Featured image credit: Ubisoft
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Watch Dogs 2 is a 2016 action-adventure game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft. It is a sequel to 2014’s Watch Dogs, and as a sequel, it brings on new gameplay and graphical improvements that are worth checking out. In this article I will explore performance impact of all graphics settings in Watch Dogs 2, and will try to offer an in-depth analysis of game’s overall performance on PC platform.
Watch Dogs 2 is powered by an upgraded version of the Disrupt engine that was specifically built for its own purposes. Watch Dogs 2 features 19 graphics settings and as an Nvidia-sponsored title it supports various graphics enhancing technologies such as HBAO+, HFTS, PCSS and TXAA. Game provides stunning visuals, but in return it tends to be very demanding on PC hardware. In order to examine game’s performance, I have used my standard PC rig with the following components:
Testing Rig Specifications
In order to measure how many frames per second can my system achieve according to specific settings, I have used MSI Afterburner tool (ver. 4.6.1) and RivaTuner Statistics Server (ver. 7.2.2). Since Watch Dogs 2 doesn’t have a built-in benchmark tool, my benchmark consisted of running the same arbitrary sequence for 60 seconds and then logging the data with the programs that I mentioned above. Although Watch Dogs 2 supports video display resolutions up to 4K, I have limited my analysis to 1080p resolution since it is still the most popular display resolution out there.
Since Watch Dogs 2 offers plenty of adjustable graphics settings with which you might not be familiar with, there are five image quality presets at your disposal to choose: Ultra, Very High, High, Medium and Low. Here are my average frame rate results for each of the mentioned presets:
As you can see, Watch Dogs 2 is a rather demanding title. At ultra settings, my system averaged at around 41 FPS, while the 1% low frames weren’t so far away. At very high preset, my average frame rate climbed up 13 FPS on average, which is a whooping 27% increase. At high preset I finally achieved a very enjoyable frame rate, which averaged around 63 FPS and would occasionally dip to 45 FPS. Lowering down overall image quality preset increased performance greatly, but lack of detail and image murkiness became much more noticeable.
After examining overall image quality presets, I decided to analyze all of the graphics settings in Watch Dogs 2, and determine their impact on system performance. This phase of analysis consisted of running the game at ultra preset, but with each separate image quality setting disabled or maximally lowered. After I acquired the results with each of the settings off, I had the ability to compare them with the results while they were on. Thus I had a chance to determine performance impact of each of the graphics settings on overall frame rate. As a baseline, I used ultra quality preset. Here are my results:
You might notice that I haven’t tested performance impact of San Francisco fog setting. Reason for this is that San Francisco fog graphics setting is a Nvidia sponsored feature and as such doesn’t work very well with AMD hardware, which I happen to use. Besides that, the fog feature doesn’t seem to appear in game very often, and although it sometimes looks nice, it is often barely noticeable. Taking that into an account, I didn’t consider this setting to be relevant.
Since I made so many runs testing each graphics settings on and off, I collected all of my data and calculated relative performance impact of each setting on game’s frame rate. Since we are talking about relative measures, I expressed each setting’s impact as percentage. Here are my results:
As you can see, screen space reflections and shadows impact game’s frame rate the most. Results considering shadows are obvious because in every game shadows represent graphically most demanding visual feature. I personally recommend you to set shadows quality to high or above because at medium and low settings they look very fuzzy. Screen space reflections are, on the other hand, quite a surprise. They eat your FPS a lot, and I mean, really a lot! Reflections really do look nice, especially during the rainy weather, but in my personal opinion they are not worth the price. If you have powerful GPU like the GTX 1070 Ti or RTX 2060, then set this option to ultra because there is no difference compared to high. If you have a mainstream card like GTX 1060 or RX 580, then it’s just better to set it to off.
Compared to screen space reflections and shadows, other settings have considerably less impact on game’s frame rate performance. Difference between various geometry levels are barely noticeable, but if you have frames to spare set it to high or very high. Considering water quality, I prefer to have it on high since it looks much better and doesn’t cost much. If you have a graphics card with 6 or 8 GB VRAM then set your texture resolution to high. We live in 2019 and this should now be a standard at 1080p. Post processing effects like antialiasing, motion blur and bloom have very low performance cost, so feel free to set them to maximum quality. Paradoxically, vegetation and depth of field when set to high increased FPS in my tests. However, gain was statistically insignificant (less than 1 percent) and could be attributable to measurement error.
If you looked carefully at the second and third chart, you might have noticed two weird things. First thing is that on the second chart near the label “Temporal Filtering” it is written “On”, while all other labels have mark “Off”. Second thing is that third chart shows that this graphics option increases frame rate up to 26% when it is turned on. As much as these results may be unbelievable, yes, they are correct. Turning on temporal filtering dramatically increases your frame rate, even though it is by default set to off. Here is a chart that shows how temporal filtering performs compared to standard ultra quality settings at various resolutions:
Question is why Watch Dogs 2 developers set this option to off, when it clearly boosts performance. According to Nvidia engineering department, temporal filtering is a graphics rendering feature that increases frame rate performance at the expense of image quality. What it does is that it basically uses data from the previous frame to fill in the blanks in the new frame, thus speeding up the rendering process and decreasing work that graphics card has to do. In turn, it slightly reduces quality of object’s geometry, visibility of ambient occlusion and lightning fidelity, but you get much better performance. Decrease in image quality is, however, negligible and in most cases barely noticeable. In a way, this feature is quite similar to DLSS technology that Nvidia introduced in 2019. However, this is open source technology and it is not hardware-specific bound, such as DLSS. In short, temporal filtering is a great feature that will significantly boost your FPS if you turn it on. It will slightly blur the image, but if you are hoping to squeeze out maximum graphics and achieve 60 FPS, this feature is your best friend. If you don’t like that extra bit of blur, and have AMD card, you can turn on Radeon Image Sharpening (RIS) to get crispier image in game with temporal filtering on.
Optimal graphics settings for Radeon RX 580
If you have an AMD Radeon RX 580 graphics card or Nvidia GTX 1060 card, here is my recommendation which settings should be enabled and which should be disabled in order to achieve stable 60 FPS experience at 1080p resolution:
- Set overall image quality to Ultra
- Set geometry to very high
- Set shadows to very high
- Disable screen space reflections
- Disable San Francisco fog
- Disable Vsync (optionally)
With these graphics settings my frame rate managed to fluctuate between 55 and 75 FPS, with jumps to 85 FPS in less graphically intense areas and dips to 45 FPS in areas filled with lots of trees, cars and buildings. Even though these settings grant you achieving 60 FPS on average, you really shouldn’t expect to stay above that level for 100% of time, since Watch Dogs 2 isn’t a game that will provide you with consistent performance. There will always be dips to 40 FPS area, however, that is completely normal and you shouldn’t be too much disappointed with that. Finally, if you have a FreeSync or G-Sync monitor that supports variable refresh rate lower than 50 Hz, you will most definitely have a smooth and screen tear free gaming experience.