Horizon Zero Dawn PC Port Analysis
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Horizon Zero Dawn PC Port Analysis

Sony’s announcement, made earlier this year, that Horizon Zero Dawn may perhaps be released on PC caused reasonably some uproar. And with valid reason: it’s the primary time that the company will release one among its flagship single-player first-party games on the platform. It’s, as of but, unknown whether or now not here is a one-off exception, part of a new approach of porting older games, or even indicative of a larger strategic shift. What we can focus on in detail, nonetheless, is the quality of the game’s PC port. In this article I’ll get into its features, focus on the available graphics alternate choices, and most importantly point out some important and unusual performance properties to be aware of in reveal to get the most out of the game.Horizon Zero Dawn PC Ultrawide Screenshots
Feature OverviewHorizon on PC ticks all the basic bins one would query from a high-profile PC port in 2020: it helps arbitrary rendering resolution, unlocked framerates, ultrawide aspect ratios, and a sizable status of graphics alternate choices. All of these work as expected, with a few caveats. For one, the built-in frame limiter has proven relatively problematic for me, and as such I’d imply always keeping it grew to turn into off and externally limiting the frame rate if desired. There is also an adaptive quality possibility which allows you to status a target framerate and have the game adapt the rendering resolution to are trying and maintain it. Whereas a very valuable feature in theory, here is rarely desirable in practice, for reasons that will turn into more clear when discussing graphics alternate choices and performance.
Regarding ultrawide assist, as you can gawk in the slideshow up top, it works great during gameplay and usually seems to be fantastic. Cutscenes, nonetheless, remain constrained to 16:9 as shown above. That is now not unusual, but the developers selected a rather queer way to personal the side areas: as you can gawk above, they reveal the left and valid parts of the heart, but darkened and blurred to some extent. Whereas an interesting alternative, I personally found it distracting compared to easy black bars, and hope that an possibility can be added for parents that preserve those.An incredibly important – to me at least – related feature is the discipline of view setting. That is extraordinarily welcome, and the game felt very claustrophobic when sitting at once in front of a large monitor with out adjusting this setting. I’ve always argued that the handiest discipline of view for a 3D rendered game is a philosophize characteristic of each individual player’s setup, including display measurement, distance and aspect ratio, and as such must smooth always be a configurable possibility.Input Mechanisms and Key BindingHorizon Zero Dawn does a great job supporting various input methods and configuration preferences. General alternate choices such as toggling aim assist, changing sensitivity, switching between toggling and holding for chase alternate choices, and inverting camera directions are available regardless of input approach.
The mouse and keyboard controls assist chunky remapping, including the ability to map two distinct bindings to each action, which can be of great utility – for example when assigning actions to additional mouse buttons. Speaking of those, mouse button 4 and 5 are natively supported, whereas – as in most games – here is now not the case for additional extra buttons. The default controls really feel very familiar to anyone who plays third person action RPGs on PC, with keys such as Okay, I, M and J doing exactly what you query. Overall, as expected in an aiming-heavy game such as this, I found that it plays totally with mouse and keyboard and I preserve that to playing with a controller.There is one small nitpick I have concerning the controls. At first I was positively surprised to gawk that the game has an official Steam controller profile. On the opposite hand, sadly this profile uses the valid touchpad in joystick simulation mode rather than trackball mode. As a colossal fan of the Steam controller I’m resplendent certain that no person who actually likes the hardware uses this manufacture of mapping for camera maintain an eye on, making the built-in assist actually worse than now not including a profile at all and falling back to the patron’s defaults.Graphics Strategies and GPU PerformanceThe PC model of Horizon Zero Dawn features a respectable status of graphics alternate choices, which mostly range from “Low” over “Original” to “Excessive” and “Ultra”. For a few alternate choices, there may perhaps also be an “Off” setting, and some are missing the ultra stage.
