October was bookended by two outstanding open world games, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption II. Both feature rich stories set in beautifully-rendered worlds that are chock full of things to do. The two games are similar at this broad level of description, but their visual presentations are very different. I’ll compare the two in terms of graphics here and consider performance and gameplay in future articles.
Odyssey and RDR2 are both characterized by brilliant art direction and superior graphical presentation. In terms of console comparisons, both games tell a familiar story. They look the best on the Xbox One X followed in descending order by the PS4 Pro, the base PS4 and the Xbox One S. The console ordering doesn’t tell the real story, however. In their own separate ways, Odyssey and RDR2 provide a clear demonstration that in a head-to-head showdown, the One X has no real competition in the current console generation when it comes to putting great-looking games on the screen. Consequently, this article is focused on how Odyssey and RDR2 look on the One X.
Resolution is important for games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption II that combine realistic art design with large scale, highly-detailed open worlds. The lighting models, texture assets, and LODS (levels of detail) that make the game’s spectacular vistas and finely detailed interior spaces and character models come alive are all positively affected by increased resolution. If you’re sitting the proper distance from a 4K screen, Odyssey and RDR2 are incredibly good-looking games.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption II handle resolution in very different ways. Odyssey targets 4K on the One X and Pro and uses dynamic scaling to reduce resolution as needed to preserve frame rate. Digital Foundry catalogued the lowest, highest and average resolutions they observed for the four consoles. Here are their results expressed as a percentage of full 4K (3840 x 2160). A table with the pixel counts for each category can be found here for those who are interested.
|Xbox One X||59%||64%||100%|
|PS4||17% (69%)||Not reported||25% (100%)|
|Xbox One||12% (49%)||Not reported||17% (69%)|
The One X reaches full 4K but it doesn’t do it often. The striking aspect of the console comparison is that the One X at its worst is marginally better than the Pro at its best.
RDR2 doesn’t use dynamic resolution scaling. Instead, it renders at different resolutions on each console and then uses post-processing techniques to enhance resolution if needed. Here are RDR2’s pixel counts and percent 4K measures for the four consoles.
|Xbox One X||3840 x 2160||100%|
|PS4 Pro||1920 x 2160||50%|
|PS4||1920 x 1080||25%|
|Xbox One S||1536 x 864||16%|
The One X renders RDR2 at full 4K throughout the game. None of the others come close. The Pro uses something like a checkerboarding solution to increase resolution to 4K, but the technique degrades the image compared to the One X’s full 4K render.
Higher-resolution images are more detailed and refined. There’s more on the screen to see in 4K. In addition, resolution has a positive effect on other visual characteristics like lighting and LODS. Resolution also interacts with temporal anti-aliasing but here the interaction can have a negative effect.
Temporal anti-aliasing uses information from preceding and succeeding frames to smooth curved and diagonal lines and smooth motion as those lines move across the screen. Odyssey and RDR2 both make use of the technique.
Temporal anti-aliasing blurs some of the fine detail in a 4K image which softens the picture. The blurring becomes more noticeable as resolution decreases. The decline in image quality is hardly noticeable in RDR2’s full 4K render on the One X. It’s a bit more of an issue on the Pro, but it’s relatively minor and the pros outweigh the cons. Blurriness becomes a serious problem when you reach the low resolution seen on the One S.
The effect of temporal anti-aliasing in Odyssey is harder to evaluate because resolution declines as processor load increases. The technique is likely to have the largest negative effect in high-stress scenes where a lot is happening. However, those are also the scenes where you’re least likely to notice the decline in image quality because your attention is taken up with the on-screen action.
The HDR implementation is a major strength of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s visual presentation. It’s an epic fail for Red Dead Redemption II.
The graphics engineers at Ubisoft have a thorough grasp of HDR and it really shows in Odyssey. Greece’s sunny Mediterranean environments are beautifully displayed with subtle lighting effects, brilliant colors and more detail in both light and dark areas.
Odyssey also has a first-rate pair of HDR controls so players can adjust the presentation to match their personal preferences and screen characteristics. One control ties HDR to the maximum brightness the screen can display while the other sets white level. A guide to setting Odyssey’s HDR controls can be found here.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is a master class in how to do HDR right. Red Dead Redemption II is an astounding example of how to screw it up.
Actually, RDR2 doesn’t really screw up HDR because the game doesn’t do HDR at all. It sends an SDR image to the console and labels it as HDR. As good as RDR2 looks—and it looks very, very good—it would look much better if it were in HDR.
The absence of HDR makes RDR2 look dimmer, with duller colors and less detail in light and dark areas of the screen than it would if HDR was in play. Moreover, labeling its SDR output as HDR tells the console and screen to treat the image as HDR which can negatively impact picture quality depending on how the hardware processes HDR input. Finally, RDR2’s “HDR” control is really a brightness control that can degrade the picture more than it improves it.
Which game looks best?
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption II are at, or near, the top of the list of the best-looking games released thus far for today’s consoles. Which one is preferred is a matter of personal choice. No matter which you like best, you’ll see the game the way it was meant to be seen on the One X. All the other consoles are downgrades.
I play Odyssey and RDR2 on a One X and I sit with my eyes within a few inches of the optimal distance from a 65” LG OLED 4K display. With that setup, I prefer RDR2’s native 4K render to Odyssey’s use of dynamic resolution scaling. I would like to have the option of choosing a different form of anti-aliasing on both consoles. I don’t know if it would look better, but I’d like to find out. With any setup, Odyssey’s beautiful HDR implementation is infinitely preferable to RDR2’s phony one.
That being said, I think both Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Red Dead Redemption II are beautiful games. I’m more aware of the HDR failure in RDR2 than the resolution declines in Odyssey while I’m playing, but even after many hours of play I’m regularly stopped dead in my tracks by breathtaking visuals in both games. Unfortunately, the hostile denizens in Odyssey and RDR2 are not as easily impressed so I’m regularly clonked on the noggin while blissed out on pretty.
Interested readers may want to watch Digital Foundry’s thorough technical analysis videos of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on the One X and Pro or the One S and PS4, along with their four-console comparison of Red Dead Redemption 2.
If you’re interested in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, here are some articles you might enjoy.
And for Red Dead Redemption II,