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Skyrim, or How Not to Make a PC Game
by Eric Schwarz on 11/11/11 12:15:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

As with many, I have been looking forward to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with both intrigue and trepidation.  Bethesda Softworks have long been a developer who both baffle and amaze in the most extreme of ways, and usually one has to overlook a lot of problems and outright bad design choices when it comes to their games in order to have fun (or install a thousand mods).  As a PC player, I generally expect Bethesda to deliver, if not the most polished and native PC games ever, at least a degree of quality that allows me to play their games without too many issues.

After spending a couple of hours with the game, there's no other way for me to say it: Skyrim is one of the worst PC ports I have ever had the displeasure of playing.  Though many issues will likely be fixed and improved as time goes on, and undoubtedly mods by more enterprising gamers will help additional problems, the release state of Skyrim is, frankly, inexcusable.  "Appalling" is not a word I use too lightly to describe a game, but it's the only one that fits here.

User Interface?  What's That?

After Fallout 3's interface left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I wasn't expecting Skyrim's interface to astound - indeed, preview footage lead me to believe that it was a classic case of Bethesda once again trading in functionality for looks.  Fair enough, that's nothing new.  I can struggle through the UI, even if it's a bit wonky, until someone comes out with a replacement.  Unfortunately, Skyrim's PC user interface is quite possibly the clunkiest and most difficult I have ever seen in a game made after the DOS era.  I have played games from 1985 that were infinitely more usable than Skyrim; that a modern game makes so many elementary mistakes suggests a certain kind of malevolence, not simple laziness.

The first sign things aren't as good as they could be comes before the game even begins.  The main menu is as sparse as can be, but is lacking features as basic as the ability to change settings before jumping into the game.  Why is this the case?  I can only speculate, but it probably would have required Bethesda to edit a couple of lines in an XML file somewhere, far too much effort to even bother considering.  Things take a nosedive soon after, as one realizes that not only are there standard menu items missing, but that the mouse doesn't even seem to work half the time.  That's right, even on the main menu, most of the "buttons" you'll find don't actually do anything - you need to use the keyboard.

Despite what it looks like, that "X to Delete" is not a button.  Also: click the load button and decide you want to go back?  Have fun figuring out how (hint: Alt+F4 is easier).

This inconsistency in where the game allows mouse controls extends to the main game even once you're past all the introductory stuff - even in character creation I found that the assigned hotkey to finalize my character, "R", didn't work, while clicking the tooltip did.  Many more critical game functions, such as manipulating the world map, or assigning favorites and hotkeys, feature similar inconsistencies, with some hotkeys not working and others being mandatory.  The game is also quite poor at communicating certain information in the interface itself (the first time I went to a shop, I accidentally bought a ton of equipment because it wasn't clear if I was buying or selling), but those are more general interface concerns I'll save for another time to pick on.

Other issues, like mouse acceleration being forced on and impossible to remove without an INI tweak, or the game defaulting to "Xbox 360 Controller - On" when started, even without a controller plugged in, or needless breaks from convention ("Tab" instead of "Esc" to exit menus) show just how little thought or care was put to the PC version's interface, and how little priority was given to this version in the game, or foresight given to what its players might want and expect.

Edit: I have to at least in part take back some earlier complaints I had listed here.  The game was patched today and apparently fixed some of the interface problems with unresponsive and inconsistent controls and menus.  Either way, those problems shouldn't have been in the game to begin with, but it's nice to see Bethesda on the ball.

"Customize" is a Four-Letter Word

Heavily tied to the horrendous UI design in Skyrim's PC port is the incredible lack of foresight demonstrated in the game's various customization options.  Some of these things, such as the inability to change certain game settings in-game, are unfortunate, but predictable considering previous Bethesda games.  There are, however, yet more problems which are clearly the result of extreme incompetence, ineptitude, or laziness, which extend to the most basic functions of the game.

Key remapping is something that you'd think would be a standard feature in a game, and that would work.  Bethesda, it seems, have decided that getting such a feature working isn't critical to releasing a triple-A product.  Though key remapping is in the game, whether or not it actually works properly is a crapshoot.  Many functions in the game can't be remapped, whether that's certain hotkeys or interface elements.  Fair enough - it's unfortunate, but not all games allow for player-customized hotkeys, so I can forgive Bethesda for that.

The "Favorites" menu is reserved for those who avoid the temptation to rebind their keys.  No spell for you!

Less forgivable is that many key bindings outright conflict with other interface elements and can almost entirely break the user interface of the game.  After setting up my standard "Bethesda game" control scheme that I've been using since Morrowind, I found almost immediately that those controls were incompatible with Skyrim.  The first sign something was wrong was when I went to "loot all" from a container using the hotkey of "R" and found that my camera perspective swapped to third-person.  Okay, whatever, rebind the third-person camera key, no big deal, right?

Unfortunately, things soon became worse.  After rebinding the hotkey for the Favorites menu to "F" and the auto-walk key to "Q", I found that Favorites menu didn't want to open anymore.  Curious, I pulled up my inventory and tried assigning some items to the Favorites - only it didn't work.  I spent the first hour of the game assuming the Favorites menu was completely non-functional, maybe because I hadn't unlocked the ability to use it yet or something.  Turns out, the "F" key is holy ground - because it controls the assigning of items to the Favorites menu, rebinding it to perform another function during regular gameplay, even a related function, makes it impossible to assign items and spells to it.  The Favorites menu, I should note, is a critical component of the game and outright necessary for any sort of convenience when using a large number of weapons, items and spells - that this bug wasn't caught shows a severe lack of play-testing on Bethesda's part.

Console = Cheater

Using the console in games to manipulate quest variables, add items to the inventory, to noclip through walls, and so forth has been a standard practice of players for many years, and even more so for Bethesda games - not because Bethesda players are damn dirty cheaters, but because the number of bugs in Bethesda games almost necessitates the occasional use of the console in order to avoid running into problems, whether that's getting stuck on the terrain, a critical item being lost or disappearing, or a quest not functioning properly.  Again, no hard feelings; it's an open-world game and sometimes things can go wrong.

