Watch Dogs Graphics And Game Play: PC vs. Xbox One

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Normally, the question of whether a game runs better on the PC or a console is a no-brainer -- at least, for PC users.  Watch Dogs, however, with its problematic PC play, challenges that concept. And since the gap between consoles and PCs is typically smallest at the beginning of the console generation, we decided to take the Xbox One out for a head-to-head comparison against the PC with this long-awaited title.

What we've found may surprise you. Based on our results, and depending on just how much horsepower your PC has, the Xbox One (and possibly the PS4 option, though we didn't compare against it) might be the better option. Here, we'll step through the game's pre-rendered movies as well as some actual gameplay and perform some video comparisons for you all.
 

Watch Dogs: VRAM uber alles

One thing to keep in mind is that Watch Dogs is ridiculously hard on frame buffer memory. If you've got 1.5GB or less on your graphics card, you're going to be compromising on visuals to keep the frame rate steady. Comments in that thread bore out the idea that frame buffer memory is the principle performance culprit; multiple readers claimed that they saw excellent performance from lower-end GTX 760s with 4GB of RAM, while others with smaller frame buffers ran into more erratic performance, even with more powerful GPUs.

If you don't have at least 2GB of VRAM, you're going to be cranking the details lower to compensate in Watch Dogs -- and that may effectively cut visual quality below what the Xbox One or PS4 can offer. Let's take a look.

Image Quality Comparison: Xbox One vs. PC

Which detail settings you can choose has a significant impact on how good Watch Dogs looks on the PC compared to its console cousin. We're going to show you three detail settings -- in every case, the Xbox One is on the far left, followed by the PC on Medium Texture / Medium Detail, followed by the PC on High Texture / High Detail. We'll start with a scene from the opening of the game, in which the protagonist has a calm discussion of principles with a fixer, Maurice.

   
Click to enlarge: Xbox One (left), PC Medium (middle), PC High (right).

Compare the three images above, and you'll notice that while the Xbox One doesn't have the same level of shadow detail, its textures are clearer than the PC on Medium. A distinctly polygonal baseball in the lower left hand corner of the screen on Medium is round in the console version.

Between the Xbox One and PC with High Quality settings, the PC is clearly better. Adrian's coat is cut differently and the texture detail on clothing and other items is noticeably higher.

For our next set of comparisons we're going to look at the same three images -- but for one set I've applied an Auto-Leveling filter in Photoshop. Doing so highlights certain background details and makes it easier to see how the Xbox One and PC compare in the shot. First, here's the image the way it actually looks in game.

   
Click to enlarge: Xbox One (left), PC Medium (middle), PC High (right).

There's some really interesting differences here. First, the PC Medium settings clearly aren't using tessellation as much as the High settings, if they're using it at all. The collar of Aidan's shirt loses its ribbing, his jacket loses some of the deformation over the right shoulder, and its texturing takes a step downwards. Facial details are blurred, as is his facial hair. Oddly enough, the boxes in the rear of the shot are actually noticeably sharper in the Medium setting compared to High. It looks like the engine uses a Depth of Field filter to keep your eyes focused on Aidan's face when set in High mode, whereas Medium uses no such filter.

Compare the two PC shots against the Xbox One shot, and we've got a different set of tradeoffs in play. The lighting model looks simpler, but Aidan's detail levels are closer to the PC High settings than PC Medium. Texturing on the coat and undershirt is generally better, and the Xbox One uses a similar depth-of-field effect as the PC with High Quality settings, though not to the same extent. Overall, however, we'd say that the Xbox One is putting more detail on the screen -- but with a simpler lighting model. 

Now, here's the same shot but with the lighting corrected.
 

   
Click to enlarge: Xbox One (left), PC Medium (middle), PC High (right).

The dramatic difference in the blur effect is easier to see here, as are the differences in Aidan's facial features and texture details. The PC High settings are better than the Xbox One, but the Xbone is unambiguously better than the PC on Medium.
 

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Comments

Comments
ErnieSturgill 4 months ago

"the Xbox One might be the better option..." One of the few times I've seen a console recommended over a pc.

basroil3 4 months ago

Nobody's ever said that a console looks better than a PC since about 2005, when consoles were using high end PC (or even workstation grade graphics) cards with zero OS/driver overhead (which even Mantel has). Making a game look like garbage in medium quality is unacceptable.

