Platforms available on: Xbox 360
Price: 400 Microsoft Points
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: Role-playing game expansion
Skyrim felt like such a complete title, so it was always going to be intriguing to see how Bethesda would approach downloadable content. Early signs are promising - in Dawnguard, the developer wanted to provide an experience that could not be replicated in the main game. And although Hearthfire is a much less ambitious expansion by comparison, it continues that pleasing mentality.
Hearthfire doesn't flesh out the world further in the same manner Dawnguard did, but the cheap add-on lets the player build their own houses. When the expansion is installed, a courier will approach you with a letter from a Jarl (of either Dawnstar, Falkreath or Morthal) who will, if they deem you trustworthy enough, grant you permission to purchase a new plot of land for 5,000 gold.
Only a small house can be built at first and it begins very restrictively. You don't have control over the dimensions or where the windows and door go. Instead, you select the next part of the house to construct - foundation, walls and so on - and it's instantly built for you. That said, seeing the pieces come together and finishing it off with a roof is oddly quite fulfilling.
It's at this point where it starts to open up - options are available to either expand the house or decorate the interior. Blueprints exist for the main hall, kitchen, library, armory, trophy room, garden, animal pen and more, while an assortment of furniture, storage, shelves and various miscellaneous items can be forged inside with the right materials.
While there is some customisation in choosing which rooms to build and what monsters and animals to display in the trophy room (all of that is pretty cool), for a paid piece of content it's a bit disappointing that it's rather limiting.
Rooms are always built in a fixed place. Elsewhere, the fact that furniture can't be moved or customised in any way means that when you finish furnishing the - for example - bedrooms, it will just feel like a room found in a standard pre-built house. There's no opportunity to put your own stamp on the interiors, and that's probably the most lacklustre aspect about the expansion.
Skyrim's second paid add-on sounds great in concept but it ends up being debatable if it's worth paying for. For those who are already done with the game, there's little reason to return. The expansion is just one inconsequential slightly meaty side activity with no interesting new quests or locations. Meanwhile, players who love to role-play may be let down by the slightly restrictive nature of the content.
However, at 400 Microsoft Points, Hearthfire is sensibly priced. At its best, it's a neat distraction and a welcome change of pace from all of the slaying and looting.