Except it seems that Bethesda would rather not have its players making any changes using the console.  While it is fortunately enabled by default (unlike many other games), even so much as hitting the tilde key ("~") is enough for the game to permanently lock the player out of the Steam achievements the game so readily boasts as one of its key features.  That's right: get stuck in a Bethesda game due to a bug, and you have to choose between getting un-stuck, or losing out on your achievement.  Granted, restarting the game and avoiding the tilde key will allow you to continue on to earn achievements, but this introduces an additional level of tedium, as you'll need to restart the game every twenty minutes because you explored just a little too much in an Elder Scrolls game.

Should you "accidentally" fry a quest-critical NPC, you'd better not try using the console to bring him back to life.  Cheater.

This change was actually added in Fallout: New Vegas, because some players criticized Bethesda for their leniency regarding Fallout 3's achievements.  In Fallout 3, the achievements were actually unlocked using a set of console commands, just like manipulating any other standard game variable, so players could simply type in a few commands and get their Gamerscore maxed out.  Bethesda's response at the time was apathy, but apparently the outcry was great enough that they introduced the "console commands = cheater" measure in New Vegas.

However, what was a bad design choice then is still a bad design choice.  I can understand maybe they had to put such a restriction in place due to technical limitations in the New Vegas engine, but when Skyrim's new "Creation" engine has been so hyped up, one would expect it'd be possible to introduce some sort of counter-measure to prevent cheating, without forcing players to avoid the console entirely.  Apparently, expecting this was too much, and so now players who want to get around bugs in the game are being inconvenienced and punished for it, either by being denied their achievements, or by repeated game restarts.

There's another big problem with such a system.  I'm a gamer who's fairly sensitive to field-of-view; as a long-time PC player I'm comfortable with a standard 4:3 field-of-view of 90 degrees, and occasionally can tolerate lower FOVs depending on the game (I'm much more comfortable with low FOVs in third-person games than first-person ones).  In order to change the FOV to a usable setting in Skyrim, I have to use console commands... which in turn means that I have to choose between basic playability, and achievements plus motion sickness and disorientation.  Thanks, Bethesda.

Bomb the QA Department

One final damning point about Skyrim's PC port - it's horribly, pathetically optimized, and has major compatibility issues.  Right from the bat, I knew that something was wrong when my high-end system was getting framerates in the low 20s from time to time, and when performance did not improve upon lowering the graphics options.  Things became even more suspicious when I realized that there was no rhyme or reason for any of the framerate drops - whether I was outside in the overworld, the terrain stretching into the distance, or inside a tiny shop the size of a prison cell, the game's framerate fluctuates all over the place.  There's no question about this: Skyrim is badly optimized.

A second issue I immediately ran into was an intense audio distortion - crackling, skipping and popping most commonly heard in dialogue, but also in many of the game's environmental sounds.  No in-game audio options helped and there seemed to be no relevant settings in the game's INI files to help.  On a lark, I went to my Windows Sound Properties page and dropped my sound card's bit rate from 96,000 Hz to 44,100 Hz.  Instantly, the problem was gone - and instantly, I was frustrated at the fact that once again, it was clear Bethesda had foregone so much as basic compatibility testing.

Dragons?  Pfft.  This bread is the most challenging scene Skyrim has to offer your video card.

While my problems from there on out were smaller, I've heard of a number of people have experienced severe graphical glitches, including corrupt textures, anti-aliasing incompatibilities, and strange flickering black marks across the screen while playing, all of which hint at a rushed and completely apathetic release with very little testing.  This goes beyond basic optimization and into the realm of "did not even make an effort."  If Bethesda think that this product is fit to sell, then Bethesda are clearly not fit to receive a single penny from me in the future.

All of the preview footage for Skyrim I'd seen was for the Xbox 360 version, with the PC version only featured in screenshots.  Many PC-focused web sites were reportedly denied their own review copies from Bethesda, as well, and in all those glowing 9/10 and 10/10 reviews, the PC version was either downplayed or not mentioned at all.  Now it's clear why - it's because it is at best a half-functional, poorly-performing wreck of a game.

Conclusion

"Mods will fix it" is a phrase commonly uttered when Bethesda games are mentioned, and it's certainly true that their often-buggy and occasionally-broken games have been substantially improved by their extremely dedicated fan community - I probably would not have got through Fallout: New Vegas or Oblivion if it wasn't for the countless hours fans spent overhauling the game's interface and fixing the bugs Bethesda refused to officially acknowledge.  Even so, Skyrim's PC release is a new low for Bethesda - it's not that the PC version was a low priority for them, it's that it was no priority at all.

As a PC gamer, it's hard to get my hopes worked up these days.  I've suffered through too many awful ports and broken games to expect every single title, especially one with strong console roots.  Even so, Bethesda have a strong PC history and their biggest fans have always been on PC, making their occasionally-great games even better.  But with Skyrim, it's clear Bethesda don't care too much about the fans that made them in the first place - not even enough to provide them a functional product.  Considering recent comments made by Bethesda's publishing side, and the poor quality of Rage on release, I'm not sure which part of the company is to blame.

I wish I could say that this was an isolated incident, but in truth, it reflects on the sheer apathy the games industry has towards the PC platform, even as many publishers come out claiming that they care about the market and that it's a priority for them.  If this is what things look like when developers and publishers supposedly put in an effort, I'm not even sure why I'm playing games anymore at all.


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Comments


Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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The really sad thing is that this game will get a free pass on every website and from every gamer, because its Elder Scrolls.



There is no way of improving the situation for PC games. Its either not buying the game for PC (which means that publishers will omit the PC market even more because there is no money in it) or buy it and whine on forums, which we know has zero impact on anything.



I feel like its a systemic failure of the PC market for AAA titles, the last man still standing is CDProjekt...

Maurício Gomes
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Sorta still standing...



Their console-like interface on Witcher 2 is truly cringeworhy... (but not suicideworthy as Skyrim it seems).

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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@Mauricio



While I agree that the interface design for W2 was -obviously- intended for consoles the game itself showed a lot of "respect" for the pc platform.



The graphics quality was with PCs in mind, it ran stable, it had no DRM, it actually got released first on PC and hence QAed on PC and PC was the leading platform for the design.



This is why I consider it "better" design-wise than Rage or Sykrim which were -obviously- designed for console, but also with no effort at all was put into PC testing or design whatsoever.

Joe McGinn
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It's a console port. Most of these issues are in every console -> PC port I've seen the last couple years.



