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Returnal: system requirements, PC performance and the best settings to use

Loop therapy

Returnal is here on PC and lo and behold, it’s not as scary as it looked. In a hardware demanding, recommended spec kind of way, at least – those lanky alien tree-man enemies are greying what little hair I have left.

Like previous Playstation port Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered, it’s not the most easygoing game either, but I’ve cycled through my share of deaths and rebirths and can report that Returnal will make do with older graphics cards and middling RAM counts. It’s a mostly well-considered porting job too, with optional ray tracing, various upscaling tools, ultrawide support for 21:9 and 32:9 monitors, and pages upon pages of customisable display and control settings.

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There are some technical bumps that need squashing, but hopefully nothing that a patch can’t fix. And if your framerate isn’t quite where you’d want it, Returnal only needs a small handful of settings changes to improve performance without blasting a hole in picture quality. More on that to come, but first, let’s remind ourselves of those PC specs that were so unnerving.

Selene battles aliens in Returnal, running on PC.

Returnal system requirements and PC performance

Returnal was one of the first PC games to ask for 32GB of RAM at its 'Recommended' spec tier, a strangely pouty request when barely 15% of Steam users have that much memory to spare. Publishers Sony have since walked this back to a far more reasonable 16GB for the Recommended, 1080p / 60fps spec list, though they’re still suggesting 32GB for playing on a 4K monitor.

Returnal Minimum system requirements (Low, 720p / 60fps)

  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB / AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-6400 / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • Storage: 60GB HDD (SSD recommended)

Returnal Medium system requirements (Medium, 1080p / 60fps)

  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 / AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-8400 / AMD Ryzen 5 2600
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • Storage: 60GB SSD

Returnal Recommended system requirements (High, 1080p / 60fps)

  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super / AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-8700 / AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • Storage: 60GB SSD

Returnal Epic system requirements (Epic, 4K / 60fps)

  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 10GB / AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-9700K / AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
  • RAM: 32GB DDR4
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • Storage: 60GB SSD

Returnal Ray Tracing requirements (Epic, 4K / 60fps)

  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti / AMD Radeon RX 6950 XT
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-11900K / AMD Ryzen 9 5900K
  • RAM: 32GB DDR4
  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • Storage: 60GB SSD

Just to quickly address the RAM question: no, you don’t need 32GB, even if you’re playing at 4K on max settings. I ran all my tests (using Returnal’s rather detailed built-in benchmark tool) on the usual RPS rig, with its Core i5-11600K and 16GB of DDR4, and the most system RAM I ever recorded it actually using was just short of 6GB. That’s not to say you should chance it with 8GB – 16GB is still the way to go – but it’s not worth upgrading to 32GB for.

The GTX 1060 isn’t purely relegated to hideous 720p either. On Returnal’s Low preset, it can handle 1080p too, averaging 46fps in the benchmark tool and often exceeding 60-70fps during normal play. And on higher resolutions, the inclusion of upscaling allows for weaker-than-recommended GPUs to have a fair crack. The RTX 3070, for instance, doesn’t meet the official spec for 4K Epic and ray traced quality, but with Nvidia DLSS on its Balanced setting, it could pump out a very playable 56fps with completely maxed-out quality settings. That includes ray traced shadows and ray traced reflections, both on their highest (Epic) settings.

The only hardware I've tested that Returnal actually swamps is the Steam Deck. Owners of Valve's handheld PC might have become accustomed to its feats of surprising peppiness, but even a combination of the Low preset and FSR on its fastest Performance setting failed to reach a 30fps average. It actually handles well, controls-wise, but the performance simply isn't there.

In Returnal, Selene stands on a cliff as several flying aliens prepare to fight.

There are some techy issues to address as well. The shine of Returnal's new ultrawide support is scuffed somewhat by its initial failure to recognise that I was, in fact, trying to play it on an ultrawide monitor. At first it would only offer 16:9 and 16:10 aspect ratios regardless of any other settings I changed; only after several restarts, and a few rounds of random flicking between windowed, fullscreen, and windows fullscreen modes, did the dedicated ultrawide options suddenly become usable. Weird.

The better news is that once it’s actually working, Returnal’s ultrawide implantation is great. The UI adapts well and in-engine cutscenes use the full width; only prerendered cutscenes remain in standard widescreen. You can still customise these a bit, though, with a choice of black bars, blurred extensions, or darkened blurred extensions to fill the gaps. You can also opt to keep the HUD more centered, if you’d prefer, and regardless of aspect ratio you can enable or disable almost every individual HUD element.

The other blemish on this PC version is the occasional stuttering, which I've seen across numerous GPU and resolution configs. It's not constant, but is annoying when it happens. Especially as otherwise, Climax Studios have done conscientious work on bringing Housemarque’s eerie roguelike shooter to Windows. It's so close to being an ideal port.

