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Horizon Zero Dawn most important graphics options - every video setting benchmarked
By Chad Norton on August 5th, 2020 at 01:01pm - original article from game-debate

The time is almost upon us, as Horizon Zero Dawn finally releases on PC in just 2 days. It released on PS4 back on Feb 28th 2017, in case you were wondering. So the previous PlayStation 4 exclusive title is getting its official PC port and we are promised updated graphics, options, and support. While we felt it looked pretty good on the console already, even by today's standards, obviously now we are excited to see how its improved graphics settings affect the PC version by comparison?

In this article we will take a look at which ¬¬g_id:23271[Horizon Zero Dawn]¬¬ graphics settings are the best to turn all the way up to Ultra and which ones can get us a little FPS boost for no real visual loss when we turn them off or down. We've compiled a list below of the most demanding graphics options in the game, so you can get a handle on what to expect when you adjust different graphics settings in Horizon Zero Dawn to get the perfect balance of visual fidelity and FPS performance in game.

Below you will see every graphics option listed and benchmarked against a minimum graphics setting used as our baseline benchmark for Horizon Zero Dawn. From there we see which graphics options have the highest performance impact on our hardware for the least visual improvement, and then we will see which options can be turned up to max and deliver the best visual improvement in Horizon Zero Dawn.

If you want to look at some more graphics benchmarks with various gaming graphics cards running Horizon: Zero Dawn then you can check out our Horizon Zero Dawn PC Performance Benchmarks article instead, or you can have a look at the various Horizon Zero Dawn PC Graphics Settings that we'll be discussing here in this article.

Horizon Zero Dawn PC system requirements

Horizon Zero Dawn PC performance report and graphics card benchmarks

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For the performance cost result baseline we used the recommended GPU  graphics card, an ¬¬p_id:2116[Intel Core i7-5820K]¬¬ processor, and 16GB of DDR4 memory. To standardise the benchmark tests they were all carried out using the in-game Horizon Zero Dawn benchmarking tool. This moves throughout a large in-game city at various distances, soaring high above before swooping in and darting around groups of NPCs. We found this run to be pretty representative of the experience in-game, when considering graphics options compared to other graphics options and their relative performance impact.

If you see any significant discrepancy/difference between the benchmark tool FPS and actual FPS returned then please do share your findings in the comments below.

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There aren't a whole lot of graphics settings available in HZD, but we went through the 9 graphics options listed and tested each one in turn, recording the average frame rates for each and then comparing them to a baseline FPS that was recorded with all the graphics options either turned off or to their lowest settings.

Horizon: Zero Dawn includes 4 graphics quality presets including

  • Favor Performance
  • Original
  • Favor Quality
  • Ultimate Quality

These settings are rather self-explanatory, with the "Original" preset being the original graphics quality used for the PlayStation 4 console version of Horizon Zero Dawn.

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Horizon Zero Dawn Graphics Options Performance Breakdown

The further to the right the bar goes, the more demanding the graphics option is.

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options performance breakdown

What are the most demanding graphics options in Horizon Zero Dawn?

As you can see in the graphics options performance breakdown graph above, Horizon Zero Dawn doesn't have a whole lot of graphics settings to tinker with. That said, there a couple settings that will greatly impact your performance like Clouds and Reflections at 16.18% and 14.71% FPS performance cost respectively.

Interestingly it's the Clouds graphics setting that causes the most significant drops in FPS. But unsurprisingly that's followed by Reflections. After that, we have Shadows and Model Quality at a tie with 8.82% FPS drops each. Following that we have Ambient Occlusion at 7.35%, Motion Blur and Textures at 5.88% each, Anti-Aliasing at 4.41% and finally Anisotropic Filtering at 1.47%.

So if you want to optimize your game graphics settings in Horizon Zero Dawn, your first port of call would be to tweak the Reflections and Clouds graphics settings, followed then by Shadows and Model Quality.

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Horizon Zero Dawn In Game Benchmark Result Page

The in game Horizon Zero Dawn benchmark tool generates a fairly interesting frames per second result page after it completes it's run. The benchmark usually takes around 3 minutes to complete, which is one of the longer in game benchmark runs we have seen in a game.

