A big ugly fly in XCOM 2 [official site]’s deliciously deadly ointment is that Firaxis’ game runs like a Psy-Zombie on quite a few folks’ PCs – even those with relatively monster systems. It’s not universal woe – for instance, it runs fine for Adam, hence his only mentioning passing problems in his review, but on my slightly superior PC I can’t even hit the golden 60 frames at minimum settings, while high sees it drop to single digits. In either case there are huge, frustrating lag-spikes throughout, and my PC’s running so uncharacteristically hot that I’m pretty sure I could roast a marshmallow over the rear vent.
I’m far from alone, as a glance at the Steam forums, official boards or Reddit will very quickly reveal. It’s a damn shame, crossing the line from ultimately meaningless visual sacrifices into actively annoying slowness. Firaxis and 2K aren’t giving anything away about what the problem is or when a fix will land, though they do tell us that they’re “aware some players have experienced performance issues” and that they’re looking into it. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do in the meantime – including one particular off-the-beaten-track fix which damn-near doubled my own frame rate.
First up, here’s the full 2K statement provided to us, though it’s essentially a repeat of what they’ve said elsewhere:
“We are aware some players have experienced performance issues while playing XCOM 2, and we are looking into them and gathering more information from users. We want everyone to have the best experience possible, and will continue supporting the title with upcoming patches.”
They also direct you folks’ attention to this troubleshooting FAQ, but sadly it’s very generic stuff, as much use as shaving foam on a Sectoid. (Though if you’re experiencing crashing or installation issues, there are some more helpful things to try there).
Here are the things you actually should do to get XCOM 2 running significantly better – though it won’t lead you all the way to the hallowed 60/Maximum, and you’ll still have to suffer a lot of wild spiking in the framerate. Some of these are in-game settings, some involve delving into your graphics card’s driver menus, which I appreciate is an enemy unknown for some folk but honestly isn’t actually that hard. If you already know your way around XCOM 2’s graphics options and haven’t had much success, I urge you to jump straight to tip 7 – a driver-side fix which almost doubled my own frame-rate.
1) Turn off anti-aliasing in-game (Settings – Graphics)
Well, not right off – the basic FXAA algorithm has only a minor performance hit, but the cleaner-edged MSAA really, really kills the framerate even at the lowest 2X setting. I know it’s the gold standard for graphics enthusiast, but right now, in XCOM 2, it’s just not worth it. FXAA or off, that’s your lot.
2) Turn Ambient Occlusion down or off (Settings – Graphics)
Some graphics cards can cope with the lower setting, Tile AO, but full-on SSAO is the second-biggest framerate-eater after MSAA. You’ll lose a certain appearance of depth by turning this off – nice if you can have it, but it’s really not going to affect your play experience.
3) Turn shadows and shadow quality down (Settings – Graphics)
YMMV on this one, but tinker and see what you end up with. Particularly, Shadow Quality on Maximum or High is a reasonably big ask right now.
4) Turn off Screen Space Reflections (Settings – Graphics)
The last major drain in the Graphics menu, but the good news is that you’re unlikely to notice much difference when it’s off.
5) Turn off V-Sync and Framerate Smoothing (Settings – Video)
Out in the confusing separate Video menu, you want to uncheck both of these. XCOM’s built in Vertical Synchronisation – the thing that matches the game’s frame rate to a multiple of your screen’s refresh rate in order to avoid ‘tearing’ during movement scenes – rounds the framerate down too aggressively, so you’ll end up with an even lower average frame rate than your PC is capable as it tries to take the huge spikes and lags into account. Naturally, you don’t want to end up saddled with that distracting tearing effect, so what you need to do instead is…
6) Turn on adaptive/dynamic V-sync in your graphics card drivers
Right, into darkness we now go. This will turn on a more effective form of V-sync, but in involves going into driver settings outside the game. First up, go grab the latest drivers from the relevant site – i.e. NVIDIA or AMD – just so we can be sure you’re not using Windows’ built-in drivers, which lack the options we need.
Then do whichever of these is appropriate:
Right-click on your desktop, click NVIDIA Control Panel, 3D Settings, Manage 3D Settings, then in the right-hand pane click ‘Program Settings.’ Click Add and browse to your XCOM 2 exectuable, which by default is in C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\common\XCOM 2\Binaries\Win64 if you’re using a 64-bit version of Windows, or C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\SteamApps\common\XCOM 2\Binaries\Win32 if you’re an old-fashioned 32-bit sort. In the list that appears under ‘Specify the settings for this program’, scroll right down to the bottom to find Vertical Sync. Click on this, and from the drop-down menu select Adaptive. Then hit Apply on bottom-right.
Sadly this is a bit more complicated than the NVIDIA equivalent, in that you need to download and install a third-party control panel, though it is a respected application. It goes by the name RadeonPro. I don’t have a Radeon in my PC so I can’t give blow-by-blow instructions, but this should guide you through the worst of it. Similar concept to above, but the setting you want is called Dynamic V-sync rather than Adaptive.
7) This is the biggie, the one that meant I could play the game at mostly-high settings and generally see a frame rate in the 50s or better, though the big spiking didn’t go away. It relates to how many frames your graphics card renders ahead, which at higher settings means a smoother frame rate in theory but, as with V-sync, can mean you end up locked to a lower one than your card’s actually capable of. Drop these pre-rendered frames down from the default 3 to just 1 and you’ll get a big, big boost (though bear in mind MSAA and SSAO will still take a huge toll, so leave them off too). Here’s how:
Exactly as above, but rather than clicking on V-sync, click on Maximum Pre-Rendered Frames and select 1 from the drop-down menu. Click apply, job done, better performance, less heat, hooray.
Again, I don’t have a card to check this for myself, and again the option is missing from AMD’s own control panel so you’ll have to install RadeonPro, as above. The setting you’re after is called Flip Queue Size rather than Maximum Pre-Rendered Frames, and you can find it in the Advanced tab of Radeon Pro – there’s a guide here. Again, set it down to just 1, then revel in the boost.
8) And finally, the comedy option. Experiencing long loading times in post-mission screens? Try hitting Capslock. For some people, it cuts the wait hugely.
Please do share any more tips/performance grumbles you have below.
For more on XCOM 2, visit our XCOM 2 guide hub.