God of War: Ragnarok, technical performance analysis on PS5, PS4 Pro and PS4

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Sony Santa Monica is back with a second serving of God of War, and this time we have delivery on a new generation of consoles. PlayStation 5 is significantly more powerful than PS4 and PS4 Pro, which is reflected in the graphics modes available. Right from the start you are prompted to choose between Resolution or Performance, with the former offering the highest pixel quality and the latter offering higher frame rates. There is also a third option that enables or disables high frame rate mode. In any casethese are big jumps from the previous generation.

Raised in hell, made in heaven

Core assets, character models, materials, visual and particle effects, and animations they are practically identical regardless of the platform on which it is played. And from that perspective, it’s pretty impressive that PS4, an almost 10 year old piece of hardware, continues to deliver such incredible levels of visuals and performance. Even more impressive is how the team has improved many areas compared to the first game from 2018. Snow tessellation is heavily used, now with a better mix of particles and refined warping (mixed with normal maps and lighting effects) , resulting in better self-shadow and adding to the world interaction that snow shows the scars of your rage. This carries over to the game’s use of physics, both in the animation and in the world itself. Many objects can be broken into pieces, which is reflected in the gameplay through environmental puzzles that follow the basic laws of physics.

One ingredient that defines both God of War: Ragnarok and its predecessor is extensive special effects that rely heavily on GPU-accelerated particles. These collide to allow each body to break down dynamically and dramatically. This technique extends to allowing particle emitters to be spawned from anywhere within the game. This is increased in Ragnarok, with sequences that have an exuberant amount of particles appearing, colliding and glowing on both PS4 and PS5, bringing the mystical element of this Norse mythology. The biggest impact, though, is the screen-shattering pyrotechnics that come from weapons like the Bow of Atreus or the Blades of Chaos as they spin, with embers of fire bouncing and spreading across the screen and enemies alike.

The stunning in-game art and character design maintains the same matte oil painting style. But as you travel through the realms – some old, some new – they also bring their own unique and vibrant color palettes and styles. PBR materials are hyper-realistic, with strong diffused base colors mixed with a probe-based lighting system due to the game’s fixed lighting model. This helps the design approach of the equipment and the performance levels of the old hardware.

To improve the quality and dynamic nature of the game, the engine uses a mixture of shadow maps, screen space shadows, and screen space ambient occlusion. The telltale artifacts of these elements can be seen when they are occluded and unoccluded by foreground objects within the depth buffer. Since both PS4 and Pro use a lower resolution than the PS5, you get longer, more accurate reflections on the newer console, with a shorter cutoff in reflections. Shadows or AO may still fade into smaller, more incidental details on screen, but the quality helps improve the lighting of characters and their connection to the world, supported by contact shadows on floors and walls. Sometimes, even on PS5 (still using the same assets and lighting model), you can see some light leaks and incorrect specularity, but like so much else in the game, it’s been refined and improved.

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God of War: Ragnarok – Platform Comparison

The biggest boost PS5 offers is resolution, since all areas improve with it. This includes the game’s temporary AA, which helps keep it looking clean and sharp with very little aliasing present, even at 1080p. PS5 in both modes offers a sharp and clean image that even shows over the dynamic solution of PS4 Pro in both modes. The previous game’s resolution mode gives way to a new DRS solution that maxes out at 1656p and drops down to 1440p.

Performance mode uses the same solution, but now allows the engine to downscale to 1080p with the framerate cap moved to 60fps. The solution used in Performance mode on PS5 is very similar to PS4 Pro, with the same display edge breakdown and lower pixel quality at the ends of the display edge. It also uses DRS scaling between 2160p and 1440p when at 60fps, and converts to a fixed 1440p target when High Frame Rate mode is activated with or without VRR. It does, however, present a better overall picture than the PS4 Pro. Part of that is due to increased temporal resolution from the higher frame rate and higher resolution assets used due to the higher RAM reserve, but the TAA includes a reconstruction pass in all formats and a sharpening pass within it, which helps. The TAA seems to use about 6 previous frames within its time buffer, and the results sometimes in Performance mode look sharper and better than the fully native and fixed 3840×2160 Resolution mode when at 30fps. The fact that the game also features a 4K 40fps mode means that the perfect trade-off between pixels and performance is pretty much negated, making it a great option for those who just can’t make up their minds. This mode activates DRS, with a range of 1800p up to 2160p, in both High Frame Rate and VRR modes.

