We've lost count of the amount of PC comparisons we've done where the only tangible enhancements amount to arbitrary resolution support and higher frame-rates. Sure, higher quality effects - such as higher resolution shadows - also usually form part of the mix, but significant graphical improvements are few and far between. Mass Effect Andromeda is different: in common with several titles based on DICE's excellent Frostbite engine, the PC really is the natural home for this game.
Coming from the PS4 and Xbox One versions, the upgrade is immediately clear. Yes, of course, you can boost pixel-count and break the console-standard 30fps lock, but the upgrades throughout the experience are impressive: the core assets are embellished with increased geometry and higher resolution normal maps and textures, giving a richer-looking, smoother presentation. Environments are fleshed out using tessellation to add extra geometry detail to rocks and mountainous terrain, leading to an uneven surface that appears more rugged, while increased texture quality further brings out more intricate information across both character and landscape assets.
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Additional plants and foliage better populate the landscape too, and when backed up with higher quality HBAO ambient occlusion, higher resolution shadows, and more refined post-process effects, the alien worlds on display appear more striking, boasting extra depth and detail beyond the console versions. Character modelling is also more refined with improved asset quality allowing for more fine details to resolve across clothing and facial features.
At native 1080p, the graphical improvements stand apart from the console versions but the benefits are further pronounced when moving to higher rendering resolutions on 1440p and 4K displays. However, even on full HD screens, image quality still gets a welcome boost over rendering natively at 1080p. Super-sampling down from 4K to 1080p leads to a smoother looking presentation with better-resolved distant details, without the need for a higher resolution monitor. However, this is a costly option in terms of GPU power, and arguably those resources are better used to target 60fps at 1080p while running with maximum settings and temporal anti-aliasing enabled.
Playing Mass Effect Andromeda at 4K with all the bells and whistles enabled is not for the more mainstream PC gamer. Even Nvidia's mighty GTX 1080 Ti can't pull this off, necessitating a 30fps lock for more consistent gameplay. Scaling down to 1080p, it is possible to hit 60fps on more affordable hardware, like the GTX 1060 and RX 480 - but compromises are required. Dialling down to the high preset gets you most of the way there, but further reducing terrain, mesh and vegetation is needed for an absolute 60fps lock. Expect around 45fps at full-on ultra settings.
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Whether you're on ultra or high settings, you're stil getting an upgrade over the console versions. Aside from dated animations and some variable frame-rates, the PS4 and Xbox One versions look very good, though texture resolution is lowered, while geometry complexity is reduced across some character and environment details. The post-process pipeline also sees some minimal downgrades.