Tomorrow is the day, as Horizon Zero Dawn's PC debut will be officially upon us, and whilst we've already run some interesting PC performance benchmarks for the game, we noticed some odd discrepancies and anomalies resulting in some strange graphical issues. There doesn't seem to be one exact reason as to why these occur, but just in case you were planning on running Horizon: Zero Dawn with some low-end hardware, we thought we should let you know what you're getting into.

First of all, when launching HZD for the first time, there will be a hardware optimization loading screen. This can take anywhere from 8-25 minutes depending on what kind of hardware is in your PC system, and it's possible that this has something to do with the odd graphical problems you will see below.

On the other hand, there has been reports of some optimization and performance issues regarding AMD graphics cards specifically, and so this could also be part of the issue. Luckily that update as well as an optional AMD driver is already out and should hopefully fix these problems. I say should because we encountered some very interesting issues when testing the game before and after the game update, as well as before and after installing the AMD optional driver.

Horizon Zero Dawn PC graphics settings

Horizon Zero Dawn PC performance report and graphics card benchmarks

Horizon Zero Dawn most important graphics options

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Horizon Zero Dawn R9 380 benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on AMD MSI Radeon R9 380 | Intel i7-5820K | 16GB

Horizon Zero Dawn R9 380 PC Benchmarks 1080p

Average FPS for AMD Radeon R9 380 in Horizon Zero Dawn @ 1080p

Horizon Zero Dawn Favor Performance Original Favor Quality Ultimate Quality
Average FPS 45 42 34 18
Max FPS 93 84 79 73
Min FPS 8 18 4 5

CPU FPS results for Horizon Zero Dawn @ 1080p

CPU Favor Performance Original Favor Quality Ultimate Quality
CPU FPS 46 43 35 18
Max FPS 37 35 28 14
Min FPS 33 33 26 13

GPU FPS results for Horizon Zero Dawn @ 1080p

GPU Favor Performance Original Favor Quality Ultimate Quality
CPU FPS 46 43 35 18
Max FPS 37 36 29 14
Min FPS 35 34 27 13

The FPS performance for the R9 380 in Horizon Zero Dawn at 1080p is not great. It is still certainly playable on the lowest graphics settings or even at Original, but beyond that the experience can start to get a bit uncomfortable. Overall, the R9 380 is perfectly fine for running Horizon: Zero Dawn but only at the Low/Medium graphics settings.

As an FYI: these benchmark results were performed after the game's latest update and after installing the AMD optional driver and finally fixing all the graphics issues we were experiencing. More information on that is explained further below.

What happens if I don't meet the minimum system requirements for Horizon Zero Dawn?

Can Horizon Zero Dawn run on hardware below minimum requirements? We test a low end PC GPU and got some strange in-game bugs and vanishing models.

Horizon Zero Dawn's initial hardware optimization screen does seem to affect the game's quality quite dramatically when you have lower than the minimum system requirements. In fact, when you launch the game for the first time you actually get a warning message if you don't meet the minimum requirements:

But that's just the beginning it seems, as when running the actual game itself it seems that the optimization procedure has significantly lowered the game's graphics to adjust for performance. Going as far to even take some textures and models out completely! Texture and model pop-in become a major issue, especially the higher you set the graphics settings.

We tested out 2 separate rigs and the following results are very, um... weird. Be warned that if you are planning to play Horizon Zero Dawn on low-spec hardware you may encounter these game-breaking visual effects.

Both of the following setups we used had the same graphics card installed, the Radeon R9 380, but with different processors and RAM installed. The first rig, the lower spec one had worse graphical issues than the slightly better one with a better CPU and more RAM:

  Low Spec High Spec
CPU Intel Core i7-3770K 4-Core 3.5GHz Intel Core i7-5820K 6-Core 3.3GHz
GPU AMD Radeon R9 380 AMD Radeon R9 380
RAM 8GB 16GB

[I've listed the two images as Low Spec and High Spec in order to differentiate between the 2 rigs, even though they are both technically low spec]