Here is an example of the results page delivered in game by the built in benchmark tool on Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn In Game Benchmark Results Page example

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Horizon Zero Dawn All Graphics Settings Benchmark Guide

Best Video Settings in Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon: Zero Dawn comes with a few graphics settings to tweak in order to optimize your performance. There's some options to mess around with if you're trying to squeeze out a few extra frames and fine-tune Horizon's PC performance.

Below we've provided both a score for the performance impact as well as a priority score designed to recommend which graphics settings you should prioritize turning up (the higher the number, the better).

Obviously, these scores are subjective and we really do encourage you to share your own thoughts in the discussion area below on what you think are the best Horizon Zero Dawn graphics settings are. But for now, let's jump in...

Textures

Textures Ultra setting performance impact

Textures graphics option Low compared to Ultra

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options textures setting Ultra Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options textures setting Low

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Textures option range: Low, Medium, High, Ultra

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 5/5

What does the Textures setting do in Horizon Zero Dawn? This option adjusts the details of visual textures, like grass and trees. This is a main graphics setting and one that will directly impact the way the game looks at most points. Higher settings will impact performance of course, but you will want to try and get your textures setting up as high as your graphics card will allow, to properly enjoy the immersion offered in Horizon Zero Dawn.

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Model Quality

Model Quality Ultra setting performance impact

Model Quality graphics option Low compared to Ultra

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Model Quality setting Ultra Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Model Quality setting Low

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Model Quality option range: Low, Medium, High, Ultra

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 5/5

What does the Model Quality setting do in Horizon Zero Dawn?: You will quickly notice the visual improvements once model quality has been turned up. This option will adjust the complexity of game world objects, like trees, and how much detail they display. This, paired with Texture quality setting above will provide the highest level of visual improvement in Horizon Zero Dawn. This graphics setting certainly pushes up the demand on the GPU and the FPS result will start to drop as everything you see on screen gains some benefit from this Model Quality option being turned up to Ultra.

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Anisotropic Filter

Anisotropic Filter Ultra setting performance impact:

Anisotropic Filter graphics option Low compared to Ultra

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Anisotropic Filter setting Ultra Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Anisotropic Filter setting Low

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Anisotropic Filter option range: Low, Medium, High, Ultra

Performance impact: 1/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Anisotropic Filter setting do in Horizon Zero Dawn?: Make the texture details more realistic on different angles. This graphics setting doesnt really come with much of an FPS cost so it is safe to turn up anisotropic filter without any obvious performance reduction on your PC.

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Shadows

Shadows Ultra setting performance impact:

Shadows graphics option Off compared to Ultra

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options shadow setting Ultra Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options shadow setting low

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Shadows option range: Off, Low, Medium, High, Ultra

Performance impact: 4/5

Priority: 3/5

What does the Shadows setting do in Horizon Zero Dawn?: Affects the overall quality of shadows. This is a nice to have graphics setting. Having shadows turned up in horizon zero dawn is something you will miss if you started out with it turned on but you will likely not notice too much if you left it off from the beginning. Having it turned up certainly comes with a bit of a performance hit, especially around the darker areas of the game, where flickering lights would greatly enhance your immersion. This is a good option to tweak to see if you need a few extra frames per second for a smoother experience.

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Reflections

Reflections High setting performance impact:

Reflections graphics option Low compared to High

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Reflections setting High Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Reflections setting low

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Reflections option range: Low, Medium, High

Performance impact: 5/5

Priority: 2/5

What does the Reflections setting do in Horizon Zero Dawn?: Adjust the details in reflections. If you get near water then the reflections up high do look nice in Horizon Zero Dawn. But, they come at a FPS cost. Our experience was, on weaker cards looking for stability, turn this reflections option to low. It doesnt look that bad and you get a bunch of frames per second back around the water areas. 