There are several things to care for in this graphics settings menu. First of all, each individual setting includes an image preview of its impact, and here is rather accurate for most of them. Secondly, the inclusion of an “Original” setting makes it easy to understand which alternate choices correspond to the stage the console model operates at, and which bolt beyond it.Some of the settings, care for “Textures”, “Anisotropic FIlter”, and “Circulation Blur” are reasonably straightforward. The feel setting seems to be to have no measurable performance impact as lengthy as you have adequate GPU memory, so I imply keeping it at the maximum supported by your GPU. Circulation blur is more of a stylistic alternative, I personally loved the game’s implementation of it.Impact of the “Model Quality” Setting (upper left quarter of 4K resolution screenshots)“Model Quality” is, as far as I am involved, the single most important setting and the one which presents the largest development over the “Original” console visuals, beyond the glaring resolution and framerate. This setting controls the detail stage of geometry shown and at which distance more detailed gadgets are archaic. Point to the diversities in geometric detail on the mountain in the background, as properly as the brick walls and some timber. Fortuitously, this setting also appears to have a relatively small performance impact in GPU-constrained scenarios, so I imply keeping it as high as conceivable.The “Shadows” setting is somewhat disappointing: it most effective changes shadow resolution, there is never a way to enable more advanced shadow features such as variable penumbras. In a game with very high-discontinue visuals such as this, that would have been a very good addition. As-is, the shadow setting would now not have noteworthy of an impact visually (except grew to turn into off totally clearly), and may very properly be a candidate for reducing whenever you happen to would care for to eke out a bit more GPU performance.Clouds “Excessive” Compared with “Ultimate”The “Reflections” and “Clouds” settings each most effective have a visual and performance impact in very particular scenarios, as you possibly can query from their name: when a significant amount of reflections or clouds are visible on display. Of particular interest is the clouds setting, which can have a large performance impact at the absolute most practical stage. It also produces very beautifully detailed and lit clouds, but whenever you happen to are trying to increase performance this may very properly be one among the primary choices to slice back.Finally, the game presents a want of antialiasing methods. Here you can either seize no AA, let the game buy, spend one among the two general display-space alternate choices – FXAA and SMAA – or spend TAA. None of them has any significant performance impact so it comes down to an aesthetic alternative. For a extremely detailed game with tons of foliage, I personally really feel care for anything totally different than a temporal solution is totally inadequate for dealing with flickering and image instability. The built-in TAA is relatively sharp, and very valid at dealing with opaque geometry edges and texture detail, but now not ideal in phrases of stability for alpha-tested surfaces. It may perhaps have been very good to gawk an implementation of DLSS 2.0 in this game, which may perhaps have supplied comparable or even better image stability combined with a good performance enhance.
Talking about performance, the game features four presets, from “Favor Performance” to “Ultimate Quality”, which map to the individual settings as you possibly can query. In the chart above you gawk the impact of these settings on game performance in a GPU-itsy-bitsy scenario – 4k resolution at 100% scaling on an RTX 2080 Ti. Conducting reliable real-world testing in an launch world game such as here is now not easy. For all the data in this article I ended up loading a save game and performing the same status of movements for roughly one minute, and repeating this process three times per measurement point. The sequence includes posthaste traversing the launch world in an area with a lot of foliage and a herd of robots to the side, and ought to be somewhat representative.The “Average FPS” metric ought to be self-explanatory. “1% percentile FPS” is the framerate achieved by the worst 1% of frametimes recorded, and is a valid general metric for smoothness of gameplay for most other folks. “0.2% percentile FPS” is more strongly affected by even individual framedrops, and a valid metric to watch whenever you happen to are extraordinarily particular about frametimes. Point to that I archaic the ideal CapFrameX for all the frametime analysis in this article. Part of my benchmarking sequence, which I obtained intimately familiar with after running it many dozen times.With this general information out of the way, we can scrutinize at what the outcomes actually narrate us about the performance implications of each preset. What we present is that there is a rather significant step in at least some of the metrics for each single increase in quality. Combined with the observations above, my suggestion for parents that need to get more GPU performance out of the game is to first scrutinize into reducing the preset to “Original”, preferably with the “Model Quality” and “Textures” settings increased, ahead of reducing the rendering resolution.Performance Deep Dive and CPU PerformanceSo far, we have most effective looked at the game’s performance in the GPU-itsy-bitsy case, which is actually relatively straightforward – the performance clearly scales with rendering resolution, some of the graphics settings, and general GPU hardware performance in a more-or-less expected fashion. On the opposite hand, there are some very interesting and important-to-know factors when it comes to what performance you can query in a CPU-itsy-bitsy case, and what is required to be certain that you get the handiest conceivable performance out of Horizon Zero Dawn. Here are some of the unusual factors involved:

