Borderlands 2 & Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Tweak Guide

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General Optimization

Borderlands 2 Tweak Guide By Koroush Ghazi

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Additions By Andrew Burnes

 

2012’s Borderlands 2 featured a finely honed mix of comedy, shooting, looting, and role-playing, propelling the well-reviewed game to the top of the sales charts, and growing the Borderlands franchise into one of 2K Games’ most popular properties. Now, in 2014, Gearbox and 2K Games are back with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, set before the events of Borderlands 2 and starring a not evil but not quite ‘good’ Handsome Jack, along with a new cast of playable characters.

At release, GeForce.com published a comprehensive tweak guide that enabled Borderlands 2 players to maximize graphical fidelity and to configure the game to their liking. And while Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a different beast in terms of gameplay, behind the scenes it utilizes the same technology as Borderlands 2, so instead of duplicating existing work we have reviewed and updated all existing info, benchmarked the The Pre-Sequel with the latest drivers, and have extensively tested The Pre-Sequel’s enhanced GPU-accelerated PhysX setting, which boasts quadruple the detail per effect. Furthermore, we've examined the benefits of NVIDIA’s new Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) technology, which gives you 4K-quality graphics on any HD screen.

So jump on in and learn how each game setting affects performance, how you can optimize your system, and how you can squeeze even more graphical fidelity from both games.

General System Optimization

 

Almost as important as any in-game setting is the way your Windows installation is configured. A great many problems and performance issues, especially stuttering, crashes and slowdowns, can be traced directly to sub-optimal settings in Windows and out-of-date or badly configured drivers. Go through our Stable Gaming Guide to get your PC in the best shape, and at the very least make sure to update your Graphics Drivers to the latest available version.

Performance Measurement

 

To successfully conduct any tweaking, you will need some way of objectively measuring your performance in Frames Per Second (FPS). The easiest way to do this is to use the Stat FPS command, as covered under Console Commands in the Advanced Tweaking section. Another method is to download and install the free FRAPS utility, then launch it prior to starting up Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Either method will provide you with an FPS counter which is displayed in the corner of your screen.

Pay attention to your FPS during the game, particularly during graphically intense scenes, such as heavy combat. If your FPS dips to a very low level at any point, or is constantly spiking, then this is a good indication that you need to adjust various settings, whether to raise your minimum FPS to at least around 30 FPS or more, or simply to stabilize your framerate to prevent stuttering.

General Settings

To access the full suite of in-game settings, launch Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, press ESC to go to the Main Menu and select Options. The Video options are covered in detail later in this guide. First we examine the general Gameplay, Audio, Keyboard / Mouse and Controller sections of the options.

Gameplay

 

Training Messages: If set to On, training messages will periodically pop up on the screen giving you hints and details on using the various features in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. They appear most frequently during the early part of the game. If you're new to the Borderlands series then it is best to leave this setting enabled.

Duel Requests: This setting controls whether you will automatically Decline all requests from other online players to engage in a duel, or whether you can Accept such requests.

Weapon Aim Toggle: If set to On, when you press the aim button (Right mouse button by default), you will look down the sights of your weapon, until you press the same key again. If set to Off, you must hold down the key to remain aimed down the sights.

Crouch Toggle: If set to On, when you go into a crouch (C key by default), you will remain in crouched position until you press the same key again. If set to Off, you will only remain crouched as long as you hold down the crouch key.

Fixed Minimap Rotation: This setting controls the way the minimap, displayed in the top right corner of the screen, behaves. If set to On, the minimap surroundings will rotate around your character's indicator in the center of the minimap as you look around. If set to Off, the minimap surroundings will remain fixed, and your character's indicator arrow will change which way it points based on the direction you are facing.

Item Rotation: This setting determines the way in which objects behave when inspected in your Inventory. In practice there appears to be no difference whether this option is set to Fixed or Locked - you can view any item in your inventory by right-clicking on it and selecting Inspect, and you can rotate the item freely by holding down your left mouse button and moving the mouse.

Lock Camera When Braking: If set to Enable, whenever you perform a powerslide in a vehicle (G key by default), the camera will try to remain pointed towards the direction the vehicle is facing. If set to Disable, the camera will remain pointed in the direction of your crosshairs during a powerslide.

Use Inverted Reverse Steering: This setting controls the way in which your steering behaves when reversing in a vehicle. If set to On, and when using the reverse camera in a vehicle (V key by default), moving your mouse to the left will result in the vehicle reversing to the right; if set to Off, the arrangement is reversed.

Trading: This option controls whether you can partake in the game's trading system with other online players. If set to On, other players can initiate a trade with you.

Censor Gore: If this option is set to Yes, the main forms of gore in the game, such as blood and dismemberment, will be disabled. Disabling gore can also improve performance during combat. If this option is set to No, the gore will not be censored in any way. However if the PhysX Effects setting is at Low, then there will be no blood and gore, regardless of this setting. See PhysX Effects under the Graphics Settings section later in this guide.

Gunzerking Autoswitch: The ability to use two different weapons at the same time in Borderlands 2 is known as Gunzerking. This dual-wield capability is a unique skill of the Gunzerker character in the game. If this option is set to Yes, your control layout for your primary and secondary fire buttons/keys will automatically be changed when Gunzerking: primary fire (Left mouse button by default) will shoot the left gun, secondary fire (Right mouse button by default) the right. If set to No, weapon controls remain the same as normal when Gunzerking.

Audio

 

None of the settings below has any impact on performance.

Music, Sound Effects, Dialog Volume: These sliders respectively control the volume level of the game's music, the sound effects such as gunshots and footsteps, and the dialog spoken by characters.

Subtitles: If set to On, text subtitles will be shown at the bottom of the screen during conversations and cut scenes. Setting this option to Off removes all such subtitles.

Player Callouts: This option controls the various witty remarks that your player may automatically make at any time, particularly during combat. If you don't want your player to make any such callouts, set this option to Off.

Push To Talk: This option relates to any communication with other online players that you initiate via your microphone. If set to On, you will only transmit any sound from your microphone when you press the Talk key (T by default). If set to Off, any noise picked up by your microphone will be constantly transmitted (such as your breathing), which can both annoy other players, and use network resources.

VOIP Chat Volume: This slider determines the volume of online voice chat.

Mute Audio on Focus Loss: If set to On, whenever the game is minimized or not the primary focus in Windows, all of the game's audio will be automatically muted. If set to Off, the audio will keep playing in the background regardless.

Keyboard & Mouse

 

Invert Mouse Look: If set to On, pushing your mouse forward will make your character aim down, and moving your mouse back will make them aim upwards. If set to Off, the arrangement is reversed.

Mouse Sensitivity: This slider determines the level of responsiveness of the mouse to your movements. The further to the right the slider, the more responsive the mouse will feel. Keep in mind that if your mouse movements feel laggy even after raising the Mouse Sensitivity, there are several other things you should check:

  • If your framerate falls below around 25 FPS at any time, particularly during heavy combat, you will need to adjust your settings to improve your minimum FPS and hence keep your mouse feeling suitably responsive at all times.
  • Check the Framerate graphics setting (covered later in this guide) to make sure it isn't set to a low cap, such as 30 FPS. Some people will find this too low a maximum frame rate to allow for sufficient responsiveness.
  • The Mouse Smoothing setting (covered below) can negatively impact on the feeling of responsiveness if enabled.
  • VSync of any kind - whether enabled in the game, or in the NVIDIA Control Panel - can contribute to a less responsive feel to mouse movements. See the VSync setting in the Graphics Settings section later in this guide for details.

