my Skyrim doesn’t look like you. It doesn’t even look like my Skyrim from five years ago. Thanks to an insanely talented and productive modding community, the land and everything in it has evolved over time, steadily deepening in detail and beauty for over a decade, one uncompressed 16K texture pack at a time.
Running over 400 mods and held together with convoluted .ini files and prayers, its current incarnation is quite possibly the best looking game I’ve ever seen on PC. Granted, most of these mods are for penis physics, but there are also reshades, lighting tweaks, ENBs, new flora and fauna, improved NPC faces, clothing, weapons, dungeon staging, and – of course – the textures. All the beautiful textures. I don’t care if it’s the spine of a book, a street sign, or a single stone on the road to Riverwood. If it’s not at least 4K it won’t show up in Phil’s Skyrim, thanks a lot.
So at this point, not only does it look almost unrecognizable from the vanilla Skyrim of 2011, it also works harder on each asset than any commercial release in 2022 would dare. And this is only possible because modders take no responsibility for the performance of the game. Unlike a developer creating a traditional paid model release, modders don’t face criticism for posting content that pushes your framerates into single digits. They don’t try to artfully balance your system resources or run their content on both console and PC platforms. They are free to just create what they like – download it if you like or not.
So the version of Skyrim that I brought to life with mods is not necessarily an optimized experience. It drops more frames than Ronnie O’Sullivan with his head off. If minimum system requirements had to be published for my precariously balanced bunch of 400 mods, they would probably be: “CPU: doesn’t matter. Graphics card: doesn’t matter. It will never go above 37 fps.’
The Elder Scrolls 6 won’t be free of such concerns when it arrives. It’s going to be the biggest video game launch of the year – whatever that year may be – and maybe of the decade. As such, Bethesda will want to present it to as many players as possible, a whole range of platforms and PC specs from “RGB-smeared crypto farm” to “literally just a potato.”
And when you think about it, it seems very unlikely that Skyrim’s sequel will look any better visually than the Skyrim we have in our minds today.
Pretty daunting thought, that. Even with more than a decade of technological advances (and two more generations of consoles), the new Elder Scrolls probably won’t look leaps and bounds better than the ones we already have. Well, the ones that PC gamers have with holy patience and a rig that makes the entire national grid flicker when you turn it on, anyway.
There’s a bittersweet, poetic irony behind it: Had players not fallen so in love with Skyrim, and hadn’t Bethesda been thoughtful enough to make modding relatively easy, Elder Scrolls 6 wouldn’t be in this pickle. Simply looking as good as most new releases, it would have blasted this drab world of muddy-faced simple Poser models and fleeting mammoth textures.
But let’s not get too carried away with the idea, as there are specific areas Bethesda can focus on beyond texture resolution and reshading techniques to make its next scrolls look amazingly advanced and light years beyond Skyrim. areas such as animation.
The way NPCs romped around like hungover robots looked a bit rudimentary in 2011 – now it looks like looking at cave drawings. And the mods that increase fidelity in other areas only serve to highlight how dated Skyrim’s animations are now. There are animation mods too, of course, but these are generally combat-focused and can’t completely transform the systems playing under the hood – it’s really clever keyframing at heart.
Lighting is also a big problem. ENB and Reshade work well for revamping older games, but the latest generation of consoles have helped developers implement more sophisticated lighting, safe in the knowledge that a large portion of their user base has the hardware to handle it. Ray tracing alone has the power to completely transform a room, and GTA 5’s various ray tracing mods are a good example of this. See also: Quake II RTX. A lighting technique applied, and a 1997 game looks like the best your PC has ever run.
Learning AI techniques like Nvidia’s DLSS can help Elder Scrolls 6 boost fidelity further than it would otherwise. By running the game over and over through a supercomputer, DLSS generates an upscaling algorithm that a dedicated core on your graphics card interprets and implements. It’s much less system intensive than running it natively at a higher resolution, and that gives studios some extra system resources to play with.
But will Bethesda? Based on recent form (if you can call Fallout 76 and Fallout 4 new), pushing the visual boundaries to the very edge of our gullibility doesn’t seem like a high priority. Instead, the focus was on efficiently building a massive open world using modular asset libraries that can be reshuffled to create seven different dungeons from a bank of textures and objects.
Most Triple-A open-world games today are built with this design philosophy in mind – it’s the only way to make them cost-effective and time-efficient. But as a player you always notice that. Maybe not in the first hour, maybe not in the fifth. But eventually you start to see all the repeating virtues, and it robs a world of feeling like a place. It starts to feel like a video game.
And it’s the sense of place that will likely prove most crucial to The Elder Scrolls 6’s success. It was certainly the beating heart of Skyrim. It’s a tiny world map now – by modern standards – but even within a relatively small space that follows the tenets of a wintry biome, there’s tremendous variation, intrigue, and passive storytelling to the world.
You’re climbing a hill and you see something you just have to investigate. You come across an overturned cart, a dead horse and a man with a suspicious smile standing in the street, and you understand that some kind of highway skulllift was going on here. They keep coming back to Riverwood just because it looks nice. That’s partly why modders felt so inspired to keep building and improving the world, bringing it to life in increasingly vivid detail over the years.
And that will be even more important than the visual fidelity of The Elder Scrolls 6. So please, Bethesda: give us another place that’s as good. And let’s keep improving it years after you left it alone.
https://www.vg247.com/skyrim-mods-elder-scolls-6-graphics Will The Elder Scrolls 6 look better than the modded Skyrim?