Update, March 15: Our performance review has been updated to reflect the latest AMD drivers, with testing on the release build, plus a closer look at Nvidia’s GameWorks effects.
We have waited over 15 months for Final Fantasy XV to come to PC, but has it been worth it? While we may well have got the definitive version of the once-messy epic, the real question is: how good is Final Fantasy XV’s PC performance? We have put the game through its paces to find out whether all those fancy Nvidia effects and the extra grunt of the PC make it the prettiest and smoothest JRPG around.
We explain why the PC version of Final Fantasy XV is the best version.
Our performance reviews are written to offer an insight into how games run on mainstream PCs. We use hardware similar to what the majority of players have installed in their machines, based on the findings of the Steam Hardware Survey. We test the game on all graphical settings using an i5 powered rig with 8GB of RAM, and try to hit the 60fps mark with four mid-range graphics cards. Even if your PC is not identical to our test setups, you should still be able to estimate the performance levels you can expect from your own machine. For more information on performance with high-end hardware, please check out our Final Fantasy XV 4K benchmarks.
Final Fantasy XV’s PC graphics options are neatly contained in a single menu, with just a few display options located in their own separate sub-menu. There are 18 graphics options, four of which are part of the Nvidia GameWorks collection of fancy extras. Among the options are basic essentials such as lighting, shadows, and anti-aliasing, which sit alongside more advanced options such as geomapping and Model LOD (level of detail) for selecting how physically detailed the game’s models are.
GameWorks offers toggle on/off options for HairWorks, TurfEffects, ShadowLibs, and VXAO (voxel-based ambient occlusion). The main graphics menu offers a frame rate cap and resolution scaling should you need it. Main resolution settings, along with VSync, can be found in the display settings menu.
Presets are split into typical low/medium/high/ultra categories, although here they are called low, average, high, and highest. The setup of each preset are pretty typical - see our graphics comparison below for a closer look.
Beyond this, the PC version also has the option of using an ultra high-definition texture pack, which increases the game’s textures up to 8K resolution. This is downloaded from the Steam store page, and brings Final Fantasy XV’s install folder to a dizzying 155GB.
Elsewhere, there is support for full keyboard rebinding, three different controller setups, and even options for eye tracking should you wish to operate your PC the sci-fi way.
Tested on an Intel i5 @3.2GHz, 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GTX 1060, Windows 10
For our graphics analysis we compare screenshots taken on the four standard presets of highest, high, average, and low. The game has Nvidia GameWorks tech turned off by default, but you can see an example of these active on highest settings in the comparison images below. Our tests do not include the high-resolution texture pack, which is best suited for higher-end hardware.
Highest + Nvidia GameWorks
Nvidia’s GameWorks technology includes HairWorks, TurfEffects, VXAO, and ShadowLibs, which are designed to provide more realistic hair, foliage, shading and shadow effects, respectively. It is important to understand that these technologies are best suited for high-end hardware such as the GTX 1080, combined with a high-end CPU. As such, they put a significant dent in your framerate when used on mid-range rigs like the one we use for our performance reviews.
With the game set to highest settings and with all GameWorks options turned on, our GTX 1060 put out an average frame rate of 43fps, with lows of 30fps and highs of 49fps, at 1080p. This is not poor by any means; a little above console performance, but with notable graphical enhancements. To have playable frame rates with the game looking its absolute best is no small feat on a mid-range card.
Nvidia GameWorks on:
If you are running a mid-range rig it is worth considering if the upgraded image quality is worth the frame rate trade-off, especially since the combat system begs to be played at 60fps. TurfEffects and ShadowLibs offer impressive improvements to the world, but in ways you can afford to sacrifice. ShadowLibs, for example, will make a character’s necktie cast a shadow onto their shirt, and TurfEffects creates a denser fields of grass when out in the open world. They are recommended for anyone with plenty of horsepower, especially if you play at higher resolutions, but those using a GTX 1060 or below probably should opt for Square Enix’s original tech and reap the benefits of a higher frame rate.