SimonHarris 4 months ago

Devs make a shitty port and that makes the console look better lol. Next gen for pc user means downgraded pile of crap games. Lazy devs want more money but giving less in return.

Joel H 4 months ago

Simon,

While I'm sympathetic to your viewpoint, we waited for the first patch to make absolutely sure there were no game-breaking launch day issues that would tilt the comparison.

If I had an Xbox One or PS4 alongside a PC with either an older top-end GPU like the GTX 580 or Radeon HD 5870 *or* I had a midrange card like a GTX 750 Ti, R7 260X, or even an R9 270, I'd seriously consider buying the console version. It may be 100% the case that this lopsided result is because Ubisoft did a poor job with the port, but we have to review based on where you'll experience the game best.

ChrisHunter 4 months ago

Lol so if you have a shitty PC go with XBOX. More like if you have a shitty PC spend the 500$ plus subscription fees and upgrade your PC. What kind of article is this?!

nfs3freak 4 months ago

Certain consoles are picked above another because they port it over. Them stating that the xbox one is preferred is because they geared the game toward it and that the PC version was not focused on. A lot of games that release on consoles first or are prioritized on console (look at Capcom's games), they end up so awful on PC.

AdnanKashwani 4 months ago

Does it work on PC in the first place !

nfs3freak 4 months ago

Yes, but you need pretty darn good hardware to have it run at optimal.

 

If you want high settings PLUS the hidden graphical settings that Ubisoft turned off, you'll need even better hardware.

AustinAvery 4 months ago

Like most are saying it was and is a bad port over to pc! But such is the life of pc gaming now to me. In less it's a game developed for the pc we are just going to start getting more bad ports because they want to save money with out doing much. All this is my opinion of course.

RodrigoMora 4 months ago

What makes me laugh is that the article has been put down... If I could I would post proof of it, but it doesn't allow me in here...

Have we all forgotten that they dummy downed the PC graphics?? Let's see what the graphic mod looks like vs xbox...

nfs3freak 4 months ago

That only makes this comparison worse...in most cases, the mod hurt performance on a lot of people's PCs or decreased it in some form.

TheGreatWarMage 4 months ago

Well, we will just have to accept poorly ported games for the time being. It is easier for companies to get sales from both gaming systems being decent than mediocre, since they can't upgrade equip like pc can. In two years though, their should be enough difference between mid high end pcs and consoles to alleviate your frustrations. Lets say when 20% of people have a 4k television.

Until than, we will just have to hope for those few extra percs that should be more capable on pc than the consoles.

nfs3freak 4 months ago

We should just skip on games that get released and it's shown to be poorly ported from one platform. This is a good example of a game that isn't intended to be good on all systems.

 

More reason to not preorder games and wait for reviews before buying. This will help with the whole Gamestop ridiculousness also.

CalicalCarlos 4 months ago

lmao people will never stop saying console are better leapfrog caonsole lol all we can know everything could of used a pc in this test maybe microsoft is paying them to say this

Joel H 4 months ago

Calical,

Both copies of the game were bought out of pocket. No compensation or free copies of the game were provided.

CalicalCarlos 4 months ago

most trusted test http://youtu.be/XgzE8tDBxYE

CalicalCarlos 4 months ago

http://youtu.be/Y4zu3Z1rotc

TButtons 4 months ago

There is no reason that the PC version should run so poorly either because PC, PS4, and XBONE all run x86-64 CPUs.

RWilliams 4 months ago

Little surprise here. Most of Ubisoft's titles are obviously optimized more for consoles. It makes me wonder why NVIDIA puts so much effort into working with the company when that's the case. We get these fantastic graphics-tweaking guides over at GeForce.com, and then the games run like absolute crap on the PC or have some other caveats.

AC IV: Black Flag does look amazing on PC though (especially with three monitors).

RyanHedrick 4 months ago

When a company gimps a game for the PC of course you may want to go buy the game for a console and of course it may look better. I'm getting weary of game devs that make ports from consoles to PC's where they do nothing to encourage those that monster rigs to run the game at max settings. Instead they insert code to reduce graphical options which in turn typically break their game.

