There’s a free HD texture DLC for Shadow Of War (but you probably don’t need it)

shadow-of-war-high-resolution-texture-pack

You may well already know this, but going on the basis that most of the RPS team weren’t aware of it, let’s put the word out anew. As if 65 gigabytes of PC Middle-earth: Shadow Of War weren’t enough, there’s also an optional extra, free 10Gb download, comprising what’s officially called a ‘High Resolution Texture Pack.’ In other words, it in theory makes the grime, squalor and butchered viscera of Mordor that little bit more grimy, squalid and visceral butchered viscera-y.

It’s not that simple. It’s never that simple. Join me as I investigate whether installing ten gig of ‘Ultra’ textures really makes a difference to your nemesising.

First things first: unless you specifically installed the HD texture pack yourself, you probably don’t have it on your PC. However, a couple of RPSers reported that it was installed, despite their not having consciously done anything to make it so. In any case, it’s worth a check: the norm does seem to be that you have to go out and grab it. Your copy of Shadow Of War will offer the option for ‘Ultra’ textures whether it’s installed or not, but if the pack isn’t installed, Ultra will look exactly the same as High. (There is thus a very really chance that a lot of people have been thinking they are playing the best possible looking version of the game even though they are not – the placebo effect can affect us all).

You can check whether it’s postively, definitely installed or not by right clicking on SOW in your Steam library, clicking properties, then DLC, and seeing if ‘Middle-earth: Shadow Of War High Resolution Texture Pack” is listed or not, and if it’s got a little white tick and the word ‘installed’ to the right of the entry. If it’s listed but unticked, tick away.

If it’s not listed at all, head to this page in Steam and click ‘download.’ Then, er, wait. Two of us on RPS found that clicking the button didn’t seem to do anything at first, but after a few minutes a new 10GB SOW update suddenly joined the Steam download queue.

In a similar vein, there is also a 4K cinematics pack, which ups the pre-rendered cutscene resolution from 1080p to 4K, but I’ve struggled to get this installed. Whenever I click ‘download’, it just boots up the game and nothing, in fact, downloads, and nor can I make the entry appear in the list of installed DLC. No biggie for me as my monitor is ‘only’ 3440×1440, and nor do I want to spend 25GB of bandwidth and disk space on cutscenes of all things, but fingers crossed that those who’ve gone full 4K have more luck.

High

High

Ultra

Ultra

Let’s go back to those textures, and what difference they make. From a settings point of view, they mean that turning on Ultra Textures actually turns on Ultra Textures, as opposed to High but with a different title. However, this will only be possible if you have at least 8GB of video memory on your graphics card. If it’s less than that – e.g. a 6GB GTX 1060, then you’re staying on High.

I’ve also seen anecdotal reports, which I’ve not been able to confirm as yet, that you also can’t have Ultra textures if you have less than 16GB of system RAM. What I can say, from experience, is that performance takes a big hit on my 16GB PC if I have many other applications running. To get a stable 60 frames per second with these Ultra Textures, even with a 1080Ti GPU, I need to exit Chrome, Photoshop and most of my other regular apps – otherwise it drops to mid-40s and flitters all over the place. Exiting apps is easy enough, but I guess frantic multi-taskers will want 18-32GB of RAM to cope.

Or, alternatively, don’t bother with Ultra Textures at all, because there’s really very little difference between Ultra and High. On High, I get my solid 60FPS even with tons of other applications open, and I save 10GB of drive space into the bargain.

Now, I say that with twin provisos:

a) The thought that they have the absolute highest quality graphics really matters to some people, in the same way that $300 HDMI cables and the exact materials used in the construction of speaker stands really matter to other people. We have to respect those folks’ right to exist, even if we do make extreme efforts to avoid becoming trapped in a conversation with them.

b) There is a chance that the difference between High and Ultra textures will be a little more noticeable on a gigantic 3840×2160 4K television than it is on my 34″ ultrawide 3440×1440 IPS monitor. However, mine is not exactly a small resolution, plus I sit with my face unhealthily close to my monitor, so I do refute suggestions that I’m not going to see this stuff on my setup. It’s true that I don’t have a gigantic 4K TV to test this on, but I do have a somewhat gigantic 2.5K+ monitor.

