Gears of War 4 Campaign Review & PC Performance/IQ Analysis

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BabelTechReviews received a reviewer’s copy of Gears of War 4 for PC last week courtesy of Microsoft and Nvidia, and began playing it, after downloading all 73GB. This editor has spent two long sessions playing the campaign to completion. Here are our impressions of it, including a mini-performance and IQ evaluation using a dozen of Nvidia’s and AMD’s top video cards.gow4-fi

Gears of War 4 was released on Thursday morning for Ultimate Edition buyers ($99.99) and will be released for everyone else ($59.99) on Tuesday, October 11. Gears of War 4 is a third-person shooter video game developed by The Coalition and published by Microsoft Studios for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One. It is the fifth installment of the popular XBox Gears of War series and it is the first time that it is also available for PC as part of Microsoft’s XBox “Play Anywhere” initiative.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-1_46_54-pm

The setting for Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the events of Gears of War 3 and it focuses on the adventures of J.D. Fenix, the son of Marcus Fenix, a hero of the earlier series. Now J.D. Fenix, alongside his friends Del and Kait have to deal with another threat to humanity’s survival on the planet Sera. Although the game is mostly all action, it is also personal, focusing on friends and family as J.D. is forced to turn to his father for help.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-7_08_41-pm

Gears of War 4 allows a player to play the campaign with a friend over Xbox Live or via local split screen co-op, with the option to play as JD, Kait or Del. Cross Play lets Xbox One and Windows 10 gamers play together in cooperative modes like Campaign, Horde and Co-Op Versus and there is a strong focus on multiplayer. However, for this evaluation, we are focusing on the single player campaign.

Here are the video cards that we tested at Ultra/Insane, Ultra, High, Medium and Low settings at 1920×1080, 2560×1440, 3440×1440, and at 3840×2160 resolutions with the very latest drivers:

  • GTX TITAN X (Pascal) 12GB
  • GTX 1080 8GB
  • GTX 1070 8GB
  • GTX 1060 6GB
  • GTX 1060 3GB
  • GTX 980 Ti 4GB
  • GTX 980 4GB
  • GTX 970 4GB
  • Fury X 4GB
  • RX 480 8GB
  • RX 470 4GB
  • R9 290 X


Nvidia’s development team worked with The Coalition to develop Gears of War 4 and they also offer the game as a bundle when you purchase a GTX 1080 or GTX 1070.

The bundled game code will be also available on October 11.

As a PC gamer, we have never played the earlier GoW console games in the series, but we were more drawn immediately into this world by the Prologue which serves as the tutorial. As with most games of the Action genre, it is all action and repetitive, but it introduces new weapons and new enemies plus a few new twists and a few surprises to keep us engaged. We completed the short single player campaign in under 8 hours, in just two settings.

One thing that immediately stands out is the incredible detail and impressive graphics at the game’s higher setting. The characters are about as detailed or as real as in Crysis 3, and Gears of War 4 succeeds brilliantly to create a immersive world. A lot of emphasis and time was placed on the hurricane force winds that plague the planet Sera, and most of the time, the player has to deal with debris and moving against a strong headwind. Throwing grenades require taking the wind into consideration, and there are also destructible environments that affect the player’s cover.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-11_50_07-am

Cover is executed more smoothly than in just about any other game, and the transitions into and out of cover are seamless. You may find yourself in cover behind a pod only to find that it explodes under fire – sometimes releasing an enemy NPC monster, sometimes not – and you will have to find new cover.

Your game-generated allies are very capable and often you will employ strategy to direct your fire at a enemy that one of your teammates is hitting successfully to take them down more quickly before you move on to the next one. There are several levels of difficulty – from Casual to Hardcore. On Casual, you can just enjoy the story. When you are hit and take no further damage, you self-heal, and if you are so damaged by enemies, your teammates will run over to revive you just as you can do for them. “Never fight alone” is a slogan that has some meaning in this game as you actually feel your are with allies working to accomplish the same objective.

