As you've no doubt heard, BioWare's third installment in the Mass Effect trilogy hit shelves last Tuesday. As one of the most anticipated starts of the year, it's no surprise it was rated with an overall rating of over 90. However, in the results common with high profile PC game releases, tons of dissatisfied users have beaten the title with negative feedback on Metacritic, Amazon, and elsewhere.
Aside from the hostility towards the DLC on day one and the forced origin, many fans appear to be dissatisfied with the core aspects of the game. As usual, we have no intention of reviewing the gameplay or storytelling of Mass Effect 3 (a full review on PC can be found here instead). However, this piece is dedicated to the basics of the game and analyzing how it runs on today's best PC hardware.
As with the previous entries, Mass Effect 3 is built using Unreal Engine 3. In other words, it's a DirectX 9 title. Therefore there are no fancy tessellations, additional dynamic lighting, depth of field or ambient occlusion effects. While ME3 is unlikely to win awards for Best Looking PC Game of 2012, fans have generally approved of the looks of previous titles, so they shouldn't be too disappointed this time around.
Also, holding on to the UE3 motor has some advantages. In the meantime, performance needs to be heavily optimized to get started. The developers say these improvements have allowed them to improve on everything from better storytelling methods to better overall base images and cinematics. They also say that the extra power enabled them to show more enemies at the same time, resulting in a richer and more vivid experience.
Again, we have to take your word for it because we are not going to examine these aspects of the game. However, we'll be comparing ME3 to two dozen GPU configurations in three different resolutions – including AMD's new Radeon HD 7000 series. We'll also see how performance scales when overclocking an eight-core FX-8150, along with a handful of other Intel and AMD processors.
In case you've lost the count, we'll test 24 graphics card configurations from AMD and Nvidia in all price ranges. The latest official drivers were used for each card. We installed an Intel Core i7-3960X in our test bench to remove CPU bottlenecks that could affect the high-end GPU scores.
Core i7 test system specifications
- Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition (3.30 GHz)
- x4 4 GB G.Skill DDR3-1600 (CAS 8-8-8-20)
- Gigabyte G1 Assassin2 (Intel X79)
- OCZ ZX series (1250 W)
- Crucial m4 512 GB (SATA 6 Gbit / s)
- AMD Radeon HD 7970 (3072 MB)
- Gigabyte Radeon HD 7950 (3072 MB)
- AMD Radeon HD 7870 (2048 MB)
- AMD Radeon HD 7850 (2048 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 7770 (1024 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 7750 (1024 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 6970 (2048 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 6950 (2048 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 6870 (1024 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 6850 (1024 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 6790 (1024 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 6770 (1024 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 6750 (1024 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 6670 (1024 MB)
- AMD Radeon HD 5870 (2048 MB)
- AMD Radeon HD 5830 (1024 MB)
- HIS Radeon HD 5670 (1024 MB)
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 580 (1536 MB)
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 570 (1280 MB)
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 Ti (1024 MB)
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 560 (1024 MB)
- Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 (1536 MB)
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 460 (1024 MB)
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 550 Ti (1024 MB)
- Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit
- Nvidia Forceware 295.73
- AMD Catalyst 12.2 + AMD Radeon HD 7800 (8.95.5)
We used Fraps to measure the frame rates during a minute of play from ME3's second single player level: Mars Prothean Archives. The test starts at the first checkpoint where you are on a rocky cliff. After walking for about 10 seconds, we found our first gang of badies and got engaged.
By default, the frame rate of ME3 is limited to 60 fps or the refresh rate of your monitor. To work around this problem, add UseVsync = False (without the quotation marks) to the GameSettings.ini configuration file in your My Documents folder. When VSync is disabled, the game's frame rates will be maximum.
We tested ME3 with three common resolutions for desktop displays: 1680 x 1050, 1920 x 1200 and 2560 x 1600 with activated anti-aliasing. Further quality settings are motion blur, dynamic shadows, spherical harmonic lighting, number of film lights (3) and anisotropic filtering (16x).