The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Performance & IQ Preview

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released early this morning, and we have an exclusive look at performance in this game. We'll talk about performance, show some screenshots, and see what video card delivers the best experience on game launch day. For all you that are not already on your 10th quest that is.

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Performance

All of our apples-to-apples performance testing is at the "Ultra" settings. This means 2560x1600 8X AA/16X AF and the highest values and view distances in the game. We tested without modifying any "INI" files in the game. We wanted to get an 'out-of-box' feel for the game, so this performance is what you will get installing cards, drivers and game and having at it.

GTX 580 SLI vs. HD 6970 CFX

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AMD Radeon HD 6970 CFX is non-functional without a proper Catalyst Application Profile. As you can see, this severely harms framerates in Skyrim. This performance is not playable. If you have CFX, disable CFX for Skyrim until a proper CAP is released, you will get better performance with a single-GPU than you will with dual-GPU enabled.

SLI is working with GTX 580 SLI thanks to the Beta driver NVIDIA put on a day before Skyrim was launched. With GTX 580 SLI performance is well above 60 FPS most of the time in this first part of the game. We are playing at the highest in-game settings and performance and smoothness couldn't be better. As we got into more of the game, which takes place underground in caves, performance was in the hundreds of FPS most of the time. In outdoor areas it was averaging around 60 FPS with GTX 580 SLI.

GTX 580 vs. HD 6970

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This graph shows why we felt it was odd that Skyrim sets the GTX 580 at "High" while it sets the HD 6970 at "Ultra" by default. The GeForce GTX 580 is clearly faster than the Radeon HD 6970 in Skyrim at "Ultra" settings. The GTX 580 is exactly 25% faster than the HD 6970, which is rather significant. You can also see the single HD 6970 is faster than the performance with HD 6970 CFX enabled without a proper CAP. If you are running CFX, turn it off for Skyrim for the best performance at this time. Both video cards here were playable at these settings, but obviously the GTX 580 had the performance advantage.

GTX 580 SLI Scaling

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Unfortunately we cannot show you CrossFireX scaling, but we can show you SLI scaling. So far, we are not seeing the greatest SLI scaling we've seen in a game. Right now, we are experiencing a 46% performance benefit with two GTX 580 video cards versus one. This is nowhere near the 90%+ efficiencies we see in Battlefield 3. Whether this is due to the game engine, the DX9 nature, or just needing further driver improvements is unknown. Right now, this isn't that great of a performance improvement with SLI.


Image Quality

We will take a more in-depth look at image quality in the full-version evaluation, for now we will talk about some things we noticed while playing this morning.

All screenshots were taken on the Radeon HD 6970 at 2560x1600 8X AA/16X AF and "Ultra" settings with every graphics option at its highest value.

Depth of Field

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We noticed that Depth of Field was used heavily in this game. As you start playing you will notice DoF being used in the distance. During the first dragon scene there is quite a bit going on to exaggerate things. When you fight in third person there also seems to be quite a bit.

Shadows

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We found shadows to be rather lacking in quality in Skyrim so far. In the first screenshot the character shadows are too edgy, and could really use some softening. There are even scenes in the game where there should be shadows, but there aren't. In this second screenshot where are these guys shadows? In the third screenshot we think that shadow is just terrible for a 2011 game, it needs soft edges. This game could stand to have soft edge shadows and Ambient Occlusion. Some of this tech screams "LOW!"

Textures

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Most of the textures look good from a distance, but if you get close to some of them you will notice they are low quality. The post in the first screenshot looks bad up close. I think the character texture quality could stand to do some improvements as well. I also think the character animation, especially mouth movement is very primitive looking. The ground can look good from a distance, but if you look at it close to your character it isn't very detailed.

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On indoor environments we noticed that rocks and stone look good, but some of the posts or things like shelves and tables look low quality when viewed up close. We will look into more texture type things in the full-evaluation.

Overall World

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You can judge for yourself what you think. What we think is that on objects far away, the quality looks quite good. Rock and stone seem to have the best quality, but some quality seems to be lost to other objects. We think the water is pretty darned awesome looking in this game, the darkening denoting depth is a great effect. Overall we think the texture quality is mixed. Far away it looks good, and some objects up close look fine, but other objects are very low quality up close. It seems the closer you get the worse the game looks. We also think character quality and animation seems a bit low. Overall, not the best looking 2011 game. If this had come out say two years ago, would have been great, but today it is kind of lacking in quality for a game of 2011.