Mouse Smoothing: If set to On, this setting attempts to reduce the jerkiness of mouse movements by taking the average of several input samples, rather than just a single sample at any time. Note that mouse smoothing is not the same as mouse acceleration/deceleration. The main benefit of enabling mouse smoothing is that it can increase precision and, as the name implies, provide a feeling of smoothness in mouse movements. The major drawback is that it can result in noticeable mouse lag, making the mouse feel less responsive, particularly during fast-paced action. On balance it is best set to Off for maximum responsiveness in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

Aim Assist: If set to On, your weapon will automatically soft lock on to targets as soon as you bring your crosshairs close to it. This obviously makes aiming much easier, which in turn reduces the overall difficulty of combat. If you don't want any assistance in aiming, set this option to Off.

Key Bindings: The individual commands and the keys and buttons to which they are bound can be found under this section, and can be remapped if desired. Select the 'Reset Key Bindings' option if you want to reset all the command bindings back to their default at any time.

Controller

 

The settings in this section only apply if you are using a game controller as opposed to the keyboard and mouse.

Invert Gamepad Look, Turn, Move, Strafe: These four settings determine whether the relevant controller feature is inverted (On) or not (Off). When a feature is inverted, it will move in the opposite direction to that which it would normally do.

Sensitivity X, Y: These sliders control the sensitivity of the X axis (left/right) and Y axis (up/down) of the controller. The higher the sensitivity, the more responsive that controller axis will be to movement. See the Mouse Sensitivity setting earlier in this guide for other Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel settings which can impact on general input responsiveness.

Aim Assist: If set to On, your weapon will automatically soft lock on to targets as soon as you bring your crosshairs close to it. This makes aiming easier, but may be necessary to compensate for the greater difficulty in aiming precisely with a controller as opposed to a mouse. If you don't want any assistance in aiming with your controller, set this option to Off.

Per-Shot Vibration: If set to On, your controller will vibrate (if supported) whenever you fire your weapon. If set to Off, controller vibration is disabled.

On the next page we begin our look at the various graphics-related settings in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

Graphics Settings

Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel have a large number of graphics-related settings, and these can have a substantial impact on the way the game looks, and how smoothly it plays on your system. To access all of the available graphics settings, start Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, select Options under the Main Menu, then choose the Video item. In the following section we'll go through each of these graphics settings in detail and see exactly how they affect performance and image quality.


In the performance graphs shown, for each setting we start with a "baseline" where all options are set to the maximum possible, including PhysX at Ultra, FXAA On, and 16x AF, along with VSync Off and Framerate set to Unlimited. From this baseline, we vary individual settings to measure their effect on performance and image quality.

Full System Configuration

  • GeForce GTX 770
  • Intel Core i7-4770K
  • 8GB RAM
  • Win8.1 64-bit
  • NVIDIA 344.11 WHQL Drivers

Resolution, FOV & VSync

This section begins our look at the graphics settings in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. To access the full range of graphics settings, you will need to scroll down the screen using the arrow at the bottom of the Video options page, or by using your mouse wheel. Most of these settings will have an impact on image quality and performance, unless otherwise noted.

Brightness: This slider controls the overall brightness of the game image. The correct level will vary depending on your monitor's brightness level and your viewing environment. Set brightness such that it is not high enough to cause the screen to appear washed out or "milky" looking, and not low enough to lose all detail in darker areas. This setting has no impact on performance.

HUD H. Bounds, HUD V. Bounds: These settings determine the boundaries of your Heads Up Display (HUD), which is the various informational elements shown around the screen, including the shield and health bars to the bottom left; the level indicator at the bottom center; the grenade and ammunition counters at the bottom right; and the minimap and objectives displayed at the top right. The HUD H. Bounds slider controls the horizontal (left and right side) boundary; the HUD V. Bounds slider controls the vertical (top and bottom) boundary. Moving the relevant slider to the left forces the HUD elements closer to the middle of the screen; moving the slider to the right pushes them closer to the edges of the screen. This setting has no impact on performance.

HUD Scale: This setting allows you to change the size of all of the HUD elements, shown as a percentage of their original size. The slider starts at the far right (100%), and moving it to the left progressively reduces the size of all of the HUD elements equally. This setting has no impact on performance.

UI Sway: If set to On, this option allows certain in-game menus, such as your Inventory screens, to constantly sway left and right when shown. If you don't want in-game menus to sway at all, select Off here to keep them static.

Field of View: This setting determines your Field of View (FOV), which is how much of the game world you can see at once on the screen. The default is 90 degrees, and raising FOV will make more of the game world visible at once, effectively zooming out your view, while lowering it will do the reverse. The FOV range possible on the slider here is between 70 and 110 degrees, however you can adjust the FOV further as covered under Console Commands in the Advanced Tweaking section. Changing FOV may have an impact on performance.

Resolution: This determines the Resolution of the game image, measured by the number of pixels horizontally and vertically (e.g. 1920 pixels x 1080 pixels). The number of resolutions available here is limited by the capabilities of both your graphics card and monitor. The higher the resolution you choose, the more detailed the image will be. However higher resolutions also generate an increased load on your system, particularly your graphics card, and hence reduce your overall performance. For the sharpest image on an LCD monitor, either select the maximum available resolution here, which is also referred to as your Native Resolution, or if choosing a resolution below your maximum, either use the windowed Window Mode option as covered further below, or select the 'No scaling' option under the 'Adjust desktop size and position' section of the NVIDIA Control Panel. To set a custom resolution, see the Advanced Tweaking section.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that progressively higher resolutions will noticeably reduce your framerate. If all else fails to improve performance, or if you simply want to keep other eye candy enabled and still maintain playable framerates, then lower your Resolution.

Window Mode: By default the game runs in Fullscreen mode, which takes up the entire screen, and is generally recommended for optimal image quality and memory management. If you want to run the game in a window on your desktop instead, then you can select Windowed, or Fullscreen-Windowed here. If you select Windowed, the size of the game window which appears on your desktop will depend on your Resolution setting. If you select Fullscreen-Windowed, a borderless window which takes up the entire screen will be used. The key difference is that Fullscreen-Windowed mode prevents any of your desktop from showing in the background. Running Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel in Windowed mode is recommended if you want to reduce the game's resolution to improve performance, but still maintain a crisp image with no black bars on an LCD monitor.

VSync: When VSync (Vertical Synchronization) is set to On, your GPU will become synchronized to your monitor's Refresh Rate capabilities, which means your maximum framerate will typically be capped at around 60 FPS. When VSync is Off, there is no FPS cap (depending also on the Framerate setting below), however you may experience a phenomenon known as "tearing", whereby portions of the game image sometimes appear to be out of alignment ("torn") across the screen. This does no harm to your system, but it can be annoying. Fortunately you have several options when it comes to VSync:

  • Enable VSync by itself to remove all tearing, but aside from capping your FPS, it can also reduce your overall performance by up to 50% or more due to a GPU timing quirk, and can introduce noticeable mouse lag.
  • Enable VSync but also enable Triple Buffering along with it, which provides the anti-tearing benefits of VSync but without the loss in performance.
  • Enable Adaptive VSync, available to NVIDIA owners using the latest graphics drivers by selecting the Adaptive option under the Vertical Sync setting in the NVIDIA Control Panel. This method automatically disables VSync whenever your framerate falls below your refresh rate, preventing the performance loss usually associated with VSync, and also smoothing out framerates and minimizing tearing. However, mouse lag may still occur.
  • Disable VSync, which is the simplest method for providing maximum performance, removing the FPS cap and removing any mouse lag. However, tearing will be visible at times, and you may get large FPS fluctuations which can result in stuttering. In Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel these FPS fluctuations can be overcome by using the Framerate setting as covered below.

