SemtexSkittle vs. Bethesda: Why I Won’t Buy Skyrim


Yes, Skyrim! Universally heralded as a triumph of gaming. It has received perfect scores at numerous well-regarded review sites and from important critics up and down the world of game reviews. Well, I have an opinion about Skyrim, too. Or, probably a shade more accurately, I have an opinion about Bethesda Softworks, because they’re not getting one penny from me for their new “triumph”, and they’re not going to receive much in the way of praise in this review. So, if you’re an irredeemable fan of the studio, the comments section is open for you to yell at me below. Just understand that you’re coming from a different place than I am. I automatically mistrust any title that Bethesda puts out (and yes, I will be explaining in detail in this article) and I’m predisposed to dislike their games. I do not view them as having a history of putting out excellent games. I can’t name an excellent game they’ve developed. I’m more than happy to discuss within that framework; just let my point of view be understood.

I don’t think Bethesda makes good video games, and I never have.

That statement, by itself, startles people.

That statement, by itself, causes people to leap to Bethesda’s defense. No, I’m told, read this review! It will explain why their latest game is worth buying right away. No, I’m told, Bethesda’s latest title is a great game, you just aren’t giving it a chance.

Maybe. Maybe all of that is true. But in my mind, I have a laundry list of completely legitimate complaints, and they arose from trying pretty hard to appreciate the content that Bethesda was providing. For those who are interested in an alternate take on Bethesda, the sandbox “WRPG”, and their various “triumphs” in gaming… there may be some content of interest for you here.

My personal experience with Bethesda starts with their 2002 release of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I had absolutely innumerable problems with this game, ranging from the skill-raising / leveling system through the lack of a useful map feature. But in my personal experience, Morrowind was stable, it looked pretty, and it had good intentions. This was a modern-era “WRPG” (which for some reason has become synonymous for some people with “sandbox”. Let’s clear this up now: Bethesda makes “sandbox” games, but this is not a universal feature of the Western-developed RPG). It used modern technology to render its tiny group of facial models, and it told a suitably generic RPG story that was delightfully fleshed out by books, notes, and conversations all around the in-game world.

Oblivion continued the grand tradition established in Morrowind. I refused to pay for this game based on my experience with Morrowind, but I was willing to try it out. I borrowed the title from a friend a couple of years after the game had been released. I was alarmed to discover that the game still had unresolved bugs. I encountered graphical glitches and issues (most of them relatively minor, albeit annoying. Because of how modern playtesting works, it’s highly improbable that any game will ever be totally free of texture and graphics glitches), but also weird problems with the AI of both enemies and NPCs. I also encountered problems with enemies that I couldn’t see or locate by any means keeping me ‘in combat’, unable to fast travel or otherwise use the game’s features. None of these problems were, strictly speaking, game breakers. But this was years after launch, and these bugs reared their ugly heads much more often than I’d expect to see even at launch for any professional studio title. Arguments about the size and complexity of Oblivion don’t fly – if you can’t create a game that I can trust be stable and fun at Oblivion’s size, then the game needs to be smaller. You are, as always, entirely free to disagree on this point, but for me it’s no contest. My problems with Oblivion also included the absurd leveling system – I can’t imagine how that system was ever thought to be a good idea – a weak, lazy storyline, unbelievably long loading times, and strictly by-the-numbers gameplay. In short, everything in the game took a back seat to the size of the world. I just can’t imagine how anyone wanted to explore such a huge world limited by such a mediocre game.

All of that having been said, I didn’t hate Oblivion the way I hated Morrowind. It wasn’t until I played Fallout 3 that my opinion of Bethesda was cemented. Fallout 3 was essentially just a re-skin of Oblivion; it was meshed with reasonable effectiveness with basic elements of a first person shooter, but on the whole, the game did not break new ground in terms of the game engine. Gone was Oblivion’s crazy level up system in favour of a traditional character improvement system that was essential to recapture the essence of Fallout. So far, so good. Once again, we’re treated to a huge world, and Fallout 3 was visually impressive right from the start. But I played Fallout 3 on its day of launch, and I spent as much time resetting my XBox 360 console and retreading ground I’d already covered after frustrating crash bugs as I did doing anything else. It features all of the same bugs I remembered from Oblivion – occasional graphics glitches, occasionally melded with something more sinister where the game’s collision would allow the player to become inescapably trapped. Bizarre AI problems that cropped up occasionally and mostly fall under the category of ‘vexing, but not game-breaking’. Oh, and the crashes. It’s not a good thing when I have to spend time thinking about saving, and worrying when I can’t save, not because of the game’s difficulty curve or the possibility of screwing things up with a bad decision in the story, but because of bugs. Bugs which I can’t really avoid, because having the game freeze when you bring up the game’s inventory screen is… well, the game can’t be played without that feature. Not for any length of time.