The banter from your teammates is used as humor to break the tension, and there are a few high points. For example, when you meet your estranged father and ask him for help, Marcus replies in a gruff voice, “I expected you back, probably with your ass on fire.” And there is much made of the father-son relationship as well as mother-daughter, so there is a little more depth to the story than many other shooters. The game centers around a rescue attempt by your and your allies while you fight the now corrupt Cog governmental robotic forces and a new enemy, the Swarm.

The settings are varied, from subterranean horror settings, to night time, to brightly lit daytime scenes, and the game makes good use of the Unreal Engine 4’s capabilities.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-11_57_19-amThe story is adequate to move the action forward. Having the ability to use a Fabricator to create defensive weapons allows the player to use strategy. And there is a lot of action, from riding on super-bikes to piloting a giant mech.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-7_04_48-pm

You have to experience Gears of War 4 for yourself as a player to appreciate it much as you do a movie or a play; and not from viewing clips on a tablet, nor from watching Youtube gameplay videos. This mini-evaluation is not going to focus on the story except briefly. Instead, we are going to focus on changing the main settings and their effect on IQ and the performance of Gears of War 4 . We only played the single player campaign and did not play online multiplayer.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-7_27_54-pm

Gears of War 4 is part of a series, and it captures the spirit of the earlier games and expands on them. Players in Gears of War 4 carry four different weapons for which they can obtain ammo or swap out their current weapons with any weapon they find. While most of the weapons are mostly standard shooter weapons, Gears of War’s primary weapon is the Lancer, an assault rifle that has a mounted chainsaw bayonet which can be used in close quarter combat or to saw through obstacles. There is an active reload ability which either reloads more quickly or slowly depending on how the player reacts. There are also different types of grenades and enough variety to the weaponry to make it interesting.

The story


As the game begins, 25 years have passed since the human race barely survived the Locust War largely due to the exploits of Marcus Fenix which is summed up in the Prologue/tutorial. Since the Locust threat was over, Sera’s inhabitants had began to rebuild their infrastructure into walled cities which are governed tightly by the now corrupt Coalition of Ordered Governments – or Cog.

Evidently only a small portion of the population lives outside of these cities and they survive by raiding Cog storehouses. J.D. Fenix, son of the Gears of War 3 hero Marcus Fenix, and his best friend Del Walker have gone AWOL from the Cog and they are now raiders with their friend Kait Diaz. As you start to play the campaign, a major and new threat appears from an unknown source, so J.D and his party go to his estranged father for help.

The writing is well-done and the voice acting is superb. You learn about your new enemy and realize it is going to become a threat to humanity’s survival again. You also spend some time exploring the relationship between the formerly estranged father and son.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-12_08_14-pm

The game is quite linear and you never get lost or wonder what to do. A flaw might be that the game is very repetitive despite encountering varied enemies that get upgraded, and with boss fights are fun and never easy. The high point of the game comes much later when you find allies and are able to pilot giant mechs that change your perspective completely.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-1_52_14-pm

Now the tables turn and swarms of enemies become machine gun fodder for your mech, and even the bosses you had to run and gun previously can be directly confronted to be stomped on or executed much more easily. Playing inside the giant mech is a great experience and the controls are just as intuitive as before. Unfortunately, the game ends rather abruptly with a boss fight that appears to be a set-up for an expansion or for the next game in the series, which we are looking forward to. Gears of War 4 is a fun game that is our Action Game of 2016, so far.

One thing to note. We didn’t just run the benchmark. We actually played with each card that we tested so as to give you an idea of what gameplay feels like.


The gameplay is superb. The cover mechanics are probably one of the best in any PC game, and diving into and shooting from a cover is smooth. You must rely on teamwork, good positioning, strategy, and cover-based fighting. Taking enemies on without being in cover is almost never a good idea. Your computer-controlled AI teammates almost never get in your way and you will find yourself depending on them in the massive firefights. The boss fights are easy to figure out but still challenging.gears-of-war-4-10_7_2016-11_45_39-am

Checkpoint Saves and difficulty

This gamer hates the checkpoint system. However, this checkpoint system is particularly well implemented. When your character dies, you don’t have to start over way back nor are you forced to watch cutscenes over and over. In fact, the Quick time events are well done and the action flows like a big budget movie.


