Warhammer 40,000 is one of the longest running real-time strategy series to date. No wonder titles from the franchise always seem to make top-ten lists. The Dawn of War games are particularly popular among RTS players, with more than seven million copies sold worldwide. But it’s been so long—eight years to be exact—since we last got a new one. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the franchise had lost its place in the hearts of all but its most die-hard followers.
In an attempt to keep the franchise alive, Relic Entertainment has finally brought us the much-awaited third installment in the Dawn of War series. Dawn of War III inherits most of the mechanics of the previous installment, with the exception of some MOBA elements the developers added to spice up the gameplay a little. It’ll be interesting to see how the community receives those changes, but that’s a discussion for another day. Instead, we’re going put the game to the test with a collection of Pascal-based graphics cards from the Strix GTX 1050 Ti to the mighty 1080 Ti.
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that you can get this game for free with select ASUS and ROG products. Codes are available while supplies last until June 4, 2017, and they’re available with eligible products purchased up until May 21. What makes this offer really special is the exclusive Masters of War skin pack, which lets you eliminate your enemies in style. If you recently purchased an eligible product, head over to the official bundle microsite to claim your game code. And, if you have an ASUS or ROG graphics card based on the GTX 1060 6GB, GTX 1070, GTX 1080, or GTX 1080 Ti, don’t forget to update GPU Tweak to the latest version to unlock the cool Dawn of War III skin.
Graphics options and image quality
Relic Entertainment developed their own game engine a few years back, which they baptized the Essence Engine. They’ve been using it ever since, and Dawn of War III runs on an upgraded version dubbed Essence v4.0.
Since Dawn of War III provides few graphical options, we don’t have complete control over how the game looks. There aren’t even any overall graphics presets. For less-experienced gamers, there is a Use Suggested button that automatically applies the appropriate graphics settings based on system specs. Those of us who favor manual tweaking have access to the following options.
Although we can effectively customize our own graphics presets, the possible combinations are too numerous to illustrate individually. For the sake of visual comparison—and not boring you—we’ll use the maximum and minimum values across the board to show the graphics quality at both ends of the spectrum.
Dawn of War III is a beautiful game with the graphics options turned all the way up. The textures on the units, buildings, objects, and terrain exhibit great detail and sharpness. The overall ambiance is spot-on, and the complex lighting, shadows, smoke effects, and weather contribute to creating the mood of each scene.
At the lowest settings, the game looks identical to its predecessor. The first apparent change is a reduction in the quality and complexity of the lighting, making the visuals look dull and boring. The shadows, smoke, and weather effects are gone, and there are visible jagged edges around the units and objects due to the lack of anti-aliasing.
Test system and methodology
CPU: Intel Core i7-7700K CPU Cooler: NZXT Kraken X42 Motherboard: ASUS Maximus IX Formula Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) 3000MHz Storage: PNY CS1311 960GB Video Card: ROG Strix GTX 1050 Ti, GTX 1060, GTX 1070, GTX 1080, and GTX 1080 Ti Case: NZXT S340 Elite Lighting: NZXT HUE+ Power Supply: Seasonic Prime 750W Operating System: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit with Creators Update Drivers: NVIDIA 381.89 WHQL Display: ROG Swift PG27AQ
The game client was updated to version 126.96.36.19992, which was the latest revision available when we did our testing for this article. The only option I’ve disabled is V-Sync, for obvious reasons. I used Fraps to capture individual frame times during the initial portion of the first mission from the single-player campaign and then converted the data to FPS for easy interpretation.
Graphics settings analysis
First, let’s look at how individual graphics settings affect performance. These tests were conducted at 1920 x 1080 resolution using the Strix GTX 1060. The results are presented in average frames per second (FPS).
Advanced features like shadows are controlled with the Image Quality option. Our results show a noticeable impact on graphics performance. The differences between the higher detail settings are only a few FPS, but the gap grows as you go from Medium to Low. The difference is huge when dropping to the Minimum setting, which makes the game look incredibly plain. You shouldn’t have to use this setting unless you’re in desperate need of better frame rates. For the best balance between performance and visual fidelity, choose a setting no lower than High.
The Texture Detail option lets us adjust the size of textures to reduce blurring when zooming in on the units in the game. The higher settings consume more VRAM, and the Strix GTX 1060’s hefty 6GB of GDDR5 memory is enough to handle them without reducing performance.
