Sep 172012

Initially, life as the only dovakin is fun and filled with adventure, but sadly there is a point where it plateaus. After you’ve vanquished Alduin, crushed the Stormcloak rebellion, ascended to the helm of the College of Winterhold, the Thieves Guild, and the Dark Brotherhood there is really little else to do. Unfortunately, you can’t yet tame a herd of dragons and ride them in the skies, raining fiery destruction down upon the masses of Tamriel, so what else is there for a battle-worn adventurer to do except hang up their sword and shield, and settle down? You may have the finest pre-fabricated mansion money can buy, but now with the new Hearthfire DLC pack, you can customize the home of your dreams and even fill it with a couple of adopted kids.

The Good
After your Hearthfire download completes and you’ve loaded a save file, simply walking outside will set things into motion. After a few moments, a courier should approach you with a couple of letters. This first is from Constance Michael (or maybe from Gerlod the Kind if you didn’t kill her) at the Honorhall Orphanage of Riften, and it is preaching the virtues of adopting one of Skyrim’s many orphans. If you are anything like me, you will feel a slight pang of guilt upon reading this letter, because there is a good chance you have killed at least one of these poor ragamuffin’s parents during your adventures. The second letter you will receive from the steward of one of the cities you own property in, and it will let you know of the availability of a children’s bedroom set available for your city home. However, it is doubtful you paid five dollars for DLC only to adopt children, so you might as well build a fresh home to expand your family in.

I never saw a letter like this, but here’s proof it exists!

Once you’ve decided where you’d like to build your new home (you may build in Falkreath, The Pale, or Hjaalmarch) and plopped down the 5000 gold for the land and starting materials, simply head to your plot where you will find a chest of building materials, an anvil, a drafting table, and a carpenter’s work bench. First pick what aspect of the house you’d like to build on the drafting table, and then scoot over to the carpenter’s work bench to begin construction. Building the individual elements of your new dwelling happens much like any other crafting activity in the game, so it is a relatively quick and painless process.

You will have roughly enough materials to build the basic house, but to build the main hall you will need to do some searching. Some of the materials you need; such as clay, iron ore, and quarried stone; are readily available in seemingly infinite quantities at your plot. Other materials, like sawed logs, will be more difficult to obtain. Thankfully, if you are Thane of a city and have a house carl in your employ, you can ask them to follow you to your new homestead which will open up dialogue options for you to offer them a new job as steward of your plot. Once they’ve accepted, you may buy certain materials directly through them. Your steward will also tell you the nearest place to buy the things they can’t get for you. It was nice to have a use for the infamous Lydia, besides her usual role as a pack mule and chronic complainer. All in all, the process of gathering materials and building the complete shell of your home will take an hour or so, but that’s when you get to move inside and use the various workbenches to furnish and decorate your abode as you see fit. All of these interior elements require more gathering and purchasing, so expect to spend quite a bit of time tweaking things until they are to your liking.

The drafting table is where you’ll decide what to build next.

The Bad
It seems that there is absolutely no direction in-game as to how you should go about building your dream home. Where do you get the plot of land? How much does it cost? What about materials? Actually, there doesn’t seem to be any mention in the game of the fact that you can build your own home. A simple nudge from any NPC in the game would have been helpful, but in the end an Internet search was the only way to find an answer. As mentioned before, there are only three areas available for you to build within, and much like buying one of the pre-made homes, you need to be on the Jarl’s good side in order to open up the option to purchase land. If you don’t already have good standing with the Jarl of the area you’d like to reside in, just chat with him and complete any quests he offers. At this point in the game, most characters will be so highly leveled that these tasks will be simple and take only minutes to complete.

The quest tracker lacks any intelligence when it comes to directing you through the steps of building your home as well. Once I was out of lumber, I was directed to go to Half Moon Mill to purchase more. Unfortunately, I had already completed a quest to slay the vampire inhabitants of the mill, so with no one there I was unable to purchase any wood. I traveled to every other mill in Skyrim and was either unable to find the owner, or they wanted me to complete some awful and menial task to open up the option of buying lumber. Ultimately, Lydia was the only one able buy wood, so it is recommended to not even bother with the mills.

Adopting children offered similar frustrations in regards to lack of guidance. I spoke to Constance Michael at the orphanage in Riften, thinking my lovely lakeside manor was perfect for a child. I had several beds, tables, shelves, trunks, a garden, and a stable. However, Constance only kept telling me to come back when I had a house with a room suitable for children. I went back to the manor, looked through all the available furniture I could build again, and realized there was a specific “Child’s Bed”, so I built two of those. Back to the orphanage I went, only to find out my home was still unsuitable. Why was it still unsuitable? How could she even tell all the way from Riften? These were the questions that plagued me as I stared at the loading screens while fast traveling back and forth.

Finally, I relented and searched the Internet again. I found you your children need either a chest or a dresser to store their belongings in. Why couldn’t Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I built two children’s chests and the only dresser I could find in the main entryway. This seemed to make my sprawling manor finally suitable for Constance, so I grabbed two orphans to take home with me.

Home sweet home!

If you are an adventurer who has sucked every last drop of goodness from Skyrim, then spending five bucks on Hearthfire may be a good idea for you. You are sure to get a few more hours of playtime out of the add-on, and if you are the type of gamer that likes sims, then you will go hog wild over the idea of building and customizing your own home. Adoption doesn’t really add too much to the game, but the little brats give you goodies like potions now and then so it’s worth the effort. If you aren’t above going outside the confines of the game for direction on how to complete the tasks needed to play Hearthfire to its fullest potential, then it’s time to dig out the tome of your dragonborn’s story and add in a chapter about him settling down in the (usually) peaceful countryside, with our without a family – at least until a cooler expansion comes out, like one allowing dragon mounts.

Skyrim: Hearthfire

Good amount of added play time for the price, watching the house form as you craft its various elements is fun, sad orphan babies give you loot occasionallySome factors of this DLC pack seem a little glitchy, and there is little to no natural direction given in-game, causing gamers to look elsewhere for help.
VerdictIt's hard not to feel ripped off when something doesn't seem to work quite as it's supposed to, but it's also hard to get mad over five dollars spent to squeeze a little more fun out of a great game like Skyrim.

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