The other difference between Performance and Resolution modes on PS5 is that Resolution mode has a larger shadow cascade, which means more objects cast shadows. Foliage and LoD are enlarged and enlarged with denser geometry at mid and long range, and fewer sprites are used for foliage than in Performance mode. The clearest gap in image quality can be noticed on PS4 Pro when jumping to 60fps, with this mode often at the lower limits of that 1920×1080 range. Temporal resolution is very similar, as you now have double the potential frames per second, but the lower number of base pixels means the AA has more work to do.

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At 1080p sub-pixelated elements may have more noise depending on the brightness and contrast of the scene. It’s by no means an eye strain, but it was one area that instantly notified my eyeballs that I was running below my display’s 4K output. The gorgeous realms, monsters, effects, and materials are very close to 4K mode, and the increased frame rates and input times make this mode my favorite to play on PS4 Pro. It also matches the exact PS4 base mode, except for reduced frame rate from 30fps. However, this is the most impressive version for me, since all areas of the game are here. From the seamless camera and cutscenes, the intricately constructed and animated enemies, the vibrant and rich worlds, the extensive visual effects, the destruction systems that can feel like fluid simulation at times, and the fast-paced travel and combat, no it misses nothing of the game’s wow factor, responsive controls, incredible animation, and one of the best mixes of sound, design, and soundscapes produced in any game I’ve ever played. I recommend that you use a surround sound system or put on a decent 3D headset because the sound experience is as impressive and vital as the visual one. Lastly, the game’s HDR option, available on all platforms, enriches every bloodstained snowflake or fish-filled lake, meaning Ragnarok will be one of the most impressive things you’ll play this winter.

God of War: Ragnarok – Performance

Starting with PS5 first and using Resolution mode, 30fps is locked if you have a 60Hz screen or choose to disable HFM in the menu. It can have a couple of drops in the high 30s on the heavier action and even occasionally just skips to the next 33ms update. But since the interval from 25ms to 33ms is only 8ms, they are practically invisible. The game also supports VRR so if you have a capable display you can turn it on and the game will go above 40fps when possible. In this case, small spikes can be managed when they are between or above the 48fps level. I didn’t notice any issues in this mode, so if you want to have the best visual package, this is the mode to go for.

Having said that, 120fps Performance mode doesn’t really have a significant reduction and after a short time only the reduction in Motion Blur due to the higher frame-rate is really noticeable. In quiet sections it can hit 120fps, but most of the time it hovers around 80-90fps, which means you get the fastest input and response times, making it the mode of choice if combat and fluid action are your most important aspect. Even in the heavier segments, it has always managed to stay well above that base 60fps. That is to say, if you only have a 60Hz screen, the 30 or 60fps modes will be totally locked in with no issues, but the advantage of aiming for 120fps is very welcome and certainly appreciated.

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The history of PS4 is simple: 30fps locked. I’ve only been able to find a handful of stutters when moving between sector load points or scene changes. In action, the game is pretty much locked at 30fps, so it feels very consistent and fluid, with this build being the foundation of the team’s goals from the start, and the fps readout backs it up. A simply impressive display of performance that means all PS4 owners can enjoy the game without worry that it can be seen to malfunction.

PS4 Pro is something else– Resolution mode is just as locked, if not more so, than PS4, and in fact slightly better, as frame drops occur less often, though without a framerate graph both would be invisible. If you want the highest quality and most consistent performance, this is the mode I recommend. Dynamic resolution is usually closer to 1080p in action, but the 60fps mode isn’t as stable, and in fact it’s about 10-15% worse than the previous game in its 60fps mode. It is almost always below 60fps in action, spending much of its time between 45 and 52fps during exploration and combat. Still, it’s very good and more responsive than the 30fps mode, and the results are closer to the previous unlocked framerates of God of War 3 and Ascension on PS3. That said, don’t expect a locked 60fps. Most importantly, it never exceeds 33ms frame time, allowing it to still look faster and smoother than 60fps mode.

Summary

God of War: Ragnarok is a fitting, dramatic, and extravagant ending to Kratos’ new chapter. Regardless of what console you have, the results are impressive and exciting.. PS5 offers the most refined version, with sharper graphics, better textures, faster frame rates, and improved controls, but it’s still the same PS4 game with a better paint job. The core game design, combat, exploration, and even loading are very well in the realm of previous-gen consoles. And this is where PS4 stands out as the most impressive version due to how good it still looks, runs and plays, so all PlayStation owners can look forward to an impressive improvement over the 2018 version.