There are a few things that need to be said about Hearthfire upfront: there aren’t any new quests, raises to the level cap, or new enemies to be slain. Unlike the Dawnguard and Dragonborn expansions, Hearthfire is the add-on designed to appeal to one’s inner homebody when they’re not busy slaying dragons or otherwise adventuring all over Skyrim. Namely, adding the ability to buy land and make a house from the ground up.
Once the Dragonborn has done enough for the Jarls of Morthal, Dawnstar, and Falkreath to be a trusted thane, they can finally buy plots of land with which to build a house on. This process is a bit different than what was in the standard game, requiring the building of the initial frame of the house followed by its various furnishings and additions. Building said additions requires materials that can be done through smithing and by workbenches scattered around the estate. Once built, the pieces of furniture immediately show up, so there’s no time delay.
“A lot that can be built ”There’s quite a lot that can be built into just one house, so anyone seeking to fully deck out their pad is going to be making plenty of trips to the local sawmill and shopkeepers to get the needed material. It’s assumed by this point the player has done enough adventuring and collected enough cash to justify all the extravagance of building a manor—none of it comes cheap, but at the very least it’s a good excuse to sell off any junk lingering in your inventory.
Every tiny addition or building of a material levels up smithing, so putting enough work into each house is essentially like smithing a ton of weapons and armor. The real boon is having everything you could possibly need in one place: storage, alchemy and enchanting tables, tanning racks, shield racks, weapon racks, library, strongboxes, safes, grindstones, workbenches, and the list only goes on. It’s very easy to have it all under one roof, removing much of the work from traveling place to place to find what you were looking for.
“A few limitations ”Those that want to feel even more opulent can name a companion their house steward, which is pretty much the person that overlooks the house and can buy materials or other things as needed—including animals, bards, and carriage drivers. If that still isn’t enough company, there’s always the option to adopt children. The Dragonborn will receive a message from the orphanage and is allowed to adopt up to two kids, though the choices aren’t particularly enticing. Each child feels indistinct from the other, and interaction is limited to either giving them gifts or them giving you a few items.
Hearthfire isn’t entirely devoid of action, however. Bandit raids and skeever infestations will randomly occur and need to be taken care of, but otherwise your house is essentially a safe haven from danger. There are a few limitations to what you can do with your house additions, though. There can only be one type of wing for each of the three sections—armory, alchemy tower, trophy room, library, etc—so there’s only so much customization one could do. It’s more like picking out the general layout of how things are going to look versus picking out each individual piece for a house that’s uniquely you.
Limitations aside, Hearthfire might be the least necessary add-on for Skyrim but it does pack in a lot of content for the asking price of five bucks. It’s a long way off from the days of overpriced horse armor, with the tangible benefit of having all the things a player could ever need in one location, not to mention showing off and cataloging all of the rare treasures acquired through hours of intense adventuring. Hearthfire will appeal to the player that has made enough headway to justify buying the add-on but for those constantly on the road or haven’t been burdened yet with too much stuff to carry around, it might seem too superfluous to justify the purchase.