OK well I took a long lunchbreak today to play through the tutorial and tweak the graphics settings to my liking, and now that I'm back at the office, I know that the rest of the work day will be torture. I was blown away by how much more immersive and interesting the initial story phase of the game is when compared to Morrowind, and I was just about to exit the tutorial phase when I had to go back (arrgg).
First off, the character creation system is the best I've ever seen. Your character's appearance is completely tweakable. No more ugly, deformed freak characters like in the last TES game. I spend about 20 minutes playing around with all the different sliders. There are almost TOO many options!
The game throws you into the main plot right away with an excellent scripted sequence featuring Emperor Uriel Septim and his bodyguards. I won't say anything about the story but the voice acting is spectacular. Patrick Stewart is great, of course, but the bodyguards are voiced expertly as well.
You are slowly introduced to the gameplay mechanics by tip popups and simple combat with rather overgrown rats. I had a great deal of fun blasting the nasty things with my fireballs. I spent the rest of the time getting acquainted with the inventory management system, which is at first a little daunting but quickly becomes manageable. After getting my number keys set to the various weapons and spells in my arsenal, I eagerly proceeded through the rest of the tutorial. It's really cool, suffice it to say.
Now, for the graphics performance. First of all the game looks incredible. I haven't seen anything else on the PC that comes close. Textures are very sharp, lighting is very natural looking, character models are great, if I had a single complaint it would be somewhat stiff-looking animation but it's nothing out of the ordinary. I started off running at the default "Ultra High" setting that the game detected for me at 1600x1200, 4xAA, 16xAF, V-Sync & Bloom on. It was a bit choppy at times, especially in combat (when it counts), so I played around with the settings until I settled on simply turning off AA, which increased performance very noticably. I didn't notice any IQ difference without AA but that's probably because I was lurking through dark dungeons and sewers the whole time. I didn't FRAPs it but my estimate is that the game stayed above 40fps or so the whole time with AA off, and probably dipped into the teens with it on 4x. Basically I would describe 0x as "silky smooth" and 4x as "borderline unplayable" but maybe I'm just picky.
Changing resolutions did not make a readily apparent difference. I left most of the in-game video options at their default levels, with the exception of the distant sliders for objects, etc. I haven't been outside yet to see what kind of impact those have on performance.
So far the game runs great and looks incredible. I can't wait to get back to it to see what lies beyond the sewers!