Watch Dogs Graphics, Performance & Tweaking Guide

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Watch Dogs Graphics, Performance & Tweaking Guide.

Watch Dogs is Ubisoft’s newest franchise, promising unprecedented freedom and opportunities in its open world, near-future recreation of Chicago. As Aiden Pearce, a brilliant hacker whose criminal past led to a family tragedy, players must enact their own brand of justice on those who wronged Aiden, using the city’s interconnected technologies as a weapon.

Built on Ubisoft Montreal’s new, scalable Disrupt engine, Watch Dogs brings advanced graphics, effects and technologies to the table across multiple platforms. On PC, gamers benefit from higher-resolution textures, city streets teeming with additional NPCs, richer effects across the board, support for resolutions up to 11520x2160, an unlocked frame rate, and additional NVIDIA technologies that further improve the game’s graphical fidelity.

In this article we’ll examine the game’s features, show comparisons that highlight their benefits, reveal advanced configuration file tweaks, and offer optimal playable setting recommendations for the most popular GeForce GTX GPUs.

Article Contents:

 

 

Watch Dogs System Requirements

Watch Dogs’ system requirements are indicative of the performance necessary for new-generation graphical extravaganzas. DirectX 11 is required for the suite of new effects, 6GB of RAM is required for storing world data, models and other game elements, and newer CPUs and GPUs are required to push the many pixels.

Minimum System Requirements

  • OS: Windows Vista (SP2), Windows 7 (SP1) or Windows 8 64-bit OSs
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400 @ 2.66 GHz or AMD Phenom II X4 940 @ 3.0 GHz
  • Memory: 6GB RAM [Watch Dogs will run with 4GB, but you may experience frequent stuttering]
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX 460 or better
  • DirectX: Version 11
  • Hard Drive Space: 25GB

Recommended System Requirements

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3770 @ 3.5 GHz or AMD FX-8350 X8 @ 4 GHz
  • Memory: 8GB RAM or more
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX 560 Ti or better

Ultra System Requirements

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-4770K @ 3.5 GHz
  • Graphics: GeForce GTX 780 or better

Recommendations for a variety of configs can be found here.

 

Disrupt: Powering Watch Dogs

Assassin’s Creed's time-hopping gameplay demands the use of the Anvil and AnvilNext engines, while Far Cry’s expansive worlds require the services of Dunia. For Watch Dogs, Ubisoft Montreal’s design documents contained ambitious plans that failed to align with the strengths of Ubisoft’s internal engines, or those of third parties. As a result, Disrupt was developed, enabling seamless multiplayer, complex AI systems, and modern-day urban worlds filled with detail.

As a product of the new generation of games, Disrupt features all of the technologies enthusiasts desire, such as deferred lighting, dynamic weather, real-time dynamic reflections, pre-baked Global Illumination, subsurface scattering, and multithreaded rendering across all CPU cores. SLI, 3D Vision, and 4K support is included, too.

 

Watch Dogs PC-Exclusive Graphics Enhancements

Playing Watch Dogs on a geared-up PC grants you access to improved features and effects that the newest consoles are incapable of rendering. These include superior level of detail options for distant views, superior textures, models, water effects, reflections, vegetation, terrain, geometry, shadows, shaders, depth of field effects, and visual effects, to name but a few examples.

Furthermore, PC gamers benefit from the inclusion of NVIDIA HBAO+ Ambient Occlusion shadowing and NVIDIA TXAA Anti-Aliasing, which improve image quality significantly. For detailed explanations of each, and demonstrations of their capabilities, keep reading. For more on our work on the PC version, check out the video below:

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Watch Dogs GeForce GTX Technology Trailer

 

Watch Dogs Game Settings Detailed

 

Ambient Occlusion

Ambient Occlusion (AO) adds contact shadows where two surfaces or objects meet, and where an object blocks light from reaching another nearby game element. The AO technique used and the quality of the implementation affects the shadowing’s accuracy, and whether new shadows are formed when the level of occlusion is low. Without Ambient Occlusion scenes can look flat and unrealistic, and objects can appear as if they are floating on surfaces.

In Watch Dogs, gamers can enable Ubisoft’s half-resolution, console-quality Ambient Occlusion technique, MHBAO, and NVIDIA’s HBAO+, a DirectX 11 AO technique that renders shadows at full resolution with an unprecedented 36 occlusion samples per AO pixel. Compared to other AO techniques, HBAO+ is more detailed and more precise, and has a significantly lower performance impact per occlusion sample.

Watch Dogs -

To see the benefits of HBAO+ in Watch Dogs for yourself, check out the comparison screenshots below and the interactive comparisons linked beneath each set of shots.

Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #1 - AO Disabled Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #1 - MHBAO Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #1 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (Low) Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #1 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (High)

Interactive Comparisons

 

Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #2 - AO Disabled Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #2 - MHBAO Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #2 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (Low) Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #2 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (High)

Interactive Comparisons

 

Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #3 - AO Disabled Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #3 - MHBAO Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #3 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (Low) Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #3 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (High)

Interactive Comparisons

 

Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #4 - AO Disabled Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #4 - MHBAO Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #4 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (Low) Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #4 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (High)

Interactive Comparisons

 

Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #5 - AO Disabled Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #5 - MHBAO Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #5 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (Low) Watch Dogs - Ambient Occlusion Example #5 - NVIDIA HBAO+ (High)

Interactive Comparisons

 

As you can see, the image quality improvements when HBAO+ High is enabled are considerable, adding realistic shadowing across all scenes, characters and objects, without AO halos, dithering, or flickering.

Performance: Using our initial Ambient Occlusion test location we measured the performance of each AO setting on an i7-2600K, GeForce GTX TITAN SLI system at 1920x1080, with every other setting maxed out, and 4x TXAA enabled.

Watch Dogs -

A 13 frames per second different between Off and HBAO+ High is a moderate sum, but given the leap in image quality it’s more than worth it.

 

Anti-Aliasing

Anti-Aliasing removes jagged edges from objects, improving scene fidelity significantly. In Watch Dogs, Ubisoft Montreal gives gamers eight settings to choose from, including TXAA, a NVIDIA-developed hardware anti-aliasing solution that combines MSAA with temporal anti-aliasing resolves to minimize edge aliasing, and virtually eliminate temporal aliasing, the movement and flickering of anti-aliased edges. Here follows a summary of each setting, with accompanying comparison screenshots.

Watch Dogs - Anti-Aliasing Disabled

FXAA: High-performance post-process anti-aliasing that even the slowest systems should enable. As with other post-process techniques, FXAA is also capable of anti-aliasing alpha textures, which are used to cheaply render chain link fences, foliage, and other less visible game elements.

Watch Dogs - FXAA Anti-Aliasing

SMAA: Slower post-process anti-aliasing technique that offers superior anti-aliasing in the majority of cases, in comparison to FXAA, and with a reduced level of screen blurring.

Watch Dogs - SMAA Anti-Aliasing

Temporal SMAA: Offers identical anti-aliasing properties as SMAA, with the addition of a temporal anti-aliasing filter, which reduces the unsightly movement of anti-aliased surfaces. Compared to TXAA the effect is understandably inferior, but for those without the necessary GPU performance Temporal SMAA is an excellent alternative.

Watch Dogs - Temporal SMAA Anti-Aliasing

MSAA 2x, 4x, 8x: The use of performance-intensive Multisample hardware anti-aliasing generally results in superior image quality, but with Watch Dogs we would in fact recommend using Temporal SMAA over MSAA 2x, if you lack the performance for MSAA 4x. At 2x, MSAA’s edge anti-aliasing is far inferior to that of Temporal SMAA, and you also lose Temporal SMAA's temporal anti-aliasing and alpha texture anti-aliasing capabilities.

Watch Dogs - 2x Multisample Anti-Aliasing

At 4x, MSAA significantly improves edge anti-aliasing, in addition to improving clarity of distant detail, to the degree that the loss of temporal anti-aliasing and alpha texture anti-aliasing is offset. 8x improves matters further, though at the expense of performance and VRAM usage, demanding the need for at least 2GB of video memory.

Watch Dogs - 4x Multisample Anti-Aliasing Watch Dogs - 4x Multisample Anti-Aliasing

TXAA 2x, 4x: TXAA is NVIDIA’s custom-designed hardware anti-aliasing solution that works on all GeForce GTX 600, 700, and 800M Series GPUs. Compared to MSAA 4x, TXAA 2x offers superior edge anti-aliasing, in addition to alpha texture anti-aliasing and temporal anti-aliasing. TXAA 4x improves the quality of each, and outdoes MSAA 8x’s edge anti-aliasing without the need for additional VRAM.

Watch Dogs - 2x NVIDIA TXAA

In static screenshots and enlarged comparisons TXAA’s softer image is plain to see. In motion, however, its capabilities are unsurpassed, creating a smooth, clear image almost entirely free of edge and temporal aliasing.

Watch Dogs - 4x NVIDIA TXAA

Interactive Comparisons: Click on the following links to view interactive comparisons of the anti-aliasing settings, highlighting the capabilities of each:

 

A second set of images, below, shows the impact of anti-aliasing settings at 3840x2160.

Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - Anti-Aliasing Disabled

Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - FXAA Anti-Aliasing Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - SMAA Anti-Aliasing Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - Temporal SMAA Anti-Aliasing Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - 2xMSAA Anti-Aliasing Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - 4xMSAA Anti-Aliasing Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - 8xMSAA Anti-Aliasing Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - 2x NVIDIA TXAA Anti-Aliasing Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 - 4x NVIDIA TXAA Anti-Aliasing

Performance: The location highlighted in our screenshots features geometry, alpha textures, and surfaces that suffer from temporal aliasing, making it the perfect location for measuring the performance impact of each anti-aliasing option at 1920x1080.