Not to excuse it - Valve puts the effort in for a real PC interface, and it pays massive dividends. Just the tone of the article is a bit screechy is all, like this is an outlier or an exception. Should have been a general article on "Valve versus the world" - you could have compared Vavles PC development efforts with everyone elses, and show the results in sales numbers. That would be useful. This is just a rant.

Joseph Benkual
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I know that many people have complained in the past of PC versions coming out after the console version. Many companies are now trying to do same-day world-wide releases on all platforms simultaneously. It is certainly painful to see a beloved PC franchise turn its back and focus on console versions, but I think that releasing the PC version a month or two later might help. This way the developers have time set aside to focus on porting it properly.



In regards to the large number of bugs in the game, c'mon now, its Bethesda. I have played Oblivion and Fallout 3 on release day and they had lots of problems, including frequent crashes. Sad to say, but these games don't really peak until a year after launch, when the patches and mods are abundant.

Eric Schwarz
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There's a difference between obscure quest bugs and conflicts which only arise out of very specific conditions, or heck, even broken quests and scripting issues, and basic hardware compatibility. This is the first time I've played a Bethesda game where it literally feels like they did not even try to optimize for the PC, much less ensure basic functionality.

Jan Kubiczek
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expect more of this, eric. this is a business. why would you want to develop for a plaform with 102 useless keys and a shi*load of configs that make development a pain in the cash box? piracy is practically nonexistent on consoles etc. etc. etc.



i personally dont get why people even want to play on pc. i play on consoles since my radeon 9800 days on pc. i was sick of all this upgrading and constantly spending money, optimizing slots etc. etc.



i just dont want to spend time on that. ;-)

Andrew Wiggan
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"Bomb the QA Department" ??



I realize you are upset at the number of bugs that shipped with the PC version of Skyrim, but I hope you realize that blaming the QA department makes you sound awfully foolish and naive about the game industry. QA people are some of the hardest working and lowest paid people at AAA game studios. They are the first to get crapped on by players who find bugs in games, yet they (the QA people) are powerless to stop a game from shipping due to bugs. They don't write the bugs, they don't fix the bugs, and they don't control whether to delay shipping due to bugs.



If you want to blame someone, blame the producers, the executives, and the corporate directors at both Bethesda and ZeniMax. The programmers, artists, sound engineers, designers, and especially the QA department are NOT to blame for games shipping with bugs.

Eric Schwarz
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I offer my apology. It was a poor choice of words with an implication I didn't consider - my intent was to highlight Bethesda/ZeniMax's apparent reduction of QA testing, not to suggest the people doing the QA itself were incompetent and deserving of "being bombed."

Maurício Gomes
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I think you are QA

E McNeill
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I started my game career in Bethesda QA. They kick ass. Look elsewhere for your explanation. Primarily the nature of their games. Freedom = complexity.

Simon Ludgate
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Thanks for the warning, Eric. "Consolification" is one of the things that really really irks me, and I hate playing poorly-made PC games, whether or not they were ported from consoles. Time after time Bethesda has disappointed on the technical front: Oblivion, Fallout 3, New Vegas, and now Skyrim. It's a shame too, because some of the content they put out was pretty decent. If only they put as much effort into making a quality PC product as they put into suing Interplay.

Maurício Gomes
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And suing Notch.



Maybe if they got all the money they spend on lawyers and spent into QA (I am not talking only about the quality of the QA testers... I am talking about general QA, now you people that are into QA or ex-QA please do not chase me with your huge pitchforks) they would have made some good stuff...

Fox English
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QA doesn't work like that. They pretty much find and report everything, and I have yet to see a QA dept. that hasn't found just about everything, including criticisms of UI and balance (granted the 1 issue that is missed on dozens of titles, there would be hell to pay). The problem typically starts with QA dept's bosses - the assistant producers/producers - that have to make the judgment calls whether a bug is worth spending time and money in the departments that actually do make the fixes (and retesting the fixes). It's not as easy as it sounds either, so it's hard to entirely blame them - they have to answer to marketing (to get the game out on time) and financial (to have money to actually finish the game). They also have to talk to the programmer/designer/art/sound people that would actually fix it if they think it's going to take forever to or not, so a lot of judgment is being thrown around among several professionals. All this at the very least.

Granted some studios give more power to the lead testers that are asked point blank if they believe an issue is really as bad as the database claims it is, just to be as objective as possible, but really, the point is to say that if the money should have been moved anywhere, it should have been moved to the programming/design department to get more people to fix more things within the time allotted.

Angel Stewart
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I think we need to look at this from the point of view that we PC users are lucky to even have the game released for the PC.



Steam only had 250,000 people playing the first day. I am sure triple that were signed in on the Xbox 360 platform.



Regardless of the fact that Morrowind and other titles were born on the Commodore and PC, times have changed. The masses are behind the simple to use Xbox360 and PS3 and that is where the money is.



So after pre-ordering the game and playing it I can see immediately that it was designed for the Television screen and the console..but can we blame Bethesda?



They have already stated that the PC is a difficult platform to develop for. So many different permutations, and look at what happened to poor ID with Rage...totally wasn't their fault. It was the awful PC platform that made their years of hard and dedicated work for the PC look so bad.



http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Skyrim-Elder-Scrolls-RPG-Piracy-
RAGE,13954.html



So let's not criticise Bethesda. Instead let us genuflect and plead that in the future we will get patches and perhaps...hopefully...maybe... an Elder Scrolls VI released. Even if it has the same systems and shortcomings as Morrowind from 2002. Because the Gods know no one else is going to give us an Epic, Open world RPG with a user friendly SDK in this day and age.

Gregory Kinneman
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First of all, the money is in releasing to as many platforms as possible. The cost of an Xbox -> PC port is far less than the increase in audience. We're talking about $1,250,000 in the first day on Steam alone (by your statistic).



Second, maybe if the games ran well on PC more people would buy them day one instead of waiting 6 months for patches and mods to come out?



Sorry, but the idea of praying for change rather than stating that we as gamers/developers want things to be different, and voicing how we expect companies to deliver in the future, is passing on an opportunity to improve game development.

Joe McGinn
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I know what you're saying, PC ports have tiny budgets ... but is that a cause or an effect? Again, Valve is the outlier. They invest a lot in their PC versions. Which then go on to sell at least as well as consoles.

John Flush
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While I agree with some points some only reek of one directional thinking. The part about use the console, lose your achievements. Does anyone in the PC world officially care about achievements? Use the console, make your own achievements. It's a no brainer. Only a console attitude would even question the thought of that.



