Although Skyrim‘s new DLC Hearthfire isn’t up yet on the PC, I wondered how it would hold off against the popular fan-made game addition, Build Your Own Home, so I played the former on the Xbox and the latter on the PC to see how they’d compare.
I’ve been pretty lucky with Bethesda games in that I’ve never really encountered any bugs. I mean, there was the sunken stablehand outside Whiterun and a few floating trees, but no real gamestoppers. I was therefore actually surprised when I couldn’t get the mod to start on the xbox 360 – a courier would arrive, but he would only give me the orphanage letter and not the letter from the Jarl. I tried visiting one of the three Jarls in question – Dawnstar, Morthal and Falkreath – but none of them had the topic. Luckily, it was an easy fix:
Exit game > delete DLC > load game > ignore error message > save > exit > re-download DLC > load game
This time, the courier gave me both letters and I was able to buy the land. I chose Falkreath because it looked like it had better weather. The plot of land was a pretty spot near a lake, and the property is accordingly called Lakeview Manor. This doesn’t work so well for a shack, so I figured I should build something suitably imposing. There’s a workbench next to your empty plot, and in best game crafting fashion, you have to load up your inventory with certain items which the workbench then uses to build the house. The foundations went up easily enough.
Then the problems started: you need an absolutely ridiculous number of materials to build your house. The blurb states that you can hire a steward to help out, so I gratefully took up the nearest offer, but she only brought in wood and stone – I was still stuck hunting down iron ingots, and there were hundreds – perhaps even thousands – required for the job.
I figured that I should be able to build my house in an hour or two, but it took about six hours of MMO-style grind to go to the various blacksmiths and traders in each city hunting down ingots and ore and other materials to complete my project. (You could also mine them nearby if so inclined.) This is where Bethesda really got things wrong: you don’t just need wood, stone and glass – you have to break down the iron ingots into individual nails and hinges and fittings, so what should be a light, fun minigame becomes very boring very quickly. Sure, it was my choice to add extra wings and bedrooms and to add in all the furnishings, but the way it’s designed means that unless you have at least almost everything in each room, it looks a little odd.
You can only have one of three schemes in each wing – so you can have an alchemy lab or a library, for example. I didn’t get as far as adopting a child, but I did build a cute child’s bedroom as well as a functional cellar (mead barrels and blacksmith equipment), kitchen and storage area. I also added animal pens and a stable outside, though I never worked out how to make plants grow in the garden. (I’m guessing you must buy seeds from somewhere, but I didn’t spot any on my travels.)
Once you get past the pain barrier, the mod becomes grimly satisfying – the sheer amount of effort you’ve put in makes the finished result more appealing. It is very cluttered (because you’re never quite sure where your new furniture is going to go so you might as well add everything), but it is also very beautiful. It’s certainly a house I can see my character using as a main base.
Build Your Own Home
Supernastypants’s mod for the PC works in exactly the same way as Hearthfire – using the workbench enables objects that were there all the time but invisible to the player. Again, it requires an absurd amount of materials, but at least you don’t have to make your own hinges. The omission of this extra step makes BYOH considerably more enjoyable to play.
While Hearthfire lets you choose to add a table or a chair, this mod just gives you the options of various themes and does the decorating for you. You can have a mage-themed living room and an assassin-themed basement if you so desire, though I wasn’t convinced that my house was particularly hunter-y.
The exterior additions look great, but the interior is lacklustre and overlit. There doesn’t seem to be any weather information for the cell, so you’re looking into nothingness through the gaps in the wood beams. There did appear to be some bugs with the workbench menu, and it definitely feels like a couple more patches will be needed before the mod is truly finished, but it’s still a useful player base that you can have fun building.
Implementation is everything, and while they’re both great ideas and hugely ambitious, neither quite hits that craft-your-own nail on the head. They’d both drive most people mad except for roleplay obsessives who go nuts for this sort of thing and will probably complain that you didn’t have to nail each individual bit of wood together to build it. I know these people (mentioning no names *cough* Korana) and they’d absolutely love either one of these game additions.
I’d therefore unhesitatingly recommend BYOH for those who want the best gameplay experience and Hearthfire for those who want the best house.