TweetAll this graphical glory comes at a price though. And as you may have guessed, you are going to need some seriously hot hardware to run this game at full settings. As ever here at Guru3D, we like performance and in particular good performance as well as good looks, so here is a rather subjective idea of performance on a few base systems. These tests arent scientific due to the lack of a repeatable and reliable benchmark. However I wanted to provide an idea of what you can expect from your rig. All tests were conducted from a place in Cyrodiil called Weatherleah, which provides a particularly tough test with lots of trees flora and fauna to render as well as the odd troll to fight. This is probably one of the most intense graphical parts of Oblivion I have come across, and it is important to realise that performance in the game varies widely. When deep in the woods it is extremely hard on all graphics hardware, while in a cave or mine, or fighting your way through an Oblivion gate you can expect more than double the frame rate. Similarly riding along a road in a lowland area will give you a frame rate somewhere in between the two. This means it is pretty difficult to get an accurate picture of performance across the whole game, or a reliable benchmark. You can take these results as worst case scenarios i.e. how the equivalent rig will perform in the most intense areas. I will also give an indication of general FPS elsewhere in the game for each setup and what I regard to be the best playable settings.
I used four different rigs for this purpose, of which the full specs are detailed below. Two Nvidia and two ATI cards were used, all from their most recent range. This isnt a graphics card review, so dont expect 10 different cards to be tested in succession, more an investigation into what is needed to make this game playable at reasonable settings. FPS was measured using FRAPS.
Athlon 64 3500+ 1GB Corsair Value Gigabyte K8N SLI Nvidia 7600GT AC97 on board sound 2.1 Speakers
Gaming with an Ultra High End PC
Just as I was preparing to submit this review, I got notification that a brand spanking new DFI CFX3200-DR motherboard was shipping to me, so I held it for a couple of days to run some crossfire tests with Oblivion. This is based on a 4800+ clocked at 2.8ghz (to make an equivalent comparison to single core FX-57) with a ATI Radeon X1900XTX crossfire setup (mastercard was overclocked to match XTX speeds). Obviously this faired the best and returned the most playable frame rate at high resolution & detail settings out of all the setups.
At 1600x1200 everything max, the minimum FPS was a reasonable 27fps, with an average of 35fps even tipping the scales towards 47fps in places. Remember that Weatherleah is a particularly taxing area of the game, and in other places the frame rate soared.
In Imperial City, the average was a good 55fps, with a high of over 100fps and minimum of 40fps, while in the Rusty Mine test it averaged over 100fps, even hitting 180fps momentarily, with a minimum of 80fps. Clearly a multi-GPU system is the ideal setup for those with enough cash wanting to run games at high resolution and detail settings.
Drivers used were Catalyst 6.3s with the Chuck Patch for enabling crossfire applied. You can find that HERE.
Gaming with the Main PC (High End)
This is the rig I used to play the game from the start for this review. This is based on an Nforce 4 Motherboard, 4800+ CPU and a single Radeon X1900XTX. In single card stakes this is as good as it gets. I ran the game at 1600x1200 everything max, HDR on no AA or AF, the same settings as the Ultra High rig. In our Weatherleah test FPS dropped as low as 17fps in places bringing the card to its knees. For the most part in this area it settled around an average of 25fps and was generally playable.
Bare in mind this game isnt an FPS so super high frame rates arent necessary to enjoy the game. Around 25-35fps is perfectly reasonable. In other areas of the game the card performed much better, hitting 100fps in indoor areas such as the Rusty Mine test.
The Rusty Mine
General outdoor areas including our Imperial City test seemed to hover around the 40fps mark with a high around 80fps and minimum of 27fps. In general 95% of this game was just about playable at these settings, with just odd occasions where it became unplayable. For those of you willing to run at 1280x1024, or having a TFT with a native resolution of 1280x1024 then you should have no problems running this card at those settings. While 1600x1200 is ok in general, the whole experience will be smoother by dropping the resolution.
