Final Fantasy XV recently released on PC, and given the attention we drew to the benchmark’s LOD and HairWorks issues, it’s only fair that we take a look at the finished product. Prior to the PC release, the best playable version of the game was the cracked Origin preload the Xbox One X version, so our baseline for this graphics comparison is the Xbox at 4K using the “high” preset.

To match our PC settings to the Xbox version, we first selected the default choice for every option, which got us 90% of the way there. That includes “Average” settings for Model LOD, Anisotropic Filtering, Lighting, Shadows, Ambient Occlusion, and Filtering. Assets (high-quality asset pack), Geomapping (ground tessellation), and all NVIDIA features were turned off, anti-aliasing was set to TAA, and motion blur was turned on. Although this wasn’t a performance test, we limited framerate to the Xbox’s cap of 30FPS for good measure, and set resolution scaling to 100% (since dynamic resolution isn’t available on PC). This is a pretty close approximation of what the Xbox is capable of, and it’s an encouraging sight--the Xbox’s “High” is the PC’s “Average” in almost every category.

This will be a quick one. There is some required viewing/reading before diving in: Previously, with the FFXV standalone benchmark release, we found significant culling deficiencies of objects in the game, including both GameWorks and non-GameWorks objects. This suggested overall inefficiency and hasty development, as opposed to some sort of malfeasance. Square Enix later tweeted rather direct acknowledgement of the benchmark’s issues, and began work to optimize the game (and the GameWorks integration) for launch.

Today’s test is a quick one. Square Enix launched a playable demo of Final Fantasy XV and, although it’s still not the complete game, we wanted to see if any of the object culling issues had been addressed. We were primarily interested in HairWorks LOD scaling, as that was previously an issue responsible for causing performance loss on both nVidia and AMD hardware – even when no HairWorks objects were anywhere remotely close to the player.

Following Final Fantasy XV’s benchmark launch, which we found to be flawed in a few ways, Square Enix has now launched its playable demo for the first portion of the game. This is the first time that FFXV has been playable on PC, barring some flukes in the benchmark, and is also the first revisit to the game since the benchmark’s launch.

Our primary concerns with the benchmark tool were validated by Square Enix, who noted they’d be addressing the concerns. The primary issue was that no graphics customization options were present without exposing the game’s .ini files via .dlls, which we did, and we later found the other issue: Some objects were being drawn at high LOD when never appearing on screen, something we validated with inspection tools. This included non-GameWorks objects and GameWorks objects, with the latter impacting performance more heavily on both AMD and nVidia devices.

Despite having just called the FFXV benchmark “useless” and “misleading,” we did still have some data left over that we wanted to publish before moving on. We were in the middle of benchmarking all of our CPUs when discovering the game’s two separate culling and LOD issues (which Square Enix has addressed and is fixing), and ended up stopping all tests upon that discovery. That said, we still had some interesting data collected on SMT and Hyperthreading, and we wanted to publish that before shelving the game for launch.

We started testing with the R7 1700 and i7-8700K a few days ago, looking at numThreads=X settings in command line to search for performance deltas. Preliminary testing revealed that these settings provided performance uplift to a point of 8 threads, beyond or under which we observed diminishing returns.

We recently published a deep-dive that discovered a lack of lower LOD scaling to HairWorks effects in FFXV, an issue we attributed to Square Enix and flagged to nVidia. We further noted that it wasn’t just GameWorks effects, but entire models were being drawn when miles away from the player. Following the report, Square Enix’s official FFXV twitter account (@FFXVEN) has released a series of tweets about the issue, noting: “A Level of Detail (LOD) issue has been discovered that affects the benchmark scores. The benchmark also suffers from stuttering; both of the issues will be addressed in the shipping game.”

Update: Square Enix is aware of this issue, has acknowledged its existence, and is working on an update for launch.

Although we don't believe this to be intentional, the Final Fantasy XV benchmark is among the most misleading we’ve encountered in recent history. This is likely a result of restrictive development timelines and a resistance to delaying product launch and, ultimately, that developers see this as "just" a benchmark. That said, the benchmark is what's used for folks to get an early idea of how their graphics cards will perform in the game. From what we've seen, that's not accurate to reality. Not only does the benchmark lack technology shown in tech demonstrations (we hope these will be added later, like strand deformation), but it is still taking performance hits for graphics settings that fail to materialize as visual fidelity improvements. Much of this stems from GameWorks settings, so we've been in contact with nVidia over these findings for the past few days.

As we discovered after hours of testing the utility, the FFXV benchmark is disingenuous in its execution, rendering load-intensive objects outside the camera frustum and resulting in a lower reported performance metric. We accessed the hexadecimal graphics settings for manual GameWorks setting tuning, made easier by exposing .INI files via a DLL, then later entered noclip mode to dig into some performance anomalies. On our own, we’d discovered that HairWorks toggling (on/off) had performance impact in areas where no hair existed. The only reason this would happen, aside from anomalous bugs or improper use of HairWorks (also likely, and not mutually exclusive), would be if the single hair-endowed creature in the benchmark were drawn at all times.

