The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion redefined our expectations for open world fantasy RPGs, and it was brutally hard on the hardware of it's day. Is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as challenging on today's PC hardware, or can a modest rig handle it?
The Elder Scrolls series of role-playing games is distinguished with a tradition of pushing PC graphics past contemporary expectations. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind amazed players back in 2002, and was one of the first games to use pixel shaders for realistic water effects, along with hardware-accelerated tessellation, a feature that only went mainstream when it was incorporated into DirectX 11. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion took visual quality up several notches, but also completely redefined what a rich, detailed, and open virtual world could aspire to be.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim lands at our feet with big expectations to satisfy. How do Bethesda’s developers push the envelope in the series' most recent chapter?
You may be surprised to learn that the fifth Elder Scrolls installment doesn’t really push graphics much further than Oblivion, despite the fact that it centers on a new engine. The Creation Engine, as it's called, does facilitate improved detail, better lighting, and more realistic character animation. But, at the end of the day, Skyrim is clearly cut from the same cloth as its predecessor. Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3 are in different leagues when it comes to visual fidelity.
So, if the studio didn’t concentrate on graphics, what was its focus?
When Skyrim is compared to Oblivion, it’s clear that the goal was to make a great game better. Everything is incrementally improved: the narrative is more engrossing, skill progression makes more sense, crafting is expanded, the game interface is more accessible, level scaling isn’t as ridiculous as it was in Oblivion, and combat is more engaging. It’s all smoother, better-designed, and more intuitive. It’s basically Oblivion, refined.
In fact, that might be the worst thing we can say about Skyrim. The feel of the game is so similar to its predecessor that it could have been sold as an expansion and I wouldn’t have thought twice. To clarify, I’m not saying the game is a ripoff; I think it’s worth every penny of the asking price. But it doesn’t feel like a new game. It feels like I'm playing Oblivion again. That’s really not a bad thing. Oblivion was good enough to claim more hours of my life than I care to calculate. In short, there's a winning formula in place, and Bethesda didn’t mess with it much.
I could spend all day going over the refinements that Skyrim introduces, but this is a performance analysis, not a game review. Let’s face it: if you’re an Oblivion fan, you’re going to give Skyrim a try no matter what I say. So, have fun discovering the nuances when you dig in.
Let’s look at the graphics options and performance. That's why you're here, right?