It is recommended that in the first instance you try Adaptive VSync. If you experience any problems or have mouse lag, or if Adaptive VSync is not available to you, the next thing you can try is to disable VSync and instead use one of the options under the Framerate setting to cap your FPS and hence reduce the incidence of tearing and large FPS fluctuations, without any mouse lag or performance drop.

Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR)

Our new Maxwell architecture introduces a raft of innovative, exciting technologies that make your games better in dramatic ways. Of these new features, Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) will have largest impact, enhancing any game that supports resolutions above 1920x1080. What does DSR do? Simply put, it renders a game at a higher, more detailed resolution and intelligently shrinks the result back down to the resolution of your monitor, giving you 4K, 3840x2160-quality graphics on any screen.

Enthusiasts with compatible monitors and technical know-how refer to this process as Downsampling or Super Sampling. DSR drastically improves upon this existing process by applying a high-quality downsampling filter specifically designed for the task, by being built directly into GeForce Experience's one-click Optimal Playable Settings, by working on all monitors at all refresh rates, and by removing the need for technical know-how.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel DSR will be fully supported in GeForce Experience at the game’s launch, and for those of you without a Maxwell GPU, have no fear: DSR support for previous-generation GPUs is in the works.

With DSR enabled the benefits are easily seen in any game: objects and surfaces feature greater detail, less aliasing is visible screen-wide, there are fewer shimmering game elements, and fewer artifacts as demonstrated in the video above. In static screenshots The Pre-Sequel's flat moon surfaces and sparsely decorated locations won't show as many obvious DSR benefits as Borderlands 2's lush and varied planet, but nonetheless, if you know where to look DSR's improvements can be readily found.

Take the interactive comparison below, for example, showing a moon buggy. With DSR enabled it's immediately apparent that the detail level is considerably higher, with sharper textures and more buggy components clearly visible. In addition, the increased resolution combats the game's important if overbearing black outlines, which merge at 1920x1080, hiding detail on the buggy's satellite dish and antenna. In the foreground, textures are sharper and better defined, shadows and shading are more accurate, and everything is clearer. In the background, overbearing black outlines are thinned out, shading is improved, and the mesh on the upper right of the image is far more detailed.

In our second interactive comparison, DSR's anti-aliasing capabilities are immediately seen, with almost all aliasing eliminated. Again, we see detail reclaimed from the overbearing black outlines, as well as sharper detail and improved texturing throughout. Of more interest is the greatly improved shadowing and shading on the rocks and around the rocket, rendered as a result of the increased sample points provided by the higher resolution. If you wish, learn more about sample points here.

Resizing images for comparisons shows a great many of DSR's benefits, though it doesn't show its true quality. For that, download the 1920x1080 and 3840x2160 screenshots and flick between enlarged portions using an application like Windows Photo Viewer. Alternatively, check out our interactive comparison if you simply want to compare fullscreen to fullscreen without any enlargement. Note the sharper, more detailed textures, reduced aliasing, and increased detail throughout the scene.

Enabling DSR couldn't be easier: simply click 'Optimize' in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel in GeForce Experience 2.1.3 when GeForce Driver 344.11 WHQL or newer is installed. Then, load the game and enjoy higher-resolution graphics with all of the improvements outlined above. For additional in-game resolution options, open the NVIDIA Control Panel, select 'Manage 3D settings', click the 'Global Settings' tab, find the 'DSR - Factors' field, tick all the boxes, click 'OK', and finally click 'Apply' on the bottom right of the window. In-game, you'll find seven new resolution options.

As DSR is rendering a higher-resolution image, albeit with the addition of a high-quality filter, the performance cost of DSR on Maxwell Architecture GPUs is near-identical to plugging in a higher-resolution display and increasing the resolution the old-fashioned way. And given the speed at which Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel run at 1920x1080, DSR will enable you to make full use of your spare performance.

Framerate & Anisotropic Filtering

Framerate: This option controls your maximum framerate (frames per second, or FPS) in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Note that if VSync is enabled, it will automatically implement a framerate cap equivalent to your monitor's maximum refresh rate (typically 60 or 120 FPS). Therefore to make optimal use of this setting, it is recommended that you first disable any form of VSync.

There are several settings available, depending on your needs:

  • Unlimited - This setting removes any cap on your maximum FPS, as long as VSync is also disabled. When selected, Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel will allow your GPU to produce as many FPS as possible. This provides maximum performance, but there may be stuttering during framerate spikes, and also a variable feeling of responsiveness in different areas of the game.
  • Smoothed 22-62 FPS - This setting lets Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel attempt to smooth out your framerate and try to maintain it in a range of between 22 and 62 FPS. This is a reasonable compromise for people who want a more consistent feeling of responsiveness, but with minimal tearing and stuttering from FPS spikes.
  • Capped 30, 50, 60, 72, 120 FPS - This setting puts a framerate cap on the game, limiting your maximum FPS to the figure shown. For example, if you select Capped 30 FPS, then your framerate cannot exceed 30 FPS at any time. This does not mean that the game will attempt to adjust settings to give you an average of 30 FPS, it means that any time your system tries to go above 30 FPS, it will be restricted in doing so. There are several benefits to implementing an appropriate framerate cap, chief among them being a smoother framerate, and a more consistent feeling of input responsiveness. It can also reduce tearing when VSync is disabled, and even prevent your GPU from overheating.

For most people it is recommended that you disable VSync and try experimenting with a framerate cap of 50 or 60 to get a good balance between performance, responsiveness and lack of tearing.

Anisotropic Filtering: Anisotropic Filtering (AF) is a texture filtering technique designed to improve the clarity of textures that are displayed at an angle to the screen, such as those covering the ground when looking down a pathway. The available options here are Off, then sample rates starting at 2x, then 4x, 8x, and the maximum possible, which is 16x. The higher the sample rate used, the crisper and more distinct surfaces will look as they recede into the distance.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing AF Off vs. AF 16x.

The screenshots above show that when AF is Off, surfaces appear blurry into the distance, especially the rocky ground. Setting AF to 2x improves surface clarity, and at 4x and 8x, there are further improvements, again most noticeable in the detailing of the rocky ground. The difference between 8x and 16x is very subtle, and hard to see in these screenshots, but within the game it adds slightly more detail in the distance.

To ensure the highest level of texture filtering, NVIDIA users should also open the NVIDIA Control Panel, and under the Program Settings tab select 'Borderlands 2' or ‘Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel' in the first drop-down box. If it isn't shown there, untick the 'Show only programs found on this computer' check box and try again. Then scroll down and click the 'Texture Filtering - Quality' box, and select 'High Quality' mode. Click the Apply button at the bottom. Note that using the AF provided by Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel results in equivalent quality to implementing AF forced by the NVIDIA Control Panel.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The performance impact of Anisotropic Filtering on most modern graphics cards is minimal, and in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel it appears to be almost negligible according to the graph above. As such, most people should be able to use at least 8x Anisotropic Filtering without any problems for a significant boost in surface detailing, and 16x AF is recommended for medium to high-end GPUs.

