Skyrim is the probably the best game I played in 2011. Granted, I didn’t play all the winter ‘blockbusters’ (who had the time for that?), but out of the games I played last year Skyrim stands tall. Well, Portal 2 and Dead Space 2 are right up there too – don’t make me choose!
When I bought Skyrim I decided to play it on Xbox 360, even though I also have a decent PC and a PS3. Its pretty obvious why I avoided the PS3 version, but I also shunned the PC version even though its likely it would perform much better. Why? With games like Skyrim on PC I can tend to obsess over tweaking performance, looking for patches, mods, searching forums etc. I wanted to take a different route and just play the damn game and it seemed like the Xbox 360 version would be the best way to do that.
Fast-forward 45 hours later into Skyrim. Contrary to many other players (especially on PS3 and PC) I’ve encountered very few bugs and have been having a great time. But I’ve also been having a progressively harder and harder time staying patient during Skyrim’s extensive loadtimes on Xbox 360. Its gotten to the point where I’m considering buying the PC version and transferring my saves over. And yes, I have installed Skyrim to the HDD. Sometimes I can feel my life slipping through my fingers as I wait, watching an intricate model of a dragon spinning in space as Skyrim loads assets interminably.
So I conceived a project to see just how much of my life I’m truly wasting. The project is twofold: first, to figure out if I’m getting maximum performance from my Xbox 360; and second, to play a few hours in Skyrim and objectively measure how much time I sit staring at a load screen.
After I installed Skyrim to the HDD, I noticed almost no subjective difference whatsoever. So I timed a series of load screens on my Xbox360 Slim (with 20gb HDD) to determine whether there was any improvement at all from the HDD. What I found is that the load times were basically identical within the margin of error. Worse, the times are extremely long as you can see from the table below. It really sucks to wait 40+ seconds to enter any building in a town.
|Action||Loadtime HDD (Saves on Flash)||Loadtime DVD (Saves on Flash)|
|Continue Saved Game from Main Menu||56 s||55 s|
|Fast Travel to Riften||59 s||64 s|
|Open Tavern in Riften||40 s||40 s|
|Exit Riften to Skyrim||64 s||64 s|
The weird thing is that I can remember loadtimes being much better earlier in the game. But whether that’s due to something in patches I’ve installed, or because my save file is bigger I can’t say. But I did a Google search to see what others experiences were and found some people on Xbox 360 have much better loadtimes than the above. One potential tip I read was to load your saves off the HDD, not off the internal 4gb flash memory of an Xbox 360 Slim. It seemed like quite a longshot, but anything was worth a try at this point. So I copied a single save over to the HDD and re-ran all the tests.
|Action||Loadtime HDD (saves on HDD)||Loadtime DVD (saves on HDD)|
|Continue Saved Game from Main Menu||50 s||54 s|
|Fast Travel to Riften||32 s||33 s|
|Open Tavern in Riften||15 s||17 s|
|Exit Riften to Skyrim||31 s||34 s|
As you can see that’s a massive improvement! All categories are about 2x faster except the initial loadtime – which I can live with. So to anyone just starting Skyrim on Xbox 360, save your games to the HDD only. As for the difference between HDD and DVD, its still really slight. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps my old 20gb HDD which was harvested from my RROD original first-run Xbox 360 is the problem? Regardless a small improvement does seem to exist and certainly the silence of the HDD install is nice.
So now for the next part of this project – testing loadtimes in realworld gameplay. Here is how I calculated this: I played Skyrim for 2 hours, with no particular goal in mind other than to try to do a bit of everything. So there is some talking to townsfolk, some fast travel, a fight with a dragon, a few deaths and and some dungeon exploration at the end. Out of those 2 hours played, I timed loadtimes to have taken 9min 48sec which is ~8% of total playtime. If we take this as a general average in Skyrim we can extrapolate from it – if a gamer finishes everything in Skyrim, that can take 200 hours easily. Out of 200 hours, loadtime will have added up to 16 hours!
I was ready to quit playing Skyrim on Xbox 360 due to the awful loadtimes, but now that I’ve figured out how to improve them somewhat its bearable enough to continue. Of course, Skyrim is due to be patched probably many more times by Bethesda in the next year or so to correct a variety of issues – so I think gamers would certainly welcome any improvements they could make to loadtimes! That’s probably a pretty naive hope though, right? Bethesda does have their hands full with the PS3 debacle I suppose. How are your loadtimes in Skyrim? Post below!Tags: bethesda, elder scrolls, loadtimes, skyrim