Watch Dogs AMD & NVIDIA GPU Performance Preview

Author:Brent Justice

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Tuesday , May 27, 2014

Watch Dogs is out on the PC, sporting a new game engine named "Disrupt." This next generation gaming title is poised to put the kick back in PC gaming technology that has been missing so far this year. We will evaluate performance in this preview evaluation and see if it stands up to high end GPU hardware.

Watch Dogs

After Wolfenstein, and a long wait so far this year for a "next gen" game to present itself to us on the PC we can finally say Watch Dogs is that game. When we talk about forward thinking, PC gaming industry moving games, Watch Dogs fits that bill.

Texture Performance

This is one of few games to set a requirement on being able to run with "Ultra" texture quality. This game requires video cards with 3GB of video RAM to run at "Ultra" texture quality settings. If you don't have 3GB of VRAM on your video card, you can run at "High" texture settings.

AMD made a move years ago with a bold statement to release video cards (AMD Radeon 7950 and 7970) with 3GB of VRAM at a time when most video cards were carrying 2GB. It seems that sort of forward thinking has paid off finally in 2014 with Watch Dogs.

Thankfully NVIDIA now has the GTX 780 and GTX 780 Ti with 3GB of VRAM. Video cards like the GeForce GTX 770 have a reference specification of 2GB. You can purchase 4GB GTX 770 cards and the like, but these do cost more for that VRAM. However, in this game, we think that will be beneficial to gameplay if you want to run with the "Ultra" textures. In fact, it will be required.

We found out that even on the GeForce GTX 780 Ti with 3GB of VRAM performance can drop as new textures and scenery are loaded into memory. This was most notable moving the camera, or driving in the open world city. With the XFX Radeon R9 290X DD with its 4GB of VRAM we experienced smooth gameplay with no drops in performance using "Ultra" textures.

Is there a difference in the image quality between "High" and "Ultra" textures? There is definitely a difference in image quality, "Ultra" textures are noticeably better. We will have lots of image quality comparisons later today.

Ambient Occlusion

This game is also forward looking in terms of ambient occlusion support. There are multiple modes of HBAO depending on your GPU performance. If your video card can handle it HBAO+ High will deliver phenomenal ambient occlusion image quality in the game. We also found that this setting does reduce performance on GTX 780 Ti and R9 290X. We think lower-end video cards won't have the performance to run at HBAO+ but this is certainly something we will have to test for our full evaluation.


This game also has a lot of AA options, which the PC is uniquely able to support. You can chose between FXAA, SMAA, Temporal SMAA, MSAA and TXAA. In all of our preview testing today we didn't even get to enabling AA, so that is another performance aspect of the game that will affect performance and can bring any card to its knees at certain settings. We look forward to testing "Ultra" textures in combination with MSAA or TXAA to find out if that will even work well. This game will definitely benefit from AA, so we look forward to testing image quality between all modes.


In terms of performance we were surprised how close the R9 290X and GTX 780 Ti are. There has been a lot of FUD around the internet about AMD potentially lacking in performance compared to NVIDIA. We hope we have smashed the rumors and provided facts based on gameplay and not some quick-use benchmark tool that will many times tell you little. We actually found the Radeon R9 290X slightly faster in some scenarios compared to the GeForce GTX 780 Ti. We also found out that gameplay consistency was a lot better on Radeon R9 290X with "Ultra" textures enabled thanks to its 4GB of VRAM.

The Bottom Line

There is a lot of potential in Watch Dogs for current generation video cards and next generation video cards, and that is important. We need a game that can be played on today's hardware, but also demands more from next generation GPUs. Future GPUs will bring better performance to this game, and that is very much needed as you scale up texture settings, AA and resolution in this game.

We look forward to fully evaluating this game across a wide range of video cards to find out what is playable. We will also look at performance differences across the built in quality modes. We will also look at how CrossFire and SLI support and performance scale in the game. We will take the game to new heights in our full evaluation by seeing what happens when we run it at 4K.

In terms of technology and image quality, this game will provide an excellent addition to our utility of games.

Keep in mind that we used the AMD 14.6 Beta driver for our Radeon video cards. We expect this driver to be dropped today and it should address performance issues you have seen written up on the previous current 14.4 WHQL driver. While there has been some Chicken Little proclamations, Team Red or Team Green not getting full looks at new release gaming code when the other team has is nothing new.

HardOCP will have a quick follow up to this article today on Watch Dogs image quality.