The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is edging up to its first birthday this November and the game just keeps getting bigger. Bethesda announced its latest downloadable content for Xbox 360 on Tuesday. Hearthfire will run you $5 (400 Microsoft points) on Sept. 4. It’s cheaper than July’s Dawnguard expansion, but it’s also more limited in scope. Rather than a grand adventure fighting vampires, werewolves, and snow elves, all Hearthfire does is let you build a home.
That alone might be worth $5 for some people though. As described in an announcement trailer at Bethesda’s official blog, Hearthfire gives you the whole homestead experience, buying a plot of land in Skyrim’s wilderness and building a house out of raw materials. Your home can be catered to your specific style of play too. Big on alchemy? Make yourself a greenhouse and an outdoor garden for cultivating ingredients. Hearthfire also lets you more properly build a family. You and your in game spouse can’t pull a Fable and actually get pregnant, but you can adopt now. For anyone looking to complete the fantasy of sitting on the back porch in a home you built for your family, watching the sun go down and waiting for the next dragon attack, have at it.
Hominess is something Skyrim excels at. While the game attempts to make you feel like you’re part of a grand story that redefines the history of a country, it’s far more accomplished at cultivating personal moments. No one discusses how great the dialog in Skyrim is when you finally help the rebels topple the elf-friendly monarchy. They talk about how incredible it was when they scaled a mountain and accidentally unearthed a dead Dragon Priest or helped a random stranger with bandit problems on the road home one day. Hearthfire’s lack of story content is actually a good thing—It’s unfettered, personal world-building content.
Which is all the more reason it should be free. Hearthfire is just shy of Oblivion’s Horse Armor in terms of price gouging the audience. At one-third the price of Dawnguard, you’d expect there to be a comparable amount of content, but Hearthfire doesn’t change the game in any fundamental way. Bethesda has given away improvements like mounted combat for nothing as part of software updates to the game. Why is Hearthfire different?