Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion earned its name because it offered a truly imaginative open sandbox game that performed very well in stereoscopic 3D. For me, it marked the first time I could game in 3D without having to turn down special effects while running a stereoscopic 3D driver (in this case iZ3D), and quickly (or it seemed quick, at least) ate up 200 plus hours of my life with plenty of game to spare. It's hard to believe that this title was released in March, 2006 because its graphics and complexity still hold up today!
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the much anticipated sequel, and today we learn if the franchise manages to continue its tradition of innovation, imagination, and artistic prowess in stereoscopic 3D.
General Game Review
For those unfamiliar, Elder Scrolls is a role playing game, and it's all about character. You can be anything from a boring looking human, to a scaly lizard. Each class of character has attributes that make him or her stronger in one aspect, and a bit weaker in another. Will you be a fast and furious sorcerer, a muscle bound soldier that can kick butt at any moment, or something in between? While this decision is important, the game offers plenty of opportunity to expand in all kinds of directions with countless skills to choose and expand on.
Your story begins as an imperial prisoner on your way to having your handsome (or not so handsome) head chopped off. Moments before your impending doom, a dragon swoops in from the air and lays waste to the fair town of Helgin. After escaping with your life and head intact, your journey begins!
Skyrim is an open sandbox game that features an underlying story that is woven together with countless quests and opportunities for character development. While I don't want to spoil any surprises, your destiny is to become the ultimate dragon slayer, a rare breed which hasn't existed for generations. Lucky you!
Becoming a heroic dragon slayer may seem easy at first, but it will ultimately require great skill and prowess in the areas of magic, chemistry (or alchemy), persuasion, and the ability to handle large clanging weapons!
Your character's ability is defined in the form of levels that feature experience and knowhow. Levels reflect how much health, endurance, and magicka (a sorcerer's form of ammunition) you have. You attain progress to the next level through experience and skills growth. Skills could include everything from successfully using destructive spells, to lock picking your favorite tavern. You can learn a skill the hard way (practice, practice, practice), or the easy way (pay a master to teach you!).
For me, I'm a complete nerd with this stuff, and chose to become a Mage. I like to conjure things because I don't like to do the dirty work. Better to conjure up a big Frost Astronoch to beat the bad guys up for me at a distance, than to go in and feebly exhaust myself swinging a sword around. Well...that's just me. It's actually very gratifying to conjure up some nasty dudes, and you do have to work for it!
If you are really creative, you can take out your enemy, and turn them into a zombie that works for you! That's fun too. With Elder Scrolls IV, I found that you could conjure up zombies from nothing - but with Skyrim, you need to cast spells on corpses that already exist. Once the spell wears off, they get turned to dust, so you no longer have an unlimited supply of bodies to whisk off to your enemies (though maybe that changes as you advance?).
It doesn't really matter what you choose to be because the game forces you to dabble in all the arts. If you want to become a wizard, you go to the Mage college to complete their quest campaigns and pick up new skills. I've only heard of two magic colleges so far. If you want to become a master thief, there is a Thieves' Guild that will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about pick pocketing and opening locked doors and vaults. If you want to become an assassin, you can join the Dark Brotherhood - though I haven't done that yet. They have a contract on me though...
There are no rails to guide you, and quests and missions only get completed when you are good and ready to complete them. Don't worry about characters that scream of urgency - they will wait for you outside a haunted cave for weeks if they have to!
If you complete the right quests, you will get a personal assistant. Or, you may impress people enough that they will follow and fight for you as you go on your missions. While there was some of this in Oblivion, it's a lot more pronounced in Skyrim. Having an assistant is great because they will carry things you no longer have room for, and it's always good to have an extra pair of hands (or claws) around because let's face it...two battle axes are better than one!
Unfortunately, as an employer, you do have some responsibilities. Your associates can die just as easily as you can, and this can be a real pain if they are carrying all your wealth in some remote part of the Skyrim. It's good practice to learn some healing spells that can cure all that ails them, and ask them to sit out of a tough fight once in awhile. Imagine my horror when I learned that my (let's face it - HOT) assistant not only died, but was turned into someone else's zombie! Talk about a human resources blunder!
I think part of what makes Skyrim work so well is the story doesn't always take itself so seriously. For example, one of the first wizards you meet sends you on an errand to bring magic salts to someone on the other side of town. When you are eager to please, he talks down to you as though it's above him to do such silly tasks and this is more your speed.
In part of the game, you can get a necklace that when worn, tells those around you that you are looking for a wife. When people are interested in you, a dialogue option opens up that says "So, you're interested in me?" Let's just say that Skyrim has a very open policy on matters of sexual persuasion and interracial (LITERALLY!) relations.
After Oblivion, I remember that there was a lot of talk about its sequel becoming an MMOG, and I'm glad they didn't do this. In most MMOG titles I've played, the stories are expressed as text, and new content just means a lot more reading to do. Skyrim represents hundreds of hours of game play, and every character and nuance is scripted. I bet it's the script writing and acting which ate up most of the development time.
