Hearthfire finally hit the PlayStation 3 on February 19th, but at this point most people generally understand the idea behind Hearthfire. It isn't a lengthy quest-line, it doesn't introduce many new characters or locations, and it doesn't add much in terms of overall content, but what it does bring will make your time in Skyrim all the more enjoyable. I've nary met a player who didn't obsessively toil over the placement of his various materials, weapons, armors, and gems in their Breezehome; in fact, I've even seen short-lived memes making fun of the fact that you're as likely to spend as much time sorting through your inventory as you are questing. Hearthfire allows you to buy a plot of land, and with the help of expansion-specific crafting materials, build yourself a customized home that you can raise a family in or generally use as a base of operations for all your questing needs.
To get yourself up to three plots of land, you must impress the Jarls in three of the holds that don't yet offer you a pre-made home, including The Pale, Falkreath, and Hjaalmarch. You can actually buy all three plots of land and make three homes, but given the massive amount of time, money, and materials needed to fully customize just one house, the best way to enjoy Hearthfire to the fullest is to start a new save game and dedicate much of your time to these three homes instead of the pre-made homes. Truth be told, Breezehome in Whiterun will forever be my home, but with the addition of Hearthfire plots, I could see that changing very quickly.
Once you've bought your plot of land, you travel to said plot and see that there is a bench, a crafting table, and an anvil just to the side of where you are to build, as well as clay and stone deposits that never run out. From the bench, you decide what part of the house you're working on, then you move over to the crafting table where you can build - in a linear fashion - the series of items needed to create that area of your new home, starting with the foundation, then walls, then roof. Once you're done, you can return to the bench and decide what to do next. You start with a small cabin as well as a bunch of outdoor amenities - like a stable, a garden, or a smelter – before moving onto the main hall. From here you can add three additional wings to your home, each with three distinct options, which means you get to pick three of nine potential specialized rooms and additions. Coupled with the fact that you can buy all three plots, this means you can have all nine potential additions to your home, albeit in different locations. Such wings include an enchanting wing, an alchemy wing, a storage wing, a bedroom, a library, and so on. All pretty simple stuff, but they're key elements for an adventurer. If it seems confusing, don't worry; there's a book sitting on your crafting table that gives you all the details you need.
Futhermore, once the house has been built in its entirety, you can walk in and use the benches that appear in each room to fill your home with furnishings such as desks, chests, mannequins, a dinner table, book shelves, etc. Each room must be built from the outside, then furnished from the inside, and they all require their own set of materials that can be found, bought, crafted, or mined from outside. Once your home is built and furnished, you can send your husband or wife there to man the fort, adopt kids, or even hire a carriage and bard to make the place seem homelier. You can also tell your follower to stay back and act as a housecarl just in case some trouble befalls your home upon your departure. I personally don't see the benefit to any of these, and some of the different abilities require specialized kids bedrooms or a master bedroom to accommodate them, but for the true roleplayer it's a step in the right direction.
Hearthfire lacks the depth of the house building tool in The Sims, and it doesn't have the content or new locations of the other Skyrim expansions to really make it an absolute steal, but to criticise it too heavily on these fronts is to miss the point. Hearthfire isn't about depth or length, it's about being an important addition to Skyrim that makes the whole package a much better and more attractive deal. If you're the kind to complete the game before buying the DLC, you're not going to find it all that engaging; your quest has already concluded and a specialized home is something of a waste. Much like Dragonborn, Hearthfire can best be enjoyed by starting a brand new character from scratch and enjoying the benefits of a customized home right from the get-go; it makes the whole game more enjoyable, and I'd never want to play Skyrim again without it.
This review is based on a temporarily discounted digital copy of Hearthfire for the PlayStation 3.