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Can PS4 Pro really deliver Destiny 2 at 4K?

An impressive upgrade overall, but a little rough around the edges.

When Bungie announced PlayStation 4 Pro support for Destiny 2, there was much controversy about the studio's decision to scale up to 4K resolution, as opposed to targeting 60 frames per second gameplay. It's an ambitious decision, principally because we're looking at 4x increase to resolution with just 2.3x compute and an even more meagre boost to memory bandwidth. With the beta in hand, we can finally see how Bungie has implemented its 4K support - and whether that decision has paid off.

To cut to the chase, the evidence suggests that Destiny 2 does indeed produce a 2160p output - but telltale signs point towards checkerboard rendering or an offshoot of it to get there. At first glance, the results are impressive though, with standard pixel counting suggests full 4K resolution here, with no upscale blur. However, pixelisation artefacts around particles and areas of fast motion (the gun sights are in particular) resolve at a lower resolution. In general though, it's an effective technique and only extreme situations reveal that it's not actually a native 4K output. It's all the more impressive in action as Destiny also employs dynamic resolution scaling on the horizontal axis, the pixel count shifting from 3072x2160 to full-fat 3840x2160 depending on the intensity of the action.

As expected, the base PlayStation 4 version of the game runs at standard 1080p, just like the first game, so the leap from PS4 to Pro is significant - but there are noticeable limitations. Destiny 2 uses lower resolution buffers for alpha, volumetrics and depth of field. Now, this was also true of the original Destiny too, as the developer mentions in this presentation (slides 121 onwards) but steps were taken to minimise visible artefacts such as sawtooth edges when geometry collides with lower resolution alpha buffers. Such safeguards are less strictly enforced in the Destiny 2 beta, and it looks like both base PS4 and Pro use similar buffers here - the upshot being the disparity in resolution between the effects and the framebuffer itself is far more noticeable on Sony's 'super-charged' console.

Here's our full visual breakdown of Destiny 2 running on PlayStation 4 Pro, with base PS4 comparisons - and even a spot of PC footage too.Watch on YouTube

Now, we've played Destiny 2 at 4K before - specifically on PC during E3 - and revisiting the footage we took away on the day back then, there are similar artefacts around volumetric sources, but the resolution of the effect is higher, making the artefacts more difficult to notice. It's beta code of course, so we hope to see improvement here, but these look like logical choices in achieving a 4K resolution with relatively limited levels of GPU power.

The good news is that even with these limitations in play, this is still a seriously impressive title - Destiny 2 is a gorgeous game all around. From its massive sense of scale to its brilliant use of colour and lighting, this is a vibrant and beautiful experience. The beta includes two environments - the tower from Destiny under siege for the introduction mission and another area, much larger in scale and more in line with later levels in the original game.

Some of the highlights on display include a great use of volumetric lighting - despite the sawtooth edges in certain scenes, this is still a gorgeous inclusion and enhances each scene it appears in. Particles are also properly lit and beautifully animated. The pouring rain in the introduction scene is also superbly executed, while the bokeh depth of field when moving into iron sights mode looks great. Screen-space reflections are used in abundance to bring depth to many scenes, though the relationship between the reflection and the object being reflected can sometimes appear off-kilter.

Our first look at the PC version of the game from E3, which covers off some of the same content as the console beta. At the event we were told the game was running at ultra settings, but Bungie later clarified that there is more to come on the settings front.Watch on YouTube

Performance-wise, Destiny 2 does indeed target 30 frames per second and by and large, the experience is consistent - smooth and stable through the majority of the experience, no matter how intense the combat becomes. Frame-pacing errors crop up now and then on Pro, and we did notice a section of gameplay where this issue is much more noticeable on the base PS4. It's hardly noticeable here, but it would be nice to see it addressed in the final release.

Bungie's staggered roll-out of the beta means that a more detailed look at the game on other platforms isn't possible right now. The original Destiny scaled well between PS4 and Xbox One, with both offering a full HD experience and solid performance. We're looking at the Xbox code now and will update soon with further impressions (spoilers: it runs at the same native 1080p as PS4, just like the original) but in the meantime, we're impressed with how the game scales between the base Sony system and the Pro.

How Xbox One X is served remains anyone's guess right now - native 4K may be on the cards bearing in mind the standard system's full HD output, but multi-platform developers do like to introduce code that can scale across consoles. If, for whatever reason, a full 4K isn't possible on the new Microsoft system, the foundations seen here on Pro are a good start: the same checkerboarding system with less need to rely on dynamic scaling, combined with higher resolution alpha buffers would effectively clean up the game to almost native levels of precision. But that's all conjecture for now - hopefully, Bungie will share more soon.

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