- How To Build An Awesome Gaming PC For $666
- 10 Essential Tweaks: Pushing Your Gaming PC to Its Absolute Limit (Part 1)
- 10 Essential Tweaks: Pushing Your Gaming PC to Its Absolute Limit (Part 2)
- The Essential Crysis 1 Tuning Guide: Make the Original Faster and More Beautiful Than Ever!
- The Essential Crysis 2 Tuning Guide: Better Graphics, More FPS
- The Essential Skyrim Tuning Guide: 5 Best Steps to Increase Speed and Graphics
- The Essential Max Payne 3 Tuning Guide: Optimizing and Troubleshooting in 5 Steps!
- The Essential Diablo 3 Tuning Guide: Diabolical Tweaking for Best FPS!
- The Essential Grand Theft Auto IV Tuning Guide: Get the Latest Look and Resolve Choppy Performance Issues
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is probably one of the most epic western RPGs. It offers more than 100 hours of gameplay (if you’re into exploring every detail) and is open-ended. But, the game doesn’t win the award for most beautiful–and it can also cause quite a slowdown on less powerful PCs.
In this installment of our “Perfect Gamer” series, I’ll show you how to optimize Skyrim’s performance and increase its visual quality with five simple steps. Like I suggested in the Crysis 2 tuning guide, you should first consider installing FRAPS. This tool allows you to see both the current frame rate as well as run a benchmark (hit F12) to measure average FPS. It will help you successfully measure the impact of the tweaks I’ve outlined here. Now, let’s dive in!
“Perfect Gamer” Series – Overview
• Part 1: How To Build An Awesome Gaming PC For $666
• Part 2: 10 Essential Tweaks: Pushing Your Gaming PC to Its Absolute Limit, Part 1
• Part 3: 10 Essential Tweaks: Pushing Your Gaming PC to Its Absolute Limit, Part 2
• Part 4: The Essential Crysis 1 Tuning Guide: Make the Original Faster and Beautiful Than Ever!
• Part 5: The Essential Crysis 2 Tuning Guide: Better Graphics, More FPS
• Part 6: The Essential Skyrim Tuning Guide: 5 Best Steps to Increase Speed and Graphics
• Part 7: The Essential Max Payne 3 Tuning Guide: Optimizing and Troubleshooting in 5 Steps!
• Part 8: The Essential Diablo 3 Tuning Guide: Diabolical Tweaking for Best FPS!
• Part 9: The Essential Grand Theft Auto IV Tuning Guide: Get the Latest Look and Resolve Choppy Performance Issues
1. Don’t Forget to Optimize Your PC and Windows
Want to achieve the perfect gaming environment? Then, make sure you first read all of the 10 steps we recently recommended to push your PC and games to the limit. Among our suggestions were:
• Grabbing the latest AMD/NVIDIA (beta) drivers and tweaking the control panel;
• Reducing the amount of installed applications on your system;
• Getting rid of unnecessary startup items
• Temporarily turning off programs that can have a heavy load on your system with a tool like TuneUp Program Deactivator;
• Defragging or enabling TRIM;
• Eliminating any non-critical Windows background services with functionality provided by TuneUp Turbo Mode, for instance;
• Overclocking the CPU and GPU; and
• Making sure your security solution contains a gaming mode.
2. Customize Skyrim Graphic Settings
There is a lot you can customize using the SkyrimLauncher (located under C:\Program Files (x86)\The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim\. On my Alienware X51 rig with its GTX 555, I was able to choose full HD resolutions with all Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic filtering options enabled. Going into the “advanced” settings, I selected “Ultra” and “High” whenever possible.
Keep in mind that the higher the resolution, the higher the impact of Anti-Aliasing on the frame rate. If you’re running into performance problems, Anti-Aliasing is the first thing I would disable to get a smoother frame rate.
On the other hand, Anisotropic filtering had a negligible impact on performance. In our tests (at 1920×1080), even 16 sample Anisotropic filtering reduced performance by only 3 FPS but made distant objects appear much clearer.
If you want to save performance, try adjusting the detail level. In my test, performance went down to 32 FPS on “Ultra” when compared to 60 FPS on the lowest level. Find a comfortable compromise of performance and quality. The lower the setting, the blurrier the textures and the less detailed the environment will look. For example, blades of grass and stone textures will all be a wish-wash instead of crisp and clear.
3. Improve Skyrim’s Visual Quality with Graphics Mods
After Bethesda opened Skyrim to the modding community with its “Creation Kit”, the scene went wild. There are now several hundred mods that don’t just create new cities, storylines and characters, but also improve the visual fidelity of every rock, tree and blade of grass. It’s simply astounding.
Note: All mods come from SkyrimNexus, where you have to sign up for an account to download files larger than 2 MB. To install mods, use the Mod Manager provided.
- ENBSeries mod: This is an absolute must for all Skyrimmers out there. It allows for true HDR lighting and some very special DX11 effects. Make sure to get the AntiFreeze-Patch if you’re running into problems.
- Skyrim HD: Clocking in at over 2 GB, this mod replaces most textures with high-resolution versions. The author states that over 200 hours of work went into these files. If you bought the game on steam, get the Steam DLC.
- City Forests and Landscapes: It enhances lighting and color intensity in order to make forests, cities and the overall landscape look more realistic.
- Real Mountains: This mod updates all mountains, rocks and stones to textures with resolutions of 2048×2048.
- Realistic Lighting: This mod, available even before Skyrim’s Creation Kit went online, is also an absolute must. It enhances the lighting effects (both day and night) to make the game look more realistic. Check out this video comparison. Make sure to get the latest version (currently: 3.4a)
- More Rain: This mod increases the density and effects of thunderstorms in Skyrim.
- Static Mesh Mod: Skyrim’s object details feel sometimes a bit lackluster. This takes care of that by replacing items such as food, barrels, tables, chairs, books and weapons with higher detailed versions.
- Snow HQ Texture: The snow textures of the vanilla Skyrim version look very bland and non-descript. It just doesn’t feel like it’s cold. But with the mod, you get very detailed snow, grass, roads and footprints.
- That’s Ice: This replaces the ice and glacier textures with much more realistic versions with twice the resolution.
- Lush Grass: The mod replaces every single blade of grass with better-looking versions.
- Enhanced Distant Terrain: To increase performance on lower-end PCs, Skyrim’s draw distance is pretty short. When you look into the distance, objects become blurry. This mod prevents this. Again, use FRAPS to determine if this has a significant impact on performance (the mod creator claims there’s no loss).
- SkyUI: The inventory and menu are one of Skyrim’s biggest flaws. It is not just convoluted but requires far too much scrolling and is slow! The new SkyUI replaces the entire inventory with a sleek menu with icons and sorting options. It’s not a graphics mod, but a must-have.
4. Disable VSync
Unfortunately, when VSync is enabled, it will lead to your FPS count being capped at 60—there is no way to change this using in-game settings. Thankfully, you can simply turn VSync off by editing the “SkyrimPrefs.ini” in your Skyrim folder and adding the line “iPresentInterval=0″ to the [Display] section.
5. Make Various Skyrimprefs.ini Tweaks
To enhance lighting, depth of field, shadows and water effects, add the following lines to the SkyrimPrefs.ini. Note that some mods we mentioned above may already have changed these settings, so be sure to check if they’re not already in place.
What did you think of these five recommendations? Have any more Skyrim tweaks? Share them in our comments section, and stay tuned for our next “Perfect Gamer” guide to Max Payne 3.