How I started to hate my favorite game of the year.

Before I get into this, let me start by saying that this game is incredible. Regardless of what I say, you should absolutely play this game. There are simply no other studios making expansive, living, breathing worlds like Bethesda. Fallout 3 is one of my favorite games of all-time and if it wasn’t for Skyrim being one of the buggiest games I’ve played in the last 10 years, it would have been a contender.

I loved how I was getting a beautiful, mod-free, Elder Scrolls experience. Back when I played Morrowind and Oblivion, I had to mod them to update the graphics. That wasn’t an issue with Skyrim – at all. The game was breathtaking and I’d often find myself stopping to take screenshots like I was some exotic vacation. Those screenshots were the only positive immersion breaks though. Absurd ragdoll death-poses, dialogue triggers from hell, and massive bugs. This game had it all.

I’m not just talking about the quirky bugs that you kind of expect from a Bethesda title. I’m talking about game-breaking bugs in the main story-line of the game. At one point, I spent (according to a screenshot) over an hour reloading save-points just to get the Alduin to show up to a scripted event he was scheduled for.

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This is pretty late in the story, so I was already used to outlandish bug workarounds, like needing to shut a gate in order to make the Greybeards show up again. I can’t remember the last time I spent this much effort digging through four year old forum threads just to progress through the main story of a triple A title. I was also about 25 hours into the game, so stopping at this Alduin bug wasn’t an option.

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According to everything I read, the “fix” was to literally keep reloading the game until he showed up. But, because of the unskippable cut scene you had to watch before you can tell if it worked, the process took about three minutes each time. About half an hour later, he showed up and, wait for it… he was invincible!

I totally thought this was intentional at first. Some kind of super-boss gimmick that I had to solve. So there I was, casting random spells, cycling through shouts, hitting him with different weapons. I did this for about ten minutes before I started to feel like an idiot and googled what was going on. Sure enough, huge bug.

Here comes the best part: the workaround for this is to reload your game to the start of the fight and let all the dialogue finish before making any changes to your gear or spells. What that meant is that I’d have to go through the previously bugged cut-scene before I could try to fix this bug! When I finally finished, the whole encounter ended up taking about two hours. Two hours for ten minutes of game-play.

We try to solve most of it; we’re sensitive to a lot of it… If [a bug is] gonna break the game, or unbalance the game in some way, we do try to solve it.”

— Todd Howard

I was prepared to laugh off the silly side-quest bugs, like when my bride ran out of my wedding during the priest’s proclamation of our vows. Afterwards, everyone walked up to congratulate me, and my wife was nowhere to be found. I found her two days later, walking around Whiterun like nothing had happened. Quirky for sure, but not game-breaking.

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And these are just a couple of the many quest issues I ran into. Don’t get me started on the horrendous dialogue triggering that pervades the entire game. The worst moment occurring when I had to go into the Jarl’s quarters to finish a quest in Dragonsreach. Everything seemed normal until his son walked in the room and started repeating “you’re not supposed to be in here” every five seconds. This continued for the entirety of the Jarl’s two-minute cut-scene. If I didn’t already know that nothing ruins a moment like a whiny child, I knew it now.

Those types of dialogue conflicts were almost constant. All the way up to the end of the game, where two of the champions that I met in Sovngarde started talking to me at the exact same time. I had no idea what either was saying. As soon as they stopped, they ran outside with their swords drawn, so I just followed them. I’m sure whatever they said was inspiring.

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The last aspect of this game that I found insufferable was the saving. The game lulls you into thinking that it’s always auto-saving for you. Fast travels, exiting and entering buildings, “some” cut-scenes – how could you possibly lose progress? The issue is that there are a massive number of load screens that inexplicably don’t include an auto-save.

There was a seemingly important quest where I captured a dragon and then got to ride him to a new area. Imagine my disappointment when, after listening to the dragon drone on about how amazing it was to fly, we simply fast traveled to the new zone. That disappointment was dwarfed when I died a few minutes later and discovered that my last auto-save was before I had even captured the dragon. The quest completion didn’t save the game and neither did the fast-travel.

Maybe it’s my fault though. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by all the checkpoints and hand-holding we have in games these days. Or maybe, just maybe, the auto-save system is poorly designed. Either way, bind quicksave to your right mouse button and save constantly.

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I didn’t have this experience while playing Fallout 3, Oblivion, or Morrowind, so I’m not completely sure what happened with Skyrim. It’s possible that only out of every ten people experience bugs like this and it was my turn to be unlucky. All I know is that many of the game’s most anticipated moments were completely undercut by a myriad of issues.

I’ll finish by saying that, even with all the issues I had with Skyrim, I’ve already started my second character. A twp handed barbarian who wears no armor and only does side-quests. I’m about seven hours in and so far, I’ve had zero issues (crosses fingers).

The only explanation I can fathom is that Skyrim is just so damn engrossing that Bethesda’s QA team got distracted while testing and didn’t get around to playing the main story-line. It’s completely ridiculous and at the same time, totally understandable.

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