High

High

Ultra

Ultra

With that in mind: yes, there is a difference, but not much of one. I roped my RPS colleagues into a blind test, so to speak, of screenshots of the same scene, one with Ultra textures and one with High (using uncompressed BMP files, not JPGs, FWIW) and everyone was able to correctly pick the Ultra one. Half of them weren’t 100% confident in it though, and all of them had to carefully scour the screens for it, rather than felt the improvements jumped out at them.

That is my own experience too: I can see the difference, by which I mean a little more sharpness to the grain of that wood there, some slightly less coarse edges to coloured splodges on leaves there, a teensy bit of extra glint to some mineral deposit on a mountainside there, a touch more frill to the moss on that rock there, but only if I search static screenshots really closely for it. When the game’s running and I’m moving around, I simply cannot perceive much if any difference, even when searching closely. And if I’m searching closely for it, I’m doing that instead of enjoying the game. The ultimate question for me is ‘does this increase my enjoyment of this videogame?’ The answer to that is a resounding ‘no’.

High

High

Ultra

Ultra

I don’t say that purely out of inverse snobbery towards those who passionately believe that higher graphical settings make for a meaningfully better game, but because the difference in this specific case really is incredibly subtle. Time was that the PC version of multi-platform games really did suffer on a textures front due to a development that had prioritised the extremely low RAM/VRAM of the then-consoles, and so a big ‘ol pack of new textures would make an immediate and constant difference, but that age is pretty much behind us now – plus the advent of the Xboxx and PS4 Pro means games like SOW are being specifically developed with very high resolutions in mind anyway.

If you want to decide for yourself, littered throughout this post are are a few examples. Click on any image to see a high-res version. They were capped at 3440×1440, but for ease of viewing I’ve cropped them all to a more conventional 16:9 2560×1440. Outside of the cropping, I haven’t done any resizing of the click-through versions, but their details might be prey to some JPEG compression.

High

High

Ultra

Ultra

If you think the JPEGiness obscures the deal too much, you can click through to this Google Drive folder and eyeball totally uncompressed, unfiddled-with in any way, 3440×1440 BMP files. I would argue, however, that if JPEG compression is enough to almost eradicate the difference between Ultra and High, there really can’t be much difference between Ultra and High. But perhaps you, the person who recently dropped the best part of two grand on a new television and is resolute that your life is improved as a result, will feel otherwise.

For my part, I’m happy leaving the textures at High despite having the tech-muscle for Ultra, purely because it spares me faffing around with closing down background applications. My orc-murdering experience has been entirely unaffected by this noble sacrifice.

33 Comments

  1. KillahMate says:

    “To get a stable 60 frames per second with these Ultra Textures, even with a 1080Ti GPU, I need to exit Chrome, Photoshop and most of my other regular apps”

    HAHA

    Yes, I too find it annoying when a new game forces me to close my 3DSMax and Maya instances and half the VMs I have running in the background just so I can play at full 60 – how rude!

    • IaIaFhtagn says:

      I mean, I think that was just an observation on RAM usage rather than a complaint.

    • MushyWaffle says:

      Weird, I run VMs (VMWare) and never turn them off. I have noticed no impact on gaming. I do have a beefy butter system though. VM’s usually only limited by RAM and drive IOPS. They just don’t impact my graphics at all. (1080ti)

  2. AutonomyLost says:

    I don’t wanna re-type my comment from yesterday evening, so I’ll paste it right down below. I originally wrote this on the Wot I Think…

    “I saw a similar comment, to the one I’m about to write, yesterday on RPS: “After installing the High-Res Texture Pack, Shadow of War runs even better!”

    I was incredulous. Yesterday, with everything on Ultra with the exception of AA because it genuinely looks better without it, on a 3440×1440 monitor, I got an average 82 FPS overall in the benchmark. Just a few minutes ago, I finished installing the High-Res pack and booted up the game. Everything, except AA, is officially on “Ultra”, clocking in at a monstrous 8.5 GB of VRAM. I run the benchmark, and hit 90 FPS (my max refresh rate) without a hitch. It doesn’t look as if a patch was rolled out.