So how are the graphics you ask? While Skyrim is a DirectX 9 game like its predecessor, the styling and artwork is definitely more realistic looking and less cartoonish. That's not to say it's better because Oblivion had a different look that still holds up today - but they clearly went above and beyond to make Skyrim a wondrous environment to explore. At times, I do think the graphics are a little more gory than they were before...I mean, hey! You see a guy's head get chopped of in the first few minutes of the game! There are also occasional combination action sequences which gratify the violence a bit. Nothing major - but it is a little different than before.
Skyrim is a game of exploration, and the environments are never boring. As you walk, the scene will go from day to night and then day again. The weather will change from a sunny day to a rainstorm to a foggy night. It's really something else. While exploration can be time consuming, once locations are discovered, you can "fast travel" to where you need to be if there aren't any hostile enemies or animals nearby.
So how does this open sandbox game perform in stereoscopic 3D? Let's find out!
DDD Stereoscopic 3D Findings
AMD 1090T 3.2Hjz Patriot DDR3 1333Ghz RAM Windows 7 64 Bit Samsung S23A750D 23" Monitor TriDef Ignition 3.4.5 Beta 1
Dare I say that DDD offered a near perfect 3D experience. The only game setting that had to be turned off was antialiasing, and I was able to max out everything else without any detectable problems. I was also able to achieve maximum visual flexibility with a combined depth and pop-out experience, and once set, the camera angles were both consistent and comfortable right through. I think the visual results were even better than Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion!
DDD defaults with their auto-convergence feature turned on, so turn this off right away! With Skyrim, the auto-convergence feature wastes processing power, and the game looks far better without it.
The only major anomaly I could find is with ice on water where there is some kind of clipping error between the left and right eyes.
The one area where the DDD drivers suffered is with stability. I could easily play for hours at a time in one instance, and in another, get kicked out to desktop without warning. It was also difficult to get screen captures reliably. There would either be some kind of conflict preventing the capture key or OSD Menu option from working, or the game would react by kicking me out with a crash to desktop.
I hesitantly decided against listing this in GameGrade3D because others haven't reported this problem yet, and it's not a crash that prevents you from getting into the game altogether and playing hours at a time - it's more of an occasional thing. Also, I have to do more testing, but I think my GPU may be the culprit because there are instances where all the game's textures suddenly disappear (yes, people walking around with missing heads or body parts). Please let us know if these bugs are unique to me! It might be time to get my AMD GPU swapped!
Nvidia GeForce 3D Vision Results
Maingear X-Cube Intel Core I7 Processor 2.66GHZ 6GB RAM GTX 580, GTX 275 (PhysX) Windows 7 64 Bit NVIDIA 290.36 Stereo Driver ASUS VG278 27" 3D Display
Similar to DDD, most of the game and its special effects look great with Nvidia's GeForce 3D Vision solution, and gamers have the flexibility to have a combined depth and pop-out experience as described earlier. Nvidia has a few minor bugs to work out, but the results are still very good.
First, and this should be really easy to fix, the skills menu options are rendered as 3D objects and have uncomfortable separation settings as you zoom in from one option to the next. This screen should just get rendered in 2D.
Second, the night sky has its polarity reversed between the left and right views. It's not that big a deal because you won't be looking at it regularly, but it's something that should get fixed up for sure.
One anomaly that was driving me crazy proved to be a big surprise in the end. When your character is in a body of water, there is a shimmering cut-out shape around your weapon and fellow objects and characters when they have a water texture directly behind them. This bug is found with the DDD drivers too. Are the 3D drivers to blame? Surprisingly...not. I turned the 3D off in both cases to see what the game is supposed to look like, and this appears to be something regularly seen in 2D mode too. There is also something freaky happening with objects underwater when seen from above, and that too is found in 2D mode. As usual, 3D is not to blame for all that ails you! Similar to DDD, Nvidia also has the ice on water bug with a clipping error in one of the viewpoints.
I don't know why Nvidia is recommending that water reflections be turned off. I'm hoping our readers can share examples in GameGrade3D, because I can't find anything that gets fixed (or needs fixing) when reflections are turned on or off in stereoscopic 3D mode. For our GameGrade3D submission, we are keeping the settings maxed out until someone tells us otherwise.
We reached out to iZ3D to see if they could throw a profile together for this game. We haven't received a response yet. When we do, we'll get this section updated. In the meantime, please share your own results and settings recommendations in the GameGrade3D database.
It's difficult to put my finger on why Skyrim looks so good in 3D. I've played my share of titles, and even though they hit the 3D QA markers, they don't always subjectively deliver. Skyrim does. I think it's because the game's objects and visuals have clearly defined edges and space. They are also using a lot of geometry. For example, if you walk close to a bush, a twig looks like a volumetric twig - and not an awkward sheet of pixels. The more geometry a game uses, the better it will look in stereoscopic 3D.
Maybe it's the nature of the game too. In Skyrim, you are regularly exploring forests, fighting skeletons, and having sharp display-piercing weapons pointed at you. This is obviously conducive to stereoscopic 3D, and I'd personally like to see a lot more games delivering experiences like this.
There is a full gallery of images in MTBS' Skyrim album, and we encourage fellow members to submit their own results and findings in GameGrade3D.