“A little far from home, aren’t you?”
Kratos most certainly is! One of the biggest anti-heroes in the PlayStation family has moved home twice in the past four years. First, Kratos left the ancient Greek climes and mythology behind and hit the colder and harsher environment of the Nordic mythology. But by far the bigger move, though, is that he’s no longer a PlayStation-exclusive character, with PC players now invited into the fold ahead of the PS4 & PS5 release of the concluding chapter in this tale, God of War Ragnarok. The question left to be answered is: Is Kratos sorry or is he better?
It is fair to say that PlayStation Studios has been at the forefront of gaming technology and quality for the past couple of generations. This is borne out by one of the longest-serving studios, Sony Santa Monica, exploding onto the PS4 with arguably the game of the entire generation. Even though it may be four years old now, God of War is still a gorgeous looking game. With exceptionally high production values, incredible art direction, strong visual and technical implementation, and memorable and complex characters with a compelling story throughout, it really reinvigorated the plot-driven, single-player aspect of games whilst expanding on a pre-established character and lore with confidence and honesty. Name me a game that has a better opening 30 minutes than this? It sets the tone so well that I found it almost impossible to stop playing. The 2022 PC version loses none of that and is as excellent as the 2018 PS4 game, which – if you haven’t already read the IGN review of, now’s your chance.
God of War PC Features
So, what does this PC version offer other than, as the box states, “a refined and updated PC port of the PS4/Pro version?” With some minor but welcome additions, from a content perspective this is no different, but the visual makeup has made some leaps to leverage the spectrum of hardware available on PCs. Here are the big-ticket upgrades:
Full pixel-pumping 4K is now available without the “checkerboarded 4K” God of War shipped with on PS4 Pro (and on the PS5 backward-compatible version, which only unlocked the framerate). AMD and Nvidia offer DLSS super sampling and AMD’s open-source Fidelity FX Super Resolution (also known as FSR). Both run on Nvidia RTX cards but only FSR is available on AMD cards. These both offer an improvement on image quality by rendering at a lower resolution and intelligently upscaling for an image that looks nearly as good as native 4K. In the case of DLSS, Nvidia is reconstructing the image using temporal data from previous pixels/frames, while FSR is a technique that performs a spatial upscale and then a contrast-aware dynamic sharpening pass. Both can still achieve excellent results on cheaper hardware. A nice touch here is that in the graphics options menu, God of War shows you the resolution being rendered by the engine and then the output target to the screen. This means you move through the same resolution levels, predominantly, across both technologies.
DLSS starts at 1280×720 with Ultra performance, and that is one rung lower than FSR, which starts at performance, but both target 1920×1080 base outputs. Then we move to Balanced, then Quality, and finally Ultra-Quality which is available for FSR only.
All in all, DLSS offers the better image quality when you zoom in, and it really works best at Performance levels. With FSR, upscaling from that low input resolution is just not up to 4K levels. Once you get to Quality mode, however, the visual differences are much harder to notice even with close inspection, but FSR is 8% to 10% more performant on average in like-for-like sections using the same hardware. Having the choice of either method is the best part, but either way both AMD and Nvidia players will gain more performance out of their respective cards, and the implementation here is solid.
There is 21:9 ultra-widescreen support if you have such a monitor, allowing you to revel in God of War’s beautiful vistas. That’s a welcome sight at many points as it improves on the incredible sense of scale, which has been a key element of the series since its PS2 origins in 2005. This excellent shot here shows the World Serpent as it pulls back and the birds fly past for greater scale; it’s a good example of the impact this extended mode can have.
Next we come to framerates, which can be capped at up to 120fps if you have the hardware to run it, and then graphical option changes accompanying this. One great feature of PlayStation releases on PC is how you can set them to an “original mode” in the menu that matches all settings exactly to the PS4/Pro version. Beyond this, we have two more options, High and then Ultra, as well as an Ultra+ setting for reflections which provides higher resolution and range for the SSR reflections. The Ultra textures option boosts higher MIPs on more surfaces within the frame and a mild boost in texture clarity over the PS4 Pro/PS5 version, meaning most textures look the same or marginally sharper. As does the anisotropic filtering (AF) option, which can again help texture clarity at oblique angles, which in some scenes can offer a 4% improvement to performance from the lowest to Ultra (though for most mid-range cards High or Ultra should be fine).
Model Quality bumps up the level of detail on trees and foliage, as well as the number of polygons for rocks and other objects near the camera. The bump from Original to High can be clearly seen in longer views, but the jump from there to Ultra is much harder to spot. Reflections do help on certain surfaces, with sharper and more visible details noticed, but they are still SSR in nature, so they draw out and have the same artifact level as PS4/Pro.
The two biggest improvements, in my view, are shadows and ambient occlusion (AO), with the higher amount of foliage being drawn now meaning that, at Ultra settings, you not only get sharper more detailed shadows, but also more shadow-casting objects. This adds more depth and contrast to scenes, and allows Kratos and other characters to be bathed in more light and shade. Boosting this further is the bump up to what’s called “ground-truth” AO, or screen space directional occlusion, which again just embeds details into the scene much better.
Look at Kratos’ eyes, his beard, and even the little leaves on the trees (you have to watch the video for that). They all show a darker, more realistic contact within close objects occluding itself and shadowing onto the surface. The higher resolution and filtered shadows can also be seen here with a sharper cleaner edge, no dithering present and again simply more of them within the scene. I think these two boosts are the ones that add the most to the visual impact, with even the difference between 4K checkerboard and native 4K here on PC not really jumping out at you. This shows how good the checkerboard solution was in many first-party games and reinforces that it’s a good idea to use FSR and DLSS where you can. The fact the PS5 version runs at 60fps helps a little more than on PS4 Pro because you are getting twice the temporal resolution at the same time, but still, shadows and lighting offer a bigger uplift than the increase in pixel density. And, unsurprisingly with very a powerful GPU capable of 4K, Ultra can be very impactful.