Bullet Decals & Foliage Distance

Bullet Decals: This setting controls the presence and frequency of marks left by weapons on the environment, such as bullet holes. The available options are Off, Normal and High. At Off, no bullet holes or scorch marks will be shown, which may improve performance during combat, but reduces realism. However this does not affect any PhysX effects caused by weapon impacts, such as debris or sparks. At Normal, various decals will be shown, while setting this option to High allows a greater number of decals at any one time. In practice the difference between Normal and High is not major, as even at Normal a large number of decals can still be displayed.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Bullet Decals Off vs. Bullet Decals High.

In the screenshots above, when Bullet Decals is set to High, you can see the dark bullet holes caused by gunfire on the ground towards the bottom of the screen, and a large scorch mark from a grenade explosion in the center of the screen. With Bullet Decals switched off, these marks will not appear, which reduces realism. Notice that a few small persistent PhysX-based pebbles caused by the gunfire and explosion are still present, even when Bullet Decals is Off.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows the virtually insignificant impact that this setting has on framerate, at least on a modern GPU like our GTX 770. On most systems the impact should also be negligible, and when combined with the reduction in realism which comes from disabling Bullet Decals, it makes it difficult to recommend disabling this setting. Set it to Normal if you want a balance between performance and image quality.

Foliage Distance: This setting determines the distance at which foliage, such as trees, bushes and grass, can be seen. The available options are Near or Far. Selecting Near means that you must be relatively close to foliage before it appears, while Far extends the distance at which such foliage is visible.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Foliage Distance Near vs. Foliage Distance Far.

In the screenshots above, you can see that the extra tufts of grass around the middle of the screen only appear when the Far setting is used. However in the far distance, detailed grass is still not shown at the Far setting, so there is a limit as to how far the foliage will be displayed. An important story the screenshots can't tell is that during actual gameplay, using the Near setting means that you will get much more noticeable foliage "pop-in", which can annoy some people. To completely disable dynamically generated foliage, or to adjust this setting beyond just the Near or Far presets, see the Advanced Tweaking section.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that Foliage Distance has a relatively minor impact on performance, likely due to the fact that foliage is not particularly common on Pandora, or the Moon environment of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. In general, many areas in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel are relatively devoid of foliage, being barren frozen or desert environments with sparse patches of grass at most. However if you notice slowdowns in areas with more foliage, reduce this setting to Near to maintain playable framerates.

Texture Quality, Texture Fade, Game Detail & AO

Texture Quality: Textures cover the surface of every object in the game world. The available options for controlling texture quality in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel are Low, Medium and High. The higher the setting, the clearer and more defined surfaces will look. Keep in mind that Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel use a special cel-shading technique to produce its comic-book style graphics. This means that the graphics are not meant to look photorealistic in their clarity, no matter what the level of this setting.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Texture Quality Low vs. Texture Quality High.

The screenshots above show the transition in a scene as this setting is raised from Low, to Medium and then to its maximum of High. While some elements of the scene are still relatively clear at Low, such as the dark cracks on the ground and the gun in the character's hand, the remainder of the scene is quite blurry and indistinct. Switching to Medium improves the detailing on most surfaces, but there is still some blockiness on surface textures, such on the blotchy markings on the ground. At High, the surfaces are much clearer and cleaner. An interesting by-product of raising Texture Quality is that this indoor scene appears to become much brighter due to improved surface lighting.

Note that Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel's game engines use a special texture streaming method to steadily load textures when required. This can result in momentarily blurry textures as they're being streamed in. To greatly reduce this streaming effect, disable the Texture Fade setting (see below), and see the Advanced Tweaking section.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that as in most other games, altering Texture Quality does not necessarily improve FPS by much. The primary impact of changing Texture Quality is on how much Video Memory (VRAM) is consumed, and in turn how much stuttering and texture streaming you will notice while playing Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. If you have a GPU with a lower amount of VRAM or a slower system in general, then lowering Texture Quality can improve the smoothness of gameplay.

Texture Fade: When set to Off, it can help avoid the appearance of low resolution textures streaming in. In our testing, there was no performance impact on a modern system, so we recommend enabling it. To further improve texture streaming see the Advanced Tweaking section.

Game Detail: The available options for this setting are Low, Medium and High. It is designed to control the level of detail of gameplay, and will help improve performance in combat scenarios. In our testing, Game Detail appeared to have no image quality or performance impact in a variety of scenes, hence the lack of a performance graph. In practice, since this setting is tied to a variable called PopulationAdjustment in the WillowEngine.ini file, it may reduce enemy numbers or complexity when lowered.

Note that another method for adjusting minor visual details in the game is provided in the Advanced Tweaking section.

Ambient Occlusion: A technique used to create more realistic shadowing from ambient lighting, Ambient Occlusion (AO) is described in more detail in this guide. When Ambient Occlusion is set to On in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, there will be slightly richer shadowing in various scenes at the cost of performance. It is not a dramatic effect - at times the effect will be extremely difficult to notice, at other times it is more apparent.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing AO Off vs. AO On.

In the screenshots above, when Ambient Occlusion is enabled, the scene has richer shadowing. This is most obvious in the darker shadows which appear beneath the tufts of grass to the left of the scene, around various objects in the trash pile, and under the vehicle at the right. It's a very subtle effect in the game, but can add to depth and realism.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that Ambient Occlusion has a noticeable impact on frame rates, reducing them by about 10-15 frames per second at higher resolutions. Given it is a very subtle effect in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, you may wish to disable it to provide an FPS boost with minimal loss of image quality.

DoF & View Distance

Depth of Field: Depth of Field (DoF) in gaming is an effect which makes objects in the foreground appear sharper and more distinct, and those in the background blurred and hazy. It is used to add a heightened sense of depth to a scene. The most obvious use of DoF in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel comes when aiming down the iron sights of (non-scoped) weapons, but it is also used to slightly blur distant scenery in the game world. Setting Depth of Field to Off will make the scene clearer and also improves performance, at the cost of what some might consider a more atmospheric and cinematic look.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing DoF Off vs. DoF On.

The screenshots above demonstrate the use of Depth of Field when aiming down the sights of a pistol. With DoF set to Off, the scene is sharp throughout; with DoF set to On, you can see blurring being implemented around the top and sides of the scene. This brings the middle of the scene into greater focus, which can be helpful if you want to concentrate on the enemy you're aiming at, but some may not like the way it looks. As for the visual impact of Depth of Field on the general game world, to see a very clear example of the difference, launch Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and go to the main menu. As the background scene in the main menu pans around your character, you will see that the distant view of Pandora and The Moon is very blurry when DoF is On, but becomes clearer when you set to Off.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that enabling Depth of Field can have a noticeable but not substantial impact on performance. This is because in most scenes, it is just a subtle effect that's barely noticeable in the background. The most obvious use of it is when aiming down a weapon's iron sights. In such cases, you may notice the performance drop when aiming during combat, and might want to disable DoF to gain a few FPS. In practice though, adjusting this setting is as much a matter of taste as it is performance.

View Distance: This setting controls the maximum range at which various objects in the game world are visible. The available settings are Low, Medium, High and Ultra High. The lower this setting, the fewer objects you can see in the distance, such as buildings, rocky outcrops, enemies and terrain decoration. Regardless of the level of this setting, basic terrain such as land and water surfaces will always be visible up to the horizon. In other words, lowering this setting will not implement any sort of obscuring fog.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing View Distance Low vs. View Distance Ultra High.

