Alice: Madness Returns is the much anticipated follow up (by me, anyway) to 2000’s PC/Mac game American McGee’s Alice – the dark and gritty telling of Alice’s post-Looking Glassadventures in what has now become a twisted version of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. The original game had Alice following an anorexic, pierced Cheshire Cat around a grotesque Wonderland, presumably due to Alice’s inclement insanity, slashing her way through the Red Queen’s guards amongst other familiar faces from Carroll’s universe with a bloody knife, and the sequel delivers more of the same.
It’s no secret I’m a huge Bethesda and Elder Scrolls fan. When the Hearthfire add-on launched, I was incredibly excited for the opportunity to build my own custom house. I must have spent tens of hours in Oblivion decorating my little cottages and then in Skyrim making my mark in places like Proudspire and Vlindrel Hall – Hearthfire definitely one-upped even those!
The thing that surprised me most was that you can build 3 houses. Three! No more whining about not having a house in Falkreath, Morthal and Dawnstar!
Let’s take a look at the main components, shall we?
Designing: After jumping through all the hoops (radiant quests) to get the Jarl of each province to sell the land, you arrive at your little homestead to find a drafting table, a carpenter’s table and an anvil. Your first step is to create a small, square house (don’t worry – this will eventually be your entry hall). From there, you begin to create a main hall which will connect all your additions like a library, kitchen, bedrooms, alchemy tower, greenhouse, etc. The choice in how you create your houses is entirely up to you. Some fun extras are a stable, garden, animal pen, smelter and a few regionally specific items.
Stewards: These guys and gals are great. They help you get supplies, decorate and even hire other staff like bards and carriage drivers. You can convert other housecarls like Lydia in Whiterun to be your steward as well as a few select followers. Not all will qualify, however, so here’s a quick cheat sheet.
Additionally, if you become a Thane in the region, your new housecarl can become your steward. It’s important to note that you will need to complete the first part of your house before hiring a steward.
Building: Bethesda doesn’t make this easy. You need a TON of Iron Ingot to create things like fittings, hinges and nails. Luckily other supplies like lumber can be purchased at mills or via your housecarl (steward). As a side note, your Smithing skills will get a boost from all the ironwork, so Hearthfire could be good to do early if you want to level quickly. I believe you can start this DLC at level 9, however, you’ll need lots of cash so sell all the loot you get from cave exploration!
Decorating: The slow way to do this is ask your steward. For instant gratification assuming you have the supplies, you can build things yourself. There are workbenches in every room to create furniture, chandeliers, wall hangings and much more. I went with a hybrid approach; after seeing what the steward bought (this could take in-game weeks), I created extra stuff. Patience isn’t my forte.
Adopting: Yep. That’s right! You can now adopt an annoying adorable kid to live in your home. After you’ve attained a child’s bed and some furniture, simply go to the orphanage in Riften. There you can choose which orphan will be your new son or daughter. I believe there are other kids that you can adopt as well, but I went straight for the orphans. They can live with you in any of your three custom homes or you can modify one of the pre-existing houses to create a child’s room.
In sum, Hearthfire adds a rich layer of customization to an already beautiful game. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you should. Go forth and build up your homesteads!