The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion -- Xbox 360 versus PC

Trying to decide between the PC and Xbox 360 versions of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion? We're here to help you make the best choice.

By Greg Kasavin || Design: Randall Montanari - posted April 4, 2006

The New Eternal Debate: PC or Xbox 360?

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is one of the best, most talked about role-playing games in a long time. This article assumes you're interested in learning what all the fuss is about but are having trouble deciding whether the PC or Xbox 360 version of the game is right for you. Here we'll break down the differences and help you make a decision, but the good news is, you won't go wrong either way.

Bear in mind that the content and gameplay is identical in both versions of Oblivion. Given this, your choice between the PC and Xbox 360 versions may be obvious--if you have only one system or the other, then get whichever version you can play. However, if you know you'd have to upgrade your PC to get the most of this game, or if you're on the fence about getting an Xbox 360, or if you already have both systems, then you've got yourself an interesting dilemma. We're here to help you make the best choice. Let's summarize the pros and cons for each version.

Oblivion for the Xbox 360
+ Solid performance
+ Addictive unlockable achievements
+ In-game Dolby Digital 5.1 sound
- Steep $59 "next-gen" retail price
- No immediate access to game mods

Oblivion for the PC
+ Looks gorgeous on a high-end PC
+ Mods galore boost lasting value
+ Cheaper retail price
- System hog won't run well on old graphics cards
- Interface feels intended for consoles

In short, the PC version is better suited to power users with top-of-the-line gaming rigs, who like the idea of extending their game with a lot of downloadable user-created content. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 version is a safer bet that's recommendable to anyone, especially those who don't have a souped-up PC and aren't looking to upgrade, and/or have a home theater setup.

Are You Tall Enough for This Ride?

Let's make sure you have what you need to get the most out of the two versions of the game. Following are the official requirements for the PC version of Oblivion:

Minimum System Requirements
• Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows XP 64-bit
• 512MB System RAM
• 2Ghz Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent processor
• 8x DVD-ROM Drive
• 4.6GB free hard disk space
• DirectX 9.0c (included)
• ATI Radeon X600 series, Radeon 9500 series, Nvidia GeForce 6200 series, or GeForce FX series and higher video cards
• DirectX 8.1 Compatible Sound Card
• Keyboard, Mouse

Recommended System Requirements
• 3.0Ghz Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent AMD Athlon 64 processor
• 1GB System RAM
• ATI Radeon X800 series, Nvidia GeForce 6800 series, or higher video card

Fair warning that the minimum requirements are a stretch; specifically, you're going to want at least 1GB of RAM to get this game running at a decent clip. If your system meets or exceeds the recommended specifications, you'll be in great shape to run the PC version of the game. As for the Xbox 360 version, it requires nothing other than an Xbox 360 console since it's a console game. However, to get the most out of the game, you should have a widescreen 1080i or 720p HDTV, a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround-sound system, an Internet connection for your PC or Xbox 360, and an Xbox Live account.

You could play the Xbox 360 version on a plain old television set, but you'd be missing out on experiencing the game in all its audiovisual glory. As for the Internet connection, while Oblivion has no online multiplayer component, you'll still want to have Xbox Live for registering those achievements you unlock to your community profile, and for downloading additional content that may become available in the future.

Which one Sounds Better?

Chances are you've got a better sound system hooked up to your television than to your computer (though, not necessarily). If you have a 5.1 surround-sound system and an Xbox 360 as part of your home theater, then you'll be treated to some outstanding atmospheric audio on this version of the game. Excellent separation of audio channels not only makes the experience feel more realistic, but it can also lend a tactical advantage in battle, since you'll literally hear your foes from every angle.

Granted, the game sounds fantastic even if you're listening to it through tinny television or PC speakers. But the better your sound system is, the richer an experience you'll have with Oblivion. The 360 version's in-game Dolby Digital audio is a real treat. Of further note, the Xbox 360 version of the game offers native support for custom soundtracks, in case you'd care to replace Oblivion's beautiful symphonic score with something else. That's not to say you couldn't do this with the PC version, though--the music is in MP3 format, so you could always try replacing some of the tracks with your favorite MP3 files.

The Graphics Comparison

There's a lot more to Oblivion than pretty graphics, but frankly, those pretty graphics can have a lot to do with how much you end up enjoying the experience. Let's examine how the PC version compares with the Xbox 360 version strictly from a visual standpoint. We'll show you direct comparisons using three separate PC setting configurations. All images were captured at 480p and resized to fit the screen. The PC version has a slightly cleaner capture because we couldn't pull shots directly from the frame buffer in our retail Xbox 360 version. The images show the major differences between the consoles and graphics settings, but they shouldn't be used for texture quality and similar fine-detail comparisons. Look for our upcoming Oblivion Hardware Performance Guide for a full rundown on all the video settings and how they affect frame rate.

The Xbox 360 screenshot is displayed by default. Roll your mouse cursor over each image to see the PC-equivalent screenshot.

Xbox 360 versus Low-Spec PC

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If you have a PC that squeaks by the minimum specification with a sub-$100, 4-pipe graphics card, you'll need to turn down almost all the graphics settings to get frame rates up to a satisfactory level. Unfortunately, the PC experience becomes unplayable at the bare minimum graphical settings. Avoiding monsters and finding areas to explore can be difficult if objects don't pop into view until they're right in front of you. The Xbox 360 version of the game wins hands down against Oblivion on a low-end PC. Not only are you getting much more detail and richer color, but the game also runs much more smoothly.

