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.


Watch Dogs 2 has finally been released on the PC following a delay. The game was first released on console. Watch Dogs 2 is developed by Ubisoft Montreal, and published by Ubisoft. It was first released to PlayStation 4 and XBOX One on November 15th. The PC version was released on November 29th. This is an action-adventure third-person shooter type game.

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Watch Dogs 2 follows the first game, Watch Dogs 1 which was released in 2014. We used the first Watch Dogs game quite a bit in our video card testing back in the day. You can read our Watch Dogs Performance and Image Quality Review from back then for some nostalgia, and to compare Watch Dogs 2 to the previous version. Nobody will ever forget, or forgive, the E3 debacle that the first game generated. You can read about it in our article linked above.

Watch Dogs 2 is poised to fix or improve upon many of the gameplay issues gamer’s complained about from the first game. The developers have supposedly taken notes and feedback to make this game’s actual gameplay superior to the previous game. In essence, Watch Dogs 2 is what Watch Dogs 1 should have been.

Our Goals

While gameplay has improved, we are concerned with the graphics, we want to know how it performs, how it looks, and if it drives video gaming forward on the PC. We will test these things in a multi-part evaluation of this game. We are breaking up our evaluation into three articles so that we can thoroughly cover all aspects of the game. What is not covered here today in this article, will be covered in the remaining two parts. There is a lot to cover.

In Part 1 today we will focus on how the video card line-up compares against each other in the game. We will compare by apples-to-apples and find the highest playable settings for each video card. We have also taken VRAM readings to report our findings. This will allow us to generate a baseline of performance in the game and know how each video card stands up in this game.

Second, in Part 2 we will cover a more in-depth analysis of performance of individual graphics features turned on, or off. For example we will dive into the performance difference of the High Resolution Texture Pack being used, or not. We will find out how graphically intensive the Shadow options are, how graphically intensive all the AA options are, Ambient Occlusion, the Detail slider, and other settings.

Finally, in Part 3 we will dive into image quality. We will look at screenshots comparing the High Resolution Texture pack to the default game’s textures. We will compare the shadow settings visually, Ambient Occlusion, Details, AA, and other effects to see the actual benefits.

Watch Dogs 2 Graphics

Before we begin, NVIDIA has put together its own Graphics and Performance Guide for this game. NVIDIA’s article goes in-depth on explaining and showing what each graphics option does in this game. If you want a detailed explanation of each setting, and visual comparisons, hit up that article to learn more.

The Watch Dogs 2 game engine and graphics are improved following the first game. However, this game does not support DX12, it is DX11. There is no word or rumor if the game will ever be updated to DX12. It should be noted that game development did start on the PlayStation 4 and XBOX One first, in this game, and the PC came second. However, at least it was created on the next gen consoles so it does support current 3D effects. We hope it gets patched to DX12. This is certainly the type of game DX12 could help with.

The engine is an evolved version from the first game that allows for long view distances with high-detail and atmospheric effects. The lighting effects are more realistic and the world is more much detailed and dynamic. Unlike Watch Dogs 1 where you had to climb towers to unlock new areas in the map Watch Dogs 2 is completely open from the start, the entire city is at your fingertips and can be traveled within so you can explore at will.

Similar to Watch Dogs 1 the developers have embraced NVIDIA technologies to improve graphics image quality in this game for the PC. In the first game it primarily supported NVIDIA’s HBAO+ and TXAA. This time around the developers have added even more NVIDIA technology features to further improve image quality that the first game did not have.

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Ambient Occlusion - There are actually a few different methods of Ambient Occlusion in this game. SSBC gives you better performance but with a lesser quality, this is the fastest method. Then there is a unique HMSSAO method created by the developers. This provides better quality and a bigger performance impact. Then on top of that lies NVIDIA’s HBAO+ which uses physically-based ambient occlusion.

Shadows - There are also several shadow options present in this game. You have the standard "Low", "High", "Ultra" settings which are the developer created shadow settings in this game. Beyond that there are two distinct NVIDIA technologies. There is PCSS shadows which changes the softness and sharpness based on distance. This one does take a big performance hit. Then above that lies HFTS shadows, these shadows by far are the best looking shadows but they consume a lot of performance. These shadow options help to give this game a big bump in shadow image quality compared to other games.

AA - There are of course many AA options as well in this game, ranging from FXAA, to SMAA to MSAA to Temporal Filtering. The NVIDIA technology also incorporated is TXAA. Temporal AA combines MSAA, post process and custom designed temporal filters to improve image quality. It can be demanding.

In addition, NVIDIA’s Ansel capture technology will be incorporated as well.