In the screenshots above, the difference when going from Low to Medium is extremely large. At Medium, a variety of very important and not-so-important objects suddenly spring into view from the middle distance onwards. This includes the enemy camp at the far right of the scene, large rocky hills and outcrops, and even a missing portion of the ladder on the derrick in the middle of the screen reappears. In short, the scene is greatly altered simply by going to Medium. From Medium to High, additional small details are added throughout the scene, ranging from the barrels in the camp nearby, to a cliff face on the top left, and further detailing on the enemy camp at the top right. From High to Ultra High, yet more minor details are added, such as additional rocks and boulders, and again, more details on the large enemy camp in the distance.

Given the extremely large difference in world detail between Low and Medium, it is recommended that you try to keep View Distance at Medium or above to start with. This will have a substantial impact on gameplay, allowing you spot distant structures and terrain details in the distance which you would otherwise miss at Low. The gameplay advantages should outweigh the performance drop.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The graph shows that at medium resolutions, the big jump in visible detail which going from Low to Medium brings is mirrored in a large drop in FPS, and subsequently there is a smaller decline in FPS when going from Medium to High, then another big drop from High to Ultra High. As recommended earlier, you should try to keep View Distance at Medium or above, if only for gameplay reasons. But given the large drop in performance at Ultra High versus the relatively minor detailing it adds, for most people it is best to simply use Medium or High.

FXAA Anti-Aliasing

FXAA: Antialiasing is a term applied to any method which is used to help smooth out jagged lines and reduce the distracting shimmering and crawling of those lines when in motion. There are many forms of anti-aliasing, but in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel only one is available in-game: FXAA.

Borderland 2's cel-shaded rendering style already minimizes the visual impact of aliasing to a fair extent, so enabling FXAA almost completely removes the annoyance of jagged edges. FXAA is a very efficient technique, hence the performance impact is minimal. The main issue of concern is that it introduces some blurriness to the scene.

If you're interested in trying other methods of Antialiasing in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, see the Advanced Tweaking section.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing FXAA Off vs. FXAA On.

In the screenshots above, look at the outlines of the signs, particularly in the area between the two signs. Also examine the cactus at the far right. You can see that without FXAA, the edges of the signs show clear stair-stepping, and the spines on the cactus also look quite jagged. With FXAA enabled, all the jagged edges throughout the scene are effectively cleaned up, blending quite nicely into the comic-book style graphics. The effect of the blurriness which FXAA adds can be seen most clearly on the spines of the cactus at the far right. It's not excessive, but it may still be annoying to some people.

An indication of the performance impact of changing this setting is shown below:

The performance impact of FXAA is extremely minor compared to the effective job it does in smoothing out jagged edges in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. The only reason not to enable FXAA is if you are truly struggling for performance, or if you simply don't like the mild burring it brings. If blurring is the issue, see the Advanced Tweaking section for alternative anti-aliasing techniques.

GPU PhysX Effects

PhysX Effects: If you’re unfamiliar with PhysX, it’s a physics middleware package integrated into Unreal Engine 3 and Unreal Engine 4, and used industry-wide to add high-quality physics simulations to games. Multi-platform developers more often than not opt for software PhysX effects powered by a system’s CPU. These provide a basic level of physical interaction, allowing characters to tumble down stairs and objects to fall from tables. Examine the effects in any great detail, however, and you would see that they are far from accurate.

For true realism, and more involved, complex, visually arresting interactions, developers like Gearbox opt for hardware-accelerated PhysX effects, powered by NVIDIA's GeForce GTX graphics cards. Thanks to the GPU's parallel processing power, effects and interactions can be rendered with a great deal of precision in record time. On a CPU, the same calculations would take significantly longer, dropping the frame rate into single digits.


With hardware-accelerated PhysX effects enabled each scene is filled with extra detail.

Each of these effects is generated by manipulating tens of thousands of particles that persist in a realistic manner using physics calculations, ensuring they don’t clip through terrain, and that they can be affected by other forces, such as explosions. This realism is key to PhysX’s believability – if an effect clips through a wall you’re brought out of the action and reminded that it’s an illusion. This realism also gives hardware PhysX an advantage over software solutions, which use approximated effects, meaning they lack the realistic properties of PhysX’s particles. In other words, software smoke clips through walls; hardware-accelerated PhysX smoke hits the wall and realistically floats up towards the sky.

In Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Gearbox has leveraged PhysX’s hardware-accelerated particles and effects for four significant enhancements that are seen throughout the game. The first of these is the debris system, which kicks up chunks of terrain when the ground is shot, emits chunks of metal from destroyed and damaged robots, lets loose hundreds of bullet casings from certain guns, spawns goo and gunk from enemies and objects, and is used in dozens of other examples.


Explosive weapons that litter scenes with particles and debris ‘drop’ a few hours in to the adventure.

With CPU physics, the emitted debris would shoot across the screen before fading out of existence, or in some cases, sitting motionless on the ground, unaffected by the action occurring around it. In Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, hardware-accelerated PhysX effects enable this debris to be kicked about by further weapons fire, or from characters running through it. Pieces will land on inclines and roll towards a level surface as in real life, and should another piece be in the way the two will collide, further changing their final position. Bring enough pieces together and they’ll pile up, and with the highest level of PhysX enabled these pieces will persist until removed to make room for yet more mayhem.

At its most basic level it doesn’t sound too thrilling, but in the heat of combat debris, robotic scrap, pieces of metal, and more, will whizz across the screen, helping create a sense of excitement; of being in a real battle with ludicrously overpowered weapons that fire three rockets simultaneously and are capable of tearing Bandits limb from limb.

Adding to the spectacle is the use of our latest debris system, in which debris is self-shadowed, dynamically shadowed, and capable of casting its own shadows on terrain and other objects, increasing the image quality of the scene and the debris itself in a meaningful, realistic manner. Furthermore, debris receives the same black outline shading as the game’s other elements, helping enhance the realism of the additions within the context of Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

Like debris, realistic, physics-led water cannot be rendered using software physics solutions. Several games feature fantastic water that looks real, but it can never be manipulated by the player beyond a ripple or a splash, or used in a dynamic non-scripted fashion. In Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Gearbox has integrated PhysX’s Smoothed-Particle Hydrodynamics (SPH) fluid system, which generates interactive liquids that have customized levels of viscosity, friction, density, and ‘stiffness’.

Together, these advances allow the SPH system to generate half a dozen fluids in-game that are applied to dozens of effects. You’ll find water leaking from pipes, barrels filled with toxic sludge that persists and damages players and enemies alike, Napalm-drenched creatures, and more. But what makes the system especially great in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is how Gearbox leverages it to enhance the action, opening up new options in combat.

Take the Badass Slagged Skag, for example, which spits Slag at players. In the zany world of Borderlands, this Slag coats a living being and makes it more susceptible to regular attacks. So when that Slagged Skag is spitting with PhysX enabled, dodge out of the way and draw its mindless minions through the persistent puddle, greatly increasing your chances of survival in the mean wastelands of Pandora.


The shotgun’s blast displaces the Slag and the water the Slag is floating upon, and kicks up hundreds of pieces of debris, in addition to emitting numerous fiery particles.

