Featured image credit: Guerilla Games
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Note: this guide offers optimal graphics settings for Tier 4 graphics cards. You can find more information about graphics card tiers here.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a 2017 action role-playing game developed by Guerrilla Games and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. The game was ported and released on the Microsoft Windows platform in 2020. Being Guerrilla Games’ first IP since Killzone, the Horizon Zero Dawn has no predecessors, and is expected to receive its next sequel in 2021. Set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by mysterious machines, the plot of the game follows a young female hunter Aloy, who sets out to uncover her past. The game won numerous awards, and was considered to be a commercial success.
Featuring incredibly designed and authentic post-apocalyptic world, Horizon Zero Dawn is a visually stunning game. In this article we are going to examine game’s system performance, and offer graphics settings optimization guide for owners of AMD Radeon RX 580 and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060, as well as other Tier 4 graphics cards such as Radeon RX 5500 XT or GeForce GTX 1650 Super.
Horizon Zero Dawn is powered by Guerrilla Games’ in-house Decima engine, which was used to power Killzone Shadow Fall back in 2013. Since then, the engine has been heavily modified and updated in order to support 4K resolution rendering, Havok physics engine, and HDR imagining. Despite being released on PC platform, Horizon Zero Dawn was originally intended to be a PlayStation 4 title. Porting the game from PlayStation 4 to PC proved to be a challenging task for Guerrilla Games, so system performance on most mainstream PC configurations is expected to be slightly unoptimized. Gameplay-wise, these modifications don’t affect gameplay experience at all, however, for achieving smooth 60 FPS experience at 1080P resolution with ultra settings, both Radeon RX 580 and GeForce GTX 1060 6GB won’t be enough. In order to examine game’s performance, we have used our standard benchmark PC rig with the following components:
Testing Rig Specifications
|CPU||Intel Core i7-4770 @ 3.4 GHz|
|RAM||16GB (4×4) Kingston HyperX Fury DDR3 @ 1866 MHz|
|MBO||ASRock Z97 Anniversary|
|GPU||Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 580 8GB|
|SSD||Kingston HyperX Fury 120GB|
|HDD||WD Blue 1TB - WD10EZEX|
|PSU||FSP Hexa+ 500W|
|OS||Windows 10 x64, Build 1903|
In order to measure how many frames per second can our system achieve, we have used game’s built-in benchmark tool. After finishing the benchmark run we wrote down our average FPS results and later compared them with the results from other runs. This time around we also had EVGA’s GeForce GTX 1060 6GB GAMING ACX 3.0 graphics card on our bench, so we would like to say thanks to our supporter Bobz who kindly provided it to us. For our testing purposes we have used latest NVIDIA 452.06 WHQL driver, as well as AMD Radeon Adrenalin Edition 20.8.1 driver.
Since Horizon Zero Dawn offers plenty of adjustable graphics settings which you may not understand, there are four image quality presets at your disposal to choose from: Favor Performance, Original, Favor Quality, and Ultimate Quality. Keep in mind, however, that Original image quality preset is analogous to the PlayStation 4’s (non-Pro) default graphics settings, so if you decide to play the game at this preset, you will achieve same gameplay experience as if you were playing the game on PlayStation 4 console. Here you can see our average FPS results for 1080P resolution at each of the mentioned presets:
After taking a quick look at our chart above, we can clearly see that Radeon RX 580 outperforms GeForce GTX 1060 6GB in all Horizon Zero Dawn’s image quality presets. This is quite understandable due to several reasons. Firstly, Horizon Zero Dawn is AMD-sponsored title, so the game runs much better with Radeon graphics cards, and secondly, the Radeon RX 580 is generally faster card than the GeForce GTX 1060 due to numerous driver updates which it received over the last two years.
If we take a look at the results regarding the Original image quality presets, we can see that both RX 580 and GTX 1060 can run the game at native 1080P with more than 60 FPS on average. This means that both cards are powerful enough to give you the same gameplay experience as if you were playing the game on PlayStation 4 console, but with more than 60 FPS on average, compared to the PlayStation 4’s locked 30 FPS.
At Ultimate quality preset, both cards struggled to achieve stable 45 FPS, which is a bit disappointing. At Favor quality preset, the Radeon RX 580 was able to maintain stable 59 FPS on average, with 1% Low results being around 50 FPS mark. We consider these results to be very good, since Radeon RX 580 can be paired with a cheap FreeSync monitor, which will ensure smooth gameplay experience, as long as frame rate doesn’t drop below 45 FPS mark. The performance of Geforce GTX 1060, on the other hand, wasn’t very impressive, however, it was still favorable given the fact that this was now a four-year-old card.
During our benchmark runs we didn’t experience any visual artifacts, flickering, nor any major texture pop-up issues, however, we did experience frequent image stuttering. Despite the fact that we used latest AMD Adrenalin and NVIDIA Game Ready GPU drivers, we weren’t able to pinpoint the exact cause of this issue, and we noticed that stuttering was more pronounced in certain areas such as in City of Meridian.
