Total War: Three Kingdoms PC Performance Review
Published: 26th May 2019 | Source: OC3D Internal Testing | Price: |
All Total War games are challenging to analyse, for starters there are effectively two games to look at, the grand campaign mode and the real-time battle mode, both of which offer different performance characteristics. Beyond that, there is the fact that battles can often be scaled to ludicrous levels, with Total War Three Kingdoms supporting four vs four fights, which is enough to bring any modern processor to its knees.
There is a balancing act to be had when it comes to performance, so our testing is not comprised of these edge cases. Even so, in more general gameplay scenarios Total War: Three Kingdoms offers more than enough CPU and GPU stress to justify high-end PC components, particularly on the CPU side.
On a technical level, Total War: Three Kingdoms takes steps forwards and backwards for the series, offering players TAA as a new Anti-Aliasing option, replacing MSAA, while dropping DirectX 12 support in favour of enhanced DirectX 11 support. Sadly, this decision had negative consequences for users of Radeon graphics hardware.
When it comes to graphics hardware, Total War Three Kingdoms has a strong preference for Geforce hardware, acting as one of the few recent cases where our Radeon RX Vega 56 offers performance parity with a Geforce GTX 1070, a graphics card that more often than not competes with Nvidia's GTX 1080 and RTX 2060. On the lower-end our ASUS ROG GTX 1060 is also able to handily surpass our Radeon RX 580, cementing a clear performance lead for Geforce-powered PCs. This performance advantage was present both within Total War: Three Kingdom's Campaign and Battle modes.
It is also clear that Total War: Three Kingdoms also has no preference for Nvidia's modern Turing architecture over Pascal, with the RTX 2060 offering incredibly similar performance to the company's Pascal-based GTX 1080. This makes sense, given Three Kingdoms' performance on Radeon graphics hardware. Many of Turing's architectural advantages are best highlighted in Radeon friendly games, such as RAGE 2 and Forza Horizons 4.
On the CPU-side, Total War: Three Kingdoms makes a clear case for highly multi-threaded systems, showcasing performance benefits when using CPUs with more active cores and threads. The sweet spot in this title is with six core and twelve thread systems, though further benefits are seen with eight cores. Even so, Total War: Three Kingdoms remains CPU limited, with the game reaching single-threaded performance bottlenecks when using an RTX 2080 Ti at 1080p, showcasing the need for high core count processors with high clock speeds. In short, Total War: Three Kingdoms makes a case for processors like the Intel i7-9700K, where high clock speeds and core counts are present.
If you want an optimal graphics to performance ratio in Total War: Three Kingdoms, the game's High preset is a great space to start. Push Anisotropic filtering up to 16x, and you have yourself a strong start, as the higher graphical settings that are included at Ultra are not worth their performance cost in most cases; unless your PC has overkill specifications for your chosen gaming resolution.
One neat feature within Total War Three Kingdoms is that the game will use the highest resolution textures it can by default, detecting the VRAM that your graphics card has available to automatically set the game's texture setting, independently of your chosen graphical preset. This means that users of 4GB+ graphics cards will default to Ultra texture settings at 1080p. Options like Resolution scaling are also incredibly useful in this title at high resolutions, allowing the Three Kingdom's UI to remain sharp at your screen's native resolution while downscaling the game's 3D graphics to improve performance when desired. This option is incredibly useful at 4K.
Beyond Three Kingdoms' Ultra preset lies advanced options like Screen Space Reflections, and increased Unit Size settings, with Ultra and Extreme unit sizes offering larger scale battles than what is provided when using the game's highest preset. These settings come at a considerable performance cost, with Three Kingdoms' largest unit sizes requiring a lot of extra CPU and GPU grunt to run at high framerates.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is a game that can stress out even today's highest-end systems, but thankfully the game offers enough scalability to be playable on low-end gaming systems and notebooks, allowing portable systems to easily continue your latest campaign with the help of some cloud saves.
So what don't we like about Total War: Three Kingdoms? Let's start by saying that we don't mind the fact that the game is hard to run at high framerates, though we would prefer to see Three Kingdoms run at higher framerates on Radeon graphics hardware. Another thing that we would like to see is a dedicated framerate cap option and the ability to use different graphical settings within Total War's campaign mode and battle mode. It would be neat to be able to lock the Campaign mode to 30Hz (for smooth scrolling) with higher graphical settings and target 60FPS in battles with lower settings. This would be useful for a large number of players, especially for users of mid-range setups. Yes, unit sizes will need to remain consistent between both modes, but separate graphical options for the campaign and battle modes should be possible.
Creative Assembly deserves praise for their strong CPU scaling within Total War: Three Kingdoms, though what we can clearly see here is that high core count systems are starting to become more necessary than ever in gaming PCs. Even so, strong single-threaded performance will remain a key factor moving forward. Thankfully, Total War: Three Kingdoms has no preference for either Intel or AMD CPU hardware, though the game would undoubtedly benefit from the high clock speeds that are offered by Intel's high-end Coffee Lake series processors.
Total War: Three Kingdoms is a game that scales well, offering players the ability to run the game across a wide range of systems that range from notebooks with integrated graphics to ultra-high-end gaming PCs. Our only fault with the game is its performance on Radeon graphics hardware, though this could change with the release of new GPU drivers or game patches.
As a whole, Total War: Three Kingdoms' PC system requirements appear to be accurate, at least when it comes to the game's recommended and 60+ FPS requirements (as detailed on page 3). At this time we have not played Total War: Three Kingdoms on any notebook, though we are pleased with how well this title scales to our lower-end discrete graphics cards.
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