Apex Legends PC Performance Review
Published: 20th February 2019 | Source: OC3D Internal Testing | Price: |
Multiplayer games are notoriously difficult to benchmark, so much so that we typically avoid games like Apex legends. This time however things are a little different, and like many others, we have succumbed to the realms of Battle Royale. Over the past week, we have battled time and time again to see how Respawn Entertainment's latest game runs on PC, making a few interesting findings along the way.
Apex Legends is the latest game in the emerging genre that's called Battle Royale, taking the core mechanics of its contemporaries such as a contracting playfield, loot-filled maps and large player counts. Beyond that Respawn adds extra elements of team play into the mix, forcing players into squads of three with teamplay mechanics which work just as well with and without mics, a must for a game that's designed to be free to play.
If we were to compare it to any game, we'd say that the combat is similar to the Xbox 360 era of Halo games, offering a longer than usual time to kill that gives players an opportunity to run away or a chance to turn and face their opponent. One on one combat become somewhat more skill based, as without high-level weapons single shot kills are pretty much impossible. The combination of healing items, after death respawns, and teammate revivals also add a lot of comeback options to players, which is a welcome change of pace when compared to faster paced Battle Royale experiences.
Before discussing the PC version of Apex Legends, we will note that the game's console versions make heavy use of dynamic resolution scaling, which arrives on PC in the form of a graphical option called "Adaptive Resolution FPS Target." This technology comes from Respawn's Titanfall 2 and sits at the core of Apex Legend's design.
Framerates are incredibly variable in Apex Legends; the game has been made that way. On consoles, the game's resolution will increase as GPU load decreased and decrease as the game becomes more challenging to run. Transfer this to PC, where gamers often play at fixed resolutions, and you get a mix of minimum, average and maximum framerates that are incredibly variable. Bear this in mind when looking at our results.
We should also make a note of the performance of Apex Legend's console versions, which are all designed to run at 60FPS. That said, the game plays at average resolutions which are a lot lower than usual for each of the target platforms, with the Sony PS4 Pro only managing an average framerate of 1080p, which is far from the console's 4K ambitions. Moving down to the PS4 and we see an average of 900p and on the Xbox One S 720p. This comes some way towards explaining why Apex Legends is so demanding on high-end PC hardware, especially at 1440p+ resolutions.
Apex Legends pushes Respawn's customise version of Valve's Source Engine to its limits, offering players with a large map, plenty of foliage and reasonably attractive visuals overall. The game's graphics are not breaking new grounds, but the game is nonetheless a massive achievement for Respawn.
It is Respawn's "Adaptive Resolution FPS Target" option that underpins the console release of Apex legends, with the appearance of the feature on PC offering the opportunity for all games to take advantage of the benefits of dynamic resolution scaling. Dynamic Resolution Scaling is rare on PC, especially when it is available in such a usable form. The implementation of this feature on PC is second to none, and we hope that something similar will be seen in other EA games moving forward. Respawn can even let this option activate in reverse, enabling supersampling when there is enough GPU headroom.
At 1080p we were able to play Apex Legends at 60+ FPS maxed out in most situations with AMD's Radeon RX 580 Strix and Nvidia's Geforce GTX 1060 Strix, but demanding areas are more than capable of pushing the game below our 60FPS framerate target, in some cases tremendously so. Large dips below 60FPS are rare, but when they do occur they are very jarring. Thankfully, using Apex Legend's "Adaptive Resolution FPS Target" option can mitigate these dips entirely, thanks to momentary drops in the game's internal resolution. We recommend a framerate target of 63 or 64, as this will prevent pretty much all drops below 60FPS.
Alternatively, the first graphical setting that PC gamers should drop when seeking greater performance levels in Apex Legends is Ambient Occlusion, which has the largest impact on the game's performance. This feature is turned off by default on standard Xbox One and PS4 consoles and is exclusive to PC, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Most PC gamers will not notice the difference between High and Low Ambient Occlusion during gameplay and you may not notice if it is off entirely in some cases.
If you crank the game up to 1440p we recommend taking similar steps with Nvidia's RTX 2060, GTX 1080 and AMD's Radeon RX Vega 56, all of which achieve similar performance levels at 1440p as the GTX 1060 and RX 580 did at 1080p. Apex Legend's "Adaptive Resolution FPS Target" setting can keep all of these graphics cards above 60FPS when the option is set to an appropriate value. In the case of the GTX 1070, we recommend also lowering Apex Legend's Ambient Occlusion settings to minimise the visual impact of the game's dynamic resolution scaling options. The main benefit of dynamic resolution scaling at high resolutions is that the scaling becomes a lot less noticeable.
When we target a resolution of 4K, even the RTX 2080 Ti can struggle at times, maintaining 60FPS+ on most occasions. Demanding areas of the map can cause dips to the mid-high 50s, but massive squad-on-squad-on-squad battles can cause more substantial declines in framerate, especially when at the edge of the contracting playfield, when characters like Bangalore spawn smoke, and thermite grenades are used. Apex Legend's dynamic resolution scaling option can address these dips, making them almost unnoticeable. As we have said before, variable resolutions are very hard to notice at 4K, especially when drops are infrequent and don't last for very long.
When it comes to lower-end PC hardware, Apex Legends can start to struggle, but at the game's lower quality settings and with the help of dynamic resolution scaling even the likes of the GTX 960 and R9 380 can offer 1080p 60+ FPS gameplay, albeit with a dynamic resolution to mitigate certain performance dips. Not bad for a GPUs from 2015. The most significant downsides of these older cards is their use of a small 2GB frame buffer, which while usable in Apex Legends results in a considerable decrease in graphical quality (see page 9). To get the best visuals out of Apex Legends, we recommend GPUs with 4GB or larger frame buffers.
Apex Legends is both scalable and demanding, offering PC gamers the ability to run on both older graphics hardware while also providing the ability to give modern gaming flagships like the RTX 2080 Ti a run for their money at 4K. The game's implementation of adaptive resolution rendering on PC is nothing short of astounding, acting as a critical feature for both the game's PC and console versions, at least if you want to mitigate the game's steepest performance drops. We hope to see other game developers make use of this feature in time.
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