It's a sad day when companies are only in the business to maximize profit as much as possible and throw a crappy port into the mix for PC expecting people to pay the 50 dollars for a digital copy. I thought the idea of why games were so expensive in the 1990's and 2000's was that the packaging costs drove up the price... now it just looks like they still want to rape their customer base and provide a sub-standard product.

LukePeets 4 months ago

There is something up with that.... There must have been no AA enabled on the PC version of this test

Joel H 4 months ago

Luke,

I used FXAA in all videos and screenshots. Remember, the 2GB GTX 770 already has trouble at High Detail / High Textures -- anything above that made the game unplayable.

I *could* have chosen to test Medium / Medium / 4xMSAA or TXAA, but had I done so I wouldn't have been able to highlight the difference between Medium and High and the Xbox One would've easily won the competition.

RyanVaughn 4 months ago

RAM/GPU could be whats causing it...

TButtons 4 months ago

I highly doubt the problem is with the 16GB of DDR3 and GTX 770.

Joel H 4 months ago

Furthermore, I upgraded to a GTX 780 (non-TI) partway through the testing. Issues instantly vanish.

It's GPU VRAM, nothing else. I even tried putting the game on an SSD RAID 0.

DougStewart 4 months ago

Issue with the premise of the conclusion: The conclusion assumes both a PC and console have of equal utility and therefore it's a choice between buying object A or object B. The issue is that a console is strictly a luxury device where a PC offers great utility and is almost necessary for modern life. If we accept that some level of innate utility is granted the PC but not the console then that factors into the 'value' of the purchase.

I would submit the best way to make a cost comparison is to start with the value of a standard non-gaming computer and subtract that to the value of the kind of computer you'd theoretically need for gaming. In this case, most 'standard' computers cost somewhere in the $300–$600 range (I'm not including ultrabooks and the like as they're very much a luxury). A truly gaming-grade computer will run you $700–$1,000 with the latter affording you a quite solid gaming rig. Given that, we can peg the 'gaming portion' of the cost of a gaming PC to be somewhere in the $100–$700 (assuming both best and worst case) but is more likely to be in the $300–$400 area. Indeed the argument could be made that since many personal computers come with a moderately acceptable processor and and an acceptable quantity of RAM already that simply buying something like an Nvidia 760 ($250 or so) would be enough to get you a gaming-grade experience in most cases.

That puts the price comparison not at something like $400 vs. $900 but $400 vs. $400 if we're fair to both. At that point it comes down to cost of buying games. PC games are on average cheaper even without Humble Bundle and Steam sales (which drastically swing it into PC's favor). Not even to mention the plethora of free to play titles for PC and browser-based gaming on sites like Kongregate.

So, no, sorry, the cost comparison doesn't come out in favor of consoles.

Doesn't really matter, though, as the important thing is personal preference and when it comes to that no general base-metric is going to be the deciding factor.

Joel H 4 months ago

Nope, sorry. We're comparing gaming, not total utility. While I agree with you that a PC is capable of far more than a console in all these other regards, those capabilities are meaningless when evaluating game performance.

 

No one cares if the PC can surf the web better when they're playing a AAA title, which means comparing these factors when asking "Where does the game play better?" is a false comparison.

DeanJordanov 4 months ago

actualy the game itself is now way of a "top graphics" hit. The load on VRAM is probably coz the high polycount from the openworld based design.

jonnny 4 months ago

"If you want to avoid these types of stutters and pauses altogether, you need to use Medium Textures or Medium Details on a 2GB card or less. "

Not true, in my experience.

I finished WD with a 7850 2GB and everything on high. I have never seen the kind of stutters/freezes that are shown in that video. That just looks ridiculous and downright broken.

And I know I was running at close to the VRAM limit, because when I exited or alt-tabbed sometimes Windows would complain and offer to switch to the easier theme.

Maybe it's something to do with the driver differences or perhaps something with your system... Do you have the pagefile enabled? I heard that might contribute to stutters and freezes.

If you post the screenshots of all the settings I'll try to reproduce this.

For me the game has been running OK-ish on high at 1920x1080. Framerate around 35-40, with very rare dips under 30. Overall better than on a console, and it's just a mid range PC.

Joel H 4 months ago

I tested the game on multiple systems under Windows 8 and Windows 7 with my own personal SSD (a Vertex 3) and a brand-new pair of Intel 730 SSDs in RAID 0. I tested with 12 and 16GB of RAM and I shifted to a quad-channel Ivy Bridge-E system at one point to see if the issues were caused by a lack of memory bandwidth. The IVB-E Windows 8.1U1 system was a completely fresh install.