In Returnal, Selene approaches a large staircase with several lethal laser grids waiting at the top.

Returnal: best settings guide

To find out which of Returnal’s PC settings give the best bang for their FPS buck, I mainly used the GTX 1070 (as per the 'Medium' requirement list) as a baseline, with the RTX 3070 pitching in to test features its grandparent GPU couldn't support. At 1080p, the GTX 1070 GPU produced 62fps on the Low preset, 59fps on the Medium preset, 53fps on the High preset and 46fps on the Epic preset, so makes for a playable experience no matter what. Still, let’s see how each individual graphics setting affects overall performance, with a view to securing close-to-top quality visuals while raising the average framerate.

Screen optimisations: This is where the upscalers live, basically. I don't recommend using these at 1080p - FSR just looks too blurry on the GTX 1070 - but they're a big help at 1440p and above.

Using the RTX 3070 at 4K, Balanced DLSS pushed its Epic preset performance from 45fps to 70fps, while the equivalent Quality FSR setting produced 71fps. DLSS looks sharper, as per usual, so use it over FSR if your GPU allows..

Lighting quality: Lowering this from Epic to Medium did nothing for the GTX 1070, still producing the same 46fps. Leave this up.

Shadow quality: Both Low and Medium shadows averaged 50fps, a 9% improvement. Go with Medium, for obvious reasons.

Ambient occlusion: A drop from Epic ambient occlusion to Medium yielded a not-insignificant rise to 49fps, without a particularly painful drop in prettiness.

Ray traced shadows: This won’t be available for older, lower-end GPUs, but the RTX 3070 wasn’t too shaken by the addition of ray tracing. With both this and ray traced reflections (see below) set to Epic, average performance was a manageable 21% lower than when RT was turned off completely. You can probably stick with Epic quality, too, as Medium only added another 4fps.

Screen space reflections: No change whatsoever came from switching these off on the GTX 1070, so leave them on unless you’re going full ray tracing.

Ray traced reflections: Surprisingly, the RTX 3070 showed no change in average FPS at all when switching this from Epic to Medium. As long as you can afford ray tracing to begin with, why not just stick to the highest quality?

Model quality: Yet another setting where dropping from Epic to Medium does a right old zilch for FPS.

Texture quality: There was only a small gain to be had here, Medium quality averaging 48fps to Epic’s 46fps, but given how few other settings are having an effect… take what you can get.

In Returnal, Selene shoots at one floating alien while another charges up an attack.

Volumetric fog: Same again, dropping to Medium granted a 1fps gain. Not normally worth doing, but every frame counts now.

Particle quality: Keep this on Epic. Besides the fact that tweaking particles to Medium quality afforded the GTX 1070 no performance gain whatsoever, on lower settings it contributes to some nasty pop-in by aggressively cutting the distance at which certain bits of scene dressing will render. Including some plants, which I guess are just classed as particles?

Anti-aliasing quality: Once more, leave this on Epic. There’s nowt to be gained from lowered AA quality except an acute case of the jaggies.

There are a few more settings in the graphics menu, including Depth of field, Film grain, Bloom, and Emissive intensity, but none of these affect performance, so just set them to your personal tastes. Otherwise, we basically only have three quality options and an upscaler that reliably make a difference, which at least makes this best settings guide easier to type out:

  • Screen optimisations: Off for 1080p, Quality DLSS/Ultra Quality FSR for 1440p, Balanced DLSS/Quality FSR for 4K
  • Shadow quality: Medium
  • Ambient occlusion: Medium
  • Texture quality: Medium
  • Volumetric fog: Medium
  • Everything else: Epic

This combination allowed the GTX 1070 to hit a 57fps average at 1080p, which is near enough to 60fps, runs noticeably smoother than the Epic preset while looking generally slightly better than the High preset.

For those with RTX graphics cards, or sufficiently premium Radeon ones, feel free to give ray traced shadows and reflections a go as well; the framerate tax isn’t as high in Returnal as it is in most other RT-equipped games. You can probably leave these on Epic quality too, as bumping them down doesn’t do much to get those lost frames back. DLSS and FSR, on the other hand, will.

Disclosure: Alec Meer (RPS in peace) currently works at Housemarque, Returnal’s original developers, and wrote the Tower Of Sisyphus DLC that’s included in the PC version.

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About the Author
James Archer avatar

James Archer

Hardware Editor

James had previously hung around beneath the RPS treehouse as a freelancer, before being told to drop the pine cones and climb up to become hardware editor. He has over a decade’s experience in testing/writing about tech and games, something you can probably tell from his hairline.