A Look at Total War: Warhammer

DirectX 12 loves real-time strategy games…

warhammer amd perf

Today AMD is releasing it’s Radeon Software Crimson 16.5.3 beta driver update with support for the latest Total War game: Warhammer. This is a DirectX 12 game that makes use of that API’s explicit multiGPU, asynchronous compute, and multithreading features. Of course AMD has invested heavily in working with the Creative Assembly, the game’s developer, to upgrade their old DirectX 11 engine to support DirectX 12 with an eye towards smooth frame delivery and good performance.

According to the Creative Assembly they’ve spent more time on optimizing the performance of Warhammer than on any other game they made in the last decade. This is good news given that they’ve built a reputation for building buggy, often overly ambitious, and poorly performing games with Rome II, Shogun II, and particularly Empire. Hopefully after remedying all the issues with Rome II, the massive success of Alien: Isolation, and working with AMD’s RTG to build out their engine the Creative Assembly can put that rocky technical reputation behind them with Warhammer.

Full disclosure: I own every one of the Creative Assembly games I’ve referenced. I also spent the better part of a year taking an AP US History course while playing through Empire: Total War and waiting for that game’s hilariously slow turn taking system to finish processing. Rome: Total War, of course, is my favorite game in the series. Perhaps Warhammer will be able to change that. The upcoming Halo Wars 2 game from the Creative Assembly looks like an even stronger candidate for that honor.

warhammer aa amd

Back to the part that AMD wants me to tell you about: MSAA is currently broken in Total War: Warhammer. Err… wait… I mean AMD’s helped the Creative Assembly integrate MLAA into Warhammer and MSAA support is coming soon.

UPDATE 2/24/16 @ 11:06AM: We asked AMD if there was any difference between the version of MLAA present in their Radeon Software and the version present in Warhammer’s in-game menus; there is. AMD’s driver-based MLAA does not support DirectX 12 games.

There’s a lot of cool anti-aliasing techniques available these days like SMAA but my current favorite is AMD’s virtual super resolution tool which is basically super-sampling and is transparent to the application. Unfortunately there are sometimes UI scaling issues with that method. Warhammer is one of those games that will work with VSR, but whose UI fails to scale nicely.

warhammer amd multigpu

Explicit multiGPU is probably one of the best features of DirectX 12 and AMD is showing it off here with a pair of its Radeon R9 390 graphics cards. 75 percent scaling is not a bad result. We don’t have a way to verify these numbers and good multiGPU scaling has traditionally been broken by frame pacing issues. We’ll have to wait to see if CrossFire configurations are a genuinely good user experience in Warhammer.

warhammer amd perf tablre

We do have a Fury X on hand and AMD gave a pre-release copy for Total War: Warhammer so we attempted to verify their performance claims. AMD quoted the Fury X at 39 FPS at 4K on the Ultra preset and our testing matched up nicely with  a solid 40 FPS. At 1080P performance was excellent at 96 FPS. As we did with Ashes of the Singularity we decided to attempt to look at CPU scaling by disabling cores and running our benchmarks again. The result of which was a big drop in performance at 1080P and only a minor hit at 4K. Clearly our 4K performance testing is mostly GPU limited and Total War: Warhammer loves Hyper-threading unlike any other game I’ve ever seen. Also unlike Ashes of the Singularity, Warhammer will actually run with only a single core enabled albeit poorly.

One thing I do want to compliment is the snappiness and fluidity of Warhammer’s in-game UI. Additionally it’s worth noting that the game’s Ultra preset is not actually its highest graphical setting there are a number of other options including larger units size and removing the cap on memory consumption that can improve the visual quality of the game. With all of these options turned on our Fury X pumped our about 30 FPS at 4K.

In the end here we have another driver release from AMD, a cool DirectX 12 game, and confirmation that AMD is committed to working with game developers that want to push PC gaming to the limits of it’s best hardware. If only AMD could have talked Creative Assembly into using TressFX 3.1 on the game’s hairy Orcs and spiders then we would really have something special on our hands. There’s always next time I guess.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.