Mar 28, 2017 Written by:ROG

Ghost Recon Wildlands graphics performance guide

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ROG forum guru Chino has been playing Ghost Recon Wildlands on his collection of ROG Strix graphics cards. Here’s what he's learned about how the game performs:

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Are you ready to venture into the narco world? Then you’d better brush up on your Spanish, because Ghost Recon Wildlands is sending you and your fellow ghosts to one of the largest cocaine-producing countries on the planet. Your mission is simple: infiltrate Bolivia, take down the uprising Santa Blanca drug cartel, and sever their ties with the corrupted government.

What really makes Ghost Recon Wildlands special is the open-world environment. Unlike previous Ghost Recon titles, there is no linear story progression. You’re free to explore the map and progress as you please. Ubisoft has gone so far as saying Wildlands is its biggest open world yet. So, common sense tells us we’re probably going to need some serious firepower to run the game smoothly. It’s time to put ROG’s Pascal graphics cards to the test to see how well they run what may be one of Ubisoft’s most demanding titles yet.

Graphics options and image quality

If there is one thing Ubisoft’s developers have shown us in the past, it’s that they’re experts at replicating real-life places in video games. The digital version of Bolivia featured in Wildlands was created using the same AnvilNext 2.0 game engine as For Honor, which we’ve covered in another graphics performance guide, and it looks absolutely stunning. The accurate representation of the beautiful Bolivian landscape and weather really helps bring the game to life.

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Ghost Recon Wildlands puts five graphics presets at your fingertips. You can choose between Low, Medium, High, Very High, and Ultra settings. In addition to the default presets, the player has access to the following technical graphics settings:

Antialiasing
Ambient Occlusion
Draw Distance
Level Of Detail
Texture Quality
Anisotropic Filtering
Shadow Quality
Terrain Quality
Vegetation Quality
Turf Effects
Motion Blur
Iron Sights DOF
High Quality DOF
Bloom
God Rays
Subsurface Scattering
Lens Flare
Long Range Shadows

The Ultra preset makes Ghost Recon Wildlands look visually impressive. Terrain and objects are sharp and realistic thanks to high-resolution textures. Dropping down a notch to the Very High preset makes minor sacrifices to the graphical fidelity, particularly in the quality of the terrain and vegetation. It also reduces the detail of the God Rays effect, which makes the lighting less realistic for the distant portions of this scene.

The High preset reduces the quality of the shadows, terrain, and vegetation to a point where the downgrade is beginning to be more noticeable but is still acceptable. We can still tell that we’re playing Ghost Recon Wildlands. Substantially lower graphics quality starts to make its presence known with the Medium preset. With that setting, the overall quality of the terrain and vegetation is below average, resulting in a loss of details and sharpness. The textures at a distance are blurry as well.

Wildlands loses all its visual attractiveness on the Low preset. The lack of antialiasing makes jagged edges stand out too much, and the entire image looks over-sharpened. Shadows are also disabled completely for characters and other objects. The difference between Low and Ultra presets is huge.

Test system and methodology

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Processor: Intel Core i7-7700K
Cooler: EKWB Predator 360
Motherboard: ASUS Maximus IX Formula
Memory: HyperX Fury 16GB (2x8GB) 2666MHz
Graphics Card: ASUS Strix GTX 1050 Ti, GTX 1060, GTX 1070 & GTX 1080
Storage: Kingston Savage 480GB
Power Supply: In Win SIII-1065W
Case: In Win D-Frame 2.0
Operating System: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit Anniversary Edition
Drivers: NVIDIA 378.66 WHQL
Display: ASUS PG27AQ

The game client was updated to the latest version available. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve used the graphic presets as they are without any modifications. The only option I’ve disabled is V-Sync, for obvious reasons. I used Fraps to capture individual frame times during a custom sequence and then converted the data to FPS for easy interpretation. The system was restarted before each benchmark run.

Graphics settings analysis

First, let’s look at how individual graphics settings affect performance. These tests were conducted at 3840 x 2160 resolution with the Ultra preset using the Strix GTX 1080. The results are presented in average frames per second (FPS).