Nvidia GameWorks off:
HairWorks makes a far more obvious change beyond the standard Luminous Studio engine tech. I personally found the appearance less appealing rather than an improvement, but I feel I may be an outlier on this. The gifs in this section demonstrate a monster with and without HairWorks enabled. Without the tech, the fur looks thick and matted as you would expect for a wild creature, although almost entirely static. With HairWorks on, the physical movement of the hair strands is completely dynamic, with individual strands moving freely. The tech is impressive, but I find the final effect looks strange; the movement over-exaggerated and the hair looking unnatural. If you enjoy the effect it is worth considering keeping it on, but I personally opt for turning it off, especially on mid-range PCs.
There is no denying what a pretty game Final Fantasy XV is on its highest preset. Textures are sharp, models are detailed, and foliage looks dense and suitably bushy. Of notable quality is the ground itself. Thanks to geomapping being turned up the gravelly surface undulates realistically, giving an authentically course appearance, especially where the ground meets the asphalt road surface. Ambient occlusion ensures this uneven terrain is well shaded. There is no lack of quality in the background, either; the buildings in the distance look great and the overall effect is very handsome.
Using a similar setup to our machine equipped with a GTX 1060, the game runs at highest settings at an average of 53fps, with lows of 38fps and highs of 63fps. That is above console-grade performance and it certainly does look prettier than its PS4 rival.
The difference between highest and high is immediately noticeable, but does not exactly downgrade the experience - it is still attractive. But by dialing down the settings a notch, the great ground effects are lost, with the lumpy, gravelly surface being largely smoothed over for a flatter finish. The textures mapped to this surface are still good quality and provide the appearance of rough terrain, but the lack of varying height means there is a notable change. The foliage looks thinner, too, and you can see reduced shading on the domed roof of the pit shop. Aside from this, though, the image largely remains in tact, with the world continuing to look very fetching.
Such sacrifices net an average of 60fps, meaning you can hit the PC standard frame rate while still maintaining a great overall image. That is during heavy combat, too, and while exploring the world you can expect to hit a dozen or so frames higher. Dips bottom out at around 46fps while peaks hit approximately 70fps.
Final Fantasy XV’s mid-tier setting is where the larger sacrifices kick in. Once again, the ground suffers, but this time around it is via much heavier cuts. Detailed textures are replaced with a far simpler, almost mono-coloured beige blanket, removing numerous rocks and stones from the image. The ground is also much flatter than before, and the reduction in detail makes the foliage stick out and appear like game assets rather than a natural part of the landscape.
An overall reduction in shadow quality makes the image look brighter and artificial. You can see that shading has been removed both from close items like the road barriers, and distant areas like the mountain range, which robs the image of its more convincing qualities. Shadows that remain are jagged and poorly cast, such as the one seen on the windmill tower.
There is not a huge gain in performance to be found at average, Our test results marked the average frame rate at 69fps, with a minimum of 52fps and a maximum of 79fps. For the noticeable overall reduction in quality this is not a worthy step up, but the image retains enough lustre for it to be a solid compromise for anyone running older or weaker hardware.
Low settings, as you would expect, puts a significant dent in Final Fantasy XV’s visuals. The lack of anti-aliasing, combined with low-resolution textures, makes everything look rough and washed out. The foliage comes across notably poor, with simple single-colour leaves and no ambient occlusion shading to make them stand out against the drab, flat ground. Shadows are provided for only a handful of items - here, you can see only the road barrier, Noctis himself, and a few other elements have one. Ideally, you will want to avoid this preset, especially since so much of the game’s atmosphere is delivered by the visuals.
As you would expect, the huge cuts in quality on low settings does lead to a more obvious jump in performance. During combat the average is 99fps, with lows of 83fps and highs of 115fps.
To see how Final Fantasy XV performs on different hardware we have tested the game on four different graphics cards: two from Nvidia, and two from AMD. We have sampled from both the current and last generation of GPUs, and chosen popular cards according to the Steam Hardware Survey where possible, in order to offer the most useful information.
