The fifth installment in Bethesda's long-running Elder Scrolls series took the industry by storm last Friday, earning an impressive aggregated review score of 95/100.
Based on early estimates, Skyrim has shipped seven million copies worldwide across all platforms, including digital stores such as Steam. During a peak hour last Monday, Valve's platform alone recorded some 287,000 Skyrim players -- greater than the combined peak activity of MW3, Counter-Strike, Football Manger 2012 and Team Fortress 2.
We usually don't open our performance reviews with sales figures, but we felt compelled to illustrate the magnitude of Skyrim's launch because role-playing games rarely garner this type of attention. Although its popularity is undoubtedly aided by the cult-like status of the Elder Scrolls franchise, Skyrim isn't just a clone of its predecessors (we're looking at you MW3). Bethesda has made many gameplay refinements, especially to the graphics and animations -- our area of interest.
For its day, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion had incredible visuals, leveraging advanced lighting and shader techniques such as HDR and specular mapping. In fact, before Crysis launched in 2007, Oblivion was arguably the most taxing PC game available. You'd have been lucky to see 50fps while exploring the expansive realm on high quality with a pair of ATI Radeon X1900 XTs (a $1,200 proposition at the time). We don't expect Skyrim to be that stressful, but we do have high hopes for its graphical fidelity.
While it may not bring your PC to its knees, Skyrim promises to be the best-looking Elder Scrolls title to date with its newly developed game engine, called the "Creation Engine." Among other things, the framework lets Skyrim display greater draw distances and produce a more realistic world overall. Shadows can be created by any object or structure, tree limbs and the flow of water can be affected by wind, and other weather effects have been introduced, such as dynamic snow fall.
As fun as it is to chat about Skyrim's graphics, we're dying to get a little more "eyes-on"...