This weekend is another beta test of The Division, and from the sounds of it… this is a much larger pool of testers than the weekend of Pax South. That Sunday and Monday after Pax South I managed to play quite a bit of Division on the PS4, so this time around I decided ahead of time that I would be trying it out on the PC just to get the broad feel of how the game performs on multiple platforms. When it comes to PC gaming… a lot of your experience rides upon your hardware. For the purpose of this test I decided to try playing it on both my gaming desktop upstairs, and my older gaming laptop. I knew pretty much that the laptop would not perform well at all, but I was still curious to see if the game could reach a playable state on it. So as a result I thought it was probably best to start by listing the important stats of my two gaming systems… so you can use that hopefully as a judge of how the game will perform on your own systems. Since this is also an online game… I opted to take a quick speed test this morning just to use that for reference as well.
AMD FX-6300 3.5 ghz 6 cores
16 GB Ram
MSI GTX 960 4G Gaming Edition Video
Intel i7-3630QM 2.4 ghz 8 cores
16 GB Ram
2X Nvidia Geforce GT 650M in SLI Video
The Gaming Desktop
When I first booted up this game, I have to say I had an inordinate amount of difficulty getting it to run. The problem is the fact that you cannot get to the video and graphics quality settings until you wade through the character creation step. This is unfortunate, since as an MMO gamer primarily… the character creation process is super important to me. Initially the game launched in such a way that I thought it was trying to split the image between my two monitors. I did the Alt+Enter trick to drop it to windowed mode, and then Alt+Enter again to attempt to fix the resolution. However this time I had no mouse input, and could not really touch anything on the screen. After exiting the game and reloading I was finally able to get in and through the character creation process, which is locked down and pretty minimal at the moment. However if you hit randomize enough times you can get a character that you can live with at least for the purpose of this test. Upon entering the video settings…. I realized that for some godawful reason the game was trying to by default run in 4K. I simply do not have a machine capable for 4K gaming, and I think it was just freaking the hell out on my machine and monitors. After dialing back the game to 1080p I started getting a fairly reliable 50-60 fps with dips into the high 40s as you can see in the first screenshot of this post. At least on paper that seems like a really playable framerate, and I give them credit for making the game look gorgeous even on the Medium settings I was running.
The problem being that the game was not really playable even though I was getting roughly 60 fps. It suffered horribly from some bad hitching anytime I moved into a new area, or often times in the middle of combat. I can’t really call it rubber-banding, because there was no time rollback component but it felt quite a bit like rubber banding in MMOs where you hit this hard wall of lag… and things lock up before the world unfreezes and catches up. This is not too horrible when you are simply running around the city and you enter what I can only assume is a new “zone”, but this is deadly when it comes to combat and encountering mobs that are causing your screen to freeze. Now my friend Jabberant said that he played all last test on the PC and did not experience any of this… so it makes me wonder if this is simply a case of network congestion or some sort of bottle-necking happening on the server farm. In any case it does not bode well for the enjoy-ability and stability of this game at launch. Another friend suggested that I turn off VSync and this to some extent lessened the severity of the freezes…. but they were still very much there anytime I moved into a new area, or encountered hostiles on screen.
The Gaming Laptop
Now just a bit of a foreword… I did not expect this game to be playable on my laptop. My laptop is a Lenovo y500 and at this point that model range is over three years old. At the time it was hot shit, featuring one of the only laptops I knew with available SLI. Instead of an optical drive, it features a second hot swappable video card that fits in the multi-bay, and as a result I can still run a lot of games that I should not theoretically be able to run on a GT 650M video card. I have had decent luck by ratcheting games down to 720p instead of the native 1080p resolution, and I can play things like Dragon Age Inquisition that way… that otherwise choke on this machine. As a result I thought this would be a good test of just how well this game might run on an aging system. Firstly I was not shocked that initially I was getting 10-15 fps at 1080p but upon dropping the graphical settings to low and the resolution to 720p I was able to achieve fairly reliable 25-40 fps even in combat. The problem being that at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning… the servers should be under as little load as they will ever be during this weekend test…. and I was still seeing significant stalling and freezing anytime I moved into a new area of town… or entered combat. So this seems to be a general problem with the game, and not necessarily limited to my desktop upstairs. All of which tells me… the PC client needs some serious tuning before it is ready for prime time. Given that “prime time” in this case is Seventeen days away on March 8th… this is a little worrisome.
All of this said… the game was shockingly playable on this old hardware. It felt pretty much like playing Destiny on an XBox 360. Sure the world looks like a blurry mess, but the core gameplay itself was pretty solid… apart from the whole freezing thing. I could in theory see myself playing this on the laptop without much issue, and even games like Warframe cause me to make resolution concessions to be able to run them downstairs from the comfort of my couch. I also have to say that as far as controlling the game… I am MUCH better at playing it with a mouse and keyboard, largely because even after all the time spent with Destiny… I am MUCH more accurate with a mouse than I will probably ever be with a controller. So given that Laptop graphics cards generally run an entire generation behind as far as performance goes… that would mean my laptop is the equivalent of an SLI GTX 550 setup…. so a 660/670/680 range video card in a desktop should be able to give equivalent performance. Basically meaning that if you have an old machine, it won’t look pretty but the game should at least still be playable.
PC versus PS4
There are positives and negatives about both systems. You can read my original thoughts about last beta test, where I talk more about the game-play than the nuts and bolts. A lot of those statements still apply for either version. Largely where I stand at the moment is… the concept of being able to play from my laptop is really nice… but even then I was consistently plagued by problems. The Division on PC will be a viable game at some point, but my fear is it will be months after release and a couple of patches later, which is honestly what I have come to expect from the MMO gaming launch cycle. These sort of games are rarely if ever 100% on the PC at day one, and I fear that The Division is going to be another case of that. The Playstation client however just worked flawlessly. I didn’t need to get in and fiddle with resolutions or slowly and painstakingly ratchet things down until they reached a level of performance I was happy with. Instead I just booted up the client and played the damn game. As someone who has always favored PC as the platform of choice… I have to say it sounds really damned odd to hear myself saying that. Sure there are problems with PSN and such, and I fully expect it to be flaky a bit around launch day to. However once you get into the game it just works, and works well. Sure there are issues with some muddy textures on the PS4, but the game runs without hitching in combat or movement or anything of the sort. So right now I am still very much up in the air about purchasing this game, however if I do… I will more than likely be picking it up on the Playstation 4. The ability to simply turn it on and play without having to worry about framerates and resolutions… is extremely appealing. Additionally there is the problem of this being a heavily PVP game… and at least on a console I know all of us players are on even footing. With the PC… this is absolutely going to be a game where your system will control how well you can play. On low settings…. aiming on encounters is really difficult because the further away from you the mob is… the more it just sort of blends into the background. Running on high resolution and sharp textures is going to give an advantage to anyone who can afford the system to run it. So largely for my impressions… I am a bit disappointed in The Division as PC gaming experience…. but I know that I can always fall back on the PS4 and still be happy as a clam.