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Horizon Zero Dawn benchmarks: what kind of performance you can expect on PC

When it's not crashing, of course

Featured post A screenshot of Aloy scratching her head from Horizon Zero Dawn.

Horizon Zero Dawn hasn’t got off to the best start on PC. While we’ve had minimal performance issues here at RPS, others have found it downright unplayable due to frequent crashes, stuttering and more. Guerrilla Games have said that they’re investigating these technical problems as a matter of top priority, and we expect another patch to be forthcoming very soon.

In the meantime, though, I’d thought I’d make use of my relatively problem-free Horizon Zero Dawn experience to take a closer look at how the game runs across a variety of different graphics cards when it’s not misbehaving, detailing what kind of performance you can expect from nearly all of today’s best graphics cards, and how to improve your PC’s performance if you find your graphics card’s struggling a bit.

As anyone who’s already played Horizon Zero Dawn will know, the game begins with a lengthy optimisation sequence that can often take a good 10-15 minutes to complete before you can get into the game. However, having tested the game with 14 different graphics cards over the last week or so, I’ve usually found it doesn’t do a particularly good job of detecting the best settings for any of my given GPUs, which is a large part of why I wanted to put together this PC performance guide for Horizon Zero Dawn in the first place. Below, you’ll find out exactly what kind of performance to expect from my current crop of graphics cards, as well as what the best settings are to get 60fps at 1920×1080, 2560×1440 and 4K.

All figures are based on my own testing with the latest game updates, graphics drivers and Windows updates installed, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on whether the game’s performance changes once Guerrilla have issued that hotly-anticipated patch. In the mean time, here’s how to get the best performance from Horizon Zero Dawn for those who aren’t experiencing any horrible crashes.

Horizon Zero Dawn PC requirements

Before we begin, here’s a reminder of Horizon Zero Dawn’s PC requirements. Like its Decima Engine-sharing stablemate Death Stranding, Horizon Zero Dawn needs a graphics card that supports DirectX 12 in order to work, and it also requires you to be running Windows 10.

Horizon Zero Dawn minimum PC requirements

CPU: Intel Core i5-2500K / AMD FX 6300
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 / AMD Radeon R9 290
Storage: 100GB
DirectX: 12
OS: Windows 10

Horizon Zero Dawn recommended PC requirements

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB) / AMD Radeon RX 580 (8GB)
Storage: 100GB
DirectX: 12
OS: Windows 10

It’s quite a hog on the old storage front, too, but generally its minimum and recommended PC specs are pretty manageable. Indeed, during my initial Horizon Zero Dawn PC performance test on my GTX 1060, I found it was more than capable of running the game at a steady 60fps on its second highest ‘Favour Quality’ setting, which is a step up from its PS4-grade ‘Original’ graphics preset.

To see how Horizon Zero Dawn fared on other graphics cards, just click the links below. All figures are based on my own testing with my Intel Core i5-8600K processor and 16GB of Corsair Vengeance RAM clocked at 2133MHz.

Horizon Zero Dawn PC graphics settings

You have four graphics presets to choose from in Horizon Zero Dawn. There’s Favour Performance (which is pretty much the game’s version of Low), Original (harking back to its original PS4-level graphics but is really Medium in traditional PC speak), Favour Quality (or High), and Ultimate Quality, which speaks for itself. You can find them in the Graphics tab of the game’s main Settings menu, and here’s what they all look like in their default state:

As I explained last week, there are some quite big differences between the four presets. Favour Performance is quite low on detail, particularly when it comes to the game’s flora and fauna, and there’s not much in the way of realistic lighting, either. Original improves on this to quite a degree, offering pretty much identical graphics settings to the original PS4 version of the game, while Favour Quality goes even further, adding in loads more detail to the background and extending the game’s draw distance.

Favour Quality is the optimal PC setting in my experience, as stepping it up to Ultimate Quality just doesn’t bring as many improvements. You get slightly fancier lighting, but it’s a much smaller jump in visual loveliness than going from Original to Favour Quality in my eyes.

How to get the best settings in Horizon Zero Dawn

As mentioned earlier, anyone with a GTX 1060 / RX 580 or above should be able to get Horizon Zero Dawn running smoothly at 60fps on Favour Quality settings at 1920×1080 without much trouble (provided you’re not subject to the game’s extensive technical problems). However, if your graphics card is a little bit older than a GTX 1060, or you just want to try and boost your frame rate a little bit without having to drop down an entire graphics preset, these are the best settings to either switch on or turn down to help improve performance.

