Being a PlayStation Elder Scrolls fan has not been fun. While Xbox 360 and PC gamers have been smugly whacking orcs upside the face, the PS3 edition has been largely unplayable thanks to nebulous technical issues centred on a nosediving frame rate during extended play times. Here's the kicker: not everyone suffers, and those that do report a whole range of maladies, from complete freezes to uncompletable quests.
The finger has firmly been pointed at the PS3's reduced RAM. Think of this as a whiteboard. As you play, the game scribbles notes about everything you do. It all gets written down and tracked. Trouble is, PS3 has to share half its whiteboard with the GPU, effectively giving it less to work with than 360.
The upshot is that how you play is as important as the time you spend doing it. Todd Howard admitted this in an interview with Kotaku, referring to it as a "bad memory situation". He explained : "It's the things you've done, in what order and what's running. Some of the things are literally 'whatspells do you have hot-keyed?' because they handle memory differently."
In a disgraceful twist, Howard says that his developers knew the problem existed before launch, but didn't think it would affect many people. Bethesda shipped the game on PS3 anyway. However the 'Rimlag' thread on Bethesda's forums started three days before the game's official release. Promo copies were in the wild and people noticed immediately - but not critics. Although 360 and PC reviews were started weeks before release, Bethesda insisted PS3 review code wasn't ready (despite clear evidence to the contrary on the Rimlag thread) and made PS3 journos wait until they could review from retail editions.
The, ahem, fallout has been bad. Bethesda already suffered similar issues, with Josh Sawyer, an Obsidian developer who worked on New Vegas, calling it an "engine level issue". Something Bethesda's VP of PR, Pete Hines disputes, although the symptoms seem identical.
HOPE IN SIGHT
There is at least light at the end of the tunnel. The latest 1.4 update seems to fix the issue, citing "long term play optimisations for memory and performance (PS3)" in the patch notes. However V1.2 also made similar promises, but proved temporary. This time, though, it seems to be working. Ben O'Donnell on our Facebook page reports that Skyrim "runs a lot smoother since the patch", while Debby Bolding adds it's "smoother, [with] less lag and hasn't frozen since the patch, or not yet anyway."
Patch notes across formats hint that errant scripting has been addressed. (New Vegas's glitches were patched with a fix addressing over 200 scripting issues.) Now, however, Bethesda are talking about Skyrim DLC, and it's worth noting the New Vegas DLC saw numerous issues, including corrupted saves and freezing. Again. Skyrim's fixed for now, but that could all change...