Yes, Anthem's day one patch has indeed addressed many of the performance issues and oddities found in the console versions of the game, but despite undeniable improvements and optimisations, there's the sense that BioWare's latest epic still requires work. Meanwhile, if you're playing on PC, be prepared for an experience that really pushes your hardware, but undeniably provides impressive enhancements over the console experience. But does Anthem on any system deliver an experience anything like that E3 reveal? The answer is no, but it's still a visually arresting game.
Our first port of call after our demo testing was the Xbox build, which arrived in the hands of users ahead of its PlayStation counterpart courtesy of EA Access. We started looking at this as soon as it was available, but quickly decided to hold fire on publishing any conclusions - not only was the experience highly buggy, but in some respects, performance was actually worse than the VIP demo. The experience wasn't really improved much from what we'd sampled before, screen-tearing was introduced (unseen in our VIP demo tests) and for some baffling reason, BioWare unlocked the frame-rate on base Xbox models, which combined with constant tearing, produced an ugly experience.
On Thursday last week, the day one patch dropped, offering significant improvements. Occasional screen-tearing remains (limited to the top portion of the screen - a latency saving measure that gives a little bit of extra per-frame rendering budget), but the 30fps cap seen in the demo was thankfully re-introduced. Xbox One X spends much more of the time at its target frame-rate now - which is a relief - but the overall improvement to vanilla and S consoles is minimal. Too much of the game operates in the mid to low 20s, with only internal stages set in the cave system showing anything like a target 30 frames per second.
Resolution on the two Xboxes remains at the same full 4K and 900p seen during the demo phase, with the X delivering improved shadow quality, pushed out LODs and what the developers describe as 'enhanced terrain rendering'. Stacked up against the PC version, however, Xbox One X effectively delivers an experience on par with the game's medium preset, albeit with ambient occlusion quality equivalent to the PC's HBAO setting and shadow quality setting to high.
Interestingly, we had an issue with the Xbox One S version during one session, where the code ran at between 10-15 frames per second with v-sync engaged. This was a pretty serious bug (resolved by restarting the console) but throughout the duration here, rendering resolution was definitely 720p. What caused the problem is unknown - and we've not seen it again since - but the enforced, continual hit to performance may have caused a dynamic resolution scaling effect to kick in. Throughout our normal gameplay sessions though, gameplay locked to 900p - but the unfortunate reality is that Anthem is yet another multi-platform game that struggles to perform well, disproportionately so compared to every other console version of the game. [UPDATE: Anthem is now confirmed to be running at a dynamic resolution, the article has been updated].
The PlayStation builds have also changed slightly since Anthem's demo phase, but the adjustments here may cause some controversy. The demo ran with frame-rates completely unlocked on PS4 and PS4 Pro, which could see some interesting results - especially on Sony's enhanced console. However, what it did add was unwelcome judder to a game that otherwise stood a pretty good chance of sustaining a fairly consistent 30 frames per second. Our suggestion at the time was to add a 30fps cap to the game's video options menu (which includes the ability to disable effects like motion blur, chromatic aberration and camera shake). BioWare has indeed capped the game now, with particularly pleasing results on the base PS4 and the Pro's 4K output mode.
It's enough to say that Pro acts in a similar manner to the Xbox One X but does so with a little more stability and no screen-tearing at all. The vanilla PlayStation 4 impressed us with its overall performance level during the demo phase and continues to perform well now - it seems slightly more solid than the Pro version, but in terms of the overall flow of the game, it's very difficult to tell the two apart, though level of detail popping does seem more obvious on the standard console. We're still working on Anthem PS4 video coverage, but here are some performance snapshots from a Pro/Base co-op session:
Similar to the demo version, PS4 Pro offers a secondary performance mode - one that is only accessible if you set the 'screen and sound' front-end settings to 1080p resolution. Native pixel-count is reduced to match, and this allowed the game to run between 35-60fps during the demo period. The 30fps cap remains in the final game, however, and the end result is easily the most consistent Anthem experience on any console. Frame-rate doesn't seem to buckle during any of the game's most outrageous effects extravaganzas, and the only dips to the performance level come via what we assume to be CPU or storage bottlenecks during traversal in the overworld, where momentary hitching and stuttering is present on all PS4 builds.
Given the choice between running unlocked or capping at 30fps on PS4 Pro, we'd take the latter. However, it is a shame that BioWare doesn't give the user any choice in the matter, while no performance (or rather 'stability') mode is offered to Xbox One X users at all. Regardless, the final version of Anthem offers up two distinct options: on the one hand, Xbox One X does indeed deliver native 4K, albeit with dynamic resolution scaling - though owing to the heavy post-process pipeline, visual advantages are limited compared to the Pro's 1800p. On the other hand, Sony's enhanced console delivers the most consistent experience - in fact, playing PS4 Pro with 1080p output mode enabled is the only Anthem session I've had where I never felt frame-rate issues intrude at all on the quality of the gameplay.
So where does this leave the PC version? The truth is, it's very much like the demo build in that the hardware requirements in hitting 60 frames per second are onerous to say the least. Mainstream champions GTX 1060 and RX 580 operate with a very wide performance window, to the point where even setting the game to Xbox One X-level quality settings produces frame-rates that can dip to 40fps territory on the Nvidia card. Stutter is prevalent, but if you're running with v-sync on, we'd recommend disabling it and turning the full-screen option to borderless. This enforces triple-buffering and reduces the harshness of dropped frames.
AMD clearly has the advantage and if you're looking for a relatively stable 1080p60 on ultra settings, Vega 56 is the way forward - but even this expensive card dips beneath the performance target in the heaviest combat scenes. If you're looking to run the game at a locked 4K60, forget it - Nvidia's RTX 2080 Ti is the most powerful gamer-grade GPU around at the moment, and even at Xbox One X quality equivalents, it still manages to drop beneath the 60fps target during intense pyrotechnics. And that's with a 2GHz GPU core clock provided by a mighty Asus ROG Strix variant of the Nvidia monster.
If you're looking to pursue the best balance between performance and quality settings, the Xbox One X equivalent settings - an enhanced medium preset, if you like - is the way to go. You lose a fair amount in terms of foliage density in the overworld, but that's the most obvious cutback. What you miss out on elsewhere in terms of visual fidelity is somewhat made up for by a 30 per cent improvement in performance. However, there is the sense that this game has been built around consoles as the baseline - dropping any of the settings below medium causes Anthem's visual appeal to rapidly diminish. In effect, our optimal settings are also the lowest we can comfortably go - and in turn, this means that the scalability of the game is somewhat limited. By extension, bearing in mind the fluctuating performance level, an adaptive sync display works wonders for this game.
With all of this in mind, looking back at Anthem's E3 2017 reveal at the Microsoft press conference now makes for uncomfortable viewing. Fort Tarsis' astonishing debut makes Anthem look like a next-gen sequel to the game we actually got, while the polish and density of the overworld is on a totally different level, with next-level post-processing work. The final rendition of Anthem is what it is - a late-gen console game with some beautiful artwork - but the exciting evolution of Frostbite technology teased in the title's reveal (which we were told was running in real-time) is not representative of the final game, certainly not the Xbox One X build EA said it was at the time. Running Anthem on PC at ultra delivers the best graphics of any shipping version, but it can't hold a candle to the game's first trailer. The irony is that what BioWare delivered still looks great, so why didn't EA introduce Anthem to us with a presentation more in line with what the developers were actually capable of delivering?
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