Before I log any of my feedback or details I want to touch on one point that has been an annoying issue for me. I have the PC version of Skyrim, for anyone wondering, and the issue has been that the game will randomly freeze, the screen will go black, sound will sometimes loop and will require me hard reset my machine (push the actual power button until it shuts off). At first, this happened within 5 and 10 minutes of actually playing the game, which of course was superbly frustrating. I have tweak my PC to get it where I have played about 4hrs with only one "hard freeze" at the end of that session and last night I played flawlessly. Below I will detail my PC specs, the fixes I issued and any other relevant details. After all that, I will detail my experiences as I play the game.
Sony VAIO Laptop
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit SP1
Intel Core 2 Duo T6600 @ 2.20GHz
25.7GB available /289GB total HDD
Graphics Card- ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4650 512MB
Windows Experience Index: 5.7
-Gaming Graphics: 6.6
-Primary HDD: 5.9
Game installed no problem, was a little dissapointed on the required STEAM usage, but, for Skyrim I would have happily given up my left leg, so no big deal. After about an hour or so install, I was ready to go...or that's what I thought.
[PROBLEM]: I clicked "Play" through STEAM and the little launcher window, for STEAM, kept popping up and then disappearing, and repeating that. It became a little game of it's own trying to hit the 'X' button multiple times on the little flashing launcher window to make it stop.
[ATTEMPTS]: I stopped and tried again a few times, that didn't work. I completely closed out STEAM and reopened...no avail. I did a full system reboot, still the same issue. The small voice in the back of my head began getting a little louder ("You should've got it for XBOX360...").
[FIX]: I had the idea of simply double clicking on the disc drive in Windows Explorer. After a few seconds, the Skyrim screen appeared! Score!!
With hasty anticipation I rushed to click Play, completely ignoring any video settings that I usually tweak, such as playing in Windowed mode. The game auto-selected "High" for the graphics setting, it felt like a compliment and I hastily pushed play. Initial loads and videos worked no problem. I clicked 'New Game' and continue on my merry way.
[PROBLEM]: During loading screens between gameplay where it shows your level at the top right and such, the game would "freeze" and Windows would claim it "is not responding". I found this to be annoying, but a simply fix.
[FIX]: I simply did an "ALT-TAB" and that brought up the switch between tasks window for Windows and clicking on anything besides Skyrim seemed to cause Skyrim to stop freezing and continue on with the game. I noticed that sometimes just using "ALT-TAB" would immediately un-freeze it.
[PROBLEM]: As I moved on through the character creation and initial gameplay, it happened... the unthinkable, the BlackSOD (Black Screen of Death) or Hard Freeze.
[ATTEMPTS]: I quickly rebootted and reloaded (the voice in my head getting louder). This time I tweaked my graphics settings to LOW and Windowed mode 1200ish resolution. Game played again (had to still use the double click on disc in Windows Explorer method) and I got a little farther...but then it happened again.. I quickly jumped to the internet searching high and low for answers. Many people claimed it was an overheating issue, but I refused to believe it since many others with higher end cards experienced the same thing. To be fair, I had a similar issue with Fallout New Vegas and it required me to open up my laptop, near the fan, and pull out some wonderful dust bunnies and clean it out with compressed air. However, it was the next day, I had no compressed air, and I wanted immersion, so I sought a simpler, and more convenient route:
[FIX...so far]: I of course, kept my Windowed mode and LOW gfx settings the same. I also found a program called "Gamebooster", I was skeptical but desperate... and it is fantastic. It essentially stops all unnecessary services for your PC while you play a game and then turns them all back on when you're done. I highly suggest this and it is completely free: (http://iobit.com/gamebooster.html). I also followed some instructions that suggested tweaking your desktop themes settings. So I went to (in Windows 7) Start->Control Panel->Performance and Tools->"Adjust Visual Effects" link on left side of window. This brought up the "Performance Options" window and was at the "Visual Effects" tab. I simply clicked "Adjust for best performance" and clicked apply. Now, be warned, you Windows 7 will certainly not be pretty anymore... but for Skyrim, who cares.. I have actually left this mode during regular use because it allows me to work so much faster (having 4 instances of Visual Studio 2010 and SQL Server MS is a little resource intensive sometimes). Now with all that out of the way, I followed some other suggestions, I ran a full virus scan with MalwareBytes and AVG AntiVirus, and cleaned out any roque software. The final step I took was too analyze and defrag the Skyrim game cache through STEAM. To do this, open STEAM, go to "Library" and right click on "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" on the list on the left side. Click on the "Properties" option. A window should popup for the properties, click on the "Local Files" tab then click on "Verify Integrity of Game Cache" button and when that is done, click "Defrag Cache Files" button. I also defragment my whole pc every Wednesday morning at 1am and I would suggest the same.
On my next session of Skyrim I played 4hrs with no issues until the end when it froze, however, I hadn't completed all the above steps as of yet, I was just to itchy to play. My next session was about 2hrs and it was a flawless experience with no in-game load freezing and no Hard Freezing at all. The experience was topped off with the slaying of my first dragon :) In any event, I also religiously use the F5 key every 5 minutes or so to quick save and then try to remember to fully save every 15-20min if I can.
[UPDATE 11/28/11 0900]: So far so good, been able to play with no issues. To be fair, I also turned off Anti-Aliasing on my graphics card software and placed my graphic card in control of the graphics (set for best performance) instead of applications. I also downloaded the LAA patch for the newest version of Skyrim over at www.thenexusforums.com . I took an extra measure in opening up my laptop case and cleaning out the fan and heatsink areas. There was some dust clumps but nothing to bad. In any event, the graphics are pretty, but my pc is remaining on and I get to enjoy playing Skyrim, so all is good in the world.
[UPDATE 1/20/2012 1200]: I have gotten the latest updates from Steam and have run the program on Medium gfx settings, in Windowed mode without any issues to date. I no longer use the 4gb launcher and do not run any mods yet. I have successfully completed the main story line, which was great but was anti-climatic in the end game. I won't go into any details yet. I plan on continuing to play casually and rock the game fully to completion and then jump into mods. When I start modding I will begin posting again on the game. Note, however, that once Mass Effect 3 is released I will retreat into my gaming cave :)