Three-Way Comparison Shows PCs Slaying Consoles in Dragon Age Inquisition

Tomorrow, BioWare's long-awaited Dragon Age Inquisition will drop for the PS4, Xbox One, and PCs. To say I'm excited would be an understatement. I've long been a fan of the Dragon Age series, even if Dragon Age 2 failed to live up to its predecessor, and by all accounts Dragon Age Inquisition is going to be a fabulous game.

A recent video from CVG compares the visuals in key scenes between the Xbox One, PS4 and PC versions and I'm happy to report that while the PC variant clearly looks the best in multiple areas (as it should), there's evidence of good, intelligent optimization for all platforms. After the debacle of Assassin's Creed Unity, Inquisition could provide an important taste of how to do things right.

Optimization Matters:

When we did our original Watch Dogs report, we noted that the game engine tended to make good use of the Xbox One's less powerful GPU by amping up detail levels in less-strenuous scenes but stepping them back down subtly when the scene became more demanding. We see even more evidence of that in Dragon Age Inquisition, as shown below:

Click to enlarge

There's no visual difference between the Xbox, PS4, and PC versions of the game in the scene above. That doesn't mean the PC version isn't faster, or can't run at a higher resolution, but the basic level of texture detail is identical in all three.

PC vs. PS4. Click to enlarge

PS4 vs. Xbox One. Click to enlarge

The two photos above show the mid-screen transition points between PC and PS4 and PS4 vs. Xbox. Again, they're all essentially identical. While some might call that a weakness, I actually consider it a strength -- it means that the game's developers have cared enough to optimize their use of available resources as opposed to simply hurling everything at the wall and hoping video cards can chug through it enough that players don't complain.

PS4 vs. Xbox One vs. PC

When detail levels do rise, the PC still comes away with the best overall visuals. In this close-up, the Xbox One and PS4 are largely matched, while the PC elf has better facial coloring and slightly more detailed textures. The lighting model in this scene and the scenes that follow is somewhat different in the PC edition -- this is more visible in the next comparison.

PS4 vs. Xbox One vs. PC. Click to enlarge

Above, you can see that the green crystal is far more detailed in the PC version with the PS4 following behind. The Xbox One crystal, in contrast, is rather muddy. Overall, the PC and PS4 are closest in overall detail, with the Xbox One occasionally lagging behind. The full video is embedded below.

Why Optimized Console Ports Mean Better PC Titles

It might seem counter-intuitive to cheer for good console ports while simultaneously declaring the PC variant the best of the bunch, but a look at console history reveals a distinct pattern: The companies that build the best, most resilient games tend to be the companies that also optimize for the strengths of every platform. I'm glad to see solid Xbox One and PS4 ports alongside a noticeably superior PC version, because it means that BioWare has taken the time to ensure a decent experience on every platform -- or so we hope.

As things stand, the PC version has some notable edges over the consoles, with the PS4 nearly matching PC visuals and the Xbox One trailing behind. The PC variant of Dragon Age Inquisition will support AMD's Mantle out of the box, so it'll be interesting to see if AMD GPUs pick up any frames in that API.