The reveal of Tom Clancy’s The Division all those years ago at E3 2013 was interesting, to say the least. In the midst of so many survival-oriented games on consoles (it was the same year The Last of Us released on PS3), it immediately garnered interest for its MMO structure. Developer Ubisoft Massive didn’t offer too much information at that point but with the closed beta currently on-going, talks of downgrade out of the way and intensive analysis done, we’re set to analyze The Division‘s graphics. As always, these findings are based off of a closed beta and things can change significantly with the final game’s launch.
When Ubisoft Massive presented The Division, it also introduced us to a curious new engine called Snowdrop. In an interview with Making Games, brand art director Rodrigo Cortes talked about creating an engine that was about more than just brute force. Rather, it would use resources intelligently and instead of balancing between high fidelity visuals versus content, the development team wanted to create an engine that could offer both. Cortes even talked about how, “In my opinion it has already been proven what the new console generation is capable of if you give the developers enough time and if they know exactly which resources they can make use of.”
Development on the Snowdrop Engine began five years ago in the lead up to Ubisoft acquiring Massive Entertainment and it’s grown organically since then. Written in 64-bit with the goal of accessing individual threads and efficiently utilizing memory, Snowdrop’s features include dynamic global illumination, procedural destruction and a heavy amount of effects.
Comparison of all The Division Beta versions. Select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video playback quality.
How much of that plays into the PC version, which we’ve noted as the closest The Division gets to its initial E3 2013 reveal? To start with, it’s packed to the brim with options. Contact shadows, post FXAA, shadow quality, streaming distance, shadow resolution and even wind affected snow can be customized. For those worried that the PC version would compromise on visual quality, especially since it wasn’t initially planned along with the console versions, you can rest easy.
Performance is similarly impressive. The Division on PC is GPU-bound and we tested it on two configurations. The average frame rate on an AMD FX 8350 and Radeon R9 4 GB was 48 FPS while an Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan 6 GB offered a solid 60 FPS frame rate. Make sure your GPU is up to snuff – Ubisoft Massive wasn’t kidding about its recommended PC settings.
Obviously, the PC version looks superior to consoles thanks to better textures, improved draw distances, better shadow quality and support for 60 FPS. On top of that, the PC version is extremely well optimized and we look forward to seeing how much it improves with the final build.
As for the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the closed beta, they’re both capped at 30 FPS. Performance across both is similar with minimal drops during cut scenes but as a whole, they offer a solid 30 FPS frame rate. Furthermore, both console versions are running at 1080p native resolution, as we confirmed before. [Update: The game runs at a dynamic resolution on the Xbox One]
The console versions have their issues though. At times, the shadows of NPCs go missing and we also noticed the player character’s self shadow missing on occasion. Other times, it would look flat. The lack of motion blur can be pretty jarring at 30 FPS but at least the post processing AA offered stable image quality on both versions. Texture streaming issues were spotted on the PS4 version with textures on hoardings noticeably loading a bit late. The Xbox One version suffered from issues with level of detail where certain objects and NPCs would load much later. Though these two issues didn’t occur all the time, they were still present all the same.
One of the bigger surprises from The Division on consoles is the graphics options available, much like Project CARS. You can change image sharpness and chromatic aberration to modify image quality. While these are purely subjective at the end of the day, it is pretty cool to be able to switch off chromatic aberration if you don’t like it. Hopefully more developers follow this trend with their triple-A releases.
If you want to experience the best visuals that the closed beta for The Division has to offer, then the PC version is the way to go. The PS4 and Xbox One versions were never going to meet the same standard but they still offer decent performance all-around and an enjoyable experience at this stage.