One annoying feature of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim by Bethesda Softworks is the scenery popping into place—which is to say the high resolution textures replacing the low resolution textures—worst of all the appearance of frozen waterfalls. Sometimes it seems one has to get awfully close to the waterfall before the gorgeous animated water appears. The fish leap up the ugly block of water without a care. Setting distance sliders to maximum doesn’t help the waterfalls. If the artists had created nicer looking low-resolution waterfalls, this might not be as much a bother.
I’m not the only one concerned. Players found a solution within weeks of Skyrim’s release. Read the details on this post, “uGridsToLoad Skyrim.ini Comparisons and Explanation,” at Bethesda Softworks Forums. The short answer is to set three keys in the skyrim.ini file under [General]:
uExterior Cell Buffer=64
According to the forum thread, uGridsToLoad may be 5 (default,) 7, 9, or 11 and the other two must change to match the formula:
uExterior Cell Buffer=(x+1)^2
Two trade-offs include a performance hit for higher values of x and unsafe to load games saved at higher x-values than playing due to saved file corruption. So, experiment and keep x before playing or continuing a real game.
I’m playing Skyrim at “High Details” with some distance bars pushed up slightly at 2056×1440 resolution, and ended up choosing x=7. At a single bump the landscape popping distance is far enough not to bother me nearly as much, and my playing experience doesn’t take a hit. Here are some comparison pictures, zoomed-in (cropped image) of the falls outside Whiterun:
Notice the frozen waterfalls in the top screenshot and the lack of land detail compared to the second screenshot. Below is the full view.
Another comparison overlooking Ivarstead, cropped images:
Why didn’t Bethesda Softworks increase the uGrids value in the higher details presets? My guess is stability. The game had some texture loading issues in the early versions, and apparently they could not find a workable solution if the player decides to lower their detail preset without corrupting the saved-game file. Maybe a future patch will fix things.