Starfield bets on FSR. Now Nvidia Gamers Pay the Price | Digital Trends

Screenshot from Starfield, a game from Bethesda Studios.
Bethesda / Bethesda

Star field represents a big change of pace for the PC releases in 2023. The game is very stable, relatively bug-free, and is optimized to run on a wide range of hardware. That doesn’t mean the game isn’t challenging. It is very challenging and it is clear Star field it leans on AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution 2 (FSR 2) to push frame rates higher.

While I was picking my best settings for Star field on PC, it became clear that the game is designed to have FSR 2 turned on. This is not in itself a problem. For a challenging and visually impressive game like star field, however, relying too heavily on a single feature can lead some gamers – especially those on less powerful hardware – to choose between performance and image quality. And in the case of star field, it’s not a decision they should be making.

The reality of the situation

AMD is Starfield’s exclusive PC partner

Let me update you on the saga with FSR 2, AMD and Star field up to this point. About a month ago, AMD announced that they are the “exclusive PC partner”. star field, confirming that the game will support AMD’s FSR 2 at launch. It even makes sense. FSR 2 is supported on consoles and PC and can greatly improve the performance of such an ambitious game Star field.

There were concerns, though. Some speculated that AMD’s partnership meant the company would block Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) from being featured in the PC game. Since then, AMD has confirmed it hasn’t blocked DLSS, saying Bethesda Game Studios is free to roll out the feature if they choose. The company admits that “money absolutely changes hands” with these partnerships, though it says it provides full support to developers if they want to implement DLSS.

But DLSS isn’t in the game, nor is Intel’s XeSS. This is a problem, especially since FSR 2 isn’t nearly as good as DLSS is. It performs brilliantly and the image quality holds up well in some situations. When you push the FSR 2, however, it falls short of DLSS in terms of image quality.

Upscaling comparison in Diablo 4.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Of course, I can’t make a direct comparison star field, but you can see how FSR 2 falls apart in a similar game Diablo 4 in its Ultra Performance mode. DLSS retains much more detail while offering a similar level of performance. This is worth noting Star field it only drops to 50% resolution scaling, otherwise known as the Performance mode of DLSS and FSR. DLSS’s Ultra Performance mode might help bring some less powerful GPUs down to an acceptable level of performance, but it’s not an option in Star field Unfortunately.

DLSS, FSR 2 and XeSS in Hogwarts Legacy.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Likewise, inside The Hogwarts Legacy, you can see a clear drop in detail with FSR 2 vs DLSS in their Performance modes. There are certainly games where FSR 2 looks passable, but when pushed, DLSS almost always wins. For a more in-depth comparison, I recommend looking at Hardware Unboxed’s analysis of 26 games with both features.

There is a mod that adds DLSS Star field currently, but I haven’t observed a significant difference in image quality in the limited time I’ve been dealing with it. This is normal with these types of upscaling mods, and there are usually much more significant differences with native implementations of FSR and DLSS, as you can see in both The Hogwarts Legacy AND Diablo 4.

There is no doubt that FSR 2 is a great piece of kit from AMD. It offers huge performance gains and solid image quality, and works with almost any GPU. The problem for Star field is both that it exclusively supports FSR 2, and that it was designed around this feature.

Designed around upscaling

Over the past couple of months, the PC gaming community has been in an uproar over features like FSR and DLSS. Game makers like Rest 2 have confirmed that they rely on the features to improve visual quality on PC, rather than leveraging them to improve performance on less powerful systems. Star field take this idea to the extreme.

The game is not only designed around the upscaling features, but solely around FSR 2. All four graphics presets enable FSR 2 by default, ranging from 75% render resolution with the Ultra preset to the render resolution of the 50% with Medium and Low presets. . To put into context, that 50% render resolution is the equivalent of FSR 2’s Performance mode in other games. As you can see in my benchmarks below, this makes a huge difference in performance.

The graphics present the performance in Starfield.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

This applies to the RTX 3080, but the performance boost from FSR 2 also applies to increasingly powerful GPUs. If we look at AMD’s recommendations as a gaming partner, it says the RX 7600 delivers “outstanding visuals and frame rates” at 1080p. Similarly, the RX 7900 XT offers an “uncompromised” 4K experience. I translate that to 1080p High for the RX 7600 and 4K Ultra for the RX 7900 XT.