How Does God of War Perform on PC?
How does it run, you ask, when using my RX6800 paired with a Ryzen 3600 at 4.1Ghz? Maxed out at 4K with no reconstruction options, we are often sub-60fps, and that can feel bad even on a controller – let alone mouse & keyboard. Once again, this just shows how costly effects scale with resolution, and even here with a GPU that is more powerful than the PS5, even it cannot run this game maxed out at 4K/60. Some of this will be due to the fact that the engine is still using DirectX 11 rendering, and can at times stall the GPU utilisation when capped at 60fps. That means some drops are not due to maxing out the GPU but rather to underutilisation within the frame-to-frame jobs. Even though the benefit of running at Ultra settings is welcome, the sub-60fps is not viable as an option.
Luckily, we can jump to the FSR options here and choose the Ultra Quality that we touched on above. We now see that 60fps lock is maintained almost all the time in combat and exploration sections, which means you would struggle to notice the small reduction even on a large 4K screen. You certainly can notice the smoother gameplay action at 60fps. Be aware, though, that the target for 120fps requires a very powerful single-core CPU, and as such on both my Ryzen 2700 and 3600 CPUs, even at 4.1GHz it can become CPU bound on the main worker thread above 80fps. It often sits at sub-100fps even in quiet scenes with far more GPU headroom left; 90fps is an easier target but even that is not always locked.
Moving down the stack to my RTX 2070, which is overclocked to be closer to an RTX 2070 Super and paired with a Ryzen 2700 at 3.8Ghz, it is not a CPU-bound game at 60fps. But this GPU, even at Ultra Performance DLSS settings, does not hit 120fps, largely due to the CPU throttling performance. So the option to run at that spec is not possible, since you will often become CPU-bound.
A locked 60fps is achievable, though, and you have a few ways to do it. 4K Original settings again delivered 30fps-like performance, with a troll fight hovering between 40 and 50fps, but cinematics are even heavier. By choosing Quality mode at original settings we are close enough to that 60fps level to not drop below it in any meaningful way. This obviously matches the PS5 backward-compatible version on visuals, and at around 12% lower pixel rendering than the 1920×2160 the PS5 Pro/PS5 version uses it looks close enough to not be of a huge consequence.
As a test, you can simply render God of War at as close to that level as possible, which is 2688×1512 (just over 2% less pixels than on the PS5). Here we can see the RTX 2070 also hands in an almost fully locked 60fps level, but when capped at 60 with the in-game option it does cause a few single drops which you would probably never notice. But when you get into the real-time cinematic at the end of the fight we can see the GPU load goes up, and while the PS5 remains locked 60fps here the OC RTX 2070 now drops approximately 42% behind the PS5 version. Of course, this is almost fully resolved with little to no visual impact using the FSR Quality mode on the RTX card here, which offers around 10% better performance than the DLSS quality mode (albeit with a reduction in image quality). It’s a great benefit to PC gamers and it really helps more hardware to hit that 4K-like 60fps target.
This port is not fully free of issues though. The PC version was not done by the PlayStation’s newly acquired Nixxes software (that purchase was only announced mid last year, and this would have been in development longer than that). Instead, Jetpack Interactive has ported God of War over to a DX11 render, again highlighting some of the intrinsic differences in console hardware, memory construction, and API levels. We do have some occasional streaming, memory allocation stutters at sector points, and both of our tested PC configurations here are running on SSD hardware with a minimum of 1.2GB/s bandwidth. These are not excessive and only happen when moving between sections in the exploration areas or when moving into or out of a cinematic. Some can be mild 60-80ms spikes over a few seconds, and some can be longer 300ms spikes which, although annoying when they happen, are at least not that frequent. These are not present on the PS5 version and most likely are data related to new assets and memory allocation/releasing actions when instantiating new areas and objects into RAM. After sharing my findings with the team at Jetpack, they have informed me that they are already working on these and other updates for future patches. It is not a huge issue, but it is something that you will notice from time to time if you’re playing at launch. When in cutscenes, combat, or exploration, the target framerate is not affected by this, and if it does dip below then is likely a GPU or CPU impact rather than anything else.
Another issue the team has confirmed is already fixed and coming soon is a foliage/physics issue on my AMD RX6800 rig with vertex blends, where movement causes some extreme motion from the wind which also shows up in the shadow maps. A restart did remove this for a while, but they returned. I never had this issue on my Nvidia machine. Again, it may not happen for you and is already something the team plans to resolve in a future patch.
This PC port offers some nice boosts over the PS4 Pro release, it scales well, and although impactful on hardware, it does give you the choice of increasing resolution, quality, frame rates, and even aspect ratio over what PlayStation consoles offer. Some, like shadows and AO, are welcome additions, others are harder to notice, such as reflections and even resolution. The demands of 120fps are far higher than many, including myself, would expect and really show how a game targeting 60fps and 1080p at launch on a console does not scale linearly to 120fps at 4K. The stutters and sections that can cause bigger stalls on my AMD GPU are something I hope the team can resolve quickly, as it can impact performance from time to time. The streaming and memory hitches, although not frequently intrusive, are another that impacts the otherwise-solid performance levels that are often very nicely capped at that 60fps level, specifically in the action and exploration sections. If the team can resolve the memory/sector points that can cause judder and also improve the areas that can become bound by CPU or even both at times with no obvious issues, then it will take a good PC port and make it into a great one. As it is, these infrequent but present issues do reduce the shine on Kratos journey north a little.