From Software’s latest and greatest game, Dark Souls 3 is now available on the PS4, Xbox One and PC. The title runs on the engine that powered one of the best PlayStation 4 games of all time, Bloodborne. Dark Souls 3 is the first major Souls title on the PS4 and Xbox One and we were keen to see how it performs and plays on the console versions. If there is one thing that hasn’t changed with the Souls series is that you are going to die…a lot. The series is known to test the patience of the players but once you defeat a boss, the feeling of satisfaction is simply amazing at times.
As usual, let us begin with the PC version by taking a look at the graphical settings. As with previous Souls games in the past, the graphical options are quite limited. It must be noted that From Software does not have a rich pedigree in developing PC games but that doesn’t mean they can be exempted from criticism. We honestly expected more scaleable options given that Dark Souls 3 is a major AAA production and the way PC gaming is on the rise for the last few years. Having said that, the PC options are limited to changing the resolution, texture quality, depth of field, SSAO, Motion Blur, Reflection quality, effect quality and a few other variables. Anti-aliasing does not have a ton of options and is simply restricted to on and off. Given that the game uses the Bloodborne engine it uses hardware based AA to smoothen out the edges and for the most it does an OK job.
Before we jump into analyzing the performance, it must be noted that we are running all versions with patch 1.03 which brings tremendous performance improvements.
The developers recommends an ATI Radeon HD 7850, AMD FX 8150 3.6 GHz or and Nvidia GeForce GTX 750, Intel Core i7 2600 3.4 GHz and 8 gigabytes of memory which isn’t really a hefty requirement if we were to be honest. Regardless, none of these configurations will get you a locked 60 frames per second experience.
To begin with, we tested the game on an AMD FX 8350 and Radeon R9 290 and as far as performance goes, the game starts off quite well. The game was consistently running around the 60fps mark in The Cemetry of Ash and the High Wall of Lothric locations. Playing further with the initial version, when we reached Road of Sacrifices and Farron Keep, we encountered drops. In game version 1.01, the title was simply unplayable at times during these sections but with patch 1.03 things have improved a lot. We then tested the game on an R9 390 along with Intel Core i7-3770 and the performance was a rock solid 60fps. Overall, we are quite happy with the PC port but the way the developers specifies “recommended” requirements is something that needs to spoken about. None of the recommended requirements will ever get you a locked 60fps experience with everything dialed up at 1080p. One wishes that developers could mention the standard that recommended settings will run the game at.
For those with mid-tier hardware, we recommend switching off anti-aliasing, and lowering the settings of shadows, SSAO and reflections will result in a performance gain of around 10-15 fps.
Switching over to the PS4 and Xbox One versions, Sony’s machine once again clearly takes the lead with a native 1920 X 1080p resolution. The Xbox One build runs at 900p resulting into a slightly softer image quality overall. Both versions employ a 30 frames per second cap and difference in performance can be observed at times.
In the initial version, The Cemetry of Ash and High Wall of Lothric locations, performance issues were observed on the Xbox One. This isn’t to say that the PS4 did not faced any performance drops, it dropped but most of these times it was locked at 30 fps. This wasn’t the case on the Xbox One which clearly dropped a lot of frames during these two sections. However in patch 1.03, performance is much better on both consoles. Both versions now run smoothly at 30 fps with minimal drops at times. Even in taxing places such as Road of Sacrifices and Farron Keep, we are looking at a solid 30 fps experience.
So what is the real villain that kills the experience? The answer is…Frame Pacing.
Given that the game uses the same engine as Bloodborne, we are actually not surprised to see it appear once again. So what exactly is frame pacing? Well, let us explain it to you in layman terms.
Two persons need to cover a certain distance in 100 different steps. The first person takes one step at a time and each of those steps won’t be much different than the previous one. As a result the first person’s motion will be smooth. The second person takes half a step in one second and 1.5 steps in the next second. Both of them will reach 100 steps in the same time but the first person’s steps will look much smoother than the second one. In other words, the timing of each step (in this case frames) will differ resulting into an uneven experience at times. So even if the game runs at a locked 30 fps on consoles, the on screen action will still feel jittery.
Moving ahead how does the console versions match up again the PC build? Well, other than better shadow quality, there isn’t much to choose from the effects side of things. The only big difference is that the PC version offers a locked 60fps experience. It’s quite unlikely that you will go back to the console versions if you have played Dark Souls 3 first on the PC.
So where do we stand regarding Dark Souls 3? From an artistic point of view, the game is one of best looking titles in the series. But from a performance point of view, all three versions perform relatively well. The real issue is the frame pacing problem which we don’t think will be fixed anytime soon. Regardless of the stable frame rate, frame pacing introduces jittering and it can kill the experience for some players. At this point we have given up all hope whether it will be ever fixed given that Bloodborne still has these issues a year after launch.