Watch Dogs - Anti-Aliasing Performance Chart

Using the data above and our screenshot comparisons, there are three clear recommendations: low-to-medium systems should use Temporal SMAA; medium-to-high end systems should use MSAA 4x with optional post-process anti-aliasing, injected courtesy of SMAA or SweetFX; and medium-to-high end systems equipped with GeForce GTX 600 Series or better GPUs should opt for TXAA for the ultimate combination of edge and temporal anti-aliasing.

 

Depth of Field

Depth of Field adds out of focus effects to cut scenes and some gameplay actions, focusing the player's eye on what the game deems to be important at that moment.

Watch Dogs - Depth of Field

Under examination, game files and settings reveal the PC version of the effect to have a higher degree of fidelity, though specifics remain a mystery.

 

Level of Detail

Aside from the application of hardware Anti-Aliasing, the multi-faceted Level of Detail (LoD) option has the single largest performance impact of any setting.

Most visibly, Level of Detail adjusts the number of visual flourishes visible on-screen. For example, looking over a street scene all non-essential detail is stripped back as the LoD setting is decreased, until only vital detail and the effects from other settings remain. Similarly, the number of buildings visible in the distance is also reduced, as is their fidelity and complexity.

In addition, the range at which these removed flourishes appear during gameplay is greatly decreased, and the distance at which the flourishes are shown at full detail is also adjusted to maximize performance.

Beyond traditional level of detail scaling, the LoD setting also controls the quality of geometry, terrain, lighting, shading, vehicles, particle effects, physics effects, Aiden’s character model, and the models of NPCs. It’s also capable of overriding your preferences from other options, removing puddles of reflective water and other items.

Across each of these many game elements, minor changes are detected going from Ultra to High, followed by significant changes when switching from High to Medium. On Low, additional reductions are made, most noticeably to world detail.

Watch Dogs - Level of Detail Ultra - Example #1 Watch Dogs - Level of Detail High - Example #1 Watch Dogs - Level of Detail Medium - Example #1 Watch Dogs - Level of Detail Low - Example #1

Interactive Comparisons

 

In the confined city and its suburbs, the changes between settings are less drastic at close range, as the images below reveal.

Watch Dogs - Level of Detail Ultra - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Level of Detail High - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Level of Detail Medium - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Level of Detail Low - Example #2

Interactive Comparisons

 

Performance: In a graphically intensive scene comprised of city detail, distant detail, foliage, civilians, vehicles, objects, environmental particle effects, and weather effects, we paused the game using a console command and measured the performance impact of each LoD setting. Please note that performance measurements do not provide a complete picture of LoD’s impact due to the inclusion of physics effects in the setting, which cannot be accurately measured due to continually shifting weather systems. The same applies for additional particle effects not shown in our comparison images, which are randomized when spawned through explosions, and appear randomly in the environment.

Watch Dogs - Level of Detail Performance Chart

Given the sizeable differences in image quality in most scenes between High and Medium, and the number of game elements LoD affects, High is recommended for the majority of systems where performance allows. For the optimum experience, manually tweak each element of the LoD setting.

 

Reflections

Watch Dogs’ Dual Paraboloid Multisample Anti-Aliased reflections add substantial detail to Ubisoft’s virtual Chicago, most noticeably at night during the game’s many storms.

On Ultra, geometry, lighting, and other game elements are reflected in puddles, on metallic surfaces such as the bonnets of cars, and on destructible glass (reflections on indestructible windows of inaccessible buildings appear to be generated via cubemaps). Most impressively, dynamic lights from flashing neon signs and other light-casting objects are also reflected at a high level of fidelity, increasing immersion significantly. On consoles, this performance-intensive dynamic reflection effect is entirely absent, and the number of reflected game elements and lights also appears to be reduced.

Watch Dogs - Reflections Ultra - Example #1

Lowering the Reflections settings from Ultra to High results in reduced reflection fidelity, and the loss of the aforementioned real-time dynamic reflections generated from non-essential scenery and objects.

Watch Dogs - Reflections High - Example #1

On Medium, reflections on metallic and glass surfaces are mostly removed, and the fidelity of ground-level reflections reduced once more.

Watch Dogs - Reflections Medium - Example #1

On Low, only pre-baked reflections and select cubemaps remain, reducing image quality greatly. Curiously, there are exceptions, allowing reflections from headlights, blockers, and other game elements to be displayed on wet surfaces, even with every single game setting on Low. An example of this can be seen below when looking at car headlights reflected on road surfaces, and in our final set of comparison images.

Watch Dogs - Reflections Low - Example #1

Interactive Comparisons

 

Additional sets of screenshots below highlight the sometimes drastic impact of the Reflections setting in other scenes.

Watch Dogs - Reflections Ultra - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Reflections High - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Reflections Medium - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Reflections Low - Example #2

Interactive Comparisons

 

Watch Dogs - Reflections Ultra - Example #3 Watch Dogs - Reflections High - Example #3 Watch Dogs - Reflections Medium - Example #3 Watch Dogs - Reflections Low - Example #3

Interactive Comparisons

 

Watch Dogs - Reflections Ultra - Example #4 Watch Dogs - Reflections High - Example #4 Watch Dogs - Reflections Medium - Example #4 Watch Dogs - Reflections Low - Example #4

Interactive Comparisons

 

Performance: In the graphically intensive downtime night scene shown in our first set of screenshots, we measured the performance impact of each Reflections setting.