Does Bethesda try and patch these bugs? Eventually, yes. But other game studios don’t have to release constant patches to address serious bugs. Other studios don’t launch games that have this many bugs. End users are always going to find glitches that the developer misses; modern playtesting relies heavily on automation, and simply can’t match the penchant for creative mischief that characterizes the gaming community. But the problems with every single one of Bethesda’s releases goes far beyond occasional glitches. As a gamer, I usually don’t spend much time trying to break games, or trying to figure out what weird things I can do with the environment of a game like Fallout 3. The fact that, despite my style, I can’t stop running into bugs, speaks to a deeper issue. Bethesda deserves their reputation for releasing buggy games. And let’s not even get into Fallout: New Vegas, which Bethesda published – doing themselves no credit in the process.

So, enough is enough. New releases on the XBox 360 are going to cost about $60 U.S. And I’m not going to pay to support a product that always feels like it was pushed out the door without attention to quality control. And that’s why I won’t be paying one red cent for Skyrim. Frankly, I don’t care how good the game is. I’ve heard almost universally positive things (clouded by the fact that a friend of mine ran into a crash bug in his first hour playing the game), I’ve heard the new engine is wonderful, and that it improves dramatically on the gameplay of Oblivion, that the leveling system is fun and intuitive, and that the game is a visual masterpiece set in an amazingly huge 3-D game world. In fact, I’m almost certain that I would enjoy Skyrim. But enjoying Skyrim would be giving tacit approval to a studio who I have lost all respect for, and who I feel is unworthy of the support of the gaming community. I, personally, feel that Bethesda makes mediocre games which enjoy the benefit of an insane amount of positive press. I’ve always felt that way, as you can see from the brief history I outlined above. But it’s not inconceivable that Bethesda could make a great game. I just can’t vote for them with my dollars. Not anymore.

11 responses to “SemtexSkittle vs. Bethesda: Why I Won’t Buy Skyrim

  1. The funny thing is what you mentioned about bugs, crashes and glitches is why I stopped playing Fallout 3 and never bothered with New Vegas. As for Morrowind and Oblivion…

    I was frustrated as you were with its flaws, but there was enough positives about both games that I stuck with them and finished them. In fact, I was still playing Morrowind and it’s world editor as recent as this summer on my computer.

    Now, coming into Skyrim I did keep in the back of my mind all the problems Bethesda continues to have with their game releases. So far, I haven’t come across the bug your friend came across though there’s a glitch when it comes to leveling a particular skill (which I was happy to come across and exploit) but it wasnt a game breaker for me and, overall, didnt impact the sort of character I was playing as. I just exploited it to unlock a Live Achievement to be honest.

    I would say that the only thing Im pressing for Bethesda to patch and looks like it’s arriving tomorrow is for me to be able to install the game onto my 360 HDD and not have bad frame rate issues and draw distance problems.

    I can’t speak for the glitch and bugs plaguing the PC and the PS3, but from what I could gather the 360 has escaped much of the bigger issues. But then that does go towards your point that Bethesda’s QA department is very much lacking when it comes to doing their job prior to this game’s release.

    You may not pay to play, but I shall enjoy the game for both of us. 😀

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  2. Problems with installs on the 360 are so common I can’t even blame Bethesda for that one. Probably half of the games in my 360 library aren’t worth installing due to one problem or another. That feature should have been included from the start, and has suffered because it wasn’t.

    As I said; I’m actually certain I would enjoy this game… but just like I wouldn’t cast a vote for a political candidate I don’t like, or wouldn’t buy a ticket for a shitty 3-D re-release of Star Wars Episode I, I won’t give Bethesda my support. My purchase decision isn’t going to change anything, but it does make me feel better. 🙂

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  3. I will start of with saying that anything Bethesda puts out, I will buy. However I also understand where you’re coming from. At this time with the economy being what it is, I’m much more inclined to give my money to developers I trust or know I’ll enjoy what they’ll put out. The new IP’s from Bethesda or Irrational Games? Yep, I’ll give them my money in a heart beat. The new title from Activision? Suck on it Kotick, I’m picking it up used at Gamestop for 19.99. See you in three years MW3. That is one of the main reasons I will buy Bethesda games. I haven’t played one yet that I didn’t enjoy.

    Bethesda was also my introduction to RPG’s as a whole. Before Oblivion my video game knowledge was Halo, Mario Bros, Donkey Kong and Sonic the Hedgehog. Exploring a dungeon and actually being able to interact with the location around me, blew my mind! I can search this guy I just killed and steal his stuff? Awesome! This is probably why I hold Bethesda on a pedestal, they introduced me to the role-playing genre. As they say, you never forget your first.

    I’m about ten hours into Skyrim and have run into my share of graphic glitches, and even a glitch that made me restart a quest. Bethesda does put out buggy games, but I haven’t come across a bug yet to make me abandon Bethesda all together. Sure they’re annoying but they don’t happen enough, at least not to me, to outweigh the positive aspects of their games.