Regardless of the game’s display resolution, you can reduce the gameplay resolution to improve performance. This option can raise frame rates substantially, but the visuals suffer. If you must reduce the gameplay resolution, please don’t go below 66% for your eyes’ sake.
As technical as the Unit Occlusion option may sound, it basically applies a color overlay on units that are hidden behind buildings and objects. There is no performance to gain by disabling this option on the GTX 1060, so we can leave it enabled.
Anti-Aliasing helps smooth jagged edges, and it has a bigger impact on the Strix GTX 1060’s performance than any of the other graphics options. You cannot choose between Anti-Aliasing methods, since Dawn of War III uses FXAA across all settings. The difference is that the High and Medium settings render to a higher-resolution off-screen buffer, reducing performance by 32 FPS and 15 FPS, respectively. The performance cost between the Low setting and disabling AA is insignificant.
The Physics option controls the realism of simulated destruction in the game. This option is CPU-intensive, so having a powerful processor allows us to pick a higher setting without reducing frame rates. Our system’s Intel Core i7-7700K handles the High setting with effectively no performance hit.
GPU performance analysis
Now, we’ll look at how the game performs with different GPUs. The following graphs show FPS over time. Since the data has been converted from individual frame times, cards with higher performance produce more frames—and longer plots.
1920 x 1080
Generally speaking, 30 FPS is fine for the majority of RTS games. Historically, many titles have even been capped at this level. Dawn of War III plays well at 30 FPS, but based on personal experience, that’s really the minimum acceptable frame rate for the game.
Playing on the Strix GTX 1050 Ti is enjoyable at 1920 x 1080 with Low AA, with frame rates often over 40 FPS. The Strix GTX 1060 offers an even smoother experience, eclipsing 60 FPS for most of our test sequence.
Increasing Anti-Aliasing to High cripples the Strix GTX 1050 Ti’s performance to the point where playing is no longer pleasant. The Strix GTX 1060 also takes a performance hit, but gameplay remains smooth, so we can’t complain. The Strix GTX 1060 has the necessary firepower for maxing out Dawn of War III at 1920 x 1080.
2560 x 1440
Our first impressions at 2560 x 1440 were very good. The gameplay was equally smooth on the Strix GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 with the Anti-Aliasing option on Low. Both cards pushed over 60 FPS for almost the entire test sequence.
Despite cranking Anti-Aliasing up to High, the game continued to run fluidly on the Strix GTX 1070, albeit with frame rates closer to 40 FPS. We prefer the Strix GTX 1080 for the added graphics power, which is good to have when there’s more action on the screen. Of the two cards, that’s the go-to model for the best experience with maxed-out settings at 2560 x 1440.
Based on performance at lower resolutions, we expected running Dawn of War III at 3840 x 2160 to be a challenging task for most graphics cards. We played the game comfortably on the Strix GTX 1080 with Anti-Aliasing on Low. Nonetheless, the more powerful Strix GTX 1080 Ti really shined at this resolution, with gameplay that was noticeably more fluid.
Once we set Anti-Aliasing to High, the Strix GTX 1080 dropped completely out of the running, with frame rates predominantly under 30 FPS. The Strix GTX 1080 Ti only just managed to provide decent gameplay. There were occasions where things got hectic and the frame rate dipped below our desired minimum of 30 FPS. Given the small size of pixels at this resolution, jagged edges are extremely hard to see; Anti-Aliasing isn’t necessary for sharp visuals, and using it can waste valuable graphics horsepower.
There’s no denying that Dawn of War III looks amazing across all resolutions. But running at max settings requires hefty graphics power, especially when anti-aliasing is in the discussion. So, you’ve been warned. The good news is the slower pace of RTS games makes lower frame rates more tolerable.
At 1920 x 1080, you can enjoy the game on a Strix GTX 1050 Ti as long as Anti-Aliasing is kept on Low. For a maxed-out experience, the Strix GTX 1060 performs much better. Once you get to the higher resolutions, the requirements become more demanding. At 2560 x 1440, the Strix GTX 1070 and Strix GTX 1080 will both serve you well regardless of Anti-Aliasing. The GTX 1080 clearly provides smoother gameplay, though. Similarly, at 3840 x 2160, the Strix GTX 1080 and 1080 Ti are both great candidates with Anti-Aliasing on Low. If we increase that option to high, the GTX 1080 doesn't really cut it, and its Ti-infused brother remains a valid option only if you're willing to accept the occasional drop in frame-rate.