As for Bethesda in general, have they ever made anything but a buggy mess at release? The key to playing bethesda stuff (Elder Scrolls in particular) is to buy it once on the platform it was mainly developed for (console) while all the DLC, mods, and everything else trickles out. Then in a year or two buy the game again for the PC with all the bells and whistles ready to go. Single player experiences deserve more of my money because that is all I want to play anyhow.

Eric Schwarz
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Nobody in the PC world cares for achievements? Now who's reeking of one-directional thinking? :P The fact is that it's a feature of the game, and one that has been played up in the past by Bethesda as a selling point. Not holding them accountable for problems with that feature doesn't seem very honest or responsible to me.



Moreover, I'm not sure "buy it twice" is a viable solution for most people, nor should such a "policy" excuse their games' lack of polish and, in Skyrim's case, basic usability.

John Flush
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Yeah, got me there on the achievement thing. Though I think the worse problem is I don't think one should ever have to use the console to play a game. You kill an NPC... reload a save or something. I find it odd that the complaint is achievements are turned off if you use the console, as opposed to you had to use the console at all in the first place.



As for buy it twice, with more and more publishers and execs thinking there isn't a market for single player experiences, I find it more than reasonable to pay more for a good single experience I get to keep for a long time. I did it with Morrowind and Oblivion (get the game at release on a console) simply for compatibility sake, and then bought it again in a GOTY edition.



Maybe it comes back to the fact they should have just held off the PC port until it was better ready but then they would have experience the other kind of flak PC gamers - "Why not us at release?"



I'm sure the ideal would have just been to hold off releasing it at all until it was ready, but that seems almost inconceivable to publishers. A nice spring release for this game would have been great. Then I would have had all summer to play it while the gaming industry went through its annual drought.

Ramon Carroll
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There is nothing wrong with trying to port console games onto the PC. The problem arises when you are determined to release them all at the same time. If they had focused on the consoles, and then set the release date for the PC about 1-2 months later, we probably wouldn't even be having this conversation.

Walker Hardin
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I've been similarly disappointed with my first few hours of play, solely because of interface issues and mods I miss from Oblivion. (Come back to me Darker Dungeons!) It sounds like you drew the short straw on your hardware compatibility. I firmly believe this is a marketing problem. When you see 11.11.11 splashed as many places as it was, not hitting your ship date isn't an option.



The Creation toolset and driver updates are both on their way and I'm willing to chalk the current absence of both up to new engine growing pains. I'm sure we'll be seeing several official patches from Bethesda, as well. So in regard to PC compatibility and polish, it can only get better from here.



On the up side, from someone who's had comparatively few technical issues (just 2 crashes in 8 hours and some of the weird shadow banding) you should know that the engine itself is quite a feat. With a three year old 512MB video card, I was able to push most settings into the high (if not ultra) range and maintain rock solid frame-rates. That's a lot of pretty. Think back to Oblivion, especially with mods, and all the performance issues with no solution. The game didn't even have culling. No way to fix that with a mod.



For PC players, a new Elder Scrolls isn't so much the launch of a game as it is a new platform. I think this will be the first that provides a chance for a definitive experience in the genre and that's what I'm looking for. If I just wanted stability, I'd have bought a 360 copy. But for the highest highs to come, I'll suffer through the lows.



I feel your pain, but keep the faith. At least for a few months.



P.S. Why doesn't the same key that opens a container also close it? Seriously.

Andreas Ronning
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In 20 years as a PC gamer, I don't think I've ever once expected a game on the PC to work as advertised. I don't know what kind of super awesome fantasy land you've been living in, but you've clearly got expectations of the platform that don't align with reality.



Artifacts, crashes, performance issues, input issues, tinkering with config files and finally buckling under and buying a new hardware component has been a completely regular thing for me, and when discussing games with other PC gamers, hardware and system tweaks are invariably part of the discussion.



Now I'm with you on the GUI issues. Skyrim is the worst I've seen since Borderlands (but not surpassing that tragedy). But for stability and performance issues? You are on your own. Welcome to PC gaming.



Considering the shitstorm it caused in Fallout 3, complaining about Bethesda ensuring console commands block achievements is just stupid, sorry, and your personal issues with FOV are *personal issues*. Your image of PC gaming appears to be this beautiful perfect sphere of personalization where every whim is catered to because it's PC god damnit, but traditionally you have only EVER been able to mess about with a game even on that simple level with a clear understanding that you are at a rubicon beyond which no tech support will take you seriously.



I've been playing Skyrim for 15 hours today. My brain hurts, but it's been a gorgeous, engrossing experience. The UI is like an itch i can't scratch, but it's a very small itch. I've had 4-5 hard crashes to desktop, but they haven't even annoyed me. That's how ingrained this kind of shit is in my mentality. I quicksave as if I'm on a timer, and the game boots up as quickly as it crashes. It's like an excuse to make another cup of tea really.



I have no doubt your experience has been frustrating, and you're not "wrong" to be frustrated and pissed. But you ARE wrong in assuming your experience is indicative of the game. It's indicative of the platform on which you chose to play it.



PC gaming. Home of the best and of the worst, depending on who you ask.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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I find it curious that you list those things "wrong with the platform" (which i disagree with but will ignore for the sake of my point) with the basic mentality of



"Take it like a man, its a PC game!"



We are in 2011 and if your point of PC games -never- working as advertised (which, again, in my opinion is false) is true, then we need to closely look at why this is.



I can not imagine that companies are inherently incapable of delivering a solid PC-experience in this day and age. With Millions being poured into development this is a disgrace to the industry, no matter if it is caused by the focus on console development -or- the platform itself (which I believe to be false too).



While Eric might be romanticizing the PC platform a bit, you do the exact opposite. Your PC gaming experience seems to be hell, riddled with bugs, hardware problems and manually configuring every game you ever played (I question the sincerity of these).



The point is the customer should -not- be required to do these things on -any- platform, and I do not believe that it is absolutely impossible to release an experience on PC that would be exactly as enjoyable, stable and easy to handle as on a console.

Andreas Ronning
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Part of being a PC gamer *is* "manning up", because you are playing games on an incredibly mercurial, volatile platform where the fundamentals of the hardware change from year to year. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. PC developers are slaves to drivers as much as you are. No amount of testing can guarantee 100% compatibility out of the gate.



