Watch Dogs: Legion Graphics, Game Play & Performance Explored

Watch Dogs: Legion - Gameplay Issues and Performance

bench scene
The built-in benchmark has some colorful neon lighting effects

Watch Dogs: Legion - Gameplay Issues

While we were playing a preview copy of Watch Dogs: Legion, the version we were given is the day-one patch version which launches to the public today. Because of that, we felt like it was important to share any show-stopping bugs we found along the way. On this page you'll see a total of 144 total frames-per-second data points (average and 1% low) collected over the course of 144 different runs, two per combination of RTX detail, resolution, and DLSS 2.0 settings. The game crashed around once every eight runs of the benchmark, for a total of 18 crashes, and on four other occasions the menus just stopped responding to input. This was frustrating, but eventually we got the performance numbers we needed. Fortunately, the actual game very rarely crashed, but still had some bugs. 

guy in a wall
I punched this guy so hard he got stuck in a door. He kept trying but never got up.

First of all, UPlay itself had some connectivity issues in Watch Dogs: Legion. More often than not, Alt+Tab to get out of the game disconnects the game from Ubisoft's services, so cloud saves stop syncing. On more than one occasion, the agent we were fighting would get stuck in walls. The DLSS menu options are confusing, as it goes from None, Performance, Quality, then Balanced, and finally Ultra Performance. It's unfortunate, but Watch Dogs: Legion is buggy in the early going in a way we haven't experienced in a while. 

In the actual game, there were several instances of enemy characters getting stuck. One time, we cornered a security guard and knocked him down, and he fell half-way through the door, as in the screenshot above. He'd try to get up and would yell for backup, but we couldn't touch him to knock him out. Another time, we punched a guard who was standing on top of a ledge, and he fell in slow motion to gently land on the ground below, and only then could we attack him again. In the game, we can hijack small spider-bots and drones to do our bidding, and in one mission, the spider-bot got stuck on a desk and we couldn't get it to jump so we could move again. That one caused us to restart a mission, which was particularly frustrating. 

All of that is particularly troubling since, had it not been for COVID-19, the game would have shipped in March instead of the end of October. Seven extra months were apparently not enough to get the Watch Dogs totally stable. We should remember that we played a pre-release version, but we were running the day-one patch that launches alongside the game. Hopefully Ubisoft will move quickly to squash the remaining bugs. 

Update 10/29/2020 6:50 PM EDT: Shortly after this article went live, NVIDIA drew our attention to this thread on Ubisoft's forums detailing a patch that should drop tomorrow, which will affect both performance and some of the bugs that we detailed above. 

player select
Once a character has been arrested or critically injured, a timer starts. Some recruits can shorten the cooldown.

Watch Dogs: Legion - System Requirements

While we played the campaign on our HTPC, we tested Watch Dogs: Legion on the same test platform as most of the other games we've tested over the last year: a Ryzen 7 3700X with 32 GB of DDR4-3600 memory on an ASUS X570 TUF Gaming Plus (Wi-Fi) motherboard. Because the game relies so heavily on DLSS and DXR effects, we used a GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER and GeForce RTX 2060. The 2080 SUPER could only run the game on the Very High preset due to the 8 GB VRAM limit we mentioned earlier. The GeForce RTX 2060 and its 6 GB of GDDR6 are further limited to the High preset. 

Before we go any farther, we should recap the game's system requirements. They're actually fairly steep compared to something like Cyberpunk 2077 or Death Stranding, both of which are other 2020 PC releases. However, these high requirements are due to the high render target Ubisoft specified. Even the minimum requirement was chosen for High detail, Medium DXR, and a 1080p render target. 

