Cited as an example of ultra HD gaming on Microsoft's list of Xbox One X enhanced titles, Diablo 3 is an evolution of Blizzard's good work on the PlayStation 4 Pro version of the game. The same principles are in place: the game targets a native 2160p presentation, but utilises a dynamic scaler to lock to the target 60 frames per second, adjusting the pixel count on the fly to ensure consistent performance. And just like the PS4 Pro version, Xbox One X benefits from a smattering of visual enhancements too. But the question is, just how close are the two versions? And to what extent does Xbox One X's higher spec translate into a closer lock to a native 4K?
What's clear is that as good an upgrade as the PS4 Pro version is, Xbox One X goes one better, with a much closer lock on the target 4K resolution. In PS4 Pro's case, a full 3840x2160 is only hit around interior areas, like the bar at New Tristram, or small dungeons. But in practice, Sony's machine tends to run at lower numbers in the town itself - while Xbox One X hits 4K almost perfectly throughout.
To put some hard figures to this, overlooking New Tristram right at the start with a new character, sees Xbox One X delivering 3840x2160 - the full 4K experience - while PS4 Pro kicks off at 2880x1620. In like-for-like situations, that's a 77 per cent increase in resolution in favour of the Microsoft console, before even touching a button. Things start to change as we head towards New Tristram's gates, and the resolution adapts on both sides.
Here, we're faced with our first taxing area at the gates, filled with enemies, physics-based objects and geometry, forcing Xbox One X to makes a rare slip below 4K - down to 3648x2052. It's a 10 per cent drop in pixels for the new machine, but it still compares well to the 2560x1440 on PS4 Pro in this spot. In fact, remarkably, the resolution differential is now a 2x improvement in favour of Xbox One X, a measurement at odds with the raw improvement in rendering power the hardware specs suggest - but confirmed in gameplay nonetheless. And it's especially interesting because both machines are dropping from the target 4K, which in turn suggests that both are running their GPUs flat-out, at full utilisation.
You can see where we're going here - regardless of the snapshots we take, the dynamic resolution scaler works out firmly in favour of the new console, whether it's in basic traversal or pushing the engine harder. Even battling a screen full of enemies in multiplayer co-op, Xbox One sticks far more doggedly to its native 4K target. Ironically, it's only that New Tristram gate area - a point within minutes of starting a new game - that really made the hardware struggle in our tests.
Of course the intensity of effects-work will only ramp up further during Nephalem Rift missions with high-level players and it's likely Xbox One X can be pushed harder, increasing the chances of a dip below ultra HD resolution. But as a demonstration of where the two consoles stand next to each other, Microsoft's machine clearly uses 3840x2160 as a baseline. It's the most consistent number, and anything under that is a deviation from the norm. By comparison, PS4 Pro rarely even hits this top resolution number, and it's here the power divide between the two is most evident.
But there's more. In terms of its visual feature set, Xbox One X is enhanced over the regular Xbox One edition, and ultimately it's a match for PlayStation 4 Pro's features. Screen-space ambient occlusion is the main one, and a comparison between Xbox One X and PS4 Pro shows a similar shading effect in the corners of the room. On PC, this is just an on/off toggle, and to be honest it doesn't radically affect the look of the game in Diablo's dark dungeons - only in brighter exterior scenes. The enhanced bloom on Xbox One X has a bigger impact. Again, this matches PS4 Pro, and any light points across the scene are nicely embellished. It's a neat touch, and means outside of resolution, there is parity between the two 4K consoles.
Top-end resolution and improved effects wouldn't count for much without stable 60fps performance, but the fact is that Diablo 3 has yet to show any significant dips below that number on Xbox One X so far. Again there's scope for more aggressive tests on later missions, but the outlook is really good so far, with a solid 60fps line. In this sense, the game plays very much like the Pro version but perhaps more importantly for existing Xbox One owners looking to revisit the game, performance is now much improved.
When Microsoft announced Xbox One X as a true 4K gaming machine, that six teraflop GPU bullet-point seemed exciting on first glance. As a powerhouse in the console arena, it gave console gamers the best chance of hitting 4K's extreme pixel count, but even so, it remains hard to see it happening in every game. But Diablo 3 delivers. Relative to the ballpark 1620p or 1728p average that PS4 Pro pushes out, Xbox One X gets to 4K with few compromises. Yes, the resolution drops, but we'd take that over losing the title's signature, super-smooth 60fps gameplay.
Diablo 3 may not add a higher-grade texture pack to make us of its extra VRAM, or anything like it. The game sticks to a similar skeletal framework as the standard PS4 and Xbox One versions in this sense. Nevertheless, if you're looking for an example of how that extra power over PS4 Pro translates into improved image quality, Blizzard's classic delivers.
There may be more ways Diablo 3 can push the machine - but our initial playthrough serves its purpose in highlighting an aspect of Xbox One X we couldn't cover in much depth during the review process: like-for-like comparisons between Sony and Microsoft consoles with the same engine running the same workloads. Based on our pixel counts, we're looking at a base line resolution increase in the 55 per cent area, rising to anything up to a 2x boost - a statistic certainly likely to raise a few eyebrows, to a certain extent mirroring some of the differentials we saw in the PS4/Xbox One launch period. Clearly this time the boot's on the other foot, and we look forward to putting more dynamic resolution titles through their paces.
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of $5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry