Red Dead Redemption 2 offers an undeniably stunning open-world. Probably one of the finest we've laid eyes on, in fact. But all it takes is one frame rate dip, or one judder, to rip us out of this immersive landscape, and this isn't a game which runs particularly well out of the box. Performance is key for RDR2, and it's what helps elevates the PC version about the 30FPS locked console edition.
Thankfully, Rockstar has given PC players a ton of graphics settings to mess around with. You can tweak just about every aspect of Red Dead Redemption 2's visuals in order to find just the right settings for your rig. Tweaking takes time though, so we're going to take the thinking out of it for you with what we believe is the best balance between performance and visuals in Red Dead Redemption 2.
As usual for this regular feature, we start with Ultra visuals and then drop the graphics settings down, notch by notch, until we discern a notable drop in quality. Then we shift it back up to the previous graphics setting and voila, we've discovered that crucial balance between graphical excellence and playable frame rates. This is designed to find the reasonable upper limit to the visuals. The purpose of this is to identify which graphics presets are superfluous, or at least far more demanding than they're worth. Put your settings to anything higher than they need to be and you’re arguably sacrificing your frame rate for very little improvement to RDR2's graphical fidelity.
Red Dead Redemption 2 Optimised Graphics Settings
|Global Illumination Quality||Low||Ultra|
|Far Shadow Quality||Medium||Ultra|
|Screen Space Ambient Occlusion||Medium||Ultra|
|Particle Quality (restart)||Medium||Ultra|
|Near Volumetric Resolution||Medium||Ultra|
|Far Volumetric Resolution||Medium||Ultra|
|Volumetric Lighting Quality||Medium||Ultra|
|Unlock Volumetric Raymarch Resolution||On||On|
|Particle Lighting Quality||Medium||Ultra|
|Full Resolution Screen Space Ambient Occlusion||Off||On|
|Water Refraction Quality||Medium||High|
|Water Reflection Quality||Low||High|
|Water Physics Quality||High/3 pips||Max/4 pips|
|TAA Sharpening||10 pips||20 pips|
|Geometry Level of Detail||Ultra/5 pips||Ultra/5 pips|
|Grass Level of Detail||4 pips||10 pips|
|Parallax Occlusion Mapping Quality||High||Ultra|
Red Dead Redemption 2 Optimised PC Performance
Our particular hardware setup in this instance was an MSI GeForce GTX 1070, Intel Core i7-5820K @ 3.3 GHz, 16GB DDR4, 1080p resolution. Suffice to say, Nvidia's older Pascal GPU architecture can really begin to struggle with Red Dead Redemption 2, particularly compared to the Turing GPUs which appear to be more turned to Vulkan. It means the GeForce GTX 1070 dips well below the level it should when compared to some of the lower-end Turing graphics cards, and of course AMD's hardware, which has been exceptional at Vulkan for some time now.
What it does mean is that GeForce GTX 1070 owners, and folks who have other older graphics cards, will have to get stuck in and mess around with plenty of settings in order to achieve stable performance. With out optimised settings we think we've found exactly that though. Performance has quadrupled with our optimised settings when compared to Ultra, while you can see in the comparison screenshots below that it's really not a very big dip in terms of graphical and image quality.
On Optimised, Red Dead Redemption 2 scores a 321% higher FPS than on Ultra, while the 1% lows don't dip below 60 frames per second. On Ultra, the game is unplayable. The FPS may be steady but it's averaging just 17.5 frames per second with 1% lows of 16.9%. It's a night and day difference. On Ultra, you're paying a humongous frame rate cost with very little in return.
As such, we'd highly recommend you trying playing RDR2 with our optimum graphics settings and then slide them up or down from their depending on whether you're still struggling or you've got excess performance for your target frame rate.
|1% Low frame rate||61.5||16.9|
|0.1% Low frame rate||59.4||16.8|
Red Dead Redemption 2 Optimised vs Ultra Graphics Comparison
Slide your cursor over to compare
Here we have some slider comparisons showing our choice of Optimised graphics settings versus Red Dead Redemption 2 with its visual sliders turned up to the max. Unlike Low v Ultra, the aim here is for Optimised to look as similar to Ultra as possible. This means we're getting comparable visuals despite faster performance. Win/win.
Get a magnifying glass out and go to town on these images and you'll be able to notice a few differences. However, we're just trying to get them to look approximately the same as one another during actual gameplay. That is to say, you won't feel like you're missing out on RDR2 looking its absolute best while using the Optimised graphics settings.
You'll notice in the first comparison slider that the biggest difference is probably shadows. On Ultra they're higher resolution, while there are also plenty of grass shadows as well. Aside from this though, the two look very comparable. When you consider it's 67 fps vs 17 fps, well, you do the maths.
Here's the exact same scene but at night. The FPS in RDR2 tends to drop lower at night time due to the lighting effects from lamps, camp fires, and other light sources. Enhanced global illumination leads to a brighter scene overall on Ultra but we have to say Optimised arguably looks a little better and more atmospheric. Again, they're quite similar but Ultra does benefit from some enhanced Ambient Occlusion on the drawers at the back of camp. It's little things like this which cost a lot in terms of frames but you won't really miss during gameplay.
Next up we have a comparison out on the lake. You can't see it here but we opted to tweak Water Refraction from Low up to Medium as there's a flickering, aliased effect on Low. We're certainly a few notches down from Ultra across the board here but again, the two look very similar indeed. A decreased LOD and lower shadows means less detailed trees in the background but, overall, you'll be please playing at either of these settings.
This final comparison is designed to showcase the impact of lowering reflections and grass level of detail. Water Reflections in particular is a hugely demanding graphics setting in Red Dead 2. It affects the render resolution of the objects reflected on water surfaces and yes, turning this down to Medium from High can lose a fair bit of clarity. Overall, in motion, though, we think Medium looks good enough. You're looking at double digit percentage FPS drops for shifting to Ultra which we really don't believe is worth it.
As for LOD, you'll see the density of the grass peter out slightly as you near the water's edge, while more trees are rendered on the far coast while running Red Dead Redemption 2 PC on Ultra.
Actually getting RDR2 up and running can be a bit of a nightmare; even getting to the menu is difficult for a lot of folks right now. Once you're in and you find the right graphics settings, however, it is certainly possible to tune an experience which is far superior to the console version.
For those of you who have been playing it though, how are you finding your first steps in Arthur Morgan's world? Have you found the right balance between visuals and performance, what settings are you using?