Playing the game at resolutions higher than 1080P with Tier 4 graphics card proved to be pointless. At 1440p our RX 580 struggled to maintain stable 35 FPS, while at 4K resolution, the card couldn’t render more than 17 frames per second at any point. Despite the fact that GeForce GTX 1060 6GB was about 6% slower at 1080P compared to the Radeon RX 580, at Quad HD and Ultra HD resolutions the card performed only 1-2% slower compared to the RX 580.
After examining the performance of Radeon RX 580 and GeForce GTX 1060 with default graphics presets, we proceeded further with performance analysis of each graphical setting available in Horizon Zero Dawn. This phase of analysis consisted of running benchmark test multiple times on ultra preset, but with each separate graphics setting disabled or maximally lowered down. After we’ve acquired the results for each graphical setting disabled, we had the ability to compare them with the results while they were enabled. This gave us the opportunity to determine performance impact of each graphical setting on overall frame rate. As a baseline we used ultra quality preset. Here are the results:
From the above chart we can see that turning off most of the graphical settings in Horizon Zero Dawn results with slight performance improvement gains. As expected, lowering down texture quality and anisotropic filtering didn’t improve performance at all, since these settings heavily depend on the amount of VRAM, and not compute capabilities of your graphics card. If we try to translate our data into relative measures, here is what we get:
Like in many modern games, post processing effects have the most significant impact on system performance in Horizon Zero Dawn. Turning off ambient occlusion will improve your average frame rate by 18%, however, we strongly recommend not to do that, since this will noticeably decrease visual appeal of the game’s world. Lowering down volumetric clouds to medium, on the other hand, will also significantly increase performance, but it won’t be as nearly as noticeable.
Next up, we have reflections which decrease overall performance by about 9 percent if set to ultra, so if you don’t find this feature very important, you can safely set it to medium. As usual, shadows also take a small toll on performance, however, we don’t recommend setting it to low, since this will make shadows almost non-existent, and game will look like a PlayStation 2 title from 2001.
Finally we have model quality, antialiasing and motion blur. Lowering model quality to low will gain you 4,5% more FPS, however, this will decrease detail complexity of world objects, as well as Aloy’s character model – something which we find very undesirable. Turning off antialiasing and motion blur results with virtually no performance gains, and adjusting these settings nowadays is considered to be a matter of taste, so do as you like.
Like many modern titles, Horizon Zero Dawn comes with render scaling option, which enables you to decrease game’s internal resolution, but still force rendering at 1080P. Along with that, the game also comes with adaptive performance FPS feature, which enables you to force the game to dynamically adjust graphics settings in order to achieve desirable frame rate. These two settings are particularly useful if combined with AMD’s Radeon Sharpening technology, or NVIDIA’s DLSS, however, we found both settings to be completely broken. Enabling either of these settings introduces even more stuttering issues, while setting the render scale below 100% forces the game to run in borderless mode. We assume this issues are completely game-related, and that further updates will fix them.
Recommended settings for Radeon RX 580 and other Tier 4 graphics card
If you own an AMD Radeon RX 580 or GeForce GTX 1060 6GB graphics card, here is our recommendation which settings should be enabled and which disabled in order to achieve optimal 60 FPS experience at 1080P resolution:
With the above settings we managed to achieve very enjoyable gameplay experience while retaining maximum image quality. During our tests, the game ran in between 55 and 65 FPS with the above settings, which we consider more than enough for good gaming experience. If you own a newer processor, such as AMD Ryzen 5 3600 or Intel Core i5-8400, then you can expect your performance to be even better. Unfortunately, the frame rate in this game isn’t as consistent as we are used to see in PC games, which is partly due to frequent stuttering issues, and partly due to the fact that this game is a PlayStation 4 console port.
Horizon Zero Dawn is an authentic and exciting new IP which has finally arrived on PC platform. In terms of performance, Horizon Zero Dawn is able to run with favorable results on most mainstream PC configurations, however, the overall system performance is somewhat disappointing. Death Stranding, a game which is also powered by Decima engine, runs perfectly smooth on PC, while Horizon Zero Dawn is plagued with frequent stuttering issues and inconsistent frame rate. This is clearly the fault of developer Guerrilla Games, which didn’t put up enough work in polishing this game while porting it from PlayStation 4.
Speaking of performance of Radeon RX 580 and GeForce GTX 1060 6GB, both cards will run Horizon Zero Dawn with satisfactory results, however, for achieving smooth 60 FPS at 1080P, you’ll need something like GeForce GTX 1660 Super or Radeon RX 5600 XT. Good old GeForce GTX 1070 will still be enough. If, however, you only hope to achieve same visual experience as if you were playing the game on PlayStation 4, then Radeon RX 570 will suffice.