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  4. You make perfectly valid points, almost all of which I agree, but…

    I don’t follow the beginning of your argument. You say you didn’t hate Oblivion as much as Morrowind, but after listing your problems with it, you end on “But in my personal experience, Morrowind was stable, it looked pretty, and it had good intentions.” Which makes it sound like you didn’t hate it.

    I do hate the Elder Scrolls leveling system. I spent the better part of a year bumbling around Morrowind before I decided that all those side quests can stay unfound/uncompleted, and focused on the main story; which stinks. Kill a demon living in a volcano. Got it.

    I stopped playing Oblivion after I realized that all I’m doing is running around closing gates. (For similar reasons, I have no interest in most Nintendo games as they’re always about collecting stuff. But they’re for kids, so I cut them some slack.)

    Fallout 3 didn’t have the great humor of the original series. Where was the giant Godzilla footprint. Maybe it’s my fault for being too old and being able to remember the original(s). (Crap, I remember buying Fallout and being excited ‘cuz on the box it asked, “Do you remember Wasteland?” I still play that one!)

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  5. You’re quite right; the opening of my argument where I discuss Morrowind isn’t congruent with the rest of my gripes. My problem with Morrowind centered almost entirely around the nearly-useless “map” feature of the game and another questionable level-up system. As soon as I really understood how difficult it was going to be for me to find my way to places with such vague directions as “to the east!” and a map covered in fog, I lost patience with the game. It didn’t have any other engaging features to draw me back in.

    Why was I leveling up from drawing, then subsequently sheathing, my longsword? Couldn’t I level up without doing anything but that? It didn’t make any sense!

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    • True, the leveling system is/was horrid. I think I made up three characters before figuring out how to work the system correctly. (Add that to the list, you shouldn’t have to consult online guides in order to avoid making your character a GIMP (high level with no worthwhile skills.) That’s one of the reasons I was kind of excited about Skyrim, because apparently they ditched the system for Fallout’s easier one. Not that I’d buy it anytime soon, if ever. I was barely employed at the time, so I could justify wasting tons of time searching caves for no reason.

      As for the maps, I don’t remember it being that much of a problem, though I do remember using the physical game map they put in the box a lot.

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      • The leveling system for Skyrim is waaaaay improved over the previous two games in the series. I agree with Skittle’s reasoning for why he won’t buy the game. In fact, the article was posted just days before Bethesda rolled out patch 1.2 which caused a whole new batch of problems to pop up. With that in mind I’m still enjoying the hell out of Skyrim and haven’t found too many other gamebreaking glitches though have found a couple glitches which should make some players happy since it helps levels up certain skills real fast.

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  6. I dont know what games every on here are playing but these bugs and other glitches i never really encountered. As for oblivion i definately here the load time when it was late at night playing this game id find my self waking up an hour lately because i was waitin for a door to open, but honestly other than that never really xperienced any of these problems especially w skyrim by far the best rpg ive ever played and honestly i would give it a chance,i want to buy you a cpy that how confident i am in it. This new dynamic of dragons attacking you out of no where is awesome it just gives the game new life you hvent to mae sure your always prepared and as rr crashes i havent experienced one yt and im 100 hrs in. For you to dismiss a game so big with so much in it for some bugs and glitches is beyond me i mean what do you expect with something like that perfection i dont think so even games w a quarter off the content have way worse glitches exploits and crashes so email if u want this game ill buy it just because i know youll like it i got a kid that just plays strictly sports to play this,he made fun and talked crap,watched me for an hour and asked to borrow it and hasnt stopped since last week

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    • As a huge fan of Skyrim I will say that he does have a point. I’ve come across some glitches that just broke certain sidequests. There was actually a particular nasty glitch which would’ve broken my game since I couldn’t advance the main quest. Luckily I was able to find a way to force my way through the glitch and continue my game.

      While I may not agree with the writer’s promise not to buy the game I do understand what he’s reasonings are. The game is huge as all Bethesda rpgs tend to be, but they also suffer from quality control that should’ve found most of the bugs, especially game-killing ones. I can wave off the smaller glitches that just affects some miscellaneous jobs and quests, but when major bugs that affects main quests and guild quests that stops a player from moving forward in the game then Bethesda does need to invest more on quality control.

      I think too many people (I will put myself in the same camp) will give Bethesda too much of a free pass because their games are huge and such fun to play around in, but perfection is not what we as gamers want from them. As gamers we should require Bethesda to release games that shouldn’t require to be patched within a week of it’s release to fix major bugs and glitches. Minor ones I can live with but major ones should never get passed the company’s QA department.

      It’s a good thing that I’m more than willing to find fixes for the glitches and bugs I’ve come across. So far, game-killing ones I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid, but I know that if the one major glitch I did come across left me no choice but to start over a game that I had already invested 270 hours in I would be very unhappy with Bethesda.

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