As you can see, there's supposed to be some buildings there, which you can see is slightly better with the better spec rig, but there's still lots missing. And again here where I could actually get a decent comparison screenshot at the same moment in the benchmark tool:

So I then decided to have a look at the graphics in-game, because you know maybe they're not as bad? Oh boy was I in for a surprise... turning the graphics quality setting higher actually makes the graphical issues worse, for instance in this moment at the start of the game (all following screenshots were taken with the lower spec rig):

Quite surreal isn't it? For reference, here is another area where the main character Aloy looks at a dead body within the first few minutes of the game. At this point we decided to use a better GPU, the GTX 1060, instead on the lower spec rig:

  Low Spec High Spec
CPU Intel Core i7-3770K 4-Core 3.5GHz Intel Core i7-3770K 4-Core 3.5GHz
GPU AMD Radeon R9 380 Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060
RAM 8GB 8GB

 

It's also possible that this has to do with AMD GPUs specifically, as some strange visual effects and performance issues have been reported with AMD graphics cards, which they are working to fix in a new driver optimized for HZD.

So be warned, if you are using a lower-spec rig (especially if it doesn't meet the minimum system requirements, or you own an AMD GPU) you may want to download the latest optional driver from them as they continue to iron out these issues.

After the update

As I was writing this article, the update that was supposed to be scheduled for today actually came out yesterday, so I decided to test the new update and see if there were any changes made in terms of performance and graphical issues.

I can say this at least: whilst it hasn't increased performance, I noticed a considerably less amount of bugs and graphical problems. Most notably, the models and textures were at least there this time when on the lowest graphics settings.

However there were still some major issues, turning up the graphics settings higher or increasing the resolution would result in the same graphics glitches that I showed you above. So the problem is not entirely eliminated, just a little bit less worse than it originally was.

After installing the AMD optional driver

So I then downloaded the AMD optional driver to see if this would then solve the problems I was encountering... and it only got worse.

After downloading the AMD optional driver it seemed to break the game's graphics completely, as now it reverted all the fixes that yesterday's game update resolved. Namely, all the models and textures had disappeared once again. This, like before, got worse as the graphics settings were turned up:

(Can we please take a moment to appreciate how spot on I got these two screenshots at the same point, I was very proud of that)

For reference, here's what the same scene is supposed to look like:

But I then quit the game and restarted it, this actually seemed to work and fix the issue. All the models and texture issues that were resolved from the game update, that were then reverted back by the AMD optional driver, were now fixed again.

No longer were the models and textures popping in and out of existence, turning into black blobs or NPCs floating in the air. So I can safely say that this seemed to fix the problem, but it's unclear how this problem occurred in the first place. I can't seem to recreate the issue either, so it's possible this happens only once or very irregularly.

Either way, if you experience the same issue then try rebooting the game or restarting your computer. If the problem persists, then you'll unfortunately have to wait until the next patch or driver.

As a breakdown:

  • Pre-update: graphical issues
  • Post-update: less graphical issues
  • Post-AMD optional driver: graphical issues came back
  • Rebooting the game: fixed the issues

One error that is persistent no matter the game update or the AMD optional driver is that there seems to be these weird thin black bars that regularly appear on the screen. Thankfully these only seem to appear in the menus and not during the game itself, but they're still quite annoying.

Conclusion

If you're brave enough to venture into the world of missing textures and disappearing models, then I recommend sticking with 1080p resolution at the lowest graphics settings available in Horizon: Zero Dawn to reduce these problems as much as possible. If you are experiencing graphics issues then I also recommend just completely rebooting the game and see if that works for you.

It is also not recommended at all to download the latest AMD optional driver as this seems to make the problems even worse... sometimes. Instead, I would wait until an official driver/patch is out that specifically targets these issues and resolves them completely, because as it stands the driver seems to be quite buggy and can occasionally revert all the fixes that the latest game update brings.

Overall, it's still unclear if these problems are specifically to do with AMD cards or simply not being able to meet the minimum system requirements. If your hardware comes under either of these, then Horizon Zero Dawn is probably not worth playing on Day 1 unless you're willing to go through a lot of hoops to eventually get the game playable, but even then your FPS will have suffered drastically.