Skyrim and its hardware requirements

I bought The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim because it is on sale on Steam. I have wanted it since it came out and skipped a couple of previous Steam sales, but then regretted skipping them when it remained it its confiscatory retail price for months on end. I wasn’t too upset, as I had plenty of other things to do and games to play, but every day, I checked Amazon and Steam for a sale.
Now that I have Skyrim, it’s pretty great, even though I haven’t played it long. I have been experimenting with all the different damage types and am dressed in heavy armor, mostly using mace and shield, but becoming more attracted to magic all the time after frying a bunch of skeleton dudes way faster with magic than I could thump them with my mace. I remember that heavy armor inhibited magic in Oblivion, so I will see if the same effects apply. I really wanted to use a bow, but even with a nifty bow that is better than the starter bow, it doesn’t do damage that fast and is slow to shoot. So I’ll probably become more of a magic user than a melee fighter, though will keep some nice weapons handy just in case.
On my home machine, which is a high end machine, Skyrim runs beautifully at 2560×1440 with ultra-high settings (though I did turn down the anti-aliasing a little from the recommended level, because I don’t think AA adds that much at super high resolution). The game is smooth as silk and looks pretty good, though not quite as amazing as I had hoped. I killed a bunch of bandits in a snowy hideout and the snow-covered floors looked like plastic (and this was with the high-res texture pack) and the falling snow was cartoonish.
As a comparison, I installed Skyrim on my laptop, which is a pretty good laptop. It has a quad-core mobile i7 processor, though it is only 2 GHz, rather than the 3.4 GHz of my gaming PC. Both have 8 GB of RAM, and both have AMD graphics cards (because of the bad luck I have had with NVIDIA cards). The home machine has a 6970 GPU, which, at the time, was the fastest available, while the laptop has a 6770, both with 2 GB of graphics RAM. The laptop is 1920×1080 resolution, while the gaming PC is 2560×1440.
When Skyrim launched, it autodetected the settings for the laptop and chose Medium with some AA. I took its advice, launched the game, and after waiting nearly forever, the game started with a frame rate in the maybe 5 FPS region. It was a slideshow. So I quit, turned off the AA, disabled some of the reflections, etc., and tried again. It got better, maybe 10 FPS, but not playable. After switching the textures down to medium, it may have been 15 or 20 FPS, but still horribly disappointing.
I would imagine I could do some of the things in the various tweaking guides, and make it playable, but it is sad that I should have to. This laptop is much better than most people’s gaming rigs and is certainly miles faster than what I played Oblivion and X3 and most other games perfectly well on. So how is it that a game can look perfect on my gaming rig and look horrible on a machine that is at least 50% as capable, even at reduced settings? And does that mean that the majority of Skyrim players either had to buy a new machine for it or suffer with crap frame rates?
Since I have a good machine that I will play it on, I’m not particularly outraged by this, but it is concerning. I remember when Crysis came out and my machine at the time was as fast as could be (and certainly way faster than anything that had been using in the game’s development), I had to reduce some of the settings a bit to make it smooth. At least in Crysis’ case, that worked and I got a smooth and good looking game. With Skyrim, I would probably have to reduce the resolution to make it playable on the laptop. Game makers should try a little harder to make things playable with reasonable, but not great, hardware.

Comments are closed.