Watch Dogs - Reflections Performance Chart

If performance allows enable High. There's a large loss of fidelity on Medium in certain scenes, and the performance impact between the two detail levels is only about five frames per second.

 

Shader

The Shader setting controls the interaction between light and surfaces. Common examples include ‘wet’ shine on jackets, illumination of said shine from light casters, reflective shine on metallic surfaces, and the casting of man-made light onto other surfaces.

Watch Dogs - Shader High - Example #1

In the screenshot above the illumination of Aiden’s jacket and the bollard are the result of the Shader setting, as is the illumination of the plants, the planter, and the ground texture, though these additional effects are only truly noticeable in our 1:1 interactive comparison.

Downgrading to Medium, meanwhile, greatly reduces the amount of shader-related illumination, and has a high impact on the precision and fidelity of the reflective shine on the propeller. Not shown is a reduction in the number of rain splashes.

Watch Dogs - Shader Medium - Example #1

On Low, rain splashes are disabled, only pre-baked shine remains, and all additional illumination is disabled, degrading image quality at night enormously.

Watch Dogs - Shader Low - Example #1

Interactive Comparisons

 

In our second set of screenshots you see how crucial the Shader option is for nighttime illumination: as the detail level is decreased it is as if Aiden were turning out the lights with his blackout gadget.

Watch Dogs - Watch Dogs - Shader High - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Watch Dogs - Shader Medium - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Watch Dogs - Shader Low - Example #2

Interactive Comparisons

 

Performance: In our initial comparison location we measured the performance impact of the Shader setting’s three detail level.

Watch Dogs - Shader Performance Chart

High’s shader effects are nice to have, but if you’re struggling for performance Medium is recommended. If at all possible avoid Low, or have Aiden sleep through the night in a safe house each day.

 

Shadows

Unsurprisingly, the Shadows settings adjusts the quality and complexity of shadows. Low’s shadows are heavily aliased (dithered) and lack definition. Adjusting the setting upward results in a continual increase in shadow complexity and fidelity, culminating in clearly-defined soft shadows that far exceed the quality of those seen on consoles. And as an added bonus, the PC edition of Watch Dogs benefits from an additional Level of Detail Shadow Dithering config setting, improving the fidelity of shadows seen at range.

Watch Dogs - Shadows Ultra - Example #1 Watch Dogs - Shadows High - Example #1 Watch Dogs - Shadows Medium - Example #1 Watch Dogs - Shadows Low - Example #1

Interactive Comparisons

 

Watch Dogs - Shadows Ultra - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Shadows High - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Shadows Medium - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Shadows Low - Example #2

Interactive Comparisons

 

Performance: In a graphically intensive scene comprised of long range and close range shadows, as well as dynamic shadows cast by pedestrians and vehicles, we measured the performance impact of each setting.

Watch Dogs - Shadows Performance Chart

Low’s dithering is particularly egregious. If at all possible enable Medium as it's only that bit slower.

 

Textures

Watch Dogs’ principal actors feature highly detailed modelling and texturing, with Aiden’s partner in crime, Clara, being the standout. During open world gameplay concessions do have to be made given the number of models, objects, and surfaces, but on the whole Watch Dogs does a fine job with texturing, enabling text and minute details to be clearly seen.

Watch Dogs - Ultra Textures

The caveat is that you’ll require a GPU with 3GB of VRAM to play with maximum-detail textures enabled, without encountering stutters. On cards with less than 3GB of VRAM, previously used textures will be removed frequently from memory to make way for those visible on the path ahead. This can result in hitching, stuttering, and even temporary pauses if other system-related bottlenecks are encountered during the process. To minimize the potential consequences of using less than 3GB of VRAM, we recommend that you load the game onto a SSD and refrain from using MSAA and TXAA hardware anti-aliasing modes, which consume VRAM, reducing the amount available for textures.

If stuttering does occur and detracts from your experience, the 2GB ‘High’ setting is instead recommended. At first glance, texture fidelity appears unchanged. Looking closer, however, reveals moderately blurred text on surfaces, a reduction of the number of unique textures on surfaces, and finer details like the grooved material of Aiden’s hoodie being lost. During gameplay, these quality changes will likely go unnoticed, so if you are struggling with stutters High is definitely recommended.

Watch Dogs - High Textures

On Medium, the lowest setting, we discovered something unexpected: the reduction of model and geometry detail. In our screenshot this is most visible on the crane to Aiden’s right, where an entire section of the model is removed. We also see the lowering of polygon counts across the board, in addition to the reduction of flourishes such as the pipe that connects sections of the crane on Aiden’s left. Changes can be seen on the building to the upper right, too, and on the duct on its roof.

