High Horse: Broken PS3 Skyrim was inevitable, is inexcusable, and is probably your fault

High Horse is a rotating opinion column in which GamesRadar editors and guest writers are invited to express their personal thoughts on games, the people who play them and the industry at large.

I made a delicious chocolate cake the other day. Except that it wasn't delicious at all in the end. You see it turned out that somewhere along the line I’d started mixing dog poo into it instead of chocolate, and I absolutely didn’t even notice that I had until a few hours later when people started eating it and being sick.

Sound implausible? That’s because it’s not true. I’m creating a clever (and marginally disgusting) allegory for Bethesda’s broken-as-all-hell PS3 version of Skyrim. It is you see, fundamentally messed up on a level that I view as patently unfit for release. And apparently Bethesda had no idea that the game it had spent years building and testing was so broken. I mean it can’t have known. Otherwise it’s quietly, knowingly released a busted product and cynically dicked over a large part of its fan-base. And the worst part? I saw this coming weeks ago. And it’s partly that very fan-base’s fault.

The symptoms of Skyrim’s PS3 decrepitude? An unplayably shaky framerate, that only seems to manifest itself after extended play. It happens like this:

And this:

I knew this was going to happen. I bloody knew it. I was predicting exactly this occurrence around the office weeks before release. Why? Because I played Fallout 3. More specifically I reviewed all of its PS3 DLC. That was a week of black, endless night and seething, fevered Lovecraftian horror. Make no mistake, that shit was broken, and it was broken in exactly the same way that PS3 Skyrim is. Couple that previous experience with the fact that PS3 Skyrim code was conspicuously thin on the ground in the run up to the game’s release and you’ll understand why my stinker-sense was tingling.

I really didn’t want to be right. And when my PS3 playing friends and colleagues started ploughing happily through Skyrim for hours on end, I breathed a sigh of relief, satisfied that, this time at least, my cynicism had been over-sensitively placed.

And then yesterday the reports of disaster, disappointment and personal loss started to come through. One by one, all of my friends hit the 25 – 30 hour mark. One by one their games collapsed in on themselves. Frame rates fell apart. Key quest characters stopped interacting, or disappeared entirely. I have never seen so many people so quickly go from being so happy to so sad and broken.

The technical cause isn’t currently known for definite, but it’s suspected to be a memory management problem related to the size of save files, which seem to exponentially grow on the PS3 until everything falls apart. How did this happen? The options as I see it are two. Either Bethesda’s quality control on the PS3 version just was not up to standard and this vast and fundamental flaw slipped through the net (see my cake analogy), or else the failing was known and the game was slipped out in the hope that they could get a patch ready before anyone noticed. Both options are unforgivable, and certainly not actions to be expected or excused of a top-flight publisher of high-profile AAA games.

But the thing is, with Bethesda it is expected. They’ve been getting away with it for years, and that’s why as much as I’m loving Skyrim (on my 360), I can never truly support Beth as a company. Name one Bethesda-developed game in recent memory that has been released in an acceptable technical state. You can’t, because there aren’t any. Yes, I know that launch glitches are something we accept these days (and I've already written about why we shouldn’t), but Bethesda are a special case. Their bugs aren’t just graphical issues or matchmaking problems. They’re cases of products fundamentally not being fit for sale. Check out thus bug list for Fallout 3. And this one for New Vegas.They're as hilarious as they are terrifying.

But Bethesda keep getting away with it because consumers keep letting them. “Bugs? Oh that’s just the way Bethesda games are” Well f*ck that. No-one else is so consistently shoddy. No-one else of their profile can be actively relied upon to put out a knackered product. I get that these games are big and complicated. I get that some bugs are funny and add character. But let’s get real here. That culture of acceptable shoddiness is what has lead us here. Let a company get away with less serious problems and they’ll (consciously or not) see that as a license to get away with bigger ones. And then we get situations like this. I’m sick of seeing fans blindly defend the company in comments sections and on forums, and then complain – again - when something like this inevitably happens. It’s your fault.

Above: Pause trailer every two seconds for authentic PS3 gameplay experience

Yes, it might get patched. But consider this. Even if the cause of the problem gets cleaned up, it’s highly doubtful the devastated save files which have resulted will be repairable. Those 30 hour games are very probably gone. Far worse than that, a very large percentage of PS3 players do not have their consoles online-enabled. Those guys are screwed. Even if only a relatively small percentage of players are affected, with 7 million copies shipped that’s still a lot of people ripped off, by either incompetence or cynical deceit.

And this is the same problem we’ve seen in previous Bethesda games. And they got away with it then, so it’s happened again now. Think about that, people.

I have contacted Bethesda with a set of questions relating to all aspects of this matter. So far we have not received a response, but should a direct reply come through, I will of course publish it for you.

David Houghton has been a Content Editor on GamesRadar for four years. He lives in Bath, England, where he is currently in training to represent his country in the Arty Rambling and Angry Ranting events in the 2012 Olympics. He you can follow him on Twitter at @David_H_Esq. All opinions are his own, and he has a lot of them.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.