I should also note that while the game’s internal benchmark has proven to be a reasonably accurate indicator of in-game performance for the Nvidia graphics cards I’ve tested, the same cannot be said for my crop of AMD cards. Whereas my Nvidia results tended to be around 5-8fps slower in-game compared to the average frame rate figure I saw in the benchmark, almost every AMD card I tested ended up being at least 10fps slower than the benchmark, if not slightly more.

For example, when I tested my AMD Radeon R9 290, – which is the minimum graphics card in Horizon Zero Dawn’s PC requirements – the benchmark said it was capable of hitting an average of 59fps on Original settings at 1920×1080, but my in-game experience was closer to 45-50fps. As a result, I wouldn’t take the benchmark as gospel when it comes to performance.

A screenshot of Horizon Zero Dawn's PC display settings.

  • Lower the Render Scale

Before we even get to Horizon Zero Dawn’s graphics settings, it’s worth noting that its display settings also have a number of features that can help to increase your PC’s performance. The two big ones are the Adaptive Performance FPS setting and the Render Scale option. The former lets you set your target frame rate, such as 30fps, 40fps, 60fps or higher, and the game will then automatically adapt to try and maintain it. When I tried this with my R9 290, though, this made the game look very fuzzy and low-res as it tried to hit 60fps on Original.

Consequently, I’d recommend using the Render Scale option instead. This will render the game at a percentage of your target resolution – such as 90% of 1920×1080, for example, or 80% of 2560×1440 – before scaling it back up to your chosen target. This can help take some of the load off your GPU without having to settle for a lower resolution. 90% of 1920×1080, for instance is technically 1728×972, which is still higher than the next resolution setting down of 1600×900.

  • Set an FPS Limit

If your graphics card just isn’t quite up to doing 60fps, then you can at least lock the frame rate to 30fps, 40fps or 50fps depending on your preference. It’s not ideal, but at least it will stop your frame rate from veering wildly up and down when you’re in-game, helping to create a smoother experience overall.

  • Turn down Shadows

Over in the Graphics tab of the Settings menu, the first option you should consider turning down is the game’s Shadows. This is one of the biggest strains on your in-game performance, and turning it down from Medium to Low bumped up my average frame rate by another handful of frames, and switching it off entirely game me a boost of around 5-7fps with everything else set to the game’s Original preset.

  • Keep the FOV settings to 70 degrees

One of the new features for Horizon Zero Dawn’s PC port is the ability to widen the game’s Field Of View. It’s set to 70 degrees by default, but you can increase it all the way to 100 if you really want to zoom the camera out and drink in all its lovely environments.

Alas, increasing the game’s FOV settings also puts an additional strain on your graphics card, and I found my average frame rate often fell by around 5fps or so when I switched it from its default 70 degrees up to its top 100 degrees setting. As a result, if you want to try and keep a steady frame rate, I’d advise keeping the camera reined in if possible.

  • Turn off Motion Blur

It won’t increase your frame rate by very much, but switching off Motion Blur will at least help to make camera movements feel a bit smoother, and it won’t feel so juddery if you happen to experience an unexpected slowdown.

  • Turn down Anti-Aliasing and Ambient Occlusion

Individually, turning down the game’s Anti-Aliasing and Ambient Occlusion didn’t have a huge impact on my game’s frame rate, but together (and combined with switching off the Shadows setting) I saw another decent bump to my in-game performance speed. Again, we’re only talking a handful of frames overall, but sometimes that’s all you need to make a game feel smooth and slightly less juddery than it was before.

If your PC is still having trouble, then you’ll probably have to settle for dropping down to the next graphics preset, as there aren’t any more individual settings that can provide a quick and easy fix to improve your PC’s frame rate. Still, as I mentioned above, anyone with a GTX 1060 or above should be able to run Horizon Zero Dawn without issue at 1920×1080 (when it’s not crashing), so you’ll hopefully only need to employ these settings if you’re below the recommended PC spec.

To see how today’s graphics cards fare with Horizon Zero Dawn, just click the page links below or scroll back up to the list of tested GPUs above. There, you’ll find exactly what kind of graphics performance you can expect at 1920×1080, 2560×1440 and 4K, and which quality preset you’ll need to select to get the best speeds.

And if you’re looking to play Horizon Zero Dawn on an ultrawide gaming monitor, then be sure to check out our full ultrawide review right here. For now, though, let’s get on to those graphics cards.

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Who am I?

Katharine Castle

Hardware Editor

Katharine writes about all the bits that go inside your PC so you can carry on playing all those lovely games we like talking about so much. Very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests. She's also RPS' resident deals herald.

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