Skyrim’s original release had enough content to keep gamers busy for literally hundreds of hours, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t want more. Hearthfire is less of an attempt to deliver new content than to simply add a few features to the game, and although they’re fun for a while, they don’t leave much of a lasting impression.
The biggest thing Hearthfire adds to Skyrim is the ability to build your own houses in several locations across Skyrim. In the original game, five pre-built houses were available, the biggest being Proudspire Manor in Solitude, and the smallest being Breezehome in Whiterun. Homes ranged from 5,000 gold to 25,000 gold, and could be furnished by the Jarl’s steward at extra expense. Hearthfire lets players purchase parcels of land for 5,000 gold each outside of Falkreath, Morthal, and Dawnstar where they can build a house instead.
These houses do offer the player customization. There are nine different additions available, and three can be built onto each house. The additions are: a large bedroom, a storage room, a kitchen, a greenhouse, an armory, a trophy room, an alchemy lab, an enchanter’s tower, and a library. Each house also has an entryway, a huge dining room, a smaller dining room, beds and shelves in the upstairs hallways, and a cellar with blacksmithing equipment. Outside, each house has a stable, a smelter, an outdoor garden, and an animal pen.
Many additions have unique features that can’t be found in other houses in Skyrim. The kitchen has an oven that can make new cooking recipes, the greenhouse allows you to grow a number of plants for use in either cooking or alchemy, the armory has a huge number of display cases and mannequins, the trophy room lets you use animal parts to make replicas of monsters you’ve slain for display, and the library has room for at least one copy of every book in Skyrim. Each house also has an additional outside feature: one boasts an apiary for bees, one has a fish hatchery for all your aquatic alchemy and cooking needs, and one has a grindstone for making wheat into flour, which is useful for cooking.
And it doesn’t stop there. You can hire a steward for each house to take care of business for you, which includes buying animals like horses, chickens, and cows, hiring a carriage to take you to any hold capital or small settlement for free, and hiring a bard to make the inside of your house more cheery. And while all these things are pretty amazing initially, the DLC does have some drawbacks that make it less fun.
First, all three house layouts are exactly the same, with the exception of the additions, depending on which ones you choose. Obviously, if you like, you can have three houses with greenhouses at the expense of other rooms. The additions are also very specific – only three are available for each side of the house (left, right, and back), so you can’t have any combination of additions on a house. Some of the additions don’t have much to recommend them, either. You don’t really need another bedroom, since there are already beds in the hallways. Even the alchemy lab and enchanting tower aren’t that practical, since each house comes with an alchemy lab and enchanting station in the main dining room. Each house also takes a huge amount of materials to build, including lumber, which can be purchased from any of Skyrim’s lumber mills, iron, clay, stone, steel, and some other rarer ingredients. These materials can take a long time to collect, since you have to build the house and all of its furnishings, so building three houses can get pretty tedious. There is no variation or choice in the furnishings of the house, either – everything is simply built from a pre-made floor plan provided by the game. Ultimately, this part of the DLC would have been more fun if a little more customization was available.
The other thing that Hearthfire lets players do is adopt children. Although players can get married in Skyrim, no children are ever born of these unions, so this adds a bit of a family dynamic to the game. Players can visit the orphanage in Riften to adopt children, but can also run into several disenfranchised children in various places who will essentially ask to be adopted. Bethesda really pulls at those Dragonborn heartstrings when little Lucia in Whiterun tells you that after her parents died, her aunt and uncle took over the farm and kicked her out. You can adopt up to two children as long as you have a house with a room for them to stay in. Rooms with beds for children can be purchased from the Jarl’s steward, although they will replace an already existing room in your house. If you build a house, there are children’s beds in the upper hallways. Even if you have multiple houses, you can still only adopt two children.
After you adopt a child, they will live in your house. You can give them gifts, like clothes, dolls, and wooden swords, and play games with them. They will also ask you for gifts intermittently, and ask for allowances, and possibly bring a pet home and ask to keep it. Other than this, they honestly don’t do much, and the novelty wears off rather quickly.
That’s not to say this DLC isn’t worth the $5 you’d have to spend on it. More places to store awesome loot is always a good thing, and the adoption mechanic is initially interesting. Just don’t expect this DLC to satisfy your desire for true extra content in Skyrim – if that’s what you’re looking for, Dawnguard and Dragonborn are more up your alley.