Watch Dogs - Medium Textures

Combined with the further reduction in texture quality, we’d only recommend Medium for systems struggling to play Watch Dogs with every other setting turned down.

Interactive Comparisons: Click on the following links to view interactive comparisons of the game’s Texture settings (note, Aiden’s spawn position and other game elements are randomized slightly between loads, which are required when modifying the texture setting, preventing us from capturing perfectly aligned 1:1 comparisons):

 

Performance: Using the pictured scene we measured the performance impact of each setting.

Watch Dogs - Textures Performance Chart

Medium’s reduction of model and geometry detail results in a minor performance improvement, though we expect this to increase in a more detailed urban environment. Unfortunately, the necessity to reload between textures changes, and to respawn at a hideout prevents us from performing a 1:1 test elsewhere.

If you’re truly struggling for performance Medium should be considered a last resort. For everyone else, High is the target.

 

Water

Watch Dogs’ four Water detail levels control the complexity of open bodies of water, such as lakes and oceans, and the fidelity of reflections seen on their surfaces, independent of the “Reflections” setting. On Ultra, water is highly detailed, highly reactive, and topped off with real-time dynamic reflections that reflect every detail, right down to Ambient Occlusion shading.

Watch Dogs - Water Ultra - Example #1

On High, you’d be hard pressed to identify the differences between it and Ultra. In 1:1 comparisons we see a slight reduction in the quality of the water simulation, and a near-imperceptible reduction in the quality of reflections.

Watch Dogs - Water High - Example #1

On Medium and Low... just don’t bother - reflections are completely removed, the quality of the water simulation is reduced, and the quality of the water itself is greatly reduced. With the exception of “Shaders Low”, the Low and Medium Water settings suffer from the most significant and noticeable image quality degradation in the entire game, having a massive impact on fidelity in many game locations.

Watch Dogs - Water Medium - Example #1 Watch Dogs - Water Low - Example #1

Interactive Comparisons

 

Additional sets of screenshots below highlight the impact of the Water setting in other scenes.

Watch Dogs - Water Ultra - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Water High - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Water Medium - Example #2 Watch Dogs - Water Low - Example #2

Interactive Comparisons

 

Watch Dogs - Water Ultra - Example #3 Watch Dogs - Water High - Example #3 Watch Dogs - Water Medium - Example #3 Watch Dogs - Water Low - Example #3

Interactive Comparisons

 

Performance: Using our initial comparison location, we tested the performance impact of the four Water settings on our SLI TITAN system, using max settings and 4x TXAA.

Watch Dogs - Water Performance Chart

If at all possible enable High. If not, avoid areas containing water.

 

Config File Tweaking & Advanced Options

Accessing GamerProfile.xml in C:\Users\USERNAME\Documents\My Games\Watch_Dogs reveals a wealth of settings that can be tweaked for greater control over the game’s visuals. For example, the “Level of Detail” setting is broken down into a multitude of individually configurable quality settings, enabling you to retain a high level of geometry detail while reducing the accuracy of CPU-intensive physics effects, improving performance without compromising image quality.

Below, we offer a breakdown of notable settings; before diving in backup the Watch_Dogs folder and be prepared for crashes when loading your save game if a setting is incorrectly configured. Additionally, ensure the “Overall Quality” in-game option is set to “Custom” before tweaking, otherwise the game will ignore config file changes and work exclusively from its Low, Medium, High and Ultra presets. You may also have to copy the configured GamerProfile.xml into a game-generated sub-folder that automatically appears in the Watch_Dogs directory, should the game crash or changes not be applied. Finally, note that the Watch_Dogs folder and config file may be located in the game directory or Steam userdata directory depending on how the final versions of the game operate.

AlphaToCoverage: Multisample Anti-Aliasing for alpha textures, such as those used for foliage. In our pre-release Gold Master build this setting was non-functional, disappointingly, as its activation would result in a considerable increase in image quality. Fingers crossed for the release version.

AntiPortalQuality: Controls “Antiportal Rendering”, the technology used to optimize render speed through the occlusion of non-visible detail. It is recommended that you leave this setting as is.

ControlMapProfile Settings: Enables out of game configuration of the controls.

DeferredFxQuality: The quality of 'deferred' visual effects. Changing this to “pc” from "console" had no change on performance or image quality in any test we performed.

DepthOfFieldQuality: Quality of Depth of Field effects. Can be changed from “pc” to “console”, which may improve performance, though given the lack of a static use of the effect, in the distance for example, performance and image quality testing isn't feasible. Set to “off” to disable the effect entirely.

DepthPassQuality: Adjusts the quality of depth of field-esque effects, though Depth of Field itself is adjusted through “DepthOfFieldQuality”. Can be changed from “pc” to “console”, which may improve performance.

EnvironmentQuality: Component of in-game “Level of Detail” setting, enabling adjustment of environmental detail, such as the visibility and quality of objects, the distant visibility of NPCs and vehicles, and other game elements. Also appears to adjust the fidelity of some pre-baked lighting and shading.