As properly-known previously, the internal framelimiter is now not particularly constant and also reduces performance measurably. It’s preferable to spend external framelimiting if required.

HZD uses basic double-buffered V-sync if the in-game possibility is enabled, which means that the framerate will topple precipitously if rendering impartial a little misses the sync. Again, it is preferable to disable the in-game possibility and spend external/driver-stage vertical synchronization.

Unlike many latest games, there is a non-negligible performance inequity between strange fullscreen and with out boundaries windowed mode. I measured roughly 10% better performance in strange fullscreen.

Having a totally up to date driver is essential on both AMD and Nvidia GPUs. Prior to the latest driver model I was experiencing extreme periodic stuttering which vanished with the latest driver.
The game makes significant spend of PCIe bandwidth. Having your GPU related via fewer than 16 PCIe lanes reduces performance to a larger stage than any totally different game either of us is aware of.
As such, to get the handiest conceivable performance out of the game, it is essential to smooth disable its internal framelimiter and V-sync, play in strange fullscreen mode, and be certain that your GPU actually has access to the chunky PCIe bandwidth – and here is how I performed all exams in this article.Since this piece is designed to illustrate the performance of HZD when CPU-itsy-bitsy, a very low resolution (50% of 1080p) was archaic.
A demand I was very unfamiliar about going into this article was how a relatively straightforward port of a high-discontinue console game such as this may operate in phrases of CPU core scaling when CPU itsy-bitsy. The chart above is designed to answer this demand, and allows us to make some important observations:
The game scales properly up to 12 hardware threads, at which point scaling appears to start levelling out.

Whereas chunky cores with out hyperthreading are relatively effective at keeping up the average FPS, when going below 8 hardware threads – regardless of whether or now not these are chunky cores or fair threads – the percentile metrics topple off immediately and heavily.

4 cores with 8 hardware threads are adequate to maintain frametimes in a properly playable range, with the 1% percentile FPS remaining above 60.

We can gain some additional insight by looking into the frametimes over time of each of these samples. Clearly, there are three distinct streaming/loading “humps” that are visible and reproducible in each dash. The more hardware threads are thrown at the topic – up to 12 that is, the lines for 8C 16T and 6C 12T are almost identical here – the more these humps are smoothed out. Below 8 HW threads they get into significant stutters.
As expected in a CPU-itsy-bitsy scenario, scaling with CPU clock dash is way more linear. Interestingly, as lengthy as you have a adequate alternative of cores, even a lowly 2 GHz clock dash is adequate to dash the game at an average of 75 FPS, with the lowest drops smooth remaining above 40.ConclusionHorizon Zero Dawn is a very beautiful game, and it arrives on PC in a model which allows for larger framerates, arbitrary resolution rendering, 21:9 aspect ratio assist and a discipline of view adjustment possibility. It also features some graphics settings and enhancements which significantly enhance its appearance compared to the console original, such as dynamic foliage and the “Model Quality” possibility. The controls have also been ported to keyboard and mouse very competently, largely making the game really feel care for a native PC action Adventure/RPG when played with this input possibility. HZD Gameplay at Native 4k Resolution with the “Ultimate Quality” Preset.On the opposite hand, getting valid performance out of HZD is more involved and finicky than perhaps it ought to be – with several in-game alternate choices being actively detrimental to performance or perceived smoothness in non-glaring ways, and an unusually high load being placed on the PCIe bus. Whereas the two games are clearly substantially totally different in their load profiles, it is hard now not to compare this port to the very lately released Death Stranding, which is free of these more imprecise performance concerns and presents DLSS 2.0 for significantly better image stability at decrease GPU performance requirements.Overall, if all you want is 60 FPS and you have a relatively latest draw and a sufficiently fast GPU to your target resolution, that ought to be easy adequate to achieve as lengthy as you take present of the settings and configuration requirements I pointed out in the performance deep dive piece. On the opposite hand, chasing constant very high framerates above that (e.g. 120 FPS) seems to be care for a idiot’s errand even on top-discontinue hardware. Ultimately the game is a visual spectacle and the gameplay is now not particularly fast-paced, so the intense sacrifices in graphics necessary to achieve even relatively constant 120 FPS finish now not appear to be charge it in this case.
Point to: This article is based on a pre-release model of the game, and the developers have communicated that a day one patch shall be available. This patch may perhaps mitigate or eliminate some of the performance peculiarities encountered in the pre-release operate.
Update – 8/5/2020 PatchThe day-one patch released today would now not appear to change the performance properties pointed out in the deep dive piece. Average FPS are also unaffected in my testing. It does, nonetheless, reinforce frametime consistency on my draw, particularly with “Ultimate” settings:
In fact, I now measure a larger 0.2% percentile FPS at “Ultimate” than what was previously conceivable on the “Original” setting. A very good development.
Peter “Durante” Thoman is identified for developing the popular DSFix mod that mounted many complications with the PC port of Dark Souls. He co-founded PH3 Games, a studio that specializes in porting games to PC.