Given that I tested a GTX 770 and not a Radeon 7850, I would assume that accounts for some of the gap. Also, it's noteworthy that my frame rates were much higher than your 35-40 -- base frame rate was more like 45-50, but with the occasional long stutters. Clearly some work was being handled differently.

ThomasTaege 4 months ago

Looks awesome. Pc will always have the best graphics!

Nate1492 4 months ago

There is considerable discussion about a mod called TheWorse that essentially shows that the PC version was in fact a much higher quality graphical version until Ubisoft removed the options to make it look good.

Feel free to google it :-)

Joel H 4 months ago

I've written about it, extensively. It's orthogonal to this conversation.

TheGreatWarMage 4 months ago

Actually, it has been shown that the game is purposely gimped for the pc to say that the consoles are equal to comps. They left coding in the file, turning off certain effects or adding certain effects so the PC version would be purposely gimped.

If you look up info with search words "E3 coding and watch dogs" you should get a decent amount of results talking about it. Mods have been made to turn the effects on (or off in some cases) and seems to give decent results.

Now, ubi stated this was done for purposes of game integrity, but I have heard plenty of people say that the stuttering is gone, the visuals are very much better, and gameplay is smoother with the mods. Which is true? Maybe both are, though until something horrible happens, I don't see why not using the mod is preferable.

Joel H 4 months ago

I've tested the mods.  They do not give higher frame rates at higher quality levels (at least not on the hardware I tested) and frankly, the current game is difficult enough to evaluate.

I love PC modding. I've done some of it myself. Nonetheless, the purpose of a comparison like this is to compare the official finished product as shipped by the manufacturer. Any mod evaluation (and I've written several for HH) would be an entirely separate article written to a different purpose.

TheGreatWarMage 3 months ago

[quote user="Joel H"]

I've tested the mods.  They do not give higher frame rates at higher quality levels (at least not on the hardware I tested) and frankly, the current game is difficult enough to evaluate.

I love PC modding. I've done some of it myself. Nonetheless, the purpose of a comparison like this is to compare the official finished product as shipped by the manufacturer. Any mod evaluation (and I've written several for HH) would be an entirely separate article written to a different purpose. [/quote]

I can accept the lack of gain from FPS at higher quality levels, though that doesn't say there wasn't a gain of some graphic based appearances.  If it looks better, but doesn't sacrifice FPS (+/- 2) than that seems like a plus to me for the mod. 

 

Most like to say this isn't a mod now, as it is just turning on settings that were already present.

 

I have to agree with Adam Todd on his opinion.  As it stands, you can get all of the "Exclusives" offered by these games later on for the same price for the most part, and see where the game is heading.   These Exclusives or short term specials always extend for...the foreseeable future.  Well, unless you only want 1 of the exclusives, which nobody ever does...

Or at least be wary of games that still have 5+ months until release, showing off gameplay.  (Watch Dogs, Titan Fall, etc)  Should I still have high hopes for Destiny?????

 

Though I don't think the game is horrible myself.  It isn't GTA fun.  Though it is so very different from GTA which it is often compared to.

thabusdriv3r 4 months ago

No matter which platform this is on, game still is terrible. I'm still upset that they showed us one thing at E3, and give us another. Also, it's not fair to console gamers that PC users can get the E3 graphics boost and console is stuck in the crappy game that was launched. Since this whole debacle, I've been very leary on when I see E3 trailers and will probably be preordering less due to Ubisoft's screwup.

MADSKILLZ412 4 months ago

PC is always going to have an advantage, no matter what the game, but I honestly think Ubisoft did a good job of optimizing it for the consoles.

potatoos 4 months ago

How about with the E3 mod? Ubisoft is pretty well known for downgrading the pc versions of their games as of late (Watch Dogs and Far Cry 4 at least).

iByTheWay 4 months ago

Didn't a bunch of people make a fuss over how lackluster the game's graphics were despite it's delayed release and "next gen" technology?

It sounds a lot like CoD syndrome to me. Just a lazy port that leads to a generally bad experience on PC unless you mod the pants off the game. Wasn't there a way to "unlock" better graphics as well?

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