Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: PC Performance, Benchmarked

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion redefined our expectations for open world fantasy RPGs, and it was brutally hard on the hardware of its 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?

Time To Crack Open Another Elder Scroll, Don’t You Think?Time To Crack Open Another Elder Scroll, Don’t You Think?

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.

Nice, but Crysis 3 it is not.Nice, but Crysis 3 it is not.

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.

Beautiful view. Bethesda knows how to craft a landscape.Beautiful view. Bethesda knows how to craft a landscape.

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.

Mead, elk, and a potato for $4.99Mead, elk, and a potato for $4.99

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.

Congrats, you reached 27! I'm level 9000.  Congrats, you reached 27! I'm level 9000.

Let’s look at the graphics options and performance. That's why you're here, right?

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    Top Comments
  • jdw_swb
    Wait a minute........I'm confused!

    Is this that new Scrolls game being made by Notch?
    22
  • Jarmo
    A bit disappointing to see the 2 threads thing, no doubt the console versions are much better optimized.
    Looks like I'm both CPU and GPU limited with Phenom x4 and ATI 4870.
    16
  • lunyone
    Quote:
    A bit disappointing to see the 2 threads thing, no doubt the console versions are much better optimized.
    Looks like I'm both CPU and GPU limited with Phenom x4 and ATI 4870.

    Well with a Athlon II x3 450 and an AMD 4850 512mb GPU w/6 gb's of DDR2 it seems to work fine. The game has picked "Ultra" settings when launching the game the first time. I haven't seen all of the settings that the game has selected, but the game looks pretty good and is running quite well. I haven't run any FRAPS on it, but it seems to be about 30-40 FPS, from what I can tell, which is good enough for me :)
    11
  • Other Comments
  • xx12amanxx
    Ive been a fan of the Elderscroll series for years i look forward to playing this!
    6
  • Jarmo
    A bit disappointing to see the 2 threads thing, no doubt the console versions are much better optimized.
    Looks like I'm both CPU and GPU limited with Phenom x4 and ATI 4870.
    16
  • lunyone
    Quote:
    A bit disappointing to see the 2 threads thing, no doubt the console versions are much better optimized.
    Looks like I'm both CPU and GPU limited with Phenom x4 and ATI 4870.

    Well with a Athlon II x3 450 and an AMD 4850 512mb GPU w/6 gb's of DDR2 it seems to work fine. The game has picked "Ultra" settings when launching the game the first time. I haven't seen all of the settings that the game has selected, but the game looks pretty good and is running quite well. I haven't run any FRAPS on it, but it seems to be about 30-40 FPS, from what I can tell, which is good enough for me :)
    11
  • lunyone
    Oh and forgot to mention that the game is running at 1920 x 1080 resolution (unless the game adjusted to something different). I'm trying to play and post, so I'm a bit distracted to say the least. I'll post back if something changes :)
    3
  • computadoro
    O well, was hoping to see the 560ti and 6950 tested as those are the two cards I was going to choose between.
    9
  • cleeve
    Anonymous said:
    O well, was hoping to see the 560ti and 6950 tested as those are the two cards I was going to choose between.


    Just look at 6850/GTX460 and 6970/GTX 570. The 560 Ti and 6950 will be in the middle of those, closer to the higher end though.
    10
  • Swolern
    Bethesda disappoints PC gamers again! It's very sad that Bethesda chooses to optimize the consoles and leaves PC with a basic port with a little extra detail. I'm not saying it's not a great game because it is, but the thought of what it could have been if Bethesda put a little extra effort into the PC makes me sick!
    0
  • Swolern
    Bethesda=Activision. Dice blows em both away!
    -15
  • koogco
    I havent played this yet, due to a pending CPU upgrade (somehow i doubt my athlon x2 5600+ (2,8ghz) is enough for much.
    But even if this game doesn't quite push the top cards, you gotta commend them for the great scaling! Some of the worst console ports doesn't even HAVE graphics settings, in other games the settings make little difference in the hardware needed, and based on these screenshots (if rather small, larger ones please!) the game looks almost as good if you turn the settings down some.
    4
  • Anonymous
    Man looks really castrated so it can work on xbox/ps3. Too bad, 5 year old graphics are lame.
    -4
  • Stardude82
    koogcoI havent played this yet, due to a pending CPU upgrade (somehow i doubt my athlon x2 5600+ (2,8ghz) is enough for much.

    I bet you that CPU is plenty to push something like a 4850 with reasonable resolution and quality. I mean my old Core 2 Duo with a 2600XT managed to hack Fallout 3 fairly well at appropriate resolutions and quality settings.
    0
  • cumi2k4
    so, will i see another wave of thug wearing daedric armor as i progressed in level like Oblivion?
    -2
  • ojas
    Quote:
    At ultra details with transparency anti-aliasing and 4x MSAA, only the fastest cards like AMD's Radeon HD 6970, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 570, and its GeForce GTX 460 in SLI provide playable frame rates.


    So does the 6850...barely, but it does...
    1
  • ojas
    What about memory usage? I've been curious to see what effect BF3 and Skyrim would have on that 1GB vs 2GB 6950 article...

    Would be good if we could just get charts for both games with max VRAM usage for cards with memory greater than 1GB for ultra and high settings at various resolutions...i know my 9600GT goes up to 800MB with BF3 set mostly to medium at 1024x768...
    1
  • Jarmo
    lunyoneWell with a Athlon II x3 450 and an AMD 4850 512mb GPU w/6 gb's of DDR2 it seems to work fine.


    Sounds promising, even if I'll have to push it to 1920x1200.
    I can do without AA but I'd like the action to stay smooth even (and especially) when crowded by opponents.
    -1
  • jdw_swb
    Wait a minute........I'm confused!

    Is this that new Scrolls game being made by Notch?
    22
  • molo9000
    Was vsync enabled or disabled for this test?

    I think Skyrim enables it by default and you have to either turn it off in an .ini file or force it off with the graphics driver.
    -2
  • Onyx2291
    Hmm seeing that a 6670 is right between the 240 and 5770 it should be playable at the settings I'm looking toward.. Leaning more and more toward upgrading my GPU.
    0
  • Kamen_BG
    I wonder why the game gives such a little difference between 2 and more cores on AMD CPU's but it seems to use 4 SB cores.
    -3
  • enkichild
    This is proof dev are in bed with AMD/NVIDIA

    How can this run on console hardware, yet so poorly on a more recent computer?

    $$$
    -8