Well, the latest expansion for Skyrim came out on the Xbox 360 this week: The home moding DLC “Hearthfire”. Non-PC gamers around the world rejoiced “Finally! We can create cool houses and epic hideouts too!” I myself was amongst the jovial chorus, so I happily shelled out five dollars and sat by my TV, face aglow, as it downloaded. And much like a child who opens a box on Christmas morning only to find it filled with socks, the result was not what I expected.
To be fair, perhaps my expectations were a bit high. For months, I had watched videos on youtube and marveled as Skyrim moders form all over the internet created lush and vibrant woodland dwellings, towering deadric castles and mystical gleaming monoliths across the faces of the mountains. “Surely,” thought I, “if these causal crusaders could concoct such wonderful creations, then I can’t wait to see what the real professionals come up with next!” So it was with this bright feeling of hope, did I load my heavily played game once the download completed.
To begin with, I had no idea how to access my new content. Using my years of experience with Bethesda, I figured that if I fast traveled to one of Skyrim’s major cities and stood there long enough someone would show up and tell me what to do. Sure enough, upon arriving at Markarth, a courier was there with a message from a Jarl informing me that I had reached a point in my adventuring career where people actually want me to live in the same region they do. After five loading screens and 5000 of my hard earned gold, I was ready to start building my palace!
…Except wait. What I was looking at was not a blueprint for a palace… or a cathedral… or a giant magical fortress with elemental sentinels and my own private lagoon. It was a piece of paper telling me that if I got 20 iron ingots, fashioned them into several iron objects, and pressed “A” enough times consecutively, I would have a very modest house. “But surely,” Thought I, my naivety getting the better of me, “This is just the beginning! Once I have this modest house, surely I can trade it up for something bigger, better and flashier?” Hearthfire’s response was to sheepishly suggest adding a kitchen.
Now, I’m not trying to say that this DLC was bad, it simply just wasn’t GOOD. Sure, your house ended up looking nice by the end of your endeavors, but it didn’t in any way seem unique. At the end of the day, it had a dining room, a bed room and all the other various items you could have had in all the other houses you got with the game. To top it off, with the in-game houses you just had to pay ONE MAN a defined amount of gold, and you got all the cool stuff to have fun with. In this add on, I needed so many bloody iron ingots and sawn logs I found myself spending more time looking at the level up bar for my character on the loading screens than having any actual fun. Additionally the fact that some items need 3 nails, some need 4 nails and some need 6 nails, two iron ingots and seven pieces wood, might make the game more realistic, but at the cost of making it that much more annoying. The fact that so many items needed iron fittings as opposed to iron ingots, even though one iron fitting = one iron ingot was just a virtual slap in the face. It’s like the developers were trying to make crafting as arduous as possible in the hopes that it made you feel accomplished at the end because you “worked for it”.
Oddly, one of the features that I really enjoyed was the ability to adopt children. This was the other main attraction for this DLC and it was something that I actually thought would just be really annoying. I felt my virtual wife and I got along fine not talking and exchanging money, and we didn’t need any kids messing that up. Yet as I trudged through my house swearing violently that I didn’t have enough iron fittings, it was oddly heartwarming to have my adopted children happily greet me and stop me for a game of tag.
Overall like any do-it-yourself project, Hearthfire was frustrating and didn’t turn out like I wanted, but is still was something that makes me feel a little better looking back on what I did.