Introduction To Fallout 4 And The Test System
Fallout 4 does a good job setting a post-apocalyptic mood. It's not the best-looking game, but it is certainly solid. So, how do Fallout 4's graphics scale? Before we get to the numbers, it's worth talking about some of the game's more unique aspects.
The first of these, which has us shaking our heads, is the game's loader. Fallout 4’s graphics settings can only be changed via a Windows 98-style configuration panel before entering the game, but not while you're in it.
Next, there's the fact that Fallout 4 offers only two aspect ratios for full-screen display: 16:9 and 16:10. This is outdated, to say the least, and it was what drove us back to modifying the INI file (Fallout4Prefs.ini, which can be found both in the Steam game [.../steamapps/common/Fallout 4/Fallout4] folder and the documents folder [.../My Games/Fallout4]). Both need to be changed and saved before starting the game.
Using a borderless window that always stays on top as a workaround, any aspect ratio can be set manually. GameWorks effects and other graphics options can be modified or turned off manually this way as well.
Fallout 4 uses an updated proprietary Creation Engine, which is why it doesn't look much different than the older Fallout and The Elder Scrolls titles. One leftover from a bygone area of game engines is the fact that the game's speed is bound to its frame rate. Consequently, the frame rates are fixed, which is to say that v-sync is forced on. Those who've been around for a while know that this can be changed manually in the INI file by setting iPresentInterval=0. To be on the safe side, the file should be marked read-only afterwards.
This change has a noticeable effect on gameplay, especially if you're using a fast graphics card. So, if you take a look at our performance charts and find that your card is under 60 FPS somewhere in the middle of the field, then it might be a good idea to try this out. Dropping to 30 FPS just doesn't make for a great gaming experience; Fallout 4 feels sluggish this way.
Test Scene Selection
We're using two separate save points for our benchmarks. The first features a panoramic view into the distance, and we perform a 360-degree turn via a macro. The second has us walk in a straight line down a city street. It also uses a macro for controlling the movement.
There's a trick to getting reproducible results: we activate god-mode and invisibility (no interaction with the AI) through the game's console so that we can move around undisturbed and without being attacked.
The results for both scenes are pretty reliable; performance in the cities usually results in the lowest frame rates. You'll spend a lot of time exploring the landscape though, so averaging the two outcomes makes sense. Another consideration when comparing numbers from different test platforms is that Fallout 4 demonstrates good CPU scaling (number of threads and clock rates). It needs at least four threads for a stutter-free experience, and clearly doesn't fare as well with only two.
Quality Settings And GameWorks
Nothing in Fallout 4 is modeled with enough detail to really make this a performance consideration. There was really no progress made compared to the game's predecessors. Even distant objects pop in and out of existence like they always have.
Similarly, many items in Fallout 4 still look like plastic. This might not be great for realism, but seems to be deliberate. If TAA (Temporal Anti-Aliasing) is used, then the game becomes smooth and seems more balanced. It's a welcome effect, complementing the lighting responsible for setting the mood.
Nvidia's GameWorks is responsible for Fallout 4's godrays, which punish performance. Even the game's programmers seem to have gotten cold feet; they only enable the High setting for godrays when you select the Ultra detail preset. Manually pushing godrays to Ultra illustrates why, as a double-digit percentage of your frame rate evaporates.
The GameWorks functions can't be completely disabled in the option menu, even though it appears that they can. If you own lower-end hardware, open Fallout4_Default.ini (.../steamapps/common/Fallout 4) and set bNvGodraysEnable=0. Then, three more of the file's entries need to be changed, since volumetric lighting has to be disabled completely to truly deactivate the god rays: bVolumetricLightingEnable=0, iVolumetricLightingQuality=0 and bVolumetricLightingForceCasters=0. We disable all GameWorks functions for the lowest-end test configuration, and set this feature to High for all resolutions above Full HD. Otherwise, Fallout 4 becomes unplayable.
Differences between the individual quality settings are often subtler than you might think. Consequently, we're using specifically chosen scenes to showcase the graphics options. These examples wouldn't necessarily make for a good benchmark, though.
Sun Low In The Sky, Vegetation, Surfaces And Shadows
Noon, Full Illumination, Shadows
|Test System and Benchmark Settings|
|Test Systems||Intel Core i7-5930K at 4.2GHz + Alphacool water coolerCrucial Ballistix Sport, 4 x 4GB DDR4-2400MSI X99S XPower ACCrucial MX200 500GB SSD (system), Corsair LS 960 960GB (applications + data, storage)be quiet! Dark Power Pro 850WAMD FX-8350, be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 38GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600MSI 970 GamingCorsair LS 960 960GBbe quiet! Dark Power Pro 550WWindows 10 Pro (All Updates)|
|Drivers||AMD: Catalyst 15.11 BetaNvidia: ForceWare 358.91 (Game Ready)Intel: 220.127.116.1100 (15.40.10)|
|GameBenchmarks||3840x2160, Ultra Preset, Godrays High2560x1440, Ultra Preset, Godrays High1920x1080, Ultra Preset, Godrays Ultra1920x1080, Ultra Preset, Godrays High1920x1080, Medium1920x1080, Low (Godrays Completely Deactivated via INI File)|
Again, we're using the same saved game files for each benchmark run, since Fallout 4's world is dynamic and ever-changing. We’re also reporting full average FPS numbers, since fractions can’t be reproduced reliably between tests. The numbers in our charts are the result of three benchmark passes averaged together, rounded down to an integer figure.