Watch Dogs: Legion
System Requirements
Spec Minimum - 1080p High, Medium DXR, DLSS Quality Recommended - 1440p Very High, High DXR, DLSS Quality Ultra - 2160p, Ultra, Ultra DXR, DLSS Performance
CPU Intel Core i5-8400
AMD Ryzen 5 2600
Intel Core i7-9700
AMD Ryzen 5 3600
Intel Core i9-9900K
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
GPU NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 6 GB GeForce RTX 3070 8 GB GeForce RTX 3080 10 GB
RAM 16 GB Dual Channel 16 GB Dual Channel 16 GB Dual Channel
SSD Free 45 GB 45 GB 45 GB
OS Windows 10 (64-bit only) Windows 10 (64-bit only) Windows 10 (64-bit only)

Considering we're talking about graphics cards that only just came out for the Recommended and Ultra spec, very few gamers will be playing on those settings any time soon. That's especially true when considering NVIDIA's struggles with filling demand for its brand-new Ampere cards. Fortunately, we were able to find some settings that worked well for us on our test cards, and we'll test a wide variety of settings otherwise, too. 

Watch Dogs: Legion - Performance

fps report
After running the benchmark, the game shows plenty of metrics

The built-in benchmark was a good sample of what goes on in-game. It happens at night with lots of neon lights, rain, and reflections all over the place. That means it uses Watch Dogs: Legion's DXR effects to their fullest, as reflections happen in puddles, windows, and even a metal statue. No two runs of the benchmark are exactly the same, owing to the fact that it's using the full game engine including AI and physics. To make sure no one setting or card was punished by a particularly complex scene, we ran each setting twice and reported the higher score. Generally speaking, the results were very consistent throughout, though.

Watch Dogs: Legion reports more than just frame rates. At the end of the run, it shows a GPU and a CPU chart, which illustrates where the bottleneck was, which will serve as an aid when choosing to upgrade a gaming PC. Also, the game can export the run to an HTML file, which it saves to a folder in the \Documents\My Games\Watch Dogs Legion folder. That HTML file constructs its own fps chart, as well. Unfortunately neither the HTML result file nor the in-game graph uses 0 as a starting point, so fluctuations in frame rate are exaggerated, and bottoming out looks much worse than it actually is. 

1080p Tests
Full HD Performance
1080p was our base test resolution. Watch Dogs: Legion supports lower resolutions, but for this class of graphics cards we expect to find perfectly playable settings starting at 1080p, especially once DLSS comes in to play. We'll start with the most punishing settings first, where DLSS was off, and then work our way up to Performance. We skipped Ultra Performance since that's really intended for 8K gaming, and we skipped High DXR since there's not much difference in performance between Medium and Ultra. We still ran tests for 72 different settings configurations, so there's hopefully enough here to figure out how playable the game is. 

1080p dlss perf

1080p dlss bal

1080p dlss qual

1080p dlss off
As expected, our test cards had no problem with 1080p gaming with Ultra DXR. Remember that the two cards can't run the same settings, since the GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER could handle Very High without issue, while the GeForce RTX 2060 was locked down to High Quality. Still, when using what the cards have available to them, everything was very playable at the native resolution without DXR.

While the RTX 2060 could never quite average 60 fps with any form of ray tracing enabled at the native resolution, Performance DLSS was able to pull out a smooth result with medium DXR effects. If those effects aren't all that interesting, the average frame rate jumps all the way up to nearly 70 fps on average, which is very smooth, since the 1% low dipped below 60 just a touch. It's no surprise to see that Ubisoft's Minimum spec, which targeted High settings at 1080p with Medium DXR, hit right at 60fps on average with our GeForce RTX 2060

1440p Tests
Quad HD Performance
1440p draws more than twice as many pixels as 1080p, and so performance should be quite a bit lower, assuming the CPU wasn't the bottleneck. Ray tracing in particular has traditionally punished higher resolutions on the RTX 2000 series of graphics cards. Let's see how it happened in Watch Dogs: Legion

1440p dlss perf

1440p dlss bal

1440p dlss qual

1440p dlss off

As expected, DXR exacted its performance toll at this higher resolution, but DLSS 2.0 was able to win back some of those precious frames. Already, the GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER was unable to provide a smooth 60 fps experience, although gamers with 1440p G-Sync capable monitors will still enjoy very solid performance. The GeForce RTX 2060 couldn't cap 60 fps even without DXR, which is pretty rough. In all cases, DLSS Quality mode is a bit faster than 1080p native rendering, since it renders the game at 1706 x 960. It looks pretty good this way, too, as detailed on the previous page. 