I totally agree you should be able to play anything on anything and have a smashing great time. But writing a post that is at once so enamored with fundamentals of the PC gaming experience, and then expecting things that are practically counter to that notion..?



I'm struggling to come up with a metaphor that works, so I won't. I'll just say hey, this is the landscape. Wear your climbing gear.

Sean Hayden
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Problem is a lot of the flaws with Skyrim and the like are things that are not reliant on hardware at all. Things such as poor interface, lack of settings, and keybinding bugs don't vary from system to system, so the complex hardware is no excuse.

Andreas Ronning
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Yep, the UI stuff is legitimately shit. It's a huge shame. I was expecting better.

Eric Schwarz
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Beyond the UI, some fans have also quickly surmised that many of Skyrim's performance problems stem from memory leaks and the fact that much of the game's rendering is done on the CPU rather than GPU - i.e. shadows, which could be much more efficiently done on the GPU, but on consoles there isn't the same power available there. That sort of optimization may require more work but it again shows a lack of forethought for the PC version of the game than basic hardware, software and driver compatibility.



As for the lack of driver support from AMD in particular, I'm not sure exactly where the blame lies, but in this day and age there is no excuse for developers not doing their best to collaborate with the GPU vendors to get the best possible performance at launch, instead of two weeks after.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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@joe



That is exactly the case. Skyrim is relying on CPU to render dynamic shadows instead of using DX hardware acceleration (which imho is laughable and completely asinine).

This is also the reason why people get really bad performance on low-CPU systems (core2 and quad) and no graphics tweaking can make it better.

Additionally the engine is not optimized for more than two threads, meaning if you have a corei7 your performance gain will not come from your additional threads but from the clock.

But this is getting awfully technical.



http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/skyrim-performance-benchmark,
3074-9.html

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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@Joe



Can't give you a direct link for the "CPU renders shadows", it was on the bethesda forums, but since google wont let me search that forum i cant find the thread again.



Yes skyrim scales better on low-end machines, and worse on high-end machines. What it should do is scale equally.

Im happy for all the people with core2 and a gf6800 that they can play the game on low with the same FPS i have on a core i7 and a gf480, but somehow i expect better results with my rig because its more recent (im talking Low settings).



I.e. it doesnt make any damn bit of difference if i play this game on high or low i will always have those FPS drops. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it shows zero concern for PC development.



Im not really whining that i cant play this game on ultra with 100fps but if i get the same FPS-drops in towns that a guy with a low-end system has, its sort of defies the purpose of optimization.

Bart Stewart
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If Bethesda typically made games that were bad ports of purely console-focused games (like Dead Space), that would make it easy to just ignore their stuff.



But consider: Oblivion, Fallout 3/NV, and Skyrim all do something that purely console games don't even consider attempting, and that's to stitch together all the exterior zones into what appears to the player to be one enormous contiguous overworld. There's no good reason to do this -- it would be easier to go with the small self-contained areas with loading screens -- except that a large contiguous outdoor world is something the PC architecture allows and long-time PC gamers appreciate. Unlike virtually every other game developer out there, Bethesda are actually going out of their way to insure that their world-graphics engine provides a good gaming experience to PC gamers as well as console gamers.



This is why it's baffling to me that Skyrim's PC interface actually seems hostile to PC gamers:



1. Like most console games, the FOV is much too small; it's like having everything in the world enlarged to giant proportions and shoved into my face. Why use that setting on PCs? And why not let us adjust it easily?



2. I know Bethesda have gotten a bunch of grief for their UI, and it looks like they tried to address that. But Skyrim's UI does things that would have any professional human factors engineer scratching his or her head. Why put vendor and player items for buying and selling in one column with no clear visual marker for which operation you'll be performing? Eric's not the only one to be bitten by this. Also, as with Oblivion, I guess I have to look forward to the player mod that lets me have lots of items listed on my nice computer monitor at one time. The giant TV screen-sized text blocks are an obvious console idiom; does Bethesda truly not know that leaving them unchanged for the PC looks lazy at best?



3. Even after adjusting mouse sensitivity and graphics settings, turning while in Skyrim's exterior is like hauling on an elephant swimming in treacle -- it's pretty much the opposite of "responsive." There's noticeable lag before in-game movement follows mouse motion, and it clearly prefers purely left-right movement as allowed by directional buttons. This is incredibly frustrating to me as a mouse-and-keyboard PC gamer. I'm trying to enjoy the truly awesome world of the Nords and I keep feeling like Bethesda are metaphorically whacking me in the head with a rolled-up newspaper: "Bad gamer! Don't you know we spent all our time designing and play-testing this game with a controller and expect you to do the same?"



Why would Bethesda fail to address these things that get in the way of a satisfying play experience on the PC -- which I don't think are problems that only I am having -- after taking pains to build a graphics engine that mimics the visibly large open-world spaces to which the owners of RAM-rich PCs are accustomed?



I'm still early in the game, and I'm generally having enough fun to keep playing. But Eric is not wrong to point out that the PC version has some weird console quirks that unnecessarily make this otherwise excellent game harder to enjoy.

Robert Boyd
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"But consider: Oblivion, Fallout 3/NV, and Skyrim all do something that purely console games don't even consider attempting, and that's to stitch together all the exterior zones into what appears to the player to be one enormous contiguous overworld."



Dark Souls has an enormous contiguous overworld.

Bart Stewart
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Sincere thanks for that info, Robert. I'm happy to amend my statement to "...console games typically don't even consider attempting."



I think my larger point still stands, though. Developers who make the effort to create games whose overworlds appear as one contiguous space, rather than zones separated by loading screens, are rare now that consoles are the primary target platform. And PC gamers ought to appreciate those developers.

Eric Schwarz
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@Joe Wreschnig



To be fair, Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past didn't have significant load times due to the cartridges they came on, not because of any Nintendo Wizardry(TM). And neither of those games featured any persistence between zones, i.e. characters walking from one to the next. When you consider that Skyrim (and Fallout 3/Oblivion) simulate NPCs across an entire game world in a real-time (albeit simplified) manner, which very few open-world games even attempt, I'm willing to give them more leeway.

Eric Schwarz
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I got your point, I was just nitpicking. :P

Jacob Pederson
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"and it clearly prefers purely left-right movement"



x and y sensitivity are handled differently, and can be changed seperatly in the config files.



I'd like to add, that I'm playing the game on a pc with a controller, and the UI is still bad:



To bring up the menu I need to press B, then a direction on the d-pad. How about this, move the favorites button to B, and have the d-pad just be the menu selection? Also, why are quests and stats on the start button menu? They should be in with the rest of the GUI! I best I've wasted an hour pressing B to get quest info, then cancelling and going to the other menu.

Bart Stewart
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Joe, I'm getting the feeling that if someone wrote the sentence "The sun rose" as a small element of a post in this thread, you'd argue their whole thesis was false for not acknowledging the heliocentric model. What about the actual point Eric is trying to discuss regarding how Bethesda is defining the gameplay of Skyrim for PC gamers?



That said, I'll respond to your couple of examples with a couple of my own: Thief: Deadly Shadows and Deus Ex: Invisible War. As a couple of games early in the switchover from the PC to consoles as the primary target platform, the level size shrinkage was obvious, and I think fairly representative of a change in gameworld structure imposed by console architectures. The "consolification" of the Deus Ex world was particularly pronounced compared to the several very open/large levels of the original game. (The level shrinkage from the PC-target Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, with its dizzying vistas, to the console-targeted later games in the series also demonstrates this effect pretty well.)



I'd argue that this trend to smaller levels for "worldy" games relative to games made first for the PC continued even after later iterations of the 2000-era consoles added more RAM -- the coding pattern of "small setpiece levels" became a convention on consoles, while large-world games like Minecraft naturally originated on the PC. That's not to say there weren't some console games that tried to buck this convention, but my perception is that they were and remain the exceptions, not the rule, where "worldy" games are concerned.



I guess I might add that I don't see this as a trivial point. I prefer big games with wide-open spaces and vast amounts of lore; secondary realities are a lot more fun in general for me than small, mechanics-focused games like platformers and shmups. This explains in part why I still think of myself as a PC gamer despite the obloquy heaped on that platform over the past decade -- the PC's architecture and design conventions remain more friendly to making vast, worldy games.



This is why I spoke up in defense of Bethesda's effort to retain an engine that presents a more-or-less seamless overworld, even when I agree strongly with Eric's top-level opinion. I think they could have done a better job on how Skyrim plays for PC gamers. And I think that point is actually emphasized by the fact that Bethesda, unlike other console game developers, is visibly making the effort to create an overworld that is interesting and epic because you can *see* how vast it is. That only makes the PC version's UI omissions and bugs more perplexing, and I don't think it's unreasonable to point that out.



As I said to Robert, though: if console games are finally getting larger worlds, I'm pleased to hear it and happy to acknowledge it. More games with deep secondary realities is a Good Thing regardless of platform.

Benjamin Leggett
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It's odd you say that, I find Skyrim to be much better on PC than Oblivion was. Runs better, less glitchy, alt-tabs properly.



The UI is obviously not designed with the mouse in mind, but if you ignore the asinine radial menu and use hotkeys+WASD, you can perform almost all game operations with your left hand.



It's quite nice once you get used to it really, works a lot like Gothic's mouse-less interface. Much faster and more functional than Oblivion or Fallout 3's UI.

Eric Schwarz
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I do agree that the game out of the box is much less buggy and stable, UI concerns aside (though I have had a few crashes, mostly when alt+tabbing). That said, it's also five years after Oblivion and I certainly would expect them to step things up in the meantime. Saying "well, at least it's not as bad as Morrowind" and similar is a pretty poor justification - gamers should expect new games to run and look better than previous ones, not be "pleasantly surprised" when it does happen. It's in this respect that console development has really hurt the PC in the last few years - titles like Call of Duty are getting 200 fps maxed out on even mid-range hardware, when "back in the day" at least you could expect games year after year to raise the bar.

Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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http://store.steampowered.com/stats/

They've got quite the userbase though



As for hotkeys, I use ASDF Back/Forwards/Move Left/Move Right...

Walker Hardin
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Maybe I'm slow, but I just discovered how to hot-key items/spells/gear to the number keys and thought I would share. It's pretty unintuitive so maybe this'll help some one else.



First you have to "favorite" the item in question from the inventory. Then in game, open the favorites menu (default "q") and highlight the item. Now you can press the number key you want to map the item to. Voila!



For spells, pressing a hot-key once will assign to left hand, pressing again will dual wield the spell.

Ramon Carroll
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Thanks, Walker. I was wondering if people knew this. I have Skyrim on the PC and on the PS3. Haven't started playing the PC version yet, but the official strategy guide says that on PC, you can map your favorites to the number keys. I've just heard a few people on the internet complain that this was not possible, when it actually is.

Jacob Pederson
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Holy crap! I love you for ever :)

Ron Dippold
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Skyrim is working great for me on the PC... but then I have a pretty standard year old PC (core i7, Radeon HD 5870, no SLI or anything weird) and I'm using the Xbox 360 controller.



I am not going to defend Bethesda's consolization here - obviously they Just Didn't Care. And Eric's right to call them on it, though they'll probably just shrug it off, as usual.



But leaving Skyrim aside, if you're PC gaming and you haven't got an Xbox 360 controller yet, you're kneecapping yourself. I applaud Rocksteady for taking a couple extra months to make sure the PC versions of Batman are PC (giving them the benefit of the doubt for Arkham City) but bad console ports are here to stay. I can't tell you how many times I've just sighed and gone controller only. Adapt or suffer - it's still fair to complain, but realistically you're tilting at windmills.

Eric Schwarz
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I don't think Skyrim, a game revolving around exploration, is the kind of game I'd want to play on a gamepad. I have trouble using them for anything first-person and I find myself missing things due to the increased difficulty in looking around, but I am at least glad they have the support in there - in this day and age, gamepads should always be an option out of the box.

Richard Crawford
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Just wanted to jump in the conversation and say that I haven't been having any of the issues you all seem to be having. After turning off mouse acceleration I haven't had any issues with my mouse not working or being responsive in the game or in the menus. I have also remapped several of my keyboard shortcuts and they have been working flawlessly.



As far as the interface itself, I agree that it isn't ideal but I personally think it is an improvement over Fallout or New Vegas. One of the things I absolutely despised in Fallout was that when you would click the arrows in the buy/sell menu the length of the word changes, which moved the actual location of the arrow so you would have to move the mouse to click on the arrow again. The only way around this was to only use the left arrow on your inventory and only use the right arrow on the vendors inventory as those were stationary.



