Bethesda broke new ground with the fifth installment in its long running The Elder Scrolls series late last year. The game, which won universal acclaim, and was hailed for its unprecedented marriage of depth and accessibility, was like a single player MMO. And not only did it have the traditional role playing suspects like experience, a skill tree, leveling, quests, character classes, and more, it was also notable for literally giving the player an entire world to live in, in what can only be described as a thoroughly engrossing medieval fantasy world simulation.
One of the many such elements that Skyrim offered was property. You could theoretically buy homes and move into them, furnish them, and basically use them as glorified depositories, dumping all your unneeded equipment there, while you went out questing and found new stuff. You could also marry and move into a home with your wife. The scale of all these activities, however, only served to highlight the glaring limitations placed on you: you could only move into pre made homes (though you could furnish them to an extent) and you could never have children.
No more! To address these problems, Bethesda has released the second expansion pack for Skyrim, although truth be told, its more of a glorified DLC pack than it is a full fledged expansion. Hearthfire promises to address all your complaints about the lack of home building and family building in a role playing game, by expanding its scope to basically incorporate The Sims into its fold too. Or well, that’s the idea.
Because you see, Hearthfire works. It just doesn’t work as well as you’d want it to.
Because for example, Skyrim is a massive place. It can take several minutes, sometimes an entire gaming session, to walk across. There are picturesque creeks, valleys, hills, mountains, forests, small settlements, big cities… and theoretically, you should be able to build a house anywhere you want, right? But you can’t. That’s the worst part. You pick from three predetermined locations, and that’s where your house is built. And I hope you like Dawnstar, Falkreath and Morthal, because you can only make homes there. Once you pick the city, you don’t get to pick the plot. You’re assigned the plot automatically once you pay 5000 gold to the Jarl of the city.
I’m sensing Skyrim is a socialist economy.
Anyway, once you get your house, you get to choose from premade rooms, a grand total of nine. You don’t actually construct the house, you just place the rooms around. The rooms themselves can’t be customized beyond the furniture, which also you cannot make; you get to choose if you want it, but you can’t do anything beyond that. In other words, it’s just a series of menu navigations, and you can’t actually customize or personalize any aspect of your homebuilding, from where you live, to what your house looks like, to what’s actually in there.
Hearthfire adds more than just homebuilding, but it fails at most of that too. For example, Hearthfire finally lets you have a kid… but you can only adopt one, you still can’t conceive one. I mean, seriously, this is an M rated game, and sex is taboo?
Anyway, adopting a kid is sort of fun. You go to an orphanage and interview to get one (‘I’m a professional thief with the Thieves Guild), and you get to pick whichever kid you want. You can play with your kid, you can scold him, you can give him money… but it all feels empty, bland, hollow, because the kid never grows. It’s sort of like the first Sims game. No scratch that, it’s exactly like the first Sims game.
Hearthfire isn’t a complete strike out, though. It opens up newer homes (and thus newer ‘banks’) for you to store your stuff in. Itallows you to hire ‘stewards’ which are your NPC companions, and they will stay at your house for whenever you need them (which saves you the trouble of trudging all across Skyrim to find them), and it offers up the convenience of having a carriage outside your new home that will take you anywhere you want. For the asking price, it’s probably even well worth the investment if you’re even a semi serious Skyrim player. It’s just, I can’t help but judge it against what I feel it should have been, as opposed to what it is, and so, I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
You can make your new home, adopt a child, hire a carriage to take you all over Skyrim, hire a 'steward;' most of these features enhance the core role playing gameplay
The actual homebuilding and child adopting sucks, there are no customization features offered, Hearthfire falls short of its promise