The Graphical Advancements of Skyrim: A Comparison to Oblivion

When Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion launched, fans and critics hailed it's "cutting-edge graphics".  Bethesda made use of an improved Havok physics engine and utilized high dynamic range lighting to create a more believable environment.  In addition, procedural content generation tools allowed developers to quickly create detailed terrains.  Well, as detailed as 2006 could get.  There is no denying, when Oblivion launched, it's graphics were ahead of it's time. 

Now, with the launch of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, those graphics are laughable in comparison.  Once again, we have been shown countless screenshots and footage that highlight the game's stunning visuals.  Much like Oblivion, Skyrim will be this year's graphical powerhouse. And once again, we are hearing those same quotes.  "Look at the textures!"  "The characters are so much more detailed!".

And yes, it's all true. Obviously, Skyrim is leaps and bounds ahead of Oblivion.  It'd be stupid to compare the two games.  Oblivion was created 5 years before Skyrim, after all.  Instead, this "loose comparison" is more of a tribute to the leaps Bethesda has made graphically with Skyrim.  As you look through the screenshots, admire the textures, lighting, and environment detail in Skyrim.  Below I've taken a look at Oblivion so that we can further appreciate what Skyrim has to offer.  I've highlighted a few of the areas that look to have received the most improvement.

The images are scaled to 630 width, but if view full size by right clicking, you should be able to see a fairly larger version.  Without further adieu, I present to you the magnificent Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The men of Skyrim

Honestly, I don't need to put the text above each image for you to tell which image is from what game.  Elder Scrolls is fantasy action-adventure filled with gritty action.  You want to see manly men, warriors who strike fear in the eyes of enemies.  The difference is remarkable. Check out the individual hairs on the beard of the man in Skyrim.  He's got wrinkles on his forehead, showing he's a middle-aged man who's seen the fog of war.  Oblivion…not so much.  He appears to be of middle-age, but it lacks the detail that the image on the right contains.  He has some 5 o'clock shadow going on, but as you can see, it's not textured at all.  It looks more like a color change in his skin.  Same goes with his eyebrows.  In Skyrim, you can see the hair.  The man on the right strikes fear into your heart.  The man on the left…well, let's just say the woman in the background appears scarier.

Skyrim male comparison

The wild women

Speaking of women, the "women", if you can call them that, of Oblvion are quite funny.  Blocky bosoms, herp derp faces, and a pretty manly build.  Granted, women back then didn't have the "womanly" form of today's female population, but I'm pretty sure they didn't have square boobs.  The one on the right is alright looking.  She's got a pretty square manly face, but she actually doesn't look too bad when compared to the complete train wreck on the left.  I don't even know what to say about that one.  Remember, at the time it was "so lifelike!"  Compared to Skyrim, not so much. 

Which brings me to appreciate the time Bethesda took on Skyrim's female population. 

Holy crap women have boobs! And round ones too!  Well done, Bethesda.  Granted, the one on the left still has that warrior mentality, but at least she has that feminine appearances.  Less square-jawed, smoother textures, and actual form to her body.  The one on the right?  Let's just say you don't need to be halfway in the bag to appreciate her.  That's a woman you take home to meet your mother.

Appreciate the textures in Skyrim

Look at that difference.  Easily some of the best textures I've seen in a video game.  The modeling on that armor in Skyrim is astonishing.  Unlike Oblivion where it appears to be all one textured layer, each individual nook and cranny of that armor is modeled.  Back in Oblivion's day, that leather belt would've been flat.  Now it looks like it actually sticks out, and casts a shadow!  Even in the face, the differences are remarkable.  It's got wrinkles, creases, an overbite.  You can actually imagine what it would feel like to rub his face.  Oblivion is smooth as a babies butt.  Remember, consider the time.

Skyrim races

Different races are nothing new to the Elder Scrolls franchise, but the differences in races in Skyrim take it to a whole new level.  As opposed to Oblivion, where every race looked like a slightly modified human model, each race in Skyrim has it's own unique look.  Each face has it's differences, each character model is different.  You can see the different textures of each skin.  The leathery skin on the left compared to the smoother skin next to it, compared to the wrinkled rough skin on the far right.  As a Skyrim fan, I definitely appreciate the extra effort on Bethesda's part.

The massive, lush environments/Vistas

Don't get me wrong, the environments in Oblivion are massive and at the time were as gorgeous as they come.  But as you can see, there are some drastic improvements in Skyrim.  The environments are larger, better sculptured, and more realistic in every way, shape, and form.  The trees in the distance look blocky and unrendered.

Thanks to the Creation Engine, Skyrim allowed for numerous improvements in graphics.  The draw distance renders farther than in previous Elder Scrolls games.  Notice the difference in detail of trees in the distance.  You can still see the individual branches in the trees in Skyrim.  It's been said that a player can stare at a small object; and then look up at a mountain and run to the top of it.  That's right, you can climb those mountains in the distance, and as you climb expect the environment to change, thanks to the Creation Engine.  Because of the large presence of snow in Skyrim's game world, the technological upgrades were applied to weather effects and allowed for dynamical snow fall upon the terrain, instead of snow that was rendered as a textural effect in previous games.

Everything about the environments in Skyrim are more detailed than it's predecessor.  Bethesda has been able to give weight to the branches of trees which now affects how the tree blows in the wind.  In addition, the wind affects the flow of water in streams and rivers.  Speaking of water….


Based on the latest PC requirements for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, it doesn't look like it will take much to get these magnificent look graphics on your computer.