The trailer for Skyrim's latest DLC, Hearthfire, had a lot of promise, inviting you to design your very own home in Skyrim and raise an adoptive child. While you're certainly able to build a house and adopt an orphan, there's a good chance you'll find yourself disappointed by how little creative input or customization this process actually involves.
You've probably already amassed a great deal of wealth and property in Skyrim, including homes in Whiterun, Riften, Markarth, Windhelm and Solitude. Hopefully you haven't spent the past week scouting out that perfect spot to build your evil mage tower in preparation for Hearthfire dropping, as you're only able to build your house on one of three preselected plots of land. To begin building your own home you'll want to make your way to one of the three remaining cities, Morthal, Dawnstar or Falkreath. Once you've spoken to the Jarl's steward you'll be able to procure the deed to your first plot of land, for the low, low price of 5,000 GP.
You're limited to a choice of nine types of room, most of which are already available in other, older Skyrim homes. Since you can only make three houses total, you'll only be able to build one of each kind of room. The houses you build end up becoming more of a mix and match than a real personal expression, and to top it all off you can't even choose which furniture goes into each room, just whether or not it's made.
There are a few handy new features in Hearthfire, though, like the addition of a house Steward. You'll now be able to stable up to three of your favorite NPCs in the homes that you build, and they'll be just where you left them should you ever need their help. Some of the rooms are useful for leveling, like planting a garden and alchemy tower to practice your potion making skills. Others are just for fun, like filling up your trophy room with the baddies that you've killed.
Once your house is complete you'll be officially qualified to adopt a child, so head over to the orphanage in Riften to get started. Interviewing to become an adoptive parent can be quite fun, especially when you're invited to declare yourself as a professional assassin.
Adopting a child offers slightly more choice than building your home, mostly because you can adopt any orphan you want. Unfortunately, the value of allowing the player to make this choice is completely undermined by the fact that you can barely tell one kid apart from another. You can play tag, hide and seek, scold them or give them money, the last of which feels like the most realistic part of the whole experience. Your kid doesn't actually grow up or develop, either, which makes interacting with them feel like kind of a waste of time.
Hearthfire is a great way to bask in your accomplishments if you've already acquired a lot of friends, money and stuff. Houses are convenient places to store and organize your possessions, and can really cut down on the time you might spend traveling between your favorite forge and the enchanter's table. However, because the cost of home building is so expensive and the rewards are so few, if you don't have a lot of goods or time invested in the game then this expansion probably won't be for you.
Bottom Line: Hearthfire does have a couple fun new features to play around with, but home building and child rearing just isn't interactive enough to feel genuinely personal.
Recommendation: If you're an endgame player that has to have it all, then Hearthfire is for you. If not, you might just want to hold out for that Game of the Year edition.
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Hearthfire
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform(s): Xbox 360