When I booted up Starfield for the first time after installing the day one patch, I experienced a crash when it reached the Bethesda logo. I was immediately worried about the stability of the game, as my previous experiences with trying to run Skyrim and Fallout 4 were always with some kind of issue (Fallout 4 in particular being very prone to crashing for me). However, after rebooting the game, I was greeted with an incredibly quick shader pre-compilation screen and was able to immediately load into a new game. After playing for 10 hours across various different PC’s, Starfield is the most stable Bethesda game I have ever played in terms of errors, bugs, or crashes.
The performance of the game, however, is a different issue. Our review code for the game was given to our wonderful editor Jesse (Read his review on Starfield here!), where he tested the game on a Ryzen 5800x and a Radeon 7900XTX. His performance at native 4k, with every setting cranked up to max at 100% resolution scaling, his performance typically ranged 60-100 FPS. This range encompasses a 100 hour playthrough, mind you. It would dip below 60 into the 50s at times in big cities, however this would still happen very rarely. His experience is what I expected of a GPU that costs almost $1,000 USD.
So, why did every Nvidia GPU that I test suffer from framerate issues? I tested the game on an RTX 3060, 3070, 3080 and 3090, and the 3090 was only able to reach between 45-55 FPS in my testing while rendering at 3440×1440 (Ultra, with 100% resolution scaling). While AMD have put out drivers before the launch of Starfield, Nvidia has not. I did not receive any errors while booting up the game on the current latest drivers (537.13), but while testing on older drivers I did receive an error advising me to update. If the next driver update fixes this, I will retest to see if I gain any meaningful performance improvement.
The actual graphical options compared to previous Bethesda games is a step up. Gone is the launcher, presented with the ability to change every graphical setting in game without requiring a restart. There is no visualization of what each option would change, and strangely enough, each preset relies on AMD’s FSR2 upscaling. Even at Ultra settings, the game presents itself at 75% of native resolution, with High presenting at 62% native resolution, and Medium/Low presenting at 50% of native resolution. You can also use AMD’s CAS to upscale from a lower resolution, along with enable dynamic resolution scaling if you want to maintain a consistent framerate, however this option does not seem to be working properly at the time of testing.
Framerate issues aside, I never came across any stuttering related to shader caching, nor any CPU bottlenecking when testing on an i5-11600k/RTX 3060 and 5800x/RTX 3080. Only a few options in the graphics menu actually affect performance in any meaningful way. Lowering your rendering resolution and relying on FSR2 to upscale to your native resolution does help, but if you’re running the game on a 1080p monitor, I would not suggest going any lower than 75%, because otherwise the game just ends up too blurry in my opinion.
The next option to change will be Volumetric Lighting. This controls the resolution of volumetric fog, which the game does rely heavily on. However, if you’re using FSR2 to upscale from a lower resolution, go ahead and set this to low. I noticed a huge impact while running around in a foggy New Atlantis, of about 10 FPS. I would also suggest the same of Shadow Quality, as that will also net you a very healthy 8-10 FPS at the expense of shadows not being so sharp. That’s it. Those are the only graphics options that I had any substantial performance on the Nvidia GPU’s that I had tested.
I don’t personally have any AMD cards to test on, but the fact that FSR2 is included does have me wonder if AMD truly is not allowing for DLSS to be added. Back when Deathloop had released as an AMD sponsored title, it had DLSS included in an update very soon after launch. I do hope that will also be the case here, as I ended up needing to use upscaling to reach 60 FPS, and FSR2 is very prone to adding additional ghosting in Starfield as it does in many other games.
Starfield is an incredible game that takes great advantage of rasterized tech, it’s one of the few games that feels like it was made for current gen consoles. The game knows this, every photo you take in photo mode is shown on the very short loading screens, it knows you think it looks good (or silly if you took a screenshot of a bug you found). Despite the issues on Nvidia cards, it was nice to play a Bethesda game without having the issues of a Bethesda game made over the last 15 years. Hell, you don’t even have a framerate cap this time, it’s unlocked! No more modding that out, and it still didn’t crash after 10 hours of messing around in New Atlantis TRYING to break it. What a time to be alive.
If you want to test the game for yourself, but don’t want to spend $70, the game is available on Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass. The early access release for premium edition owners is out now, while the regular edition will release on September 5th. My recommended settings are listed below. I primarily tested on New Atlantis, but these are the options that had the game still looking nice visually for lower-end GPU’s while offering playable performance.
- Render Resolution: 75% or lower if you want a more consistent 60 FPS.
- Shadow Quality: Low/Medium
- Indirect Lighting: Ultra
- Reflections: High
- Particle Quality: High
- Volumetric Lighting: Low
- Crowd Density: High
- Motion Blur: Up to Player
- GTAO Quality: Ultra
- Grass Quality: Ultra
- Contact Shadows: Ultra/High
- Upscaling: FSR2
- Enable VRS: On
- Depth of Field: Off