Sony Santa Monica returns with a second serving of God of War, and this time around we have the new generation of consoles entering the mix. The PlayStation 5 is significantly more powerful than the PS4 and PS4 Pro, which is reflected in the modes and outputs available. Right from loading you are asked to choose between Favor Resolution or Favor Performance, with the former offering the highest pixel quality and the latter offering higher frame rates. A third toggle is also available that turns a High Frame Rate mode on or off for each. Either way, these are big leaps over last generation.
Raised in Hell, Made in Heaven
The core assets, character models, materials, particle and visual effects, and animations are close to identical no matter which platform you play on. And from that perspective, it’s quite impressive that the base PS4, a piece of hardware nearly 10 years old, still offers such incredible visual and performance levels. Even more impressive is how the team has improved many areas compared to the first game from 2018. Tessellated snow deformation is used extensively, now with a better blend of particles and refined deformation – mixed with normal maps and lighting effects – resulting in improved self shadowing and adding to the world interaction as snow displays the scars of your rage. This is carried over to the game’s use of physics both in animation and the world itself. Many objects can be broken down or shattered into pieces, which is reflected in the gameplay via environmental puzzles that follow the basic laws of physics.
A defining ingredient of both God of War: Ragnarok and its predecessor is the exhaustive special effects that heavily rely on GPU-accelerated particles. From dead bodies decaying away that blend an Alpha-tested noise texture with the core mesh, this collides with particles to allow each body to dynamically and dramatically decay. This technique extends to allowing particle emitters to be spawned from any mesh point within the game. This is increased in Ragnarok, with prophecy sequences, among others, having an exuberant amount of particles spawning, colliding, and glowing across both PS4 and PS5, delivering the mystical element of this Norse mythology. The biggest impact though is the screen-swamping pyrotechnics that come from weapons like Atreus’s bow or the Blades of Chaos as they spin up, with fire embers bouncing and spreading across screen and enemy alike.
The game’s stunning art and character design maintains the same oil-like matte painting style. But as you travel across realms – some old, some new – they also bring their own unique and vibrant styles and colour palettes. The PBR materials are hyper realistic, with strong diffuse base colours mixed with a probe-based lighting system, merged with baked elements due to the games fixed lighting model. This helps aid the team’s design focus and the performance levels of the older hardware.
To aid the quality and dynamic nature of the gameplay, the engine uses a mixture of shadow maps, screen space shadows, and screen space ambient occlusion. You can see the tell-tale artifacts of these when occluded and dis-occluded by foreground objects within the depth buffer. They present like the screen space reflections in the tile – which are also mixed with a probe solution – with projected cubemaps being a fall-back. With the PS4 and Pro both using a lower resolution and ray march than the PS5, you get longer and more accurate reflections on the newer console, with a shorter cut-off in the reflections. Shadows or AO can still fade out and in on smaller, incidental details within the screen, but the quality all helps improve character lighting and grounding into the world, backed up with contact shadows on floors and walls. You can see some light bleed and incorrect specularity at times, even on PS5 – which still uses the same core assets and lighting model – but like many things in the game they are refined and enhanced.
God of War: Ragnarok – Platform Comparison
The single biggest boost the PS5 offers is resolution, as all areas are improved by that. This includes the game’s Temporal AA, which helps the IQ look clean and sharp with very little aliasing present, even at 1080p. The PS5 in both modes offers a crisp and clean image that can even be noticed over the Pro’s dynamic solution in both modes. The checkerboard resolution mode from the previous game, gives way to a new DRS solution that tops out at 1656p and scales down to 1440p.
The Performance mode uses the same solution but now allows the engine to scale down to 1080p with the framerate cap moved to 60fps. The solution used in the Performance mode on PS5 is very similar to the Pro, with the same edge-of-screen breakdown and lower pixel quality at the extremities of the screen edge. This also uses DRS scaling between 2160p and 1440p when at 60fps, and becomes a fixed 1440p target when the High FrameRate mode is enabled with or without VRR. It does, however, present a better overall image than the Pro solution. Some of that comes from the increase in temporal resolution from the higher frame-rate and the higher resolution assets used due to the larger RAM pool, but the TAA includes a reconstruction pass on all formats and a sharpening pass within it, which helps. The TAA appears to use approximately 6 previous frames within its temporal buffer with the results at times in Performance mode looking sharper and better than the fully native and fixed 3840×2160 Resolution mode when at 30fps. The fact that the game also has a 4K 40fps mode means that the perfect compromise between pixels and performance is all but negated, making this an excellent choice for those that simply cannot decide. This mode engages DRS, with a range of 1800p up to 2160p, in both High Frame Rate mode and VRR mode.