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Anti-Aliasing helps smooth edges, transparent textures, and particles with the purpose of increasing the graphic fidelity for low and high resolutions. The results show that there is no performance benefit from choosing one method over the other on the Strix GTX 1080. You can configure this option based on your personal preference.

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Ambient Occlusion is a technique that creates soft shadows between two or more objects that intersect with each other. You can choose HBAO+ or SSBC techniques, and it doesn’t really matter which one, because the performance impacts are similar on the GTX 1080. However, you can disable this option completely to gain 2.3 FPS at 4K resolution.

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Like the name implies, the Draw Distance option dictates the maximum distance at which certain objects are drawn by the rendering engine. Since the results indicate that there is nothing to gain when running a lower setting on our graphics card of choice, we’ll just leave this option on Very High.

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The Level of Detail option determines the distance at which the geometry detail decreases. The GTX 1080 gained 1-1.5 FPS depending on which setting was used. If you must run a lower setting on this card, stick with Very High.

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The Texture Quality option regulates the resolution and fidelity of the game’s textures. On the Strix 1080, the performance cost between the Ultra, High, and Medium settings is imperceptible. There isn’t a good reason to step down from Ultra.

The VRAM meter on the bottom right of the Graphics menu indicates the amount of memory that is consumed by each setting. With the Ultra preset and matching Texture Quality, the meter showed 4552MB. Dropping to High textures reduced VRAM utilization to 3552MB, using Medium textures cut it to 3302MB, and scaling back to Low brought the meter down to 2790MB. Adjust accordingly based on how much graphics memory you have.

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The Anisotropic Filtering option allows you to determine the sharpness of textures viewed at a distance or angle. On the Strix 1080, the differences in performance are so tiny they can be ignored. You can leave this option on 16X.

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The Shadow Quality option defines the resolution and filtering for all the in-game shadows. You can gain 4.7 FPS dropping from the Ultra to Very High setting, but the next two steps are very close. If you can live without shadows, disabling this option increases average frame rates by 7.4 FPS with the graphics card and resolution I tested. The Very High setting is the perfect balance between quality and performance here.

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The Terrain Quality option lets us choose the level of detail that is applied to the terrain through tessellation. There is nothing to gain with a lower setting on the GTX 1080 at this resolution, so we might as well leave this option on Ultra.

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The Vegetation Quality option is responsible for controlling the level of detail and the maximum draw distance of the in-game vegetation. Rolling with the Low setting increases the average frame rate by a single FPS on the Strix 1080, but it’s just not worth the sacrifice in quality, especially since the game world is made up of rain forests, mountains, and deserts that are all loaded with vegetation.

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Turf Effects is just a fancy name NVIDIA has given to their new grass simulation technology. This option enables the simulation of dense patches of grass that interact with the player and the rest of the world. It doesn’t affect performance on the GTX 1080, so it’s harmless to leave this option enabled.

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The Motion Blur option adds a blur effect when the camera or objects are moving rapidly. No performance hit was observed with this option enabled at 4K on the Strix 1080. You may want to disable blurring if you suffer from motion sickness, though.

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The Iron Sights DOF option applies a cool depth-of-field effect to weapons when you’re aiming down the sights. With no FPS to gain, there is no point in disabling this option on the GTX 1080.

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The High Quality DOF option modifies the quality of the depth-of-field effect. Neither setting impacts performance with this card and resolution.

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The Bloom option feathers the light around the borders of bright areas to create the illusion of extremely bright light. This option doesn’t affect frame rates on our high-end Pascal card.

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The God Rays option refers to beams of light that shine through foliage and other gaps in the geometry. The Enhanced setting costs you 2.6 FPS on the GTX 1080 at 3840 x 2160. Surprisingly, there’s no performance difference between using the standard setting and disabling god rays completely.

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The Subsurface Scattering option simulates light that’s absorbed and diffused when passing through different materials. You can add another 1.1 FPS to the GTX 1080’s average framerate by turning it off.

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The Lens Flare option simulates the effect when light reflects off a camera lens. Leaving it on doesn’t lower frame rates on the Strix 1080.