A much more subtle addition to Borderlands 2 is the cloth system. Adding pieces of dynamic cloth to the world, in the form of flags, banners and tarps, the cloth system follows the same physics-led rules as the others in Borderlands 2, resulting in realistic additions that would be impossible to render using a CPU given their aforementioned limitations. Furthermore, beyond fluttering and general movement, these cloth pieces can be torn and destroyed by weapons fire, creating the sense of an aftermath to combat, with pieces of cloth strewn around the environment, and the once-attractive displays destroyed.


Pieces of cloth begin to break away from the main body as it reacts realistically to the tremendous forces exerted by the high-level gun.

Powering the many interactions between particles, players, weapons, cloth, and enemies, are Force Fields, which tell the PhysX effects how to interact with one another and the games’ 87 bazillion guns. For example, if an enemy stomps in a pool of Slag, a force field calculates the force of that stomp and tells the Slag to spread out in a specific manner, briefly leaving a void where the enemy’s foot fell. Each of the PhysX particles has physics-led properties to ensure realistic interaction with their surroundings by default, but with the addition of Force Fields much more realistic and unique interactions can be shown, allowing a giant enemy to interact with the Slag in a radically different, stylized way, highlighting its size, weight, power, and unique abilities.


The Force Field associated with the weapon propels the Slag out from the center of the blast.

As you’re no doubt aware, Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel are as far as from reality as one can get, unshackling Gearbox’s creativity. This creative freedom led to the development of weapons, abilities, grenades, and enemies capable of generating vortexes that draw in everyone and everything. With PhysX enabled, it was discovered that the existing Force Field technology could be adapted and enhanced to create a new effect, which draws in PhysX debris, fluid and cloth, in addition to characters, enemies, and items. Once acquired, the vortex throws them about, both vertically and horizontally, before finally exploding, launching the manipulated particles, objects and characters across the scene. It is, by far, our favorite effect, and is shown along with every other PhysX effect in our trailer, embedded below.

Together, the PhysX effects improve the fidelity and action of the game by such a degree that you lament their absence in every other title – take a look at the interactive comparison below and you’ll see just how much PhysX adds to the already great Borderlands 2 experience.


PhysX-accelerated particles and debris shower the screen when PhysX is enabled in-game (click to load an interactive comparison, highlighting PhysX Low vs. PhysX High).

In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Gearbox has leveraged engine and driver optimizations, as well as the availability of new high-performance graphics cards to implement an ‘Ultra Detail’ PhysX mode:

Compared to ‘High’, ‘Ultra’ increases fluid effect particle density and quality by up to 4x per effect, with up to 56,000 particles visible at any one time, compared to High’s 20,000. Because of this significantly increased particle count, Ultra PhysX is recommended only for high-end GPUs such as the GeForce GTX 770, GTX 780, GTX 780 Ti, GTX 970, GTX 980, GTX TITAN, GTX TITAN Black, GTX TITAN Z, and SLI configs of similar or better speed.

In addition to the introduction of the Ultra detail mode, the quality of fluid rendering has been improved in general in The Pre-Sequel, as have other aspects of the technology, giving Pre-Sequel gamers superior fluid fidelity at any detail level.

PhysX Detail Levels

 

The available options for the PhysX Effects setting in Borderlands 2 are Low, Medium and High. The key differences are as follows:

PhysX High PhysX Medium PhysX Low
Debris Max-quality Debris Debris particle-count reduced, resulting in fewer pieces of debris per effect No GPU PhysX effects shown
SPH Fluid Max-quality SPH Fluid, full range of enemy fluid effects, numerous uses of SPH water SPH Fluid particle-count reduced, fluid effects no longer on or emitted by four enemy types, fluid less reactive, and SPH water effect removed from all scenes No GPU PhysX effects shown
Cloth Max-quality cloth Lower-quality cloth and fewer instances of cloth per level No GPU PhysX effects shown
Particles Sparks, embers, and more, shower each scene Fewer general particle effects, e.g. sparks and embers No GPU PhysX effects shown

 

In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the Cloth effect is removed in favor of more crowd-pleasing particle goodness per scene, and we see the introduction of the aforementioned Ultra detail level.

PhysX Ultra PhysX High PhysX Medium PhysX Low
Debris Identical to High Max-quality Debris Debris particle-count reduced, resulting in fewer pieces of debris per effect No GPU PhysX effects shown
SPH Fluid Fluid particle density and quality increased by up to 4x per effect, with up to 56,000 particles visible at any one time, compared to High's 20,000 Higher-quality SPH Fluid, full range of enemy fluid effects, numerous uses of SPH water SPH Fluid particle-count reduced, fluid effects no longer on or emitted by four enemy types, fluid less reactive, and SPH water effect removed from all scenes No GPU PhysX effects shown
Particles Identical to High Sparks, embers, and more, shower each scene Fewer general particle effects, e.g. sparks and embers No GPU PhysX effects shown

 

GPU PhysX Performance

 

GPU accelerated PhysX effects add greatly to the sense of excitement and immersion in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and because they are rendering tens of thousands of realistically-interacting particles, the performance impact is sizeable in comparison to other settings in the two games. No other setting comes close to having the same impact on image quality, however, and for this reason it is recommended that you enable at least Medium PhysX on any system containing a GeForce GTX 600 Series or newer GPU.

The bottom line is that the use of PhysX is not just a gimmick in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. It has been designed from the ground up to dramatically enhance the atmosphere of the game, enabling suitably equipped gamers to match the explosive gameplay of Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel with equally explosive effects that take full advantage of the power of their PCs.

Advanced Tweaking

Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel use a heavily modified Unreal Engine 3. If you're not sure what that means, just consider it good news for tweakers. This is because in addition to the numerous in-game options, advanced users also have the ability to directly alter game engine parameters in several ways, making further changes to graphics and gameplay.

But before we get onto altering game engine variables, let's first look at additional ways of improving the appearance of jagged outlines in the game via anti-aliasing.

Improved Antialiasing

 

Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel have a quick and easy FXAA in-game setting, as described in the Graphics Settings section. For the most part this is a relatively effective way of reducing jagged outlines with minimal performance impact, and its only real drawback is a mild blurring effect. For those who don't like this blurring, or want to attempt to smooth out jagged lines more thoroughly, consider the methods below.

SMAA: One method of AA available to everyone is Subpixel Morphological Anti-Aliasing (SMAA). This can be applied using the free injectSMAA and SweetFX utilities. SMAA allows for similar results to FXAA in terms of smoothing outlines and performance, but without the blurring. To implement SMAA in Borderlands 2, download the latest version of the utility from the link above and follow these instructions:

  1. Extract the files from the downloaded archive - in particular, we're only after the contents of the d3d9 folder of injectSMAA.
  2. Move these files into the base directory of Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Typically this is C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Borderlands 2\Binaries\Win32. Basically it's the same directory in which the Borderlands2.exe file resides. Note: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel uses identical folder structure, albeit in \BorderlandsPreSequel\
  3. Launch the game as normal and SMAA will automatically be in effect.
  4. It is recommended that you disable the in-game FXAA option to prevent blurring and conflicts.
  5. To toggle SMAA off/on at any time, use the PAUSE key.
  6. To remove SMAA completely, delete the files you moved into the base directory of Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel in Step 2. Typically these are d3d9.dll, SMAA.fx, SMAA.h and injector.ini.