    ANYway, TL;DR – Shadow of War High-Res Pack seemingly improves frame-rates on 1080 Ti graphics cards, in my experience, for no outwardly apparent reason.

    If someone has any insight, that’d be interesting.”

    So, there’s that. And it looks like you were also using a 1080 Ti, Alec. Did you do a before and after benchmarking by chance?

    Anyway, thanks for the article in this!

    • noodlecake says:

      Wow. AA really makes it worse? I guess I’ve never gamed above 1080p but if I ever have to turn the graphics down, AA is the most painful things to reduce as you go from a lovely smooth picture to jaggy hell.

      Temporal AA is really lovely looking AA too. Much better quality for the resources used than other types of AA.

    • ElementalAlchemist says:

      Shadow of War High-Res Pack seemingly improves frame-rates on 1080 Ti graphics cards, in my experience, for no outwardly apparent reason.

      One possibility may be that the textures are not actually a higher resolution, just less/uncompressed. That would presumably require less GPU overhead to process, yet at the same time require a lot more VRAM to store. It would also explain why the visual difference is seemingly negligible.

      • AutonomyLost says:

        Thank you for the response; the explanation works for me!

  3. Koozer says:

    I wonder if there will a day when we can choose which textures to install with games. I don’t need all these low/medium/high/ultra textures, bump maps and normal maps cluttering up my harddrive. That’s assuming the lower quality settings arn’t used for LOD effects. HMMMM

    • Herring says:

      I’d be more interested in them not installing uncompressed audio for languages you don’t need. Over 1/2 of Titanfall 2’s 60 odd GB is uncompressed audio for multiple languages.

  4. Jokerme says:

    It doesn’t look better at all. They are completely the same.

    • WombatDeath says:

      Not at all! Examine the penultimate pair very carefully, and you will note that the Ultra version affords you an additional dude wandering about. The high version contains zero dudes, thus upgrading to Ultra enhances your wandering dude quotient by a factor of infinity.

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        Skabooga says:

        Hahaha! That’s certainly a greater impact on game than I would have guessed.

    • fish99 says:

      I can see some minor differences but I doubt you’d notice them during gameplay.

  5. MushyWaffle says:

    Absolutely it made a difference. The first couple days of playing, I kept shaking my head thinking how disappointed I was with the graphics. I run 4k resolutions and things just looked “soft”/”blur”… I checked there was no HD pack… then magically yesterday 2 items appears on the game item window in steam, but they were not installed. They were not there the day before. I installed them and BANG… THAT was the texture/graphics I was expecting… so yeah, it made a big noticeable difference to me. I didn’t invest in 4k gaming so I can look at muddy textures.

    All is good in the world now

  6. brucethemoose says:

    What AA does this game use on high/ultra?

    If it’s FXAA or SMAA, they could blur the textures enough to where you can’t even tell the difference.

    • AutonomyLost says:

      You can choose, but it’s either no AA whatsoever, FXAA, or TAA, and in my experience on a 3440×1440 monitor it’s absolutely not worth applying AA unless it’s SMAA(x1/x2). Especially in this case, that of Shadow of War. It looks spectacular with everything cranked, and the granular detail in the weaponry,costume, epidermis, etc. of each character is remarkable.

      Either way, it seems they afforded the community ample options to run the game as desired, probably across a wide range of hardware. Regardless, this game needs to run at 60 FPS and the PC is the only place that’s an option.

    • noodlecake says:

      It’s Temporal AA, which is really nice and definitely necessary if you’re playing at 1080p or below.

  7. MushyWaffle says:

    I also highly suggest to people to turn off that Dynamic Resolution option… No matter if I put it at 30 or 200, it made things run slower. Turned it off and the Blur off, Run everything else on 4k Ultra.. and it’s butter (fluctuates between 68-88fps).

  8. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    What’s the point of super-ultra HD textures if your grass still looks like it’s floating just above the ground instead of growing out of it and your rocks still look like bitmaps stretched over triangles?

  9. mitrovarr says:

    I don’t get stuff like this.

