DLC Review: Hearthfire (Skyrim, PS3)

It seems strange to have waited for so long to get Skyrim’s DLC on the PS3, then receive all three in consecutive weeks, but sure enough it’s week 2 in the Skyrim DLC-athon which can only mean one thing: Hearthfire.

For those who haven’t heard about it from the 360 release, Hearthfire is at the far end of the spectrum than last week’s Dragonborn add-on. Instead of a hefty price tag and vast new quest and side-missions, Hearthfire offers no quests, no new weapons and no dragon riding. What it offers instead – for a tiny £1.99 this week – is the ability to build yourself a house from scratch. Pretty cool eh? Well yes, but not quite as great as it initially sounds.

When I first heard about Hearthfire my mind instantly jumped to one idea: a log cabin on top of a mountain, out in the Skyrim wilderness and miles from any other settlements. Gorgeous views, room for a hot tub and a pool table would have been nice too, but reality gives us something else. Instead you can pick one of three areas; Hjaalmarch, Falkreath or The Pale. After forking out some cash to buy the plot of land you’ll be able to travel to the new spot in question, where you’ll find a coincidental and helpfully placed workbench coupled with a few tools and an unwavering supply of raw materials such as clay in which to craft all of the parts to the house. But this is no building simulator, nor (you’ll be glad to hear) is it a Sims add-on for Skyrim. There’s very limited flexibility with what you build, and while you can choose whether you add a kitchen, an armoury or whatever else you can’t decide on where it goes. It just magically appears. You can buy all three plots if you like though, so you can always setup different styles of houses in each spot – a weapon based house in one place, a more magical dwelling in another, that sort of thing.

Similarly you can’t decide on the style of house either. Bang goes my log cabin. Instead you start with a small house, which if you choose to extend becomes the entrance hall to the main attraction, which in turn can spring a variety of wings to hold your stuff. You can craft various bits of furniture and display kit to hold and display all of your belongings, which is a nice touch for those who like to show off. You’ll be showing off to yourself obviously, what with Skyrim being an entirely single player affair, but it can make an initially empty looking house more personalised. As with the rooms themselves these items get plonked where the game chooses, not where you decide, but with a game that’s already creaking at the seams it seems like an unfortunately sensible idea to keep things within set limits.

It’s not all house-based. You can adopt a child (although I’m still puzzled by the usefulness of this) and buy a fancy cart which mimics fast travelling but makes you feel a little more like you’re one of the posh people in Skyrim. You can create bee-hives on your land, and you’ll occasionally need to defend your manor from bandits and nasty things. It won’t make you come back to the game if you’ve already finished it all that’s for sure, but it’s an unusual and interesting thing to have during a standard play through.

Now here’s the weird thing. From reading this you might not be too impressed, but this genuinely adds a little something to the game. It’s something personal that nobody else will have, it’s your equipment hanging up, your spare weapons sitting around looking dangerous and strangely sexy, your choice of rooms. And even though you can’t rename the house to something hilarious it’s worth a couple of quid to give you something else to sink your time into. If you’d rather spend your time hunting through dungeons, fighting dragons and finding new and exotic locations then this is a total waste of time – don’t even bother thinking about it. But those of you who love the exploring, love treating Skyrim as your own back yard and love to spend time just milling about enjoying what the world has to offer will really enjoy this.

Hearthfire therefore isn’t for anyone, and definitely shouldn’t be an instant purchase for everyone who owns Skyrim, but for the right gamers it’s a cheap extra (at least it is until Wednesday when it goes up to £4) that will let you while away even more hours in this amazing world.

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