SSAA: Super-Sample Anti-Aliasing (SSAA) is a relatively performance intensive form of anti-aliasing, but a handy method nonetheless, because it works in almost all games regardless of their rendering method. For NVIDIA users, the best method of implementing various types of SSAA is to use the free NVIDIA Inspector utility. Follow the steps below:

  1. Download and install NVIDIA Inspector. Importantly, make absolutely certain that you have also updated your graphics drivers to the latest version, as NVIDIA Inspector requires the Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel profiles from the latest drivers.
  2. Launch NVIDIA Inspector and click the small 'Driver Profile Settings' button (the crossed wrench and screwdriver icon) next to the 'Driver Version' box.
  3. In the window which opens, click the Profiles drop-down box and select 'Borderlands 2’ or ‘Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel'. If the profile isn't there, see Step 1.
  4. For the 'Antialiasing Compatibility' setting, click in the SettingValue box and enter 0x000000C1.
  5. For 'Antialiasing - Behavior Flags', select None.
  6. For 'Antialiasing - Mode', select 'Override any application setting'.
  7. For 'Antialiasing - Setting', in this example we will use '4x [4x Multisampling]'. This won't implement Multisampling, but it is a requirement for making the setting in the next step work properly.
  8. For 'Antialiasing - Transparency Supersampling', select an option. In our example, we will use '4x Sparse Grid Supersampling' (4x SGSSAA).
  9. SGSSAA can slightly blur the scene. If you want to remove this blurring, you can do so by going to the Texture Filtering section and adjusting the 'Texture Filtering - LOD Bias (DX9)' setting. For 2x SGSSAA enter -0.500, for 4x SGSSAA enter -1.000 and for 8x SGSSAA enter -1.500. Make sure the 'Texture Filtering - Negative LOD Bias' setting is also set to Allow.
  10. Click the 'Apply changes' button at the top right to save your settings. You can close NVIDIA Inspector if you wish as it doesn't need to be active for your settings to work.
  11. Launch Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel as normal to see the changes. It is strongly recommended that you disable the in-game FXAA option to prevent additional blurring or conflicts.


An example of an NVIDIA Inspector Borderlands 2 profile configured for 4xSGSSAA.

To undo these changes at any time, click the small green NVIDIA logo button at the top of the profiles screen in NVIDIA Inspector, and the Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel profiles will be returned to their default settings. In step 8 above, you can also experiment with the various Transparency Supersampling options to see which looks best to you, but for the most part they will all have a major impact on performance.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing FXAA vs. SMAA, here for an interactive comparison showing FXAA vs. SGSSAA, and here for an interactive comparison showing SMAA vs. SGSSAA.

The screenshots above compare Borderlands 2 first with no AA whatsoever; then with the in-game FXAA setting enabled; next we substitute SMAA in place of FXAA; and finally, only 4x SGSSAA is used.

At a glance, all three forms of AA provide a suitable amount of reduction in jagged outlines: the railing in the center of the screen, the metal ledge to the left, and the edge of the hanging metal structure at the top left for example all lose their rough, jagged edges. When examined more closely, we can see that FXAA seems to provide the smoothest outlines out of the three AA methods. The outline of the railing in the center for example is almost completely smooth with FXAA, but still shows slight roughness with SMAA or 4x SGSSAA. This is because the blurring which accompanies FXAA helps to further hide rough edges. On the other hand, FXAA's blurring causes some loss of detail, most visible in this scene on the section of the metal ledge just below the crosshairs.

When comparing SMAA to 4x SGSSAA, look carefully at the outlines along the top yellow portion of the shotgun - 4x SGSSAA doesn't seem to provide the same smoothness as SMAA. Given 4x SGSSAA also has almost half the framerate of SMAA, it seems hard to argue that it would be preferable to SMAA.

So on balance, for the best performance and smoothest outlines, FXAA seems to be a winner. On the other hand, if you want to prevent very fine detail from being blurred, and don't mind edges which are a touch rougher, then SMAA is recommended instead. There seems little need to implement other more performance-intensive methods of AA such as SuperSampling, since to get a better result than FXAA or SMAA you'd have to use such a high level of SSAA that the framerate would be crushed.

You may also wish to consider an FXAA Injector, which would approach the same level of quality as the in-game FXAA option, but also allow for the application of sharpness tweaks and other graphical modifications.

On the next page we look at how to tweak the .ini files for advanced customization of graphics.

.ini Tweaks

A range of game engine parameters can be altered by editing certain initialization (.ini) files using an ordinary text editor such as Windows Notepad. The key .ini files to edit in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel are: WillowEngine.ini, WillowGame.ini and WillowInput.ini. These are all found under your \Users\[Username]\My Documents\My Games\Borderlands 2\WillowGame\Config\ directory (Note: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel uses an identical folder structure, albeit in \BorderlandsPreSequel\). Create backup copies of these files before making any changes to them. Most of the variables in these three main .ini files are either already fully adjustable via the in-game settings, are non-functional on PC, or are not designed to be edited by the user in any meaningful way.

Below we examine a range of the most useful tweaks in the .ini files which cannot otherwise be made using the in-game settings, and which actually have a noticeable image quality or performance impact. If you can't find the relevant variable in the .ini file, press CTRL+F in the text editor to bring up the search function and enter the variable name.

WillowEngine.ini

 

[Engine.Engine]

MipFadeInSpeed0=0
MipFadeOutSpeed0=0
MipFadeInSpeed1=0
MipFadeOutSpeed1=0

The game engine uses a texture streaming technique to load up textures on the fly. This can reduce stuttering and loading pauses, but a side-effect of this is that certain areas or objects will be visibly blurry for a few seconds while textures are steadily loaded in. To greatly reduce, and in most cases eliminate, this texture pop-in effect, set the four variables above to =0 as shown. Note that there may still be momentary texture loading visible at times, particularly at the start of a session and in new areas, based on the speed of your system.

SecondsBeforeConsideringRagdollRemoval=600.0
SecondsBeforeVisibleRagdollRemoval=600.0

By default, enemy bodies persist in the game world for up to 10 minutes, and during a big battle they can quickly stack up. By modifying SecondsBeforeConsideringRagdollRemoval and SecondsBeforeVisibleRagdollRemoval to lower values performance can be greatly improved. However, values too low may result in bodies vanishing in front of your eyes, breaking immersion. As such, experiment with the values and determine what you find acceptable.

[SystemSettings]

DynamicShadows=True

This variable controls whether interactive objects in the game world, such as characters and vehicles, cast shadows, both on themselves and other surfaces. If set to False, all such shadows will be removed, leaving only generic shadows cast by fixed objects such as buildings and terrain.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Dynamic Shadows Off vs. Dynamic Shadows On.

The screenshots above demonstrate the difference, showing that when Dynamic Shadows are disabled, some shadows are removed completely, and most lose a lot of depth and detail. This includes the loss of self-shadowing on the Sanctuary Citizen, and the removal of his shadow on the grass behind him. Disabling Dynamic Shadows can noticeably boost performance at the cost of some richness in the game's graphics.

DynamicLights=True

If you still need more FPS, you can disable dynamic lighting altogether by setting this variable to False. This will make the game world relatively bland and darker in some areas, but will provide an even larger performance boost than just disabling Dynamic Shadows.

bAllowLightShafts=True

If this variable is set to False, the shafts of light visible when staring at an object through strong light, dubbed "God Rays", will be removed.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Light Shafts Off vs. Light Shafts On.

The screenshots above show that there is a clear difference in atmosphere when light shafts are enabled, but disabling them will provide a substantial increase in performance in outdoor areas.

