Today saw the second DLC for Skyrim, again arbitrarily locked for the next month or two to the X-Box 360 in an exclusivity deal pulled from the very arse-crack of a Hellmouth. But it’s still utterly terrible considering the game Bethesda actually made in the first place! It’s almost – no, it IS embarrassing.
Hearthfire is a nice idea in theory.
Oh crap, there I go! You see, “In theory” is a cop-out that anyone like me who actually likes a game will wheel out to somehow attempt to justify how utterly crap, broken, buggy or pointless something is because the reality in our heads transcends the space-time continuum and warps the very fabric of the universe that in our own hands, our own little self-contained pocket of Quantum Tunneling, it works. And invariably, it doesn’t, but we try to gloss over this.
So yes, in theory the Hearthfire DLC pack makes perfect sense. And yet in practice, it totally doesn’t.
You see, it’s a small DLC pack that adds a little bit of Roleplay to the mix. Kids can be adopted and you can build a house from scratch with your own bare hands. It’s a nice, simple sort of DLC pack that adds features to a game that perhaps it was lacking in the first place, but the kids aren’t exactly a thrill and that idea of building your own house invariably means wasting time making the bits and pieces at crafting stations and letting the game place them where they think they should go, so it’s not really your creation at all. It’s a timesink, and a pretty painfully obvious one at that!
The thing is, it shares the same issue that I had with Dawnguard – in that it effectively is Bethesda trying to do something that its PC community base has been doing for years now.
Dawnguard was awful too – glitchy, buggy and terribly written and that’s before you actually get to the fact it doesn’t appear to work for PS3 users (thereby shattering any notion of console equality, nicely done Bethesda!). The whole Vampires thing was kind of nice, but it was done in a half-baked and half-arsed fashion, much like the werewolf sideline in the game proper. There’s no real good reason to take it other than stat bonuses, you don’t need to transform and increase your notoriety because it makes the game harder. Just getting the bonuses or rewards is enough and then you can forget about it. Skyrim is a fantastic world, but consequence is a meaningless concept in it, and trying to make it have more meaning effectively cheapens it even more.
This is where the community tends to come to the rescue on the PC.
It doesn’t take much effort to find some damned fine content additions and gameplay tweaks for Skyrim. Skyrim Nexus is kind of the obvious place to go for this sort of thing, and what the playerbase has crafted in some cases over the past few months makes what Bethesda have made look positively amateurish. From unique armour sets to new mounts to improving the UI, textures and rendering all the way to a self-contained little expansion all of its own, the PC Crowd are arguably brilliant at this. There is a wealth of content and a huge number of tweaks and fixes to ensure that your experience in Skyrim is a fantastic, amazing one, and all of it is made by the fans, the people who seem to care most about the game and where it heads to.
Bethesda really shouldn’t be trying to do what this crowd has been doing for some time now (even throughout Oblivion). Charging £14.99 for Dawnguard to PC users was frankly an insult, and one that was so unbelievable you almost wanted to laugh. The fans had ostensibly already done this sort of thing, perhaps not as in-depth as Bethesda but certainly with less problems. 400 MS Points for Hearthfire sounds like a pretty sweet deal until you realise that buying 500 points costs £4.25 ($6.25). You can buy entire games with that on Steam. And Hearthfire is still outshone by user creations, making unique and fascinating abodes throughout the land you want to own without the boring tedium of having to timesink your way into them. The fans, the community, do this so much better. And it’s when you compare the likes of Moonpath to Elsweyr to Dawnguard that you can’t help but think that Bethesda really, genuinely doesn’t seem to ‘get it’, at least not in the way their users do.
Bethesda do make vast, interesting worlds but when it comes to small-scale content, the kind of intimate and interesting stuff, even in the default game you notice this is absolutely the weakest part. The grand quest also doesn’t entirely match up with the idea of Dawnguard and Hearthglen – the first, effectively, allowing you to ‘die’ as it were and the second assuming the quest doesn’t exist or is of lesser importance, that settling down and having children running around and building a house is somehow a meaningful distraction when you have huge zombie dragons flying overhead. It’s precisely because it comes from Bethesda that you genuinely have higher expectations and expect it to slot right in – this is their game, they made it for crying out loud! They more than anyone else should completely understand it inside and out, and it is becoming apparent that they kind of don’t.
Bethesda should stop with the DLC, especially the exclusivity deals which make them appear like they are in cahoots with Microsoft to undermine Sony and the PS3 for the rest of time. That’s a really shameful situation that doesn’t do Bethesda any favours at all. If they must do DLC, then approach the better examples from the userbase. Surely this can’t be that hard? Why not allow a system whereby fans can get mods “authorised” for use on the 360/PS3? Seems to work just fine for Steam, and fans will adapt and overcome at a much faster pace than the giant, lumbering oaf that Bethesda kind of is now. And as a result, then Bethesda can get on and actually do the stuff they are good at – new lands, new islands, new places to explore and new space for the fans to effectively fill up with new and exciting content.
Because the fans genuinely seem better at that small-scale stuff than Bethesda and unless it can outclass them in terms of quality, whatever they ask for DLC will be an embarrassing rip-off, a worthless addition that PC users will need or be thankful for.
Make a proper expansion Bethesda. Add Tamriel and/or Morrowind to the landscape. Do what you are good at, and find ways of ensuring the fans can enjoy and share what they are good at as well.
Just stop making mods – because you’re pretty bloody hopeless at it.