Horizon: Zero Dawn and Death Stranding Benchmarks: A Solid Port and a Rougher one

It would’ve been hard to believe just a year ago, but Sony’s been getting serious about releasing PlayStation platform exclusives on PC. Detroit: Become Human, Heavy Rain, and Beyond: Two Souls, narrative-heavy experiences that were never expected to leave the walled garden of Sony’s Eco-system popped up on the Epic Game Store and then on Steam.

And then, the floodgates really opened, with Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding arriving on PC, closely followed by Horizon: Zero Dawn. We’ve even seen recent reports that Bloodborne will make its way over.

Today, we’re looking at how Death Stranding and Horizon: Zero Dawn perform. Both of these games are built on Guerilla’s Decima Engine, so it’s interesting to contrast their relative performance profiles.

Death Stranding’s PC port received widespread acclaim, with great performance across the board and an NVIDIA DLSS 2.0 implementation that delivered better image quality than a native 4K presentation — exactly what NVIDIA promised with DLSS but never actually delivered until now.

Horizon: Zero Dawn, on the other hand, has been described as one of the worst PC ports since Red Dead Redemption 2, with different outlets experiencing wildly different levels of performance.

We ran both games on a fairly beefy setup, with a Ryzen 9 3900X overclocked to 4.2 GHz on all cores, 16GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM at 3000MHz, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Super with a 124 MHz core overlock and a 650 MHz overclock on the VRAM (effectively on a level with the vanilla GeForce RTX 2080 in terms of performance).

Death Stranding, as everyone’s said, runs phenomenally well. We saw remarkably high frame rates, even with DLSS turned off. At max settings at 4K, we saw an average of 59 FPS, just shy of that magic 4K/60 mark. With DLSS set to Performance mode, we saw framerates jump all the way up to the 90 FPS range, with a marginal hit to image quality. With DLSS set to quality mode, we saw framerates in the mid-70s, with fantastic image quality. We can confidently say that this is the first time, since NVIDIA’s hyped DLSS release, that image quality has actually lived up to what was promised. We ran Death Stranding on a beta hotfix driver, 451.87 because earlier drivers had an issue with texture corruption.

At 1440p, we saw native framerates in the mid-90s. The different DLSS quality modes improved framerates, but only marginally so, indicating that we likely running up against CPU limitations, or that we were tensor-core bound, something NVIDIA had previously claimed was the reason for not allowing DLSS at lower resolutions.

At 1080p, the performance spread was trivial, whether DLSS was enabled or disabled. With framerates well above 100, there was no actual point in setting it on. Interestingly, we saw some performance regression when running DLSS in its performance mode, which was a few frames per second slower than DLSS quality.

Horizon: Zero Dawn delivered a much rougher experience than Death Stranding. However, we went into benchmarking the game with our expectations in check, considering the amount of chatter online about the game’s performance issues.

It’s interesting to note here that initial performance on the game-ready 451.67 drivers was every bit as appalling as Reddit and just about every other outlet seemed to say it was. In early parts of the game, we couldn’t get a steady 60 FPS lock without dropping to — we kid you not — 720p. With settings pared down to “original,” we were performing in the 50 FPS range at 1440p, worse than Red Dead Redemption 2. Thankfully, a handful of quick fixes seems to have addressed performance issues on our end.

We disabled HAGS (hardware-accelerated GPU scheduling). We also updated to the aforementioned hot fix driver. Lastly, we rebuilt the shader cache with driver-level anisotropic filtering forced. These fixes together delivered a decent uplift to performance, but still left a lot to be desired. This is despite the fact that Ultimate settings don’t deliver visuals far beyond than open world PC heavy-weights like Metro Exodus and Kingdom Come Deliverance.

The game still wasn’t exactly the smoothest running title to grace our test-bed, but it ran about as well as we could expect: with “original” settings enabled, we got over 40 FPS at a native 4K, and well above 60 FPS on most settings presets at both 1440p and 1080p.

In practice, we settled on a mix of ultra, high, and medium settings with a 50 FPS cap, running at 3K. That’s pretty much par for course as far as the RTX 2070 Super is concerned. Guerilla Games has promised to look into Horizon: Zero Dawn’s performance issues. If you’re unable to get the game to performance well, we suggesting waiting a couple weeks until an actual performance patch arrives.


Penguin-published author, and journalist. Loves PC hardware but has terrible hand-eye coordination. Most likely to be found playing Total War or watching weird Russian sitcoms.
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