Review by BloodGod65

"The Lesser of Two Evils (A Technical Comparison)"

Let me start by saying that this is not meant to be a comprehensive review of Skyrim. If that's what you're searching for, allow me to direct you to my review for the PS3 version of the game. Since the two are identical in terms of content, nearly everything I said in regard to it also applies to the 360 version. Everything, that is, except my thorough lambasting of its many technical problems.

Which brings us to this review. After suffering countless game freezes, an endless parade of bugs, and one corrupted save that erased approximately forty hours of work, I decided to migrate to greener pastures. And by “greener pastures”, I mean, of course, the Xbox 360. What follows is a technical comparison of the two console versions of the game from someone who has spent well over a hundred hours with each.

For me, stability was the biggest issue with Skyrim on the PS3. Even though my time with the game was a bug-riddled fiasco, I generally found those issues easier to deal with than stop and go frame rates and sudden freezes. There is nothing quite so infuriating as completing a lengthy dungeon, only for the game to lock up at the very end. Nothing except realizing after the fact that you haven't saved in several hours.

I would have been pleased if these problems were diminished in the Xbox version, but happily, they are gone entirely. In over one hundred hours of play, I have yet to experience the first problem with frame rate. Only during the most frenzied and graphically intense battles, did I notice any sort of issue. Even then, it was only a missed frame or two. In other words, nothing that compares to the PS3's tendency to lapse into spontaneous bouts of single digit frame rates that dragged on for minutes at a time. More importantly, those inexplicable crashes that plague the PS3 version are nowhere to be found.

Joy of joys, Skyrim is better already! But for all my tolerance towards in-game bugs and glitches, even I was hard pressed to overlook the many failings of the PS3 version. It is one thing for a texture to disappear every now and then, but when dragon skeletons are falling through the environment and quest givers fail to activate, you're dealing with something else entirely.

While there's no way to go through a comprehensive list of all the bugs in Skyrim, I hope it will suffice to say that the Xbox version is the more playable of the two. On the whole, most of the problems I noticed in the PS3 version are absent here (such as spastic dragon skeletons and the tendency for ice projectiles to stay embedded in your character's body indefinitely). To put it into perspective, the PS3 version was like playing a game still in its beta stages. The Xbox version is like the usual Bethesda title. Buggy, but tolerable.

Even though many of the game's problems are less dramatic, a few irritating problems persist. The one that I find particularly grating is how easy it is to accidentally break a quest. Although I have yet to have any a quest giver killed off a random act of NPC violence, there are still some lingering problems. One time I attempted to give some trophies to a character after finishing the Thieves Guild quest line, only to find that he would not accept them. In another instance, two quests took place in the same area. I had already completed one some ten hours before and was sent back to kill off a group of bandits now infesting the area. For some reason, I could not complete the quest because the enemies from the previous quest kept respawning and the game wouldn't recognize when I killed them all.

Despite the remaining issues, Skyrim on 360 is mostly smooth sailing. But at this point you may be wondering, “Is there a cost to all this glorious technical stability?” Indeed there is friends. Indeed there is. To be quite honest, the Xbox version demonstrates a greater tendency towards quest breakage. In many instances, performing part of a quest out of order is enough to irreversibly break it. Several times I also broke a quest by not having it selected in the active quest list when I completed it. Although I was able to reap the rewards, the quest stayed in the quest log, unfinished.

Galling though it may be, that's a minor issue. The one area where Skyrim fails to eclipse – or even compare to – its counterpart is in regards to the graphics. The difference between the two is small, but immediately noticeable. Most of the decreased graphical prowess stems from the game's textures, which are less sharp and less defined on the Xbox. Lighting effects, which I praised for the PS3, are also less impressive. Rumor has it that the texture problem at least is a phenomenon related to a Xbox specific bug that has since been patched out (full disclosure: both of my Skyrim reviews are based on non-patched games).

While the difference is noticeable and disappointing, it really isn't a huge issue. You simply have to ask yourself this; would you rather have fantastic wood textures on all the cabinets or would you rather contend with a catastrophic game crash every two hours? Your choice. Frankly, I know which one I prefer.

A more relevant decision is whether to install the game to the Xbox hard drive. Without installing the game data, load times can stretch to and well beyond the minute mark. I thought the load times on the PS3 were excessive, but this borders on ludicrous. Installing the game cuts these down to the same as the PS3 version. It does, however, introduce an issue with screen tearing, which is not present on the PS3. This is neither noticeable or frequent, and much preferable to the extravagant load times.

One final difference I'll note comes in regards to the saving and loading operations. Although it may count for very little to some gamers, the Xbox makes saving and loading the game much easier. Probably because of the PS3's wonky memory setup, the simple act of saving the game often drags past the minute mark. This was a significant problem because the ever present threat of a game crash made saving all the more necessary. Thankfully, the Xbox saves and loads in a fraction of the time.

The differences between the PS3 and Xbox versions of Skyrim will make you do some deep soul searching as a gamer. On one hand we have the PS3; graphically stunning and virtually unplayable. On the other hand, we have the Xbox; plain in comparison but reliably stable.

My advice is this; if you're planning to play Skyrim on a console, for the love of all that is holy, don't do it on the PS3. That version of the game is fundamentally broken. While the Xbox version may not be perfect, it isn't any worse than the average Bethesda game. For my money, this is the definitive version of Skyrim. Unless you have a gaming class computer, that is…

But that's a review for someone else to write.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/22/13, Updated 03/18/13

Game Release: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (US, 11/11/11)

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