As far as graphics technology goes, The Division is one title that uses a lot of it. Make no mistake, despite being an open world title, the game is a visual splendor on all platforms. Some may argue that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt may be best looking open world game of this generation and we are pretty confident that it comes close to achieving that position but Ubisoft Massive’s The Division comes pretty close too. Granted its physics engine is not up to the mark but there is no denying that despite all the downgrade saga that the game has gone through, The Division still remains an impressive looking game. We sometimes wonder the possibilities of the E3 2013 build but what can be done about it.
As we have previously mentioned in our beta analysis, The Division on the PC surprisingly comes with a ton of graphical settings. You can adjust several different options including but not limited to Shadow Quality, Shadow Resolution, Spot Shadow Count, Spot Shadow Resolution, Contact Shadows, Post FX AA, Temporal AA, Local Reflection Quality, Sub-surface Scattering, Anisotropic Filtering, Parallax Mapping, Ambient Occlusion, Depth of Field, Object Detail and Extra Streaming Distance. We will cover some of these parameters in detail and how much they can impact the game’s performance but before that, Ubisoft suggests a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 GPU and Intel Core i7-3770 or AMD FX-8350 to run the game at recommended settings.
It seems that the terms recommended is a bit unclear. What does recommended mean anyway? It ideally means that anyone with the recommended specs should be able to run the game at 1080p and 60fps. However this is not the case with The Division on PC. We tested the PC version on two different sets of hardware. The first set is an AMD FX 8350 and Radeon R9 290 GPU along with 8GB memory which is exactly the same as the recommended requirements. So what kind of performance are we looking at? Well, lets get this out of the way, you won’t get a consistent 60fps Ultra performance with this set up. As you can see in the video above, the performance dips a lot. In short, the recommended settings will get you 60fps only at high settings but with dips.
Moving on to our next set of test hardware which consists of 16GB of memory, Intel Core i7 5960x and GeForce GTX 980 Ti, we were easily able to achieve a consistent 60 frames per second experience. However this is a much more powerful set up and for a game such as The Division which is heavily bound to both the CPU and GPU, our machine was more than capable to power through the game. The Division on the PC in many ways made us wonder the kind of advantages DX12 could have, especially given its nature to reduce the work process between the CPU and GPU. This could have seriously improved performance in a big way. We haven’t heard about any plans for a DX12 version of The Division but it will be a intriguing option if the developers opt for that approach. On a side note, we have heard reports that game’s SLI support is not up to speed and players are facing all kinds of performance issues and although we haven’t tested SLI configuration ourselves, the reports are out there that verify this.
So how can you achieve a consistent 60fps experience at the recommended specs? As we mentioned before Ubisoft have included a plethora of graphical settings and this makes The Division a highly scaleable game. If you are among those who don’t like tinkering with various settings, we would suggest opting to play the game at high settings. This will automatically give you a 60fps experience in most places within the world but expect drops. So what exactly can we change in the setting to give us a more consistent frame rate? Before we jump into this, I must point out there are some texture streaming issues in the game and for some reason we found it to be more prominent on high settings compared to ultra. We are not sure why this happens but if we have to guess, the answer lies within the game’s graphical settings.
If you look closely at the graphics settings, the game lacks a texture quality setting. This is replaced by two complex settings in object detail and extra streaming distance. Depending on how strong your hardware specifications are and the way you set up these options may result into pop-in and texture streaming issues. Now there is a strange thing going within the SnowDrop Engine. At any moment of time, the engine plans to utiliz three fourth of your video memory, and majority of them is utilized for other game assets leaving the engine with less or limited memory for texture work. In short, if you want really high resolution textures without pop-in and texture streaming issues, you at least need a 6GB GPU. If you ask us, this is mediocre optimization on the developer’s end if nothing else. These texture streaming issues are quite annoying and after witnessing them a couple of times ourselves, this could be an experience killer for some players. Hopefully, Ubisoft releases a patch for this soon.
Coming back to the graphical settings, you may want to dial back Ambient Occlusion, Contact Shadows, Shadow Quality, Shadow Resolution and Spot Shadow Count from high to medium. You will immediately see a bump in performance just by tweaking these parameters. However if you want to keep these options to their highest settings, then we suggest lowering down Volumetric Fog, Reflection Quality and Post FXAA to high settings. Additionally you can also try lowering Object Detail and Extra Streaming Distance which may improve performance even further.
On a side note, we also witnessed screen tearing while running the game at recommended settings. Although this was only present during the game’s cutscenes and not during gameplay, it’s still something that Ubisoft needs to fix.
Overall, we are quite pleased with the PC build of the game. Yes, the requirements are hefty and performance is a bit dodgy at recommended settings but players with capable hardware should have no issues with the game. For weaker systems, performance boosts can be achieved by playing around with the settings but there is no denying that a patch or two, specially for the way the game’s engine renders it textures and handles pop-ins, should fix this in what is one of 2016’s best looking games so far.