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Clouds

Clouds Ultra setting performance impact:

Clouds graphics option Medium compared to Ultra

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Clouds setting Ultra Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Clouds setting Medium

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Clouds option range: Medium, High, Ultra

Performance impact: 5/5

Priority: 1/5

What does the Clouds setting do?: Adjust the complexity and movement smoothness of clouds. Ok, clouds are everywhere, but really, are you going to notice if the cloud is SUPER fluffy or not? Need FPS? Turn this clouds graphics setting option down to Medium, which is its lowest setting, and enjoy the extra constant frames per second. Horizon Zero Dawn gains the most frame per second by turning down Clouds option. And clouds is certainly the biggest frame per second hit in Horizon Zero Dawn. 

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Anti-Aliasing

Anti-Aliasing TAA setting performance impact:

Anti-Aliasing graphics option Off compared to TAA

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Anti Aliasing setting TAA Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Anti Aliasing setting Off

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Anti-Aliasing option range: Off, Camera Based, FXAA, SMAA, TAA

Performance impact: 2/5

Priority: 5/5

What does the Anti-Aliasing setting do in Horizon Zero Dawn?: A technology to provide smooth objects. Select Camera Based will let game adjust anti-aliasing methods for best visual quality. Pop this on to TAA and dont think too much about it. This is one of those options you really need to have on in some way, and the best Anti aliasing option is TAA. TAA delivers very good anti-aliasing and comes at the cheapest FPS cost for Anti-aliasing. With AA turned on the game looks pretty nasty and blocky.

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Motion Blur

Motion Blur On setting performance impact:

Motion Blur graphics option Off compared to On

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Motion Blur setting ON Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Motion Blur setting Off

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Motion Blur option range: Off, On

Performance impact: 2/5

Priority: 1/5

What does the Motion Blur setting do in Horizon Zero Dawn?: Make the movement more natural by blurring objects. Turning on the Motion Blur option is always a personal preference. You pay FPS performance to lose visual quality, kind of. But, arguably this movement blurring the surroundings enhances the immersion. There is a cost to turning on Motion Blur in Horizon Zero Dawn, but it is not huge. However, it is a constant cost, as it happens everwhere and everytime you move around. If you want some extra FPS in Horizon ZD, then I would always suggest turning off Motion Blur.

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Ambient Occlusion

Ambient Occlusion Ultra setting performance impact:

Ambient Occlusion graphics option Off compared to Original

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Ambient Occlusion setting Original Horizon Zero Dawn graphics options Ambient Occlusion setting Off

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Ambient Occlusion option range: Off, Original

Performance impact: 3/5

Priority: 5/5

What does the Ambient Occlusion setting do in Horizon Zero Dawn?: Adjust the depth and quality of self-shadowing. Leave Ambient Occlusion on and it provides a sense of depth to the game. If you leave it off and never see what Horizon ZD looks like with Ambient Occlusion turned on then you might not miss it. But shadows and the extra depth they provide are always a nice extra. We would advise trying to keep this option turned on or run the risk of the game looking like it has the object depth of a game 10 years old. But if you are struggling for stable frame rates then turn it off, as Shadows are everywhere and this will be a good constant FPS boost.

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Conclusion

Horizon Zero Dawn graphics settings roundup and conclusion - Looking over all the graphics settings available in Horizon: Zero Dawn, you can see that there are enough graphics options to tinker with in order to optimize your PC performance, but they have mostly included the primary, significant graphics settings and dispensed with the more granular options that we come to see in some of the more PC focused titles. This makes it a little easier to understand what you are doing when adjusting your graphics settings, but still provides enough control to get some nice performance increases from Horizon Zero Dawn, when you adjust the various graphics settings.

Some graphics settings are best left on, like Ambient Occlusion, as it only has Off/On settings, and will greatly add to the visual quality. Settings like Anisotropic Filtering and Anti-Aliasing surprisingly don't impact your frame rates too much, and so should also be a last port of call for optimizing your graphics.

On the other hand, settings like Clouds and Reflections are pretty demanding, and should be the first settings to be reduced for better performance, followed by Shadows and Model Quality.

Overall though, Horizon Zero Dawn has a pretty standard array of graphics settings which you can tweak to optimize your Horizon Zero Dawn PC performance, with a couple settings that can easily help to squeeze out a few more frames.