As far as performance, the game runs great. Sure, I get some framerate drops but that is to be expected with my mid-range hardware when I spin 180 degrees and bring in a massive amount of new stuff into view. From a performance standpoint, RAGE has been the worst game I have ever seen. I still can't play the game because it absolutely refuses to run on my computer even after the update. There is aparently something with my specific hardware setup that it just refuses to run, even after reformatting, updating, and having everything set to what it should be.



I absolutely need to call you out on your 200FPS claim in Call of Duty maxed out on mid-range hardware. That just isn't even close to being accurate. You should either get a better source of info or maybe run a benchmark yourself before you make such a ridiculous claim.



I also have to disagree with the idea that Bethesda takes the stance that "mods will fix it". I personally never had any major issues with Fallout 3, and they did update and fix a lot of the issues that were in the game. Same can be said with New Vegas. That game was definitely worse at launch, but they got a grip of the issues fixed pretty quick. It might have taken a while longer but if you go play New Vegas right now, fully patched and no mods, it is extremely stable and runs very well.



In terms of just the game itself, I have a solid 30 hours and so far it is the best experience that I have had from Bethesda. The visuals aren't perfect, and I look forward to a high-res texture pack, but the vanilla game looks great for the type of game that Skyrim is. The quest management is possibly the best I have seen in a game. I find it easy to pick the quests that I want to work on without the others getting in the way.



If there was one thing I would complain about is that the game/engine is completely DX9. We are on DX11 now and we can get better visuals simply but updating to DX11 in terms of rendering quality. I am really hoping Bethesda comes out with an update similar to the situation with Crysis 2, but who knows.

Keith Burgun
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While it always makes me sad that journalists and gamers seem unable to critically analyze Bethesda's god-awful game design decisions, I'm glad that at the very least we're on the ball about user interfaces. I agree that this is the worst PC UI I've seen in probably 15 years.

Matthew Perez
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In regards to the Console = Cheaters claim that you lose achievements if you use it, I have yet to run into this problem. I made an second character just to mess with the game and console, adding loot, spawning characters etc. and to my dismay I was actually UNLOCKING achievements as I was doing.



Not to mention on my main character I changed my race right after the opening sequence and played for a long haul afterwards and still racked up achievements, so I don't know if this is just me but I don't really see what your talking about here.

Matt Cratty
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The sad part is, while the stuff listed in the article is depressing and makes a PC gamer question why he bothers, they are the least of my concerns. But, as that's outside the topic, I'll resist going on a 15 paragraph rant on what they've done to my favorite game series.



And saying we should all be using an xbox controller to play a PC game is easily the most insane thing I've ever seen written on this site.

Jacob Pederson
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As a guy whose used both a controller for FPS since Halo and a keyboard for FPS since Wolfenstien, can we just agree that the both have advantages and disadvantages? A mouse has the precision and flexibility, and a controller has the ergonomics and portability. A metric ton of the arguments that get flung around on the topic, are from people that have never learned to use both, and whose arguments are therefore invalid. And no, picking up the "other" device for ten minutes and declaring it sucky with your best pouty face on does not count.

Eric Schwarz
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Oh, I have plenty of issues with the game - despite the fact that they have made a lot of cutbacks for Skyrim, I think the core design of the game is by far Bethesda's strongest. However, it doesn't excuse the dozens of mistakes with the UI at large (PC or console), or the major sacrifices made to the sandbox elements of the game for the sake of not breaking stuff.

Ben Tharin
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I work as a Usability UX Engineer for almost ten years now, and you pretty much nailed alot of the problems they have with their UI in the game. It is astonishing how the magazines dont see those problems as they are really open for everybody to see...



@Keith

Well you certainly dont know Dwarf Fortress then =)

Eric Schwarz
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I didn't even touch on the general interface problems, but thanks. I'll be getting to those (or heck, even a single aspect of the UI) in a later post.

Ben Tharin
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PS: I wanted to add, the QA team is rarely the problem, its the Product Manager who decides whats in the product, QA has no decision about that whatsoever, they only test features if they are implemented and working as intended. That usually happens on a Request of the PM who writes test scenarios, in any case QA has no rights to ask for new features they can only file bug reports and such.

Brandon Battersby
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Way to send me vaulting out of my honeymoon state with Skyrim! My critical eye hadn't kicked on yet! But very good observations! Been sharing this all morning.

Matt Cratty
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@jacob



I absolutely agree that the console controllers have a place. On the console. The end.



I use it for my 360 sports games, which I find better than the PC versions. But, once you've shipped something for the PC that only really works with a console controller, you're a failure at what you do whether you're rolling in money and (to my amazement) adulation or not.

Paul Szczepanek
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Seeing how much money they're invested in the game I can't see why they couldn't have hired an extra programmer to write a PC UI for the PC version. Would've saved them tons of backlash it seems. If feasible, maybe have that as an alternative so you could still cater to people playing with a controller on a PC.



Is it just me or has the progress been lopsided lately. Sure, we're getting more polished graphics (though that has been capped by current gen consoles) and big budgets allowing bigger worlds with more content but maybe we could invest some of those CPU cycles into simulation and world complexity. It's funny how only now we're catching up with games from the early 90s when it comes to that (case in point: http://exult.sourceforge.net/).



But I have to admit, the production values have been incredible lately - it's amazing what money can buy.

Jon Gregory
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Can't deny that you make points, good points, but I want to address the tone that you seem to be expressing here. The idea that as a PC player you are so much worse off in this case, that you are so much more entitled to quality that isn't there. That's just plain ignorant at its core. You act like there are no problems with the game outside of PC and that as a PC gamer you, and your PC counterparts, are being slighted incomparably by this release. That's elitism, and I can't stand it. If you'd made these points across all platforms I would have no problem with what was said, but as it stands I honestly expect more than something so one sided, blindly biased, and self entitled as this from a site like Gamasutra.