    I’d muuuuuuuch rather a game ran at high fps consistently than had slightly sharper graphics, and I’d also drastically prefer a game didn’t take the entire lifespan of the universe to download. Those are far bigger flaws than slightly muddy textures.

    Stuff like this seems like a tech demo for the 0.1% of the playerbase that has the magnificent computers to run them and the plentiful bandwidth to download them. But I guess it’ll be nice when people go back for their nostalgic playthroughs in fifteen years when the average gaming computer can actually handle it.

    • TheOx129 says:

      Personally, I’d love to see an article exploring why developers seem to have just completely given up on data compression. I thought the first Titanfall’s incredibly bloated install due to all of the uncompressed audio was bad, but it seems to be getting worse with each passing year.

      • TheSkiGeek says:

        Most of the “loading” time these days is spent uncompressing/processing things in RAM, not actually reading in data from disk. (Assuming you’re on an SSD or they’ve done a good job optimizing how they load things from a conventional drive.) So one of the ways to reduce loading times is, ironically, to compress stuff less.

        • mukuste says:

          Yeah, but there’s really no need to download all this stuff uncompressed. Just decompress it on first game start.

  10. GrumpyCatFace says:

    Every time you call a program an “app”, a puppy gets cancer.

    • Quickly says:

      There are those who called them apps long before smart devices showed up though.

      • damnsalvation says:

        Yes, but they were forcibly given cancer and sent to live in a desert where they couldn’t hurt anybody.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      Every time you call an application a program, you’re wrong. Programs and applications can perform similar tasks, but they are not synonymous.

  11. Frosty Grin says:

    Nemesising. LOL

  12. Quickly says:

    It’s funny, I can’t remember the last time I read a graphics comparison post on RPS, despite being a PC-centered site. Even with reviews the images are normally pre-resized to the article width. Turns out there’s even a lightbox modal for linked screens (who knew!).

  13. rustybroomhandle says:

    For playing, no – probably no need for this, but if you’re a screenshotter, the likes of deadendthrills or jim2point0, who capture at obscenely high resolutions, then this is an essential install I’d say.

  14. SP1041TKE says:

    I played first day on High and then saw Ultra pack and d/l’d. I have a 1440p IPS monitor and biggest place I can see difference is zooming in on orcs on Nemesis screen. IMO they look a lot better, especially ones that have a lot of metal on them.

  15. one2fwee says:

    To be honest, I’m more concerned about the lack of anistropic filtering. Look at the right of the first image, it makes it look really bad!
    And if that is with it set at 16x then either some optimisations have made it look horrid or it’s using really tiny mipmaps.

    Mind you, I’ve tended to think that sometimes 16x AF isn’t enough and that GPU manufacturers should allow 32x as an option. However in this case it really doesn’t look like 16x to me.

    Also, the superwide google drive screens really do show you why superwide screens are a bad idea with the huge amounts of rectilinear distortion from such a wide horizontal FOV on a single plane.
    This is why triple screens are way better as then you can put the side screens at angles and render 3 separate viewports to reduce the distortion.
    Sadly, the only games that actually allow you to do multi screen this way that I know of are racing simulators (and I think flight sims but i’ve never played any).
    It’s stupid because it would add a lot to the immersion of games.
    Think almost VR in terms of immersion but far cheaper. That is, if you set the FOV correctly. Loads of people have no clue about FOV, especially people like the ignorant yet self-righteous totalbiscuit who things that “MORE IS BETTER” and has a tantrum otherwise.
    There is a correct FOV and it is calculated based on your screensize and how close you are to the screen.

    I really would have to write a full blog post to properly explain FOV and the proper way to do triple screen so I will shut up now rather than drag out this comment which no one will read even further.

  16. vonVince says:

    The difference really isn’t that great: in Shadow of Mordor the difference was pretty noticeable, but here it isn’t. Granted, I still play with the high resolution texture pack installed and on ultra just for the heck of it, but it really doesn’t make that much of a graphical difference (moreover; to really see the differences you need to have a 4K monitor, but for most people – even if they have PC’s that enable them to play the game maxed out most don’t have 4k TVs – the difference is so little that it doesn’t really matter).