Distortion=True

If this variable is set to False, certain distortion effects, such as the heat warp effect around an exploding grenade, will be disabled. This can prevent slowdowns during heavy combat, without a huge loss in image quality.

DetailMode=2

This variable controls minor details in the game world, and is interesting in that it appears to be what the in-game Game Detail setting should control. However the in-game Game Detail setting actually controls another variable called PopulationAdjustment. In any case, adjusting DetailMode down to a value of 1 or 0 strips away very minor visual detail in the game world, which may improve performance on low-end machines.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Detail Mode 2 vs. Detail Mode 0.

An example is provided in the screenshots above, showing full detail when at DetailMode=2, and slightly less detail when at DetailMode=0 - the only real difference is the removal of an antenna on the roof of the shack.

MaxWholeSceneDominantShadowResolution=2048

This variable has primary control of the resolution of shadows in the game. The lower the value, the more jagged and generic shadows become, and the higher the value, the more defined and detailed the shadows will be, at the cost of performance.


Click here for an interactive comparison showing Shadow Resolution 2048 vs. Shadow Resolution 128, and here for an interactive comparison showing Shadow Resolution 2048 vs. Shadow Resolution 4096.

The screenshots above demonstrate the difference at two extremes on either side of the default value of 2048. At a low resolution of 128 in the first screenshot, the shadow of the New-U Station, as well as other shadows, are all extremely blurry - so much so that the antenna shadow is missing. At the other extreme of 4096 in the third screenshot, you can see that the slightly jagged edges of the shadows in 2048 resolution are now almost completely smooth at 4096. Reducing shadow resolution will improve performance at the cost of detailed shadows, while raising it will lower performance but improve shadow clarity.

ResX=1920
ResY=1080

These variables determine your horizontal (ResX) and vertical (ResY) resolution. This can be adjusted using the in-game Resolution setting, but if you want to set a custom resolution that is not available there, you can use these variables instead.

FoliageDrawRadiusMultiplier=1.000000

This variable is usually controlled by the in-game Foliage Distance setting. However here you can determine the view distance for foliage more precisely. The in-game Foliage Distance Far setting equals a value of 1.0 for this variable, and Near equals 0.5, but you can choose any value in between if you wish. Values above 1.0 won't extend foliage distance, but the most useful aspect of this variable is that if you want to remove foliage (mainly dynamically generated grass) altogether, set this variable to a value of =0. This can improve performance in outdoor areas.

The list above covers the key .ini tweaks which have been tested as working properly, and have a noticeable impact on image quality, performance or gameplay. There are many other variables in the .ini files with tempting names, however upon testing these, the vast majority show no discernible change. Some of the popular tweaks being used at the moment fall into this category. And of course, the most important variables are already tied to the in-game settings, and not covered above, as they should be adjusted in-game.

There's plenty of scope to experiment further with the variables in the .ini files, as you may discover something interesting. However I strongly recommend against simply copying and pasting large portions of anyone else's .ini contents into your own .ini file. Always test each .ini tweak individually, preferably using screenshot comparisons and an FPS counter to detect any genuine impact. If you happen to mess up one of the three main .ini files mentioned at the start of this section, move the file to another folder or delete it, and the next time you launch Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, it will create a clean new copy of this file with the correct defaults, minus any customizations you made.

Console Commands

In this section we look at a range of game engine variables which can be altered on the fly while the game is running. This is done via the Command Console, which is disabled by default. To enable the in-game console in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, open the DefaultInput.ini file found under the \Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Borderlands 2\WillowGame\Config directory (Note: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel uses an identical folder structure, albeit in \BorderlandsPreSequel\). Under the [Engine.Console] section at the top, add the following line immediately below it:

ConsoleKey=Tilde
TypeKey=Backslash

This allows the use of the Tilde (~) key, typically found below the ESC key on most keyboards, to open and close the console. You can assign another key to this function if you wish, but this may cause problems if it conflicts with another bound command, so Tilde is recommended. Save and exit the .ini file, and launch Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. You can now open and close the console window using the ~ key at any time during normal gameplay.

There are a range of console commands you can use. The most useful of these are documented below:

Stat FPS: Displays a small FPS counter on the right of the screen. Use the same command again to remove it.

ToggleHUD: Removes the Heads Up Display (HUD) elements. Removing the HUD is not recommended for normal gameplay, but it does allow for more cinematic screenshots or videos. Use the same command again to return the HUD.

FOV [degrees]: You can already adjust the Field of View (FOV) using the in-game setting of the same name. However this command allows you to use values outside the range of the in-game slider. Any value you use for FOV will be retained when you restart the game.

SetRes [HxV Pixels]: This command lets you set a custom resolution, outside of those available in the Resolution in-game setting. The value for this command must be in the format Horizontal x Vertical pixel count. For example, setres 1920x1200.

Shot: Takes a screenshot and places the file in a screenshot folder under your \Program Files (x86)\Steam\userdata\[usernumber]\760\remote\49520\screenshots directory (\Program Files (x86)\Steam\userdata\[usernumber]\760\remote\261640\screenshots for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel). The Screenshot console command does the same thing as the Shot command, but you can take more complex Tiled Screenshots using the TiledShot command. When using these commands, input them into the single-line console, accessed via the Backslash (\) key, otherwise the console will be shown in the screenshot.

Exit: You can use this command to quickly exit the game back to your desktop without going through several prompts/screens. The Quit command does the same thing.

A range of other Unreal Engine 3 console commands were tested, but none will work aside from those above which have been specifically enabled by Gearbox.

Faster Startup

 

If you wish to skip the in-game movies for 2K Games and Gearbox that appear when loading:

  1. Open your Steam Games Library.
  2. Right-click on Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel in the Library, and select Properties.
  3. Click the 'Set Launch Options' button.
  4. In the dialog box which opens, type -nostartupmovies and click OK.
  5. Close the Properties window.

Bypassing The Launcher

 

One final tweak for those who want an even faster start-up for Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: to bypass the special Launcher screen which appears on your desktop when you launch Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, follow these steps:

  1. Open your Steam Games Library.
  2. Right-click on Borderlands 2 in the Library, and select Properties.
  3. Click the 'Set Launch Options' button.
  4. In the dialog box which opens, type -nolauncher and click OK. If you have –nostartupmovies enabled from above, configure the box to say -nolauncher -nostartupmovies
  5. Close the Properties window.

Now whenever you launch Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel from Steam, it will open the game directly, without first opening the launcher. If you want to regain the launcher, follow the steps above and delete the -nolauncher command in Step 4.

Conclusion

Borderlands 2 gained quite a few accolades amongst PC gamers for its refreshing combination of fun gameplay and addictive RPG attributes, and it's likely Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel will as well. The games also run extremely well on most systems, making them accessible even to those who haven't upgraded in some years.

In terms of settings, if you're looking to squeeze out extra performance, then a combination of reducing View Distance, turning off Ambient Occlusion, Depth of Field, or PhysX should do the trick while still keeping things pretty to look at. If you are using an older GPU but still want to enjoy the game’s PhysX effects, then consider adding a second NVIDIA GPU to improve performance by up to 2x. If you're really struggling for FPS, a few advanced tweaks like disabling God Rays and Dynamic Shadows will help you get better framerates.

If you're having difficulties with the game, or just want to talk to other Borderlands players, check the Official Borderlands Forums. If you're experiencing lag in Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel online, refer to the How to Get Rid of Lag article to correctly determine the source of your lag and what if anything you can do about it.

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