While it has only been out on the market for a few weeks now, Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has already captured a huge audience: and we’re not just talking about RPG gamers either, as even diehard Unreal Tournament and Quake fans have been drawn in by the game as well. This is in large part due to Oblivion’s immersive wide-open gameplay, but it also doesn’t hurt that Oblivion is a pretty game to look at.
In fact, that’s putting it mildly, as Oblivion sports some of the fanciest outdoor environments ever to grace the PC. Remember the first time you booted up Far Cry or saw 3DMark 2001’s Nature demo and your jaw dropped to the floor? The outdoor scenery in Oblivion puts both of those to shame once the graphics settings are cranked up. But herein lies the problem, once the visual eye candy settings are bumped up to their maximums, your frame rate can quickly trickle to a crawl with even the latest high-end graphics cards. There are numerous posts in the Oblivion forums from users reporting poor frame rates; when I picked up a copy of the game at my local Gamestop, the sales clerk made sure to ask if my system was capable of handling the game’s hefty system requirements before ringing me up. He was pretty adamant that the game’s minimum requirements were far too conservative, particularly on the graphics side of the equation, only asking for a “128MB Direct3D compatible video card and DirectX 9.0 compatible driver”. There are plenty of GeForce and Radeon cards with 64-bit memory interfaces that meet this requirement!
With this in mind, we’ve rounded up all of the latest high-end graphics cards from both ATI and NVIDIA. We also threw in a GeForce 6800 GT in order to show how high-end hardware of the previous generation compares to today’s latest and greatest. For our testing, we cranked up all visual settings to their maximums. Of course, we also turned on settings such as self shadows, shadows on grass, tree canopy shadows, water ripples etc.
To test the game properly we’ve conducted our tests in three different areas of the game, each area presents a unique challenge to the graphics card. Our testing is pretty similar to what we do in Battlefield 2 and in a few other games we benchmark with: we load up the area and follow the same path through the area with FRAPS running in the background. We then average the results of 10 runs to get our final number for reporting in this article. Fortunately the variability isn’t quite as bad as we initially reported a few weeks ago, but it is a little higher than what we typically see in the other titles we use FRAPS to test with. Our 3 areas are as follows:
This area consists of us running through a path in the Jerall Mountains. In our experience, we’ve found that the tops of mountains in valleys can really stress the graphics card, as it has to render a large, vast area. The area that we’re testing isn’t as panoramic as some of the screenshots that are out there, but it’s still a fairly challenging scene for the graphics card to handle.
This is the demo where we put the graphics card through the ringer. Testing is conducted in a forest with tress everywhere and very thick, knee-high foliage which sways in different directions based on the wind. There’s a fair amount of shadowing involved but the swaying foliage is what really seems to tax the card. We actually stumbled on this area accidentally while playing the game – our frame rate dropped significantly and we knew we had a great area for benchmarking.
Of all the areas we’re testing with, this one is easily the least challenging on the graphics card. At least it’s got a nice little area where rays of sunlight shine down on you, showing off the game’s HDR lighting (keep in mind that based on the way the game is setup, AA is disabled once HDR lighting is turned on with both ATI and NVIDIA hardware,).
Our results are broken down based on these three areas. Feel free to use the table of contents to navigate through the various sections. In terms of a target frame rate to be on the lookout for, we’re recommending 30-35 FPS. As always though, what’s considered ideal is generally going to vary from person-to-person. For instance, I said 35 FPS, while Jakub went with 30 FPS. In any case though it’s generally agreed that Oblivion doesn’t require the blistering FPS of a first-person shooter like Quake or UT.