If you pointed out that there are systems designed poorly in general, like the followers system where guild quests will often remove them from your party and not return them afterwards or mark them on a map for you to find, I could get behind that. If you pointed out that frame rates dropped all the time on PC and that on console doing everything from opening a menu to starting a conversation sets the game at a standstill, again I would have no problem with it as you are addressing the problems in general instead of being selfish and insisting that you as a PC gamer deserve better; that the mistakes present across all platforms showing up on PC are somehow an astronomical insult to you and a sign of unacceptable apathy towards PC development. Again, if you'd said that this general disregard for proper game design was an issue in general I would be behind you 110%, but you twist a completely competent argument into butthurt fanboyism with an air of ignorance and console hatred that frankly disgusts me.



Lastly I would like you to consider, in your disproportionate representation of the gravity of the situation in respect to PC players and the PC platform, that your problems can be fixed fairly simply. Now while yes, it is not a valid excuse for lack of quality to say that "mods will fix it", having those tools at your disposal does mean that your fixes will come faster. In fact, all of the PC fixes both official and unofficial will happen orders of magnitudes faster than anyone who plays on a home console. It takes weeks if not months to approve console patches, and there is no modding community to fix those issues that developers decide to ignore. There is no console that allows you to say "fuck it, I just want to play", no other options than to start over. And let's be honest, I know that playing on PC I could care less about my Steam Achievements, even in the few games that my laptop will run. I honestly don't know a single PC gamer that has ever brought up a true desire to obtain any of those achievements. I don't think I looked at or even noticed any of them unlocking while playing. If you buy any game caring that much about achievements, PC or console, then you're gaming for the wrong reason.



On a different note, the hate on QA seems at best idiotic. The number of QA testers it would take to find every issue and every unique glitch would be so absurdly large that it would undoubtedly affect the final price of the game substantially. Take a step out of your self absorbed little hovel for a second and consider how you would prioritize your testing. Finding problems in a massive world, fixing the lore, fixing the items, finding missed textures, finding holes in the environment, working with the space that players will spend the most time in... or optimizing UI? You choose, amazing UI and a game where you drop dead randomly, or fall through the map at every change in terrain.



I want to agree with you, but the tone of this article is everything I have come to despise about the gaming community since I started straddling the line between console and PC.

Paul Szczepanek
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Some of these problems can be explained by the limitations of consoles. The UI needs to be designed around the controller. Performance issues - console's limited memory and slow i/o. Slow patching, lacks of mods and community support - you explained that yourself.



On the PC there are no excuses or limits. So where the consoles have valid reasons for the shortcomings - with the PCs, it's just lack of effort (or will).

Chris Kontos
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I hope you're kidding about the game's interface. I personally LOVE it, and find it extremely easy to use.

jack skagnetti
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Cry me a river. Worst perception of a game I've ever read in a review. Please do not review any games from this day forward. Skyrim for GOTD (game of the Decade.)

Jarmo Reponen
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That's a long list of negative things about this epic adventure! I've played Skyrim on PC for tens of hours and been really enjoying the journey. It's hard for me to find any real problems, but the worst has to be the managing inventory containing hundreds of items. But for the most time, you are totally sucked into the world and its fascinating stories.



I've only had a few technical issues with random crashes. I run it on full HD & high with Core Quad and GTX 460 with fluent frame rate. The graphics are the most beautiful I've ever seen in open world games.



The game is not perfect, but it comes very close. Considering the whole package, the reviews of 95/100 are well-deserved. "How not to make a PC game" - now that's a harsh understatement.

Stephen Thomas
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Despite what it looks like, that "X to Delete" is not a button. Also: click the load button and decide you want to go back? Have fun figuring out how (hint: Alt+F4 is easier).



Tab, that was easy whats the matter with you? and also using tab not esc to exit menus, notice how you dont have to move your hand/fingers as much to reach tab? Maybe thats why they've changed it.



As for the delete button not usable by mouse, most of the other buttons are ever think there might be a reason the delete one is made harder to accidentally use?



The favourites trouble you had (and other key binds), ever thought of looking up what the keys are already bound to before chanigng them? Not the games fault. yours my firend.



The UI, nothing wrong with a minimalistic one and it works just fine, my only gripe with that would be why didn't that make containiers have the same categoires as your characters and npc's inventories are split up into.



As for bugs, yes there will be bugs, no game is perfect.



So basically poor reviewer = poor review

Chris Matthews
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I have to agree, especially with your last line. The reviewer went into this game looking for EVERYTHING TO NITPICK... that is not how you write a review. I personally have been playing it on the XBOX and PC platforms and yes, it is somewhat buggy as any game this immense would be. Have you ever played any of the others? Just as bad if not worse in bugs. But I have loved every one.



I do like to customize my keys but over the years, I have changed how I like my keys because, generally, the makers of the game have a FAR better idea how to map the keys to work best with the game than the end user. Stop whining.



The UI is actually very nice overall. Yes, there are a few things I don't like but this game was designed for a console first and the PC second, so there is some trade off there. Deal with it.



I remember back in the day when they made you move your mouse in certain patterns to change how your weapons attacked and did damage. This series has always been cutting edge. It is bound to have bugs as does ANY game.



Also, as far as glitches related to graphics, I have an Intel i-7 2.3ghz (3.3ghz) based laptop with ATI radeon 2GB HD 6770M GDDR5 Graphics card and 8 gigs of RAM. I have to play this game on low settings even with this because it will get choppy otherwise. Am I disappointed with the graphics? NOT IN THE LEAST. This is a beautiful game, especially in HD and I have had little issue with it so far. This game is a power draining beast. But, if I want, I can modify most settings in the game to my liking and with most games, it requires the game to be restarted. Where have you been that you are complaining?



My last point is your whining about the console. I can't remember playing a PC game recently that did not have some sort of console or other method of moddifying a game in progress. Again, would you like some cheese with your whine?



Overall, when I came across your review, as I read it, I thought "wow, this guy really just wanted to whine!" about anything and everything that was wrong with almost any game anymore. Yes, maybe Bethesda could have dumbed down the game to make it more PC friendly but they are known to push the envelope in their games more than many other companies. Yes, like every game, it is not perfect but no game ever is.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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This is not a review, its an analysis.



analysis = nitpicking

Jan Kubiczek
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skyrim is not a pc game. is it? its a port. as a developer its obvious that versus two console configs (cell, xbox cpu) its kind of hard to expect for the engine and interface to scale to pc and be bug free on all of the miriad of configs possible. especially weird is an audio samplerate of 96.000 per second. who needs that and for what? nobody even records audio at these rates.


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