Starfield performance with RX 7900 XT and RX 7600.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

And as expected, in both cases, the graphics cards fail to maintain a solid 60fps in demanding areas of the game like New Atlantis. You need FSR on High and Ultra, with a render resolution of 62% and 75% respectively, to make the cards exceed that predestined mark. You can turn down the graphics settings, but that’s not a position you want to be in with AMD’s latest and greatest 1080p and 4K graphics cards.

If you don’t have the latest GPU, FSR 2 can be the difference between playable and unplayable, especially if you have a low-end card. I usually set the recommended settings for a game based on disabling upscaling, but with star field, I recommend keeping it on as the game can be very challenging.

Image quality comparison to Starfield.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

While it was designed with upscaling in mind, Star field it doesn’t look very good at its lower graphics presets. As you can see in the image above, the Low and Medium presets lose a lot of detail and fade into an aliasing mess. This doesn’t come from the reduced graphics settings; stems from the fact that FSR 2 struggles to keep up at 50% internal rendering resolution.

FSR High comparison to Starfield.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

That screenshot was also taken at 4K. If you drop to 1080p with the RX 7600 you lose even more detail. Above, you can see the High preset, which comes with a 62% render resolution. The only difference between the pictures is FSR 2.

Medium FSR at Starfield.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

As I’ve determined, this is a great way to play the RX 7600. If you switch to the Medium preset, the situation is much worse, though, as you can see above.

Unlike much of the internet, I’m not against developers designing their games around upscaling, especially ambitious versions Star field. It is crucial, however, to support as many upscaling features as possible if that is the goal. Cyberpunk 2077, for example, it can bring even the most powerful PCs to their knees. But it also supports just about every type of PC technology you could want.

Star field it hangs its hat exclusively on the FSR 2, all while begging to push the same level of visual fidelity. The feature works on all GPUs, but the exclusivity means that the vast majority of the PC market, which uses Nvidia GPUs, can’t use the feature they probably bought the graphics card for in the first place: DLSS. According to the latest Steam Hardware Survey, 38% of gamers have a graphics card capable of using DLSS in their system. It’s also probably a low number, considering factors from Steam’s hardware survey in machines with integrated graphics that definitely won’t play Star field.

This isn’t even to criticize AMD. In an alternate reality where the game was designed solely around DLSS, there would be similar concerns, as a portion of gamers might not have the best experience their hardware is capable of. They like games too rest 2, designed around these features, they support DLSS and FSR. It’s fair to ask for such a big game Star field have the same attention to detail.

No FSR 3 in sight

Frank Azor presents AMD's FSR 3 at Gamescom.

When AMD announced it would be the exclusive partner for PC star field, Online forums and subreddits lit up, speculating that the game would launch alongside AMD’s highly anticipated FSR 3. This feature, similar to DLSS 3, uses frame interpolation to massively increase performance and works across PC and consoles.

FSR 3 is not supported star field, and it may never be. AMD has finally revealed that FSR 3 is coming in September via updates Forgotten AND Immortals of Aveum, and presented a list of partners and games that will support the feature in the future. Star field was surprisingly absent from that list.

Considering the close marketing partnership between AMD and Bethesda for Star field — I mean, AMD even released an exclusive Star field graphics card: you’d think both sides would say something if FSR 3 hits the game anytime soon. It’s still possible that FSR 3 will arrive at some point, but I don’t suspect it will happen any time soon. There is certainly a better argument to exclusively support the FSR if Star field it actually launched with FSR 3.

AMD's exclusive Starfield-themed RX 7900 XTX.

Instead, we have FSR 2. It’s not a bad feature by any means, but it’s definitely a measurable distance from DLSS in terms of image quality, and the studio’s decision to design its game around an upscaling feature prevents most of PC gamers to have the best experience their hardware is capable of.

Intent is not the issue here; it’s execution. With a visually impressive game like Star field – and consequently very taxing – careful consideration must be given to providing PC gamers with as many options as possible to optimize performance and image quality. Unfortunately, Star field he dropped the ball on that front.

Thankfully, the PC version is otherwise excellent. I haven’t run into any hiccups in my experience and it scales very well with high-end CPUs. There is also already a mod that adds DLSS to the game. We hope to get an official release soon. It may take some time, or we may not see it at all. After all, Star field it lacks some basic PC options like an FOV slider, brightness/gamma adjustment, and HDR.

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