The other difference between Performance and Resolution modes on PS5 is that Resolution mode has a larger shadow cascade, meaning more objects cast shadows. Foliage and LoD is extended and increased with denser geometry in the middle to long distance, and fewer sprite imposters used for foliage than the Performance mode. The clearest gap in image quality can be noticed on the PS4 Pro when you jump to 60fps, with this mode often being at the lower bounds of that 1920×1080 range. The temporal resolution is very similar as you now get twice the potential frames per second, but the lower base pixel count means the AA has more work to resolve. This presents mostly as higher levels of specular shimmer, some movement on SSR reflections and emphasizing the dithered hair fins and alpha-tested hair and beards in the game.
At 1080p the sub-pixel elements can present more noise depending on the brightness and contrast of the scene. It’s far from an eye sore, but it was an area that instantly notified my eyeballs I was running below the 4K output of my screen. The gorgeous realms, monsters, effects, and materials are all very close to the 4K mode, and the boost to frame rates and input times do make this mode my preferred way to play on the Pro. It also matches the base PS4 exactly, except the reduced frame rate of 30fps. This is the most impressive version to me though, as all areas of the game are here. From the seamless camera and cinematics throughout, the intricately constructed and animated enemies, vibrant and rich worlds, extensive visual effects, destruction systems which can look like a fluid simulation at times, and fast-paced travel and combat – you lose none of the game’s wow factor, responsive controls, incredible animation and one of the best sound mixes, foley design, and produced soundscapes in any game I have played. I recommend you use a surround sound system or strap on a decent set of 3D headphones because the audio experience here is equally as impressive and vital as the visual one. Finally with the game’s HDR option, which is available across all platforms, it manages to enrich every blood-stained snowflake or fish-filled lake, meaning Ragnarok will be one of the brightest things you will play this winter.
God of War: Ragnarok – Performance
Starting with PS5 first and using the Favor Resolution mode, the 30fps is locked if you have a 60Hz screen or choose to turn the HFM off in the menu. It can have a couple of dips into the high 30s in heavier action and even on occasion just skips into the next refresh of 33ms. But as the gap from 25ms to 33ms is only 8ms, these are all but invisible. The game also supports VRR, so if you do have a capable screen, you can turn this on and the game will push above that 40fps when possible. In this case, the small spikes can be managed when between or above the 48fps level. I noted no issues in this mode so if you wish to have the best visual package this is the mode to choose.
That said, the 120fps Favor Performance mode does not really have a significant reduction and after a short time you only really notice the reduced Motion Blur due to the higher frame-rate. In quiet sections it can hit 120fps, but it mostly hovers between 80 to 90fps, meaning you get the fastest response and input times, making it the mode to choose if the combat and fluid action is your most important aspect. Even in heavier segments it always managed to stay far north of that 60fps base. Meaning if you only have a 60Hz screen then the 30 or 60fps modes will be fully locked and without issues, but the benefit of targeting 120fps is very welcome and certainly appreciated.
The PS4 story is simple – a locked 30fps. I could only find a handful of stutters when moving between sector loading points or cutscene shifts. In action the game is all but locked at 30fps and thus it feels very consistent and smooth, with this version really being the baseline for the team’s aims from the get go and the fps readout backs that up. A simply stunning display of performance meaning all PS4 owners can enjoy the game without worries of it looking or performing poorly.
The PS4 Pro is a game of two halves – the Resolution mode is as locked if not more so than the PS4, with it actually being slightly better, in that the single dropped frames happened less often, although without a framerate graph both would be invisible. If you want the highest quality and most consistent performance, this is the mode I recommended. The dynamic resolution is often closer to 1080p in action but the 60fps mode is not so stable and in fact is approximately 10 to 15% worse than the previous game in its 60fps mode. It is almost always just below 60fps in action with it spending a great deal of time between 45 to 52fps, meaning judder is seen and felt during exploration and combat. This is still very good and more responsive than the 30fps mode with the results really being closer to the previous God of War 3 and Ascension unlocked framerates on the PS3. That said, do not expect a locked 60fps. The most important thing is it never exceeds that 33ms frametime, enabling it to still feel faster and smoother than the 60fps mode.
God of War: Ragnarok is a fitting, dramatic, and flamboyant finale to the latest Kratos chapter. No matter which console you own, the results are stunning, exciting, and impressive. The PS5 offers the most refined version with sharper graphics, better textures, faster frame rates, and improved controls, but it is still the same PS4 game with a better paint job. The core game design, combat, exploration and even loading are well within the scope of the previous generation consoles. And it is here that the base PS4 stands out as the most impressive version due to how great it still looks, runs, and plays, so every PlayStation owner can look forward to a stunning improvement over the 2018 release.
Source: IGN Video Games All