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Long Range Shadows is the last item on the Graphics menu. This option lets you define the quality of shadows cast by distant objects. At least on the GeForce GTX 1080 at 4K, the Ultra setting is fine from a performance perspective.

GPU performance analysis

Now, we’ll look at how the game performs with different GPUs. The following graphs show FPS over time. Since the data has been converted from individual frame times, cards with higher performance produce more frames—and longer plots.

1920 x 1080

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The Strix GTX 1050 Ti runs Ghost Recon Wildlands fluidly at 1920 x 1080 with the High preset. The frame rate dipped below 40 FPS only momentarily. The more powerful Strix GTX 1060 performed better, delivering framerates above the 60-FPS mark at all times during our test sequence.

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As we up the graphics quality a notch to the Very High preset, we can see the 1050 Ti’s frame rate decreasing and hovering in the mid-to-high 30’s. The game is still playable but not as smooth as before. It’s obvious that the High preset is the sweet spot for this card and resolution.

The Strix GTX 1060, on the other hand, continues to impress. It manages to pump out frame rates above 50 FPS.

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One thing is clear: Ghost Recon Wildlands’ Ultra preset is capable of punishing graphics cards to the max even at the relatively low resolution of 1920 x 1080. The Strix GTX 1060 succeeds in keeping frame rates playable, but the game frequently dips below 40 FPS.

I also benchmarked the Strix GTX 1070 with these settings, which some might consider foolish. But the results are astonishing, as it seems that not even the GTX 1070 is capable of maintaining a constant 60 FPS at 1920 x 1080 with the Ultra preset. This is complete madness.

2560 x 1440

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The Strix GTX 1070 delivers a pleasant gaming experience at 2560 x 1440 with the Very High preset. Frame rates are good and generally oscillate around the 55-FPS mark. At this resolution, the game isn’t a challenge for the Strix GTX 1080, which is to be expected. We’re blessed with frame rates higher than 60 FPS during the majority of the test.

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We can see that a similar situation repeats itself with the game’s Ultra preset. The Strix GTX 1070 struggles to maintain frame rates above 40 FPS, but Wildlands is simply too taxing. While GTX 1070 owners can get away with playing on the Ultra preset, I recommend backing down to Very High. If playing at the maximum graphics settings at 2560 x 1440 is your goal, the Strix GTX 1080 offers very fluid gameplay.

3840 x 2160

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The Strix GTX 1070 produces OK framerates at 3860 x 2140 with the Very High preset, but the card obviously lacks the firepower for this resolution. You’re looking at nothing less than a Strix GTX 1080 to really enjoy Wildlands at 4K with the Very High preset.

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Owners of 4K monitors are going to be disappointed to see that a single Strix GTX 1080 fails to produce frame rates consistently over 40 FPS with the Ultra preset. They will just have to settle for the Very High preset, which isn’t the end of the world. Better frame rates would require investing in the new Strix GTX 1080 Ti or moving into SLI territory.

Conclusion

It’s undeniable that Ghost Recon Wildlands delivers some of the most stunning visuals we've ever witnessed in an open-world shooter. It’s also on track to being one of the most graphics intensive titles of the year. At 1920 x 1080, you can get by with a Strix GTX 1050 Ti if you’re willing to settle for High graphics details. Cranking the eye candy up to the Very High preset demands you to step up to a Strix GTX 1060. That card provides playable frame rates at 1080p with the Ultra preset, but you ultimately need to upgrade to a Strix GTX 1070 if you want to be closer to a 60-FPS experience.

Around the 2560 x 1440 resolution, the Strix GTX 1070 is the minimum graphics card recommended for the Very High preset—and you’ll want the Strix GTX 1080 for the Ultra preset. Ghost Recon Wildlands is an absolute delight to the eyes at 3860 x 2140. Unfortunately, you’re limited to the Very High preset if you own a single Strix GTX 1080. The Ultra preset is simply too brutal on a single graphics card unless you have some serious firepower like the new Strix GTX 1080 Ti.

Check out Chino's post in the ROG forums to discuss this article.

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