Ghost of Tsushima on PC delivers impressive upgrades over PS5

Four years after its initial PS4 release, Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima arrives on PC, ported by Nixxes Software. Initial impressions of the port were favorable, but now that we’ve spent a week or so with the game we can give you a much more nuanced assessment of the conversion, suggest some optimized settings and offer those all-important PS5 comparisons.

This may be a new engine for Nixxes to deal with, but the overall framework of the game has a lot in common with the previous ports – which is overall very positive. It means you get a settings menu that allows you to customize to your liking, with your changes reflected in real time in the background – no reboot required! And as usual for Nixxes, there’s support for dynamic resolution scaling and all the major upscaling technologies, along with both FSR 3 and DLSS 3 frame generation (although the new FSR 3.1 spatial upscaling upgrades are not included). Nixxes has also freed FSR 3 frame-gen from the spatial upscaling requirement of FSR 2, which is a welcome change.

As for the quality of the upscalers, we see the usual hierarchy, although DLSS in this title has some problems with depth of field effects, with some unpleasant jitter. This manifests itself with XeSS but to a lesser extent, while with FSR this is not a problem at all. It would be nice if this was resolved in due course.

Ghost of Tsushima on PC – Digital Foundry’s Tech Review. Watch on YouTube

In terms of fluidity and smoothness, I have good news and bad news. On the plus side, there’s no stuttering in the shader compilation, but still the smoothness of the presentation is compromised by a curious camera issue where the movement is out of sync with the frame rate. I find it distracting when using v-sync and the game doesn’t look smooth to me. This doesn’t happen on the PS5 version as far as I know and it gives Ghost of Tsushima PC a less stable look. I hope this can be looked into for future patches.

Also problematic is how Ghost of Tsushima can saturate PCI Express bandwidth – the crucial interface between system and GPU. Basically, the higher your bandwidth is, the more stable your frame times are. PCI Express 3.0 at 8x has very poor frametime performance compared to 16x. So if you have a modern GPU that only works with eight lanes, and you are using an old board with only PCIe 3.0 support, you may experience problems. However, even PCI 3.0 at 16x – tested on an RTX 3070 – has problems. This is a pattern noticed by other users that seems to apply to Nixxes PlayStation ports and I think it needs to be addressed.

Another improvement Nixxes should look at is performance with a graphics card with limited memory. If you have an 8GB GPU with the display and texture resolution set too high, you will experience occasional performance degradation that can be difficult for a user to resolve. At the very least, I would recommend that Nixxes implement a VRAM meter in the settings to inform the user of what is going on, or simply use VRAM more intelligently. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, for example, doesn’t even have a texture setting. The game itself handles the mip streaming quality and uses DX12 tile resources in an automated manner, based on the available GPU memory. This minimally degrades textures when necessary and never allows the user to throttle performance or frame times.

In terms of PC vs PS5 comparisons, the most obvious differences are image quality and frame rate. Cutscenes on PS5 are locked to 30fps and can run at any frame rate on PC, dramatically increasing fluidity at 60fps and above. However, not all elements of the game have been upgraded to run at arbitrary frame rates, as a number of particle effects animate awkwardly at low frame rates, such as the dust on the ground or other distant particle effects, and this can make the game look awkward at times.

The image quality is also a lot better as the PS5 version has a TAA-like ghosting effect that PC doesn’t have. However, the biggest IQ gains come from PC’s access to more modern upscaling solutions compared to the PS5’s checkerboard display. Nvidia DLSS and even DLSS performance mode offer a significant improvement – quite a bit considering the latter uses half the original number of pixels of the checkerboard solution.

Unlike Horizon Forbidden West, Ghost of Tsushima improves other aspects of the presentation in meaningful ways. One of the biggest is LOD in the foliage, where on PS5 the foliage comes quite close to the camera so you can see bare hills in the distance. PC pushes that much further forward, even at just the high setting, preventing pop-in. Based on the comparison with the PC settings, the PS5 version has a distance draw lower than the PC, but the density is similar to the high setting for the dense tufts of grass. On PC, this setting for drawing leaves is annoyingly handled by a generic LOD setting, which also affects the LOD for the opaque geometry. These elements make the PS5 feel a lot like the high of PC. I would like to see Nixxes split the leaves from the existing LOD setting.

PS5 ‘Higher Resolution’ Settings PC optimized (target 60 fps)
Texture quality High/very high High (8GB GPUs up to 1440p+)
Texture filtering 4x anisotropic 16x Anisotropic
Shadow quality High High
Level of detail High (lower than average leaves) High
Terrain quality High High
Volumetric fog High High
Depth of field High High
Screen space reflections High High
Screen space shadows High High
Ambient occlusion SSAO quality SSAO quality

Another more obvious upgrade over the PS5 version is the shadow quality. Console shadows get quite mushy close to the camera with a noticeable shadow map cascade, but you can turn that up on PC. I’d say PS5 is equal to PC’s high shadow settings, with very high and ultra above that. For mid-spec GPUs, I generally recommend the high setting to keep VRAM in check and save performance where possible. Screen space reflections have also been upgraded on PC, with PS5 equaling the high setting, which looks fine. I just wish ray traced reflections were available to eliminate the standard SSR issues.

After these more obvious upgrades, the visual improvements on PC become harder to spot. For example, shadows in the screen space on the very high setting have a more complete penumbra effect, while the high setting (PS5 equivalent) resolves them in a more dithered manner. It’s not a huge difference, although it does cost a little bit to use the very high setting on the PC for minimal returns, so I recommend high instead. It’s the same story with volumetric quality, with PS5 looking like the high setting. You can scale further, but the visual return isn’t as impressive.

One area that hasn’t seen a huge upgrade over PS5 is texture quality – here the PS5 resolves to the same texture quality as high or very high, which appear identical in the renders I’ve found. This is a shame, as the texture quality is probably the weakest aspect of the game next to the indirect lighting, with many game textures being blurry, especially those used for terrain. Another problem is that on PC, the anisotropic filter setting doesn’t seem to significantly affect the quality of the remote terrain texture – even at a maximum of 16x at 4K. Either it doesn’t work, or something else is going on.

Digital Foundry’s original PS5 review for Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut. Watch on YouTube

Another questionable upgrade comes with ambient occlusion – as with other Nixxes ports, other AO options are available, but the art of the game doesn’t seem to be designed around it, as they apply AO more conservatively to the environment. For that reason, I can’t recommend using XeGTAO or HBAO+, as they are more expensive than the high-quality SSAO option that PS5 uses, and don’t provide any quality improvement beyond less aliasing. Again, RT could have helped immensely here.

With all these optimizations working, we can see some big performance gains in certain scenarios – up to 33 percent in our tests versus out-of-the-box ultra settings. This can be further improved by using DRS or DLSS, which I definitely recommend for older and slower GPUs.

In summary, I think we’re looking at an overall competent port of this game on PC. I especially love the meaningful graphical upgrades in key areas of the graphics, such as LOD for browsing, which was definitely missing on PS5. The elimination of checkerboard representation in favor of more modern reconstruction techniques is enormous. Otherwise, it has a lot of Nixxes features that deliver a quality experience overall. That said, this is the studio’s fifth PC port since the acquisition and perhaps it’s time for some more general improvements: a VRAM counter, or better yet an automated system, along with a fix for the PCI Express bandwidth issues which I have highlighted. I feel like this is a GPU-heavy game on ultra settings considering the visual returns, although I imagine most will be happy with the high preset or with the very similar optimized settings alternative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *