We put XCOM 2 under the scanner.
For those who are unaware, XCOM 2 is a turn-based tactical video game developed by the famous Firaxis Games. However unlike the first one, the game is only available on the PC platform. Given how the PS4 and Xbox One are performing sales wise, it’s indeed surprising that the latest XCOM is completely absent on home consoles. Last year, the game’s creative director explained that they had “very ambitious goals” and they feel comfortable working on the PC platform. So at this point there are no console versions planned. So has this resulted into a competitive PC build that is well optimized to run across a wide variety of configurations?
We will tackle this question in a bit but working on a single platform has enabled Firaxis Games to include reasonable amount of graphical options in XCOM 2. These range from subsurface scattering, screen space reflections, texture detail, texture filtering and a robust anti-aliasing selection which provides options from FXAA all the way to MSAA 8x. Further options include decal details, ambient occlusion and high resolution translucency.
But the big question to ask right now is whether working on a single platform has enabled the developer to deliver a well optimized game on the PC? Well, unfortunately the answer is no. This is quite absurd because one only needs to look at the recommended graphics requirement to gauge what kind of performance one can expect from their hardware. The developers recommend a 2GB ATI Radeon 7970 or a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 770 along with a 3 Ghz quad core CPU processor. We ran this game on an Radeon R9 290 which comes packed with 4GB of memory and were expecting that the game will easily run at a consistent 60fps. But this is clearly not the case,
After playing around with the graphics settings of the game, we found out that the anti-aliasing options are incredibly taxing. If you notch anti-aliasing all the way to MSAA 8x, the frame rate drops well below 30fps. Then there is the v-sync option which may degrade the game’s performance when enabled. The game is using double buffering which means that if your hardware is running the game at a particular fps, it will cut your fps down to 30fps. We suggest turning off v-sync to help improve performance.
Playing the game with AA toggled to off resulted into a smoother performance but really, why would anyone with a good GPU will play at that setting? Our suggestion is to play the game at FXAA as this will result into a reasonably better performance.
Another point that we wanted to talk about is the hitches and lag that takes place during loading screens. The game does not uses a traditional static screen for loading, instead it uses something that is more lively, a screen filled with characters to create a cinematic atmosphere. Even the menu screen is running in-engine and is using the game’s core assets. However, this hitching and lag is quite distracting and personally, I would have taken a static loading screen approach instead of something that is more animated.
As of right now, we don’t know why this game is struggling to run at a stable performance. One possible assumption is that the game is not utilizing all the GPU resources, resulting into an uneven performance. If this is true then this is clearly a case of an un-optimized game that was pushed out of the door to meet the launch date.
Leaving performance issues aside, the game can be quite a looker at times. The in-engine cinematic sequences are extremely well directed and we can see some amazing use of a physical based rendering solution, although we wish that the same amount of detail could have been translated to the actual gameplay. Except a few missing shadows here and there, the game manages to looks better than its predecessor.
For players who are still playing the game and want to avoid dodgy performance issues, we highly recommend setting AA to its lowest setting. In its current state, XCOM 2 definitely needs a patch to fix these issues, and optimize the game’s performance.
In the end it’s quite disappointing to see a un-optimized product from Firaxis Games, specially a game that is available only on a single platform. The trend of un-optimized games slowed down drastically in 2015 but XCOM 2, unfortunately, re-opened an old wound.