The benchmark is rendering creatures that use HairWorks even when they’re miles away from the character and the camera. Again, this was made evident while running benchmarks in a zone with no hairworks whatsoever – zero, none – at which point we realized, by accessing the game’s settings files, that disabling HairWorks would still improve performance even when no hairworks objects were on screen. Validation is easy, too: Testing the custom graphics settings file by toggling each setting, we're able to (1) individually confirm when Flow is disabled (the fire effect changes), (2) when Turf is disabled (grass strands become textures or, potentially, particle meshes), (3) when Terrain is enabled (shows tessellation of the ground at the demo start' terrain is pushed down and deformed, while protrusions are pulled up), and (3) when HairWorks is disabled (buffalo hair becomes a planar alpha texture). We're also able to confirm, by testing the default "High," "Standard," and "Low" settings, that the game's default GameWorks configuration is set to the following (High settings):

  • VXAO: Off
  • Shadow libs: Off
  • Flow: On
  • HairWorks: On
  • TerrainTessellation: On
  • Turf: On

Benchmarking custom settings matching the above results in identical performance to the benchmark launcher window, validating that these are the stock settings. We must use the custom settings approach, as going between Medium and High offers no settings customization, and also changes multiple settings simultaneously. To isolate whether a performance change is from GameWorks versus view distance and other settings, we must individually test each GameWorks setting from a baseline configuration of "High." 

Final Fantasy XV is shaping up to be intensely demanding of GPU hardware, with greater deltas developing between nVidia & AMD devices at High settings than Medium settings. The implication is that, although other graphics settings (LOD, draw distance) change between High and Medium, the most significant change is that of GameWorks options. HairWorks, Shadow libraries, and heavy ground tessellation are all toggled on with High and off with Medium. The ground tessellation is one of the most impactful to performance, particularly on AMD hardware; that said, although nVidia fares better, the 10-series GPUs still struggle with frametime consistency when running all the GameWorks options. This is something we’re investigating further, as we’ve (since writing this benchmark) discovered how to toggle graphics settings individually, something natively disabled in the FFXV benchmark. Stay tuned for that content.

In the meantime, we still have some unique GPU benchmarks and technical graphics analysis for you. One of our value adds is 1440p benchmarks, which are, for some inexplicable reason, disabled in the native FFXV benchmark client. We automated and scripted our benchmarks, enabling us to run tests at alternative resolutions. Another value-add is that we’re controlling our benchmarks; although it is admirable and interesting that Square Enix is collecting and aggregating user benchmark data, that data is also poisoned. The card hierarchy makes little sense at times, and that’s because users run benchmarks with any manner of variables – none of which are accounted for (or even publicly logged) in the FFXV benchmark utility.

Separately, we also confirmed with Square Enix that the graphics settings are the same for all default resolutions, something that we had previously questioned.

This content piece will explore the performance anomalies and command line options for the Final Fantasy XV benchmark, with later pieces going detailed on CPU and GPU benchmarks. Prior to committing to massive GPU and CPU benchmarks, we always pretest the game to understand its performance behaviors and scaling across competing devices. For FFXV, we’ve already detailed FPS impact of benchmark duration, impact of graphics settings and resolution on scaling, we’ve used command line to automate and custom configure benchmarks, and we’ve discovered poor frametime performance under certain benchmarking conditions.

We started out by testing for run-to-run variance, which would be used to help locate outliers and determine how many test passes we need to conduct per device. In this frametime plot, you can see that the first test pass, illustrated on a GTX 1070 with the settings in the chart, exhibits significantly more volatile frametimes. The frame-to-frame interval occasionally slams into a wall during the first 6-minute test pass, causing noticeable, visible stutters in gameplay.

We’ve been working on our Final Fantasy XV benchmarking and already have multiple machines going, including both CPU and GPU testing. This process included discovery of run-to-run variance, pursuant to slow initialization of game resources during the first test pass. We can solve for this with additional test passes and by eliminating the first test pass from the data pool.

One of the downsides to Final Fantasy XV’s benchmark is that there is no customization for graphics settings: You’ve got High, “Middle,” and “Lite.” Critically, the medium settings seem to disable most of the nVidia GameWorks graphics options, which will impact performance between nVidia and AMD cards. We spoke with AMD about a driver update for the game, and have been informed that updated drivers will ship closer to the game’s launch. In the meantime, we’ll be testing High and Medium settings alike, building a database for relative performance scaling between AMD and nVidia. That content is due out soon.

While we’ve been working on programming our benchmark, reddit user “randomstranger454” grabbed Final Fantasy XV’s quality settings that create the presets. We will bold the settings we believe to be most interesting:

As everyone begins running the Final Fantasy XV PC benchmark, we’d like to notify the userbase that, on our test platform, we have observed some run-to-run variance in frame-to-frame intervals from one pass to the next. This seems to stem entirely from the first pass of the benchmark, where the game is likely still loading all of the assets into memory. After the first pass, we’ve routinely observed improved performance on runs two, three, and onward. We attribute this to first-time launcher initialization of all the game assets.

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