FireConfig QualitySetting: Unknown; in-game settings do not change its default value, “VeryHigh”. Manually adjusting the option to “Low” had no impact on fire effects in our testing.

GameProfile Settings: Enables greater control over sensitivity, input device options, and mouse smoothing, and also enables the disabling of the minimap, reticule, and open world alerts notifying you of new missions, among other things. For keyboard and mouse users, as well as those intending to take screenshots, these are essential settings.

GeometryQuality: Component of in-game “Level of Detail” setting, enabling the reduction of medium-to-long range building detail, and the reduction of detail on some close range buildings and objects.

HDR: Enables and disables the game’s High Dynamic Range lighting. When disabled, the game fails to render correctly.

HighPrecisionNormal: Changing the option from its default of “1” to “0” disables the game’s deferred shading High Precision Normal Geometry Buffer, resulting in inconsistent lighting on some surfaces and the addition of white, aliased outlines on objects. This merely decreases image quality, and therefore it is advised to leave the setting enabled.

LodDitheringQuality: Quality of anti-aliasing applied to shadows over range. Can be changed from “pc” to “console”, theoretically improving performance at the cost of shadow quality, though in our testing we could detect neither performance nor image quality changes between the two options.

MaxPrerenderedFrames and MaxDriverBufferedFrames: Advanced options for power users who wish to adjust the latency, responsiveness, and performance of the game when using VSync.

NetworkProfile Settings: Reveals the ports (9000-9005) used for multiplayer, enabling PC users with manually-configured firewalls to add exceptions for Watch Dogs.

ParaboloidReflectionQuality: Out of game configuration option for the Reflections setting.

ParticlesQuality: Component of in-game “Level of Detail” setting, enabling the adjustment of particle effects, such as those emanating from grates and pipes.

PCCustomAntialiasingQuality: Out of game configuration option for the Anti-Aliasing setting.

PhysicConfig QualitySetting: Component of in-game “Level of Detail” setting, enabling the adjustment of cloth, water and wind-based physics effects, such as the movement of Aiden’s coat when riding a motorcycle. For players struggling with performance, lowering the setting can improve the frame rate without any image quality reduction.

Admittedly, the loss of immersive physics effects is unfortunate, but we imagine gamers with slower systems would prefer improved graphics for the entirety of the game, rather than an occasional physics effect.

PostFxQuality: Adjusts the quality of multiple visual effects. If you’re struggling for performance the lowering of this setting can help, though the image quality reduction can be sizeable.

RenderRain: Disables the rendering of rain when set to “0”.

RenderSplashes: Removes rain splashes from surfaces when set to “0”, improving performance. Helpful if you wish to retain the Shader setting’s impressive lighting and shine effects, but want to save a few frames per second to improve performance.

RoadQuality: Changing the setting from “pc” to “console” appears to have the slightest of changes on image quality; in our tests we believe we observed minute differences in the image quality of stones, papers, and other small details embedded into or placed on top of road surfaces. However, given the need to restart the game between config adjustments it is impossible to definitively state that this setting has any impact.

ShadingQuality: Out of game configuration option for the Shader setting.

ShadowQuality: Out of game configuration option for the Shadows setting.

ShowFPS: Non-functional frame rate counter. Using debug tools and an in-game console, setting ShowFPS to 1 or 2 revealed useful frame rate statistics. For in-game CPU, GPU and memory monitoring that does work, we recommend the latest version of MSI Afterburner.

SSAOQuality: Out of game configuration option for the Ambient Occlusion setting.

Supersampling: Overrides the selected anti-aliasing mode and renders everything on screen twice to improve image quality. By doing so the quality of almost every game element is increased, but on the downside it increases the amount of aliasing in comparison to 4x MSAA, and heavily impacts performance. A further black mark against Supersampling is the corruption of reflections cast by the “Water” graphics settings.

“1” activates the option, but in our testing we found NVIDIA Control Panel 3840x2160 Downsampling superior in every regard, as the screenshots, interactive comparisons and performance chart below reveal.

Watch Dogs - 3840x2160 Downsampled Screenshot

Watch Dogs - Supersampling On Watch Dogs - Supersampling Off, 4x MSAA

Download the Supersampling and Downsampling images and enlarge portions in Windows Photo Viewer or a similar application. You’ll note in the Downsampling image how everything is clearer and less aliased, from the name above the crypt, to the foliage, to the buildings in the background. To compare Supersampling On and Off, click here for an interactive comparison.

Watch Dogs - Supersampling Performance Chart

Given its many drawbacks there is seemingly no reason to activate Supersampling, and no, you can’t activate it in addition to 3840x2160 Downsampling and 4x MSAA, no GPU in existence has enough VRAM.

TerrainQuality: Component of in-game “Level of Detail” setting, enabling the adjustment of the terrain’s medium-to-long range detail, improving performance.