All four cards are tested on the game’s highest preset, which dials every texture option up as high as they will go. The preset does not include Nvidia’s GameWorks technologies by default, nor the high-resolution texture pack, so we have kept them turned off for this test.
In the graph below you can see how all four cards perform.
The results show strong performance from Nvidia cards, which is unsurprising considering Square Enix’s partnership with the guys in green. Both the 1060 and 970, despite being a generation apart, provide solid results. The high 30fps mark from the older 970 is to be expected from a detailed open world such as Final Fantasy XV’s. The game is clearly designed to really push graphics hardware, so results like these are great from older hardware. It is worth noting that the 970 stutters a bit when combat gets frantic (which is frequent), but dropping to high eliminates this. The GTX 1060 is a smooth ride, offering a really polished visual feast, if not quite what the high-end cards can offer.
At launch it is was a very different story for players using AMD hardware, with both the R9 380 and RX 580 struggling with single-digit minimum frame rates and heavy stuttering. Thankfully the newly updated Adrenalin drivers have solved the stuttering issues and smoothed out performance. The old-but-popular R9 380 still struggles at the highest settings, but the 27fps average is far from the 16fps disaster it once was. As for the modern RX 580, the latest drivers aid it achieve an average of 51fps, putting it on-par with the GTX 1060.
With the new AMD drivers now available, mid-range performance is pretty comparable across both Nvidia and AMD hardware. The intense nature of the game means you cannot attain strong framerates with the highest graphical settings turned on, but you can certainly hit 30fps or more with some handsome effects enabled on all but the weakest cards.
Final Fantasy XV 4K performance
Our hardware guys have benchmarked the game using their beefy 4K testing rig, armed with a i7 8700K and a single GTX 1080 Ti. Hitting 60fps proved impossible, but Final Fantasy XV runs at an average of 41fps with GameWorks options turned on, and 48fps with them turned off. That is not a terrible frame rate, and it certainly looks much prettier at 3840 x 2160 than its 1080p console sibling. However, due to the speed of the combat, you will likely want to opt for lower detail or resolution in order to achieve 60fps.
How to run Final Fantasy XV at 60fps
Final Fantasy XV’s combat really needs to be played at 60fps to get the full effect. If you use one of the four graphics cards we test on, and have it installed in a similar PC to ours, then our advice here will help you hit an average of 60fps.
For anyone using Nvida cards, hitting 60fps and maintaining a solid level of visual splendour is easy enough. Those with a GTX 1060 should opt for the game’s high preset, while those with a GTX 970 should opt for average. If you find average allows a little more leeway, consider increasing anisotropic filtering, TRAM, and lighting up a notch.
For those using the AMD RX 580, the high preset will serve you well. If you use the ever-popular R9 380 you will, unfortunately, have to settle for the low preset. This means playing through upwards of 40 hours in a very ugly world as the card simply is too low-end for Final Fantasy XV’s upper-tier graphics.
If your GPU is of a similar tier to the ones we use, then remember to turn off all Nvidia GameWorks features, too; as pretty as they may be, they are unnecessary resource hogs for mid-range PCs. For anyone sporting high-end cards, though, feel free to experiment and find a balance of beauty and performance. I recommend trying to keep TurfEffects if your card is capable.
Final Fantasy XV is a rock-solid PC game. Too often, console ports from Eastern developers have arrived on PC with too few options and too many rough edges, but that is not the case here: there is a good range of options to tweak, and overall PC presentation is strong.
Despite its console origins, you should not underestimate Final Fantasy XV’s graphical grunt; the partnership between Square Enix and Nvidia has produced a game with a high-end experience in mind. The numerous GameWorks effects are intensive, but anyone with an premium GPU will want to check out the enhancements they make.
Those with mid-range setups are not left in the dark, but should amend their expectations; you will not be able to experience lush grass, animated hair, detailed shadows and high frame rates at the same time, but you will likely find that the game still looks much more impressive than the original console version. And with the latest AMD drivers ensuring red team players get a smooth ride, it is clear that - provided you’ve got a recent PC - you should be picking up Final Fantasy XV for Windows.