Xbox 360 versus Mid-Spec PC

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A medium spec PC with a decent processor and a mid-range DirectX 9 video card like a GeForce 6600 GT allows you to enable a few more graphics settings like view distance and some shadows. Take it easy on the view distance settings since they will lower the frame rate. The Xbox 360 version of the game looks slightly better overall, though not by much. It also runs smoother, though you can't see that from a still image. You can tweak a mid-range PC to look just as nice, but don't be surprised if frame rates dip into the teens.

Xbox 360 versus High-Spec PC

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Oblivion looks better on a high-end PC than on the Xbox 360. Note the additional foliage visible in the background. We matched up resolutions for screenshot comparison purposes here, but a high-end PC with an AMD Athlon FX-60 CPU and GeForce 7900 GTX graphics card can enable all the settings and take resolutions up to 1600x1200 or more and still maintain smooth frame rates. We noticed that the Xbox 360 version had better antialiasing since our PC version couldn't enable HDR and antialiasing at the same time. Of course on the PC version, you can get rid of jaggies the old-fashioned way by jacking up the resolution.

Saving, Loading, and Waiting

The retail PC version of Oblivion requires a DVD-ROM drive, and it takes several minutes to install, as it dumps nearly 5GB of data onto your hard drive. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 version of the game doesn't go through any install process, but it will, in fact, use your Xbox 360 hard drive (if you have one) for virtual memory to cut down on loading times.

Loading times on the PC will vary greatly depending on your configuration. A very fast PC hard drive could enjoy faster loading times than the Xbox 360 version. On the Xbox 360, loading times in between zones range from about 5 to 20 seconds, depending on which type of area you're entering into. Saving one's progress happens almost instantly. The PC version of the game enjoys a conventional quick-save/quick-load feature, in addition to a standard save function. On the Xbox 360, you simply hit the start button to get to your save and load menus. You can save your progress at any time in both versions.

Controls and Interface

The PC and Xbox 360 versions of Oblivion feature almost exactly the same interface. The difference is in the default controls that you use to manipulate that interface. On the PC, the game functions similarly to a first-person shooter, with a familiar mouse-and-keyboard setup. That's also true of the Xbox 360 version, except that you'll be using the stock 360 gamepad. So which is better? The answer is going to be fairly subjective depending on how tolerant you are of PC controls versus console controls.

Take a look at the default controls for the two versions of the game, taken from the backs of the respective manuals.
Take a look at the default controls for the two versions of the game, taken from the backs of the respective manuals.

Technically, though, the game's interface seems to have been designed with the Xbox 360 primarily in mind. Menus are easier to flip through using shoulder buttons rather than clicking on iconic tabs with the mouse, for example. The 360 controller also offers a rumble feature, which makes the action more tactile and slightly more intense. Meanwhile, the PC version lets you remap your controls to your preference and easily switch between skills using hotkeys, so it's got some advantages. It's also probably better suited to left-handed players, since Oblivion is missing a southpaw control configuration for lefties. But the game does feel a bit more natural overall on the Xbox 360.

Note that the wired USB-compatible Xbox 360 controller will work just fine with the PC version of the game, which is an option to consider. Furthermore, the extensibility of the PC version through user-created mods means that various interface changes or enhancements could be just a download away.

Special Features

On the PC, you'll be able to greatly extend the life of an already content-rich game by cherry-picking from a countless number of user-created modifications. Within days of the game's release, dozens of mods already began surfacing on the Internet. We've got many of them here at GameSpot, so visit our Oblivion downloads page to check out what's on offer. There you can also download the Oblivion Construction Set, in case you want to try your hand at creating your own content.

On the Xbox 360, you've got 50 different achievements to unlock as part of the Xbox 360's addictive "gamerscore" system. Some of these achievements you'll unlock automatically by completing the main quest. The others require you to work your way up through the main factions, essentially by undertaking the major subquests. These achievements add a layer of structure to the game and may give you more incentive to explore every last bit of content. Note that the Xbox 360 version does include hooks for future content downloads--so it's possible that the best PC mods may still come to the 360, but don't count on that.

Bethesda will also release downloadable content morsels for the Xbox 360 through Xbox Live's microtransaction system and for the PC through its Web site. Read our news story for more information about the first set of official content downloads from Bethesda.

Extra: Is the Collector's Edition Worth an Extra $10?

This Collector's Edition delivers.
This Collector's Edition delivers.
Short Answer: Yes.

Both the PC and Xbox 360 versions of Oblivion are optionally available in a Collector's Edition package retailing for an additional $10 on top of the standard retail price--so that's $59 for the PC version and $69 for the Xbox 360 version of the Collector's Edition. The extra $10 will buy you deluxe "gatefold" packaging, a faux-leather-bound "The Pocket Guide to the Empire" 112-page booklet all about the world of Tamriel, an Imperial Septim coin (a metal replica of Oblivion's currency) and an entertaining "Making of Oblivion" DVD Documentary.

If you're an old-school fan of computer role-playing games, you'll certainly appreciate this Collector's Edition for the authentic Pocket Guide and coin (of course, you didn't have to pay extra for this stuff in the halcyon days of the Ultima series). The DVD documentary will also be of natural interest to many of those wondering how on earth this game was created.

Closing Thoughts

We hope we've given you a clearer sense of the differences between the two versions of Oblivion. In case it still isn't clear to you which version you should get, though, we bet you're wondering whether you should take this opportunity either to upgrade your PC or to splurge for an Xbox 360 and maybe a home theater setup while you're at it. That's a tougher personal choice than deciding between versions of Oblivion, so we'll leave that one up to you. But we'll note that should you choose to upgrade your gaming setup at home partly on account of getting the most out of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, we don't think you'll be disappointed.

Next Steps:

Visit the Oblivion PC Forum
Visit the Oblivion Xbox 360 Forum

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