TextureQuality: Defines the use of PC textures. To adjust the quality of the textures themselves, edit “PCCustomTextureQuality” – Ultra Textures are listed as “High” in the config file, and so on.

TextureResolutionQuality: Unknown, editing results in an immediate crash to desktop. Adjusting in-game options has no impact on the setting’s value, suggesting it is inactive or hardcoded.

VegetationQuality: Component of in-game “Level of Detail” setting, enabling the adjustment of vegetation detail and complexity.

WaterQuality: Out of game configuration option for the Water setting.

WidescreenFOV: Adjusts the width of the default third-person view. A value of “120” is below the game’s default, marked in the config file as “0”, so be prepared to experiment heavily to find the value you desire.

 

The thirty-plus options highlighted above offer greater control over Watch Dogs’ many settings, allowing power users to fine-tune settings for the ultimate balance between image quality and performance. Additionally, the discovery of HUD options ensure that screenshot enthusiasts can capture some incredible sights.

Aside from game and configuration file fiddling, there's one final tweak of note: the application of NVIDIA Control Panel Anisotropic Filtering (NVCPLAF). Compared to the game's AF implementation, distant textures and those viewed on an angle are clearer and sharper when NVCPLAF is enabled, as the interactive comparison below demonstrates.

Watch Dogs - Anisotropic Filtering Override Comparison

The performance impact of NVCPLAF is a few frames at most, which is well worth the significant improvement in image quality seen in urban and street locations (sadly, capturing 1:1 shots between game restarts in such locations is nigh on impossible given the save system). To enable NVCPLAF, open your NVIDIA Control Panel, navigate to "Manage 3D Settings", locate "Watch Dogs" in the dropdown list, and apply the settings shown below.

Watch Dogs - Anisotropic Filtering Override Configuration #1 Watch Dogs - Anisotropic Filtering Override Configuration #2

 

Watch Dogs: 4K Ready

For the ultimate Watch Dogs experience, upgrade your system with a 3840x2160 “4K” monitor. With all settings on max and 4K enabled, every single element of Watch Dogs will be sharper, smoother, clearer, and more detailed, enabling you to see every single detail as Ubisoft Montreal intended.

For a taste of what you can experience at 4K, download the max setting 3840x2160 screenshots below.

Watch Dogs - 4K Screenshot #1 Watch Dogs - 4K Screenshot #2 Watch Dogs - 4K Screenshot #3 Watch Dogs - 4K Screenshot #4 Watch Dogs - 4K Screenshot #5 Watch Dogs - 4K Screenshot #6

 

GeForce 337.88 Game Ready WHQL Drivers: An Essential Upgrade For Watch Dogs

For the best Watch Dogs experience we recommend installation of the new GeForce 337.88 WHQL, Game Ready drivers, which include a wealth of upgrades and optimizations that boost system performance and improve existing features. Namely, system-wide DirectX 11 and SLI performance optimizations of up to 75%, new technology that reduces game load times, new and updated SLI profiles, and 3D Vision enhancements that optimize DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 3D titles.

Also included are Watch Dogs-specific performance optimizations, a Watch Dogs SLI profile that scales at up to 95% on the system used in this article, and a Watch Dogs 3D Vision profile.

 

GeForce Experience: Optimal Playable Settings With A Single Click

The best way to automatically configure and apply Watch Dogs’ many game settings for your specific system configuration is through GeForce Experience, an invaluable tool for all GeForce GTX users.

Taking into account your GPU and CPU, as well as many additional factors, GeForce Experience’s game recommendations can be applied with a single click, and will be updated over time should developer patches and NVIDIA drivers improve performance. This one-click solution is perfect for gamers who wish get straight to the game, and for those with little experience in configuring settings for an optimal experience.

In addition to optimizing over 160 games, the free GeForce Experience application can automatically update drivers and profiles, record gameplay with ShadowPlay, and wirelessly stream PC games, including Watch Dogs, to NVIDIA SHIELD, the ultimate gaming and entertainment handheld.

 

Watch Dogs Optimal Playable Settings

If you do like to configure your own settings here are recommendations for the majority of the GPUs supported by Watch Dogs, with the aim of maintaining at least thirty-five frames per second at all times at 1920x1080, the most popular gaming resolution. The configurations presented here should be used as a starting point for your own system, as we’re unable to account for differing CPUs and overclocks in this table. Please note that our results may differ greatly from your own if you use an older Quad Core CPU like the Q6600.