2160p Tests
UHD 4K Performance
4K UHD is the highest resolution we had readily available for testing. Unfortunately I haven't gotten my mitts on an 8K display, something that will probably be cost-prohibitive for a while yet. Besides, 8K gaming really needs an Ampere card. 

2160p dlss perf

2160p dlss bal

2160p dlss qual

2160p dlss off
Here is where we bid adieu to the GeForce RTX 2060. Performance DLSS delivers marginally playable frame rates, but anything with higher visual fidelity is just too much for this midrange graphics card. That's not terribly surprising, though. For the GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER, what DXR takes away, DLSS gives back. The game is super playable with any of the various DXR settings and DLSS Balanced or DLSS Performance enabled. We've spent many hours this way with our RTX 2070 SUPER in the HTPC machine, and it's quite an enjoyable experience at a slightly lower frame rate in that box. 

Performance Summary

Well, now we understand why Ubisoft set such aggressive targets for its recommended and ultra system requirements. The game is extremely playable with any GeForce RTX card, as long as the targets are set low enough. The nice thing is that even on that Minimum spec's setting, the game is beautiful. An equivalent to 1080p Quality DLSS is 1440p with Performance DLSS, and the game runs quite well on 1440p displays, and it looks better than even 1080p native because of the upscaling.

sample graph
A graph from the saved results HTML file. Note the axis doesn't start at 0.

We didn't have much that we could test Radeons on, since the current 5000 series doesn't support DXR, and DLSS is an NVIDIA-only feature, so they were excluded. We do expect the game is quite enjoyable with a Radeon RX 5600 XT or 5700 series, since with traditional rendering, those cards are pretty even with an RTX 2060 and bookend an RTX 2070 SUPER. 

We did do a couple of quick tests on our HTPC with the Core i5-9400F, and it doesn't appear that the CPU is a bottleneck. Performance was quite acceptable on that system at 2160p with Performance DLSS and Medium DXR on the Very High Quality preset. It wouldn't be fair to include that system on these charts, however, since it's a different platform with more variables than just the CPU. 

Watch Dogs: Legion Conclusions

Watch Dogs: Legion is a pretty fun game with a lot to do. We had a blast zipping around London, hacking cameras, stealing drones, and recruiting allies in the constant fight against Albion. The story missions are engaging, and the side quests could keep us busy for hours all on their own. Having so many different player characters to recruit means that the game won't get old quickly, since there's always someone else's skills to enlist. Since each operative has their own skillset, many of the missions are tailored to one of the various archetypes. That can either make a mission very easy with the right recruit, or force us to think outside the box if we're playing as someone suboptimal for the job. 

title screen

Graphically speaking, this game is gorgeous. The textures are varied enough that the landscape didn't repeat itself in an obvious fashion, and the DXR effects on display were very nice. In fact, the game looks so good that when it stumbles, it's very obvious. Take the lack of interactive standing water as a case in point. While those raytraced effects could sap performance, DLSS 2.0 does a very nice job of injecting a speed boost that kept the visuals moving smoothly. The system requirements, while quite steep on the high end, should still be capable of delivering a smooth experience at high resolutions and detail levels. 

The only downside is the somewhat buggy state we experienced the game in. Some of the clunky UI should be simple enough to smooth out, but there are more serious issues. Crashes during benchmarking thankfully didn't carry over into actual game play often, but when they happened, we'd lose progress and have to replay a section of a mission. When NPCs get stuck in walls or start floating after getting hit or when hijacked robotics get stuck on an object, it can make completing a mission difficult. 

We definitely see the promise in Watch Dogs: Legion, and think it's a really solid game that just needs a bit of polish. If Ubisoft can shine up the wonky bits and shore up stability, it'll be a hit. While multi-player isn't here yet, it's scheduled to drop in December, which should extend the life of the game. If stealth and futuristic sci-fi conspiracies are your spot of tea, we'd suggest dropping into Jolly Old London. 

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