Watch Dogs 2 Video Card Performance Review Part 1

Watch Dogs 2 has been released on the PC. We will have a three part evaluation of performance and image quality starting today with performance comparisons. We will also find the highest playable settings for each graphics card and the gameplay experience delivered. Finally, a graphically demanding game.

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High Resolution Texture Pack

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That’s right, this game has one! It is rare to have an official high resolution texture pack available for a brand new PC game at game launch, officially from the game developer, or at all. This is a welcomed sign, and one that helps separate this game from consoles by taking advantage of what PC’s are capable of doing. We wish more games had high resolution texture packs like this.

If you are using Uplay you can download it as shown in the first screenshot above. Though it is under "DLC" it is a completely free DLC. If you have the game via STEAM you will also find it under DLC content as a free DLC. Ultra Texture Pack is the same as High Resolution Texture Pack in Uplay.

From the STEAM description you will see that this is a 4K texture pack. There are over 10,000 4K textures. There are also detailed character updates, buildings and vegetation and ultra resolution decals. There are even improvements to normal and surface maps.

Naturally, if you really want to see the benefits you need to run the game at a high resolution to experience them. High Resolution textures at 1080p isn’t going to show much benefit, you will want to run at 1440p or 4K to really experience the difference.

For all of our testing today we do not have the texture pack installed. We are testing the game at its default "out-of-box" experience as experienced by gamers just downloading the game for the first time. We will make performance comparisons to the high resolution texture pack in Part 2 of this evaluation.

We first need to get this baseline so that we can compare in Part 2, if we just started testing with high resolution textures we’d never know how they affect performance. Therefore, we have to start first, here, in Part 1 with default textures.


Graphics Settings

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First note, we are testing with game version 1.05.134.981608. This is the latest official release of the game as of testing. There are two main settings screens for graphics options. The first one is shown above. From here you select the window mode, resolution, turn VSYNC on or off and other PC oriented options this game does support. The Pixel Density option is interesting. It states that this is a modifier that applies to the resolution in the fullscreen or any windows mode and allows to upscale or downscale pixel density of the image.

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Under the "Quality" tab is where you will find all the advanced image quality settings. At the top is "Graphics Quality." This allows you to set a global pre-set option that changes all the other options. There is "Low", "Medium", "High", "Very High" and "Ultra" settings. Note that at "Ultra" settings this does not set the highest possible graphics settings. There are still several options you can manually manipulate to set to higher settings above the "Ultra" global pre-set option.

The options that can manually be increased from the global "Ultra" pre-set options are:

Extra Details - There is a graphics setting near the top called Extra Details. On all of the global pre-set options, including "Ultra" this slider is always at 0%. You have to manually increase the slider if you want to benefit from its affect. This setting increases the geometry’s level of detail on all objects in the game world, both near and distant. This setting is very demanding on performance, increase it and watch your framerates drop. We will investigate the performance impact of this setting in Part 2 and the image quality impact in Part 3. For now, we will use the default setting at "Ultra" which is 0%.

Shadows - The "Ultra" level is not the highest level of the Shadows setting. This setting can be increased manually to NVIDIA PCSS or HFTS shadows. NVIDIA PCSS shadows will work on both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs. However, HFTS shadows only work on NVIDIA GPUs. PCSS shadows are very demanding, and HFTS shadows even more demanding. PCSS shadows change softness and sharpness based on distance, and HFTS shadows are accurate hard shadows with a special softened filter. We will look at the performance impact in Part 2, and the IQ impact in Part 3. For this part today we will use the default "Ultra" setting.

Headlight Shadows - The default "Ultra" setting puts this setting at "2 Cars." This setting can be increased beyond that manually to "3 Cars" and "4 Cars." This adjusts the quality level of vehicle headlight shadows. This option affects yours and nearby cars. Naturally, it has more of an impact at night time. We are going to use the default "2 Cars" for this part today which is the default "Ultra" setting.

Ambient Occlusion - At "Ultra" settings the setting "HMSSAO" is enabled by default. However, there is another setting you can manually turn on and that is HBAO+. You can also lower the setting to SSBC. SSBC is the lowest quality, and fastest method. HMSSAO is better quality, and a higher impact on performance. HBAO+ is the best image quality, and the performance impact will vary. For all of our apples-to-apples default "Ultra" setting testing we will leave this at default "Ultra" which is HMSSAO. We will look at performance in Part 2 and IQ in Part 3.

Temporal Filtering - Temporal Filtering is turned "Off" at "Ultra" settings. You can manually turn this on. It does however lock-out MSAA from being used. Temporal Filtering combines MSAA with temporal re-projection of the previous frame and provides a performance gain while reducing the video memory used. We are going to use the default "Ultra" setting which is "Off" for this feature.

MSAA - MSAA is turned off by default at "Ultra" settings. You can manually increase this to 2X MSAA, 4X MSAA or 8X MSAA. In addition this game supports NVIDIA’s TXAA. This slider is also where you select 2X TXAA, 4X TXAA and even 8X TXAA. The default configuration at "Ultra" however is "Off" so we will keep it off.

Post-Process Anti-Aliasing - This game supports two methods of shader based AA. It supports FXAA and SMAA. The default setting at "Ultra" is SMAA, but you can select FXAA if you want. We will use SMAA for all tests today.

Beyond those settings you may also want to pay attention to the Texture Resolution setting. The highest level supported is "High." However, this is without the high resolution texture pack installed. It is possible once the high resolution texture pack installed that this setting might gain an "Ultra" setting to use those high resolution textures.

Underneath that setting is Texture Filtering. This option controls Anisotropic Filtering in the game. You always want to have this at the "Ultra" setting for the best texture image quality.

Another setting you should pay attention to is Screenspace Reflections. This setting does impact performance to a high degree. Screenspace Reflections controls the reflection of objects and environment on materials. Higher settings renders more things from the reflections, but also eats up a lot of performance.


Drivers

Both AMD and NVIDIA had drivers ready at the time of game launch for this game, so that is good news, and a welcomed sight. We are testing with these drivers.

From AMD you want to grab the Crimson Edition 16.11.5 Hotfix driver dated 11/28. Under the release notes it specifically states support for Watch Dogs 2.

From NVIDIA you want to grab the GeForce 376.09 WHQL driver dated 11/28. This driver: "Provides the optimal experience for Watch Dogs 2."

Our test system is our standard video card test system as shown here. We will be using: GeForce GTX 1080, GeForce GTX 1070, GeForce GTX 1060, GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, AMD Radeon RX 480, AMD Radeon RX 470 and AMD Radeon RX 460.

How We Tested

In this Part 1 evaluation today we are going to focus on how the video cards compare to each other in apples-to-apples. We will also find the highest playable settings on each video card and show you the performance and talk about the settings we had to set in the text. We also have VRAM numbers.

This performance article today is all about finding a baseline, finding out how the video cards lineup in the game and what kind of gameplay experience they are capable of providing in the default game. We do not have the high resolution texture pack installed for any of these tests today. We will look at performance with the high resolution texture pack in Part 2.

Our run-through is an outdoor run-through in the city. It is actually an eleven-minute run-through, much longer than we typically have. It encompasses a lot of outdoor environments and city areas from one side of the map to the other, and then another section as well. It tests the open world nature of this game. It also has some very graphically intense areas that will bring the framerates down.

We have chosen to test in the daytime because that is where we experienced the lowest minimum framerates in these areas. Nighttime is quite intense in the game, but we found the Daytime can fluctuate more and has some of the lower minimum framerate areas that are very harsh on graphics. Take heed, we also test at night to find the highest playable settings however.