For myself I was happy to put up with the occasional slide show moment for the benefit of a higher resolution (which looks stunning on the main rigs 20.1 TFT) but others may be of the opposite opinion. Drivers used were Catalyst 6.3s.
Gaming with the Mid to High End PC
This rig consisted of an AMD Opteron 146 clocked at 2.4ghz, Nforce 4 Motherboard, and Nvidia 7900GT graphics card, and is probably the kind of rig most Gurus will be using themselves. The setup was run on a widescreen monitor with support for 1680x1050 resolution, so slightly lower than the 1600x1200 of the previous two setups. Bare this in mind when comparing results. Our Imperial City test churned out a minimum of 23fps, with an average of 37fps and a maximum as high as 70fps.
At this resolution however, Weatherleah proved too much for the 7900GT with a minimum FPS of around 11, an average of just 16fps and a whopping 21fps as the maximum. This instantly prompted a change of resolution down to 1280x1024, which improved the frame rate for Weatherleah enough to make the game reasonable although you may want to turn some detail settings down. The average was around 23fps, with a maximum of 33fps and minimum of 18fps. While these arent exactly great, it was just about playable, and the majority of the game faired much better. Drivers used were Forceware 84.25s.
Gaming with the Mid Range Rig
This is for the more budget conscious gamer, based around a Athlon 64 3500+ CPU 1gb Memory (all other test rigs had 2gb) Nforce 4 based board, and Nvidias new midrange champ, the 7600GT. Bizarrely, it was this rig that made me realise just how much power Oblivion requires to really enjoy. I had been very impressed with the 7600GT whizzing through other top games such as Quake IV and Call of Duty 2 at 1280x1024 max settings with no issues what so ever even being able to add a little AA here or there. So, I thought to myself, 1280x1024 would be a good starting point. So I set every setting in Oblivion to max (which takes a while as there are a lot of them!) and loaded Weatherleah. My face dropped in a bad way 8-10 fps is NOT nice to look at! The instant slide show prompted me to instantly hit the escape button.
Yes guys, despite this GPU being new to the market 1024x768 is the order of the day here no doubt about it! Even after that to get a smooth experience I had to notch down a few of the sliders to medium such as Grass shadows, and set Shadow Filtering (soft Shadows) to low. I desperately tried to preserve HDR, although no doubt if you arent bothered by it disabling this would give you a smoother experience again. After dropping these settings, Weatherleah ran between 20 to 25fps, hardly fantastic but just about playable. The rest of the game faired better. The Rickety Mine giving about 80fps and feeling perfectly smooth to play. Around town in Imperial City the game was also perfectly playable at around 35-40fps average and a minimum of around 26fps at these settings. Drivers used were Forceware 84.25s.
So, as you see even for medium resolutions to be able to run with every graphical option set to maximum you need a fair amount of horsepower. Those of you who recently invested in a new 7900GTX or X1900XTX will certainly be pleased you made the investment when you play Oblivion. For resolutions of 1600x1200 or higher SLI or Crossfire is really the ideal solution there are not many games where I would outright advocate a multi-GPU system, but its certainly the case that any single card solution has its work cut out with this game at high resolutions and detail settings.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Cyrodiil is a dangerous place, enter it with caution as it is in a dimension all of its own, where 5 hours seems like 10 minutes and an unexpected adventure lies around every corner. Each of these adventures is so compelling as to deprive you of the comfort of your own bed, offering some new interest. Whats more, the freedom of this game is staggering. Go buy and sell, do a few quests, some treasure hunting in one of the many caves or mines, explore the wonders of the land. The list goes on, and thats before you even touch on the main quest.
A hint at just how expansive this game is appears at the beginning with the fantastic character creation tools. I must have spent over half an hour or more playing around with every conceivable detail of my characters appearance and Im sure many others could spend far longer. It is also here that the story begins. With you, as seems to be traditional in Elderscrolls games, starting your journey in a prison cell. As luck would have it, the Emperor happens to be passing through for reasons I wont divulge here, and releases you from your captive state.