Back on May 19th, we released some widely-circulated benchmarks on the performance of high-end Radeon and GeForce cards in the game The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. As it turned out, Nvidia Gameworks was being blamed for a lot of things, some of which it had nothing to do with. Case in point: the terrible performance of Nvidia’s Kepler generation of video cards as compared to newer Maxwell models, and even relatively poor performance versus the AMD Radeon competition. Well, with today’s release of Batman: Arkham Knight, we have some more benches for you, and we found a different but equally troubling pattern in the data…
This time around, we’re just benching a Radeon R9 290 4GB and GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3GB, both at reference speeds, both using release-day drivers “optimized” for the game. What we’re varying is the Gameworks settings (enhanced rain and light rays, along with the PhysX debris and dust effects on the GeForce card only). As it happens, Rocksteady, the developer of the game, released updated system requirements today, launch day. It upped the minimum VRAM amount for AMD cards to 3GB, with Nvidia cards sticking at the previously-published 2GB. This spells trouble for AMD cards, but it also suggests that there might be trouble for a lot of Nvidia cards too, including some very powerful ones, as Nvidia has tended to offer less VRAM than AMD at a given price.
Have a look at these benchmark runs, and pay attention to the VRAM usage note for the middle run (with Gameworks features activated).
Frankly, these are some very shocking numbers. First of all, the 780 Ti, which at release was 10-30% faster than the R9 290 based on our benchmarks, is only 2-4% faster in this game, an Nvidia-sponsored title. Then there are the simply insane VRAM numbers: the 780 Ti is hitting its maximum, while the R9 290 is going past 3400MB, in an Unreal 3-based game running at 1920×1080! If this is a sign of things to come now that the new console generation is firmly entrenched, the ride is going to be bumpy for just about anyone who’s purchased a midrange to high-end card from Nvidia prior to late-2014, along with many midrange AMD users as well.
And what might not be clear from this benches is just how terrible these numbers are in light of the graphics on display. Don’t get us wrong – this is no doubt a great game, just like its 2011 predecessor Batman: Arkham City, which happened to be our favorite game from that year. The problem is that the graphics have not advanced at all, while the framerates have absolutely tanked (how appropriate, given all the tanks in the game!). Just for the fun of it, we fired up Arkham City on our R9 290 system and ran the built-in benchmark. Sure enough, while displaying fairly comparable visuals, the R9 290 averaged 138fps and maxed out at 935MB of VRAM. What a difference a (console) generation makes!
And one more thing – the PhysX add-ons in this game, which bring the 780 Ti to its knees (averaging just 51fps), are pretty laughable. Thick, fake-looking smoke that looks more like dirty, puffed-up clouds along with bits of flying paper do not count as 2015-worthy effects.
So unlike The Witcher 3, which was criticized for graphical effects that were too demanding, Batman: Arkham Knight has clearly been consolized, with sub-par graphics and sub-par performance. Did we mention that the game is locked at 30fps unless a change is made to a hard-to-find .ini file? Strange stuff indeed. We expected more from the team behind the jaw-dropping Arkham City.