, especially if you get into buildling your own furniture as well. Other new materials like straw, glass, and goat horns you can buy from a general store (like Belethor's in Whiterun for example).
You have your new home, what now?
You have two options for decorating your home. One is to begin building all the pieces to go into your home yourself with the little mini-workbenches in each room. The other is to tell your steward to decorate the room for you. This works just like buying a home and decorations from a steward previously, in that you just leave and come back and it's all set up.
In some areas, you will have to put a little work into regardless though: your trophy room will need to have the trophies picked out and set up by you, your steward will only set the trophy bases up. And your garden/greenhouse areas will have to be planted with whatever sort of plant you wish to grow. Once done though, the house should work like any other in the vanilla game and allow you to decorate mannequins, fill bookshelves, and more.
How the heck do I get a steward?
The answer to this was easier than I made it. After checking around with Jarl's or the Bard's College about hiring a bard I finally just grabbed Lydia and took her with me. As soon as we arrived at the property the option to make her steward appeared.
Once she became the steward, additional dialogue options appeared and I was able to tell her to stock the stables and animal pens with horses, cows and chickens; hire a carriage driver and/or bard, and furnish any rooms I wanted.
Personally I went with having Lydia furnish my rooms after playing around with building furniture and finding out that you don't really get any customizing options other than choosing to not build one or two things. You don't get to choose where furniture or decorations go, they just appear there when you create them or a blank spot stays there.
What else can I do with a home?
Well, what good is creating a home without a family. You always had the spouse option before in Skyrim, but now you can visit the orphanage in Riften and adopt children. You may also find a couple orphan kids wandering cities now for adoption as well (like the little boy in Dawnstar always running food back and forth to the mines). I did not move my children to any of the new homes because I was still building at the time. I had already visited the steward in Whiterun and converted my alchemy lab there into a children's room so that was the only options of where to move them at the time.
These options will be about the only clue you get initially that you've added the DLC. A courier will show up if you are a homeowner and tell you the steward has new decoration options for you (the children's room) and he will also give you a note about adoption. Other than this, you'll have to visit the Jarl's (or primarily their stewards if you've already done favors for the Jarl) of the other holds and talk to them about buying property. If you haven't visited a hold before, you will have to do a few favors for the Jarl before they will sell you property. You don't necessarily have to be Thane (though you won't get a new housecarl/steward if you aren't), but usually you have to do enough things in the hold to fall a notch or two under earning the Thane title to be allowed to buy property.
Of note: to earn "Master Architect" you don't just have to build three houses, you have to build three homes complete with main halls and the three wing options.
What came up short?
Well, doesn't everything come up short for all of our dreams and expectations? So let's put aside any flights of fancy we have and look at a few things that might have realistically been done better.
All three homes are exactly the same -- The exteriors of the homes are all identical with the exception of choosing a tower wing instead of room wing. Not that they aren't gorgeous, but I sort of expected the exteriors to be unique to tha particular area the way the previous home purchases each had a unique style to them. I do have to say, if having one style was the only option though, they did choose a good looking design.
Decoration options were disappointing -- I wasn't expecting to create something on par with a totally customized modded home, but I was hoping to be able to pick where a book shelf would end up, or where a plaque would hang on the wall. Even if it was just a choice between certain places, it would have been nice. But as it is, you get the same option as when you buy a home in the standard game and that is the docorations/furnishings just go to their assigned spots.
That is really all I thought should have been a little better realistically. I'm sure we can all come up with a million other things we'd love to see done, but those were two things I think wouldn't have increased what the add-on was, which was just a home building mod. The only other idea I want to mention, wasn't one I expected myself but did see players discussing on a couple skyrim forums and that is item manipulation. (Where you can pick up a plate or other object and move it around) Some were hoping for this to improve being able to decorate homes by making it easier to pick things up, rotate them and set them where you want them (and have them stay there) but it did not change with this DLC. So if you love to decorate your homes, you'll still have to do the same tricks you did before to get new things on shelves and tables.
Was the DLC worth the money?
I play Skyrim both on XBox and PC and there has been a lot of talk about how mods make this DLC irrelevant for PC users. That is true is some regards.
Let me talk XBox players first (I'm leaving PS3 out of this for now because of all the issues they've had with adding Dawnguard, we have no idea what the status will be for that console). If you are a casual gamer (hard to imagine casually playing Skyrim, but I suppose it's possible) you may not get much from this DLC if you have completed everything unless you plan on another playthrough. There really is nothing added other than the three home options and adoption and if you don't plan on adventuring anymore, then you probably don't need to build some homes to go back and forth from. However, with the many players that dive into role-playing builds for their skyrim characters, I believe they will get a lot out of this inexpensive DLC. The homes are all good quality in appearance - think the Solitude home interior and you will be able to create a home with everything you need in it: smelter, smithing, enchanting, alchemy, all the storage you could possibly need and more. This add-on is a great option for players still working through the game or starting a new character and will allow them to have, once completed, what is the best home in the game.
Now for PC players. I have two views on this: 1- It's been compared to other "build your home" mods and frankly, I've tried them. They are neat and I don't like to knock mods because they are free and community developed, so they are like a gift. But since I was not the first (or last) to make the comparison, I'll put my two cents in... the Hearthfire DLC homes are superior to the homes I've seen that allow similar "do-it-yourself" construction from mods. BUT this takes me to my number 2- Several other, already completed home mods are far superior to what the completed Hearthfire homes are. Granted, you'll still have all the options you need with a Hearthfire home, but if you find a home mod you love, chances are, you will not be able to best it with this DLC. The customization and decoration (if the creator put it together in a way you love) is far superior to the rather standard way the Hearthfire homes come together. Personally I can probably think of half a dozen home mods off the top of my head I would use for my PC player home over the hearthfire homes. The only additional thought here is perhaps if Heathfire comes to PC, it will give modders additional tools to improve their own build-your-own-home mods. This is of course, assuming it even comes to the PC as no official announcement has been made about it.