GTX GPU AA AO DoF LoD Reflections Shader Shadows Textures Water
TITAN Black Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
TITAN Black SLI 4xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
TITAN Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
TITAN SLI 4xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
780 Ti Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
780 Ti SLI 4xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
780 Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
780 SLI 4xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
770 (4GB) Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
770 (4GB) SLI 4xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
770 Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra High Ultra
770 SLI 4xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra High Ultra
760 (4GB) SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra High High High Ultra Ultra
760 (4GB) SLI 4xMSAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
760 SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra High High High High Ultra
760 SLI 4xMSAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra High Ultra
750 Ti SMAA HBAO+ (High) Off High High Medium High High High
750 (2GB) SMAA HBAO+ (High) Off High Medium Medium Medium High High
750 SMAA HBAO+ (High) Off High Medium Medium Medium Medium High
690 Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra High Ultra
680 (4GB) Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra High High Ultra Ultra Ultra
680 (4GB) SLI 4xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
680 Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra High High Ultra High Ultra
680 SLI 4xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra High Ultra
670 (4GB) SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra High High High Ultra Ultra
670 (4GB) SLI 2xTXAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra Ultra Ultra
670 SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra High High High High Ultra
670 SLI Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra Ultra High Ultra High Ultra
660 Ti (3GB) SMAA HBAO+ (High) On High High High High Ultra Ultra
660 Ti SMAA HBAO+ (High) On High High High High High Ultra
660 (3GB) SMAA HBAO+ (High) Off High High Medium High Ultra High
660 SMAA HBAO+ (High) Off High High Medium High High High
650 Ti Boost SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off High High Medium High High High
650 Ti (2GB) SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off Medium High Medium Medium High High
650 Ti SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off Medium High Medium Medium Medium High
650 (4GB) FXAA Off Off Medium Medium Medium Low High Medium
650 (2GB) FXAA Off Off Medium Medium Medium Low High Medium
650 FXAA Off Off Medium Medium Medium Low Medium Medium
590 Temporal SMAA HBAO+ (High) On Ultra High High Ultra Medium Ultra
580 (3GB) SMAA HBAO+ (High) Off High High Medium High Ultra High
580 SMAA HBAO+ (High) Off High High Medium High Medium High
570 (2.5GB) SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off High High Medium High High High
570 SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off High High Medium High Medium High
560 Ti (2GB) SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off Medium High High Medium High High
560 Ti LE SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off Medium High High High Medium High
560 Ti SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off Medium High High Medium Medium High
560 (2GB) FXAA HBAO+ (Low) Off Medium Medium Medium Medium High High
560 FXAA HBAO+ (Low) Off Medium Medium Medium Medium Medium High
550 Ti (2GB) FXAA MHBAO Off Medium Medium Medium Low High Medium
550 Ti FXAA Off Off Medium Medium Medium Low Medium Medium
480 SMAA HBAO+ (Low) Off Medium High Medium High Medium High
470 FXAA MHBAO Off Medium Medium Medium Medium Medium High
465 FXAA MHBAO Off Medium Medium Medium Low Medium High
460 FXAA MHBAO Off Medium Medium Medium Low Medium High

 

Graphics, Performance & Tweaking Guide Conclusion

With a host of advanced technologies, backed by NVIDIA HBAO+, NVIDIA TXAA and NVIDIA SLI, Watch Dogs offers PC gamers a highly detailed open world experience, full of activities, missions, and multiplayer shenanigans that will entertain for some time. As detailed in prior sections, the PC edition delivers the definitive Watch Dogs experience, with upgraded assets and effects across the board, resulting in unmatched image quality and fidelity.

As our performance testing shows, attaining this level of detail is no mean feat, however. At minimum, a GeForce GTX 770 is required for max setting gameplay, sans hardware anti-aliasing. Dialing down Level of Detail, Reflections, Shadows and Water by a single notch results in a near-identical experience on the GeForce GTX 760, 680, 670, and 660 Ti. Below this level, settings gradually have to be dialed back further, beginning with the rarely used Depth of Field effect and the important Shader setting. If you prefer, knocking back Reflections, Shadows and Water once more may allow you to retain the Shader setting's impressive nighttime illumination.

For max setting, hardware anti-aliased gameplay, a fast SLI system is required. Given the 95%+ scaling seen on GeForce GTX 700 and 600 Series systems, suitable configurations include everything from SLI GeForce GTX TITAN Blacks to SLI GeForce GTX 670s, and perhaps other, older configurations too, though these were not tested.

In the mid-range, below a single GeForce GTX 660 Ti and equivalent GTX 500 Series cards, image quality sits between the current-gen and previous-gen consoles, with higher resolutions and faster frame rates, but lower quality effects in some categories. To maximize image quality in this particular performance bracket manual tweaking is recommended, enabling the reduction of physics effects and less crucial settings in exchange for the retention of more important options like terrain quality.

In the low-end, settings approach their absolute minimum, equivalent to the image quality seen on previous-generation consoles. Our recommendation: reduce the screen resolution to enable an increase in impactful settings like Ambient Occlusion, Level of Detail, Reflections, Shader, and Water.

That Watch Dogs scales from the top end down to GPUs over four years old is impressive, but at those low levels so much detail is lost that it almost feels like a shame to play. As such, we are currently bundling Watch Dogs with select NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPUs, enabling you to experience this impressive game The Way It's Meant To Be Played. You can learn more over on the Watch Dogs GeForce GTX GPU Bundle landing page.

Have questions or comments about this guide or Watch Dogs? Let us know in the comments section below!

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