Gears of War 4 has little replayability. Mostly a player will want to explore everything which may reach 8 or more hours. You can start over and attempt to collect every item, or at a higher difficulty, but little changes. Multiplayer is the option to add value to the game and there are several modes. You can also play split-screen Co-op with a friend to play the campaign together.

Bugs, Graphics and Performance

There appear to be few bugs, and during more than 8 hours of play, we experienced a single lock-up which required us to restart the game. There have been no patches since we have been playing the game, and it is a very polished experience. The implementation of DX12 in Gears of War 4 is one of the best so far, and it appears to be very well optimized. DX12 improves performance and efficiency and draw call optimizations relieve CPU bottlenecks which help the video card perform faster.

This game is very scalable and Ultra can be played on many upper midrange GPUs including the GTX 1060 and the RX 480. Memory is well-managed often staying below 4GB of vRAM usage, but we do see 4GB and lower cards somewhat handicapped which require lowering settings for fluid performance.


We played Gears of War 4 at maximum Ultra/Insane details all the way through the campaign at 4K and at 3440×1440 using our Pascal TITAN X and then replayed much of it with 11 other video cards using our Core i7-6700K at 4.0GHz where all 4 cores turbo to 4.4GHz, an ASRock Z7170 motherboard and 16GB of Kingston HyperX DDR4 at 3333MHz. Our favorite experience was using the TITAN X on a 34″ 21:9 Acer Predator G-SYNC display at absolutely maxed out Ultra/Insane settings.

On the next page, we will introduce static image quality screenshots to compare the main settings, and later we will give performance results. Let’s check out the recommended settings, the Settings that we used as well as their impact on Image Quality (IQ).

Recommended Settings

The Coalition devs recommend a GTX 1060/6GB for 2560×1440, while a GTX 1080 can handle Ultra 4K settings, but the game is very scalable down to a GTX 750 Ti/2GB playing at 1920×1080 on lower settings. The Windows 10 Anniversary edition is mandatory and you will need 80GB of harddrive space. A i5-3470 at 3.0GHz is the minimum CPU while at least an i5-4690 at 3.5GHz is recommended. And of course, faster is always better so we used our i7-6700K which turbos all 4 cores to 4.4GHz. 8GB of system RAM is essential to play the game, and 16GB is ideal for maxing out the settings.

Let’s look at settings and image quality (IQ). There are about 30 settings with 100 plus options. Here are our some of our general options:


Image Quality & Settings

The main settings are Low, Medium, High, Ultra, and Ultra with Insane. Here is default Ultra with the only two settings that may be changed to Insane – Depth of Field (DoF) and Screen Space Reflections (SSR).gears-of-war-4-titan-x-insane

Insane settings are very demanding and should only be used by perhaps the TITAN X, or when SLI is enabled by the devs in an upcoming patch. On the “Insane” setting, designed for the fastest PCs, DoF is upgraded to Circle Depth of Field. Ultra is nearly indistinguishable from Insane DoF, and we would recommend it be left off because it takes a solid performance hit.

Real-time SSR is capable of reflecting characters and effects, and it is most noticeable in water and other glossy surfaces. Insane SSR reflections are upgraded to a technique that enables them to appear more detailed and less artificial by applying a realistic blur as the distance from the source increases. However, these Insane reflections really affect performance drastically and they are best left off except for taking screen shots unless you have a TITAN X and a very powerful PC.

These are the advanced settings which we used for all play and video and screen capturesgears-of-war-4-titan-x-adv

Only two “!” warnings were made for our TITAN X, but contrast with a GTX 1060 6GB card installed:


The game will make suggestions as to what settings to lower. A Nvidia graphics card owner may also choose to use the GeForce Experience to suggest optimal settings, and Nvidia has uploaded a very detailed graphics and performance guide that goes into great detail on each performance setting’s impact.

Now let’s look at a series of screen shots takes from the same place beginning with Low and progressing through Medium, High, Ultra, and Ultra Insane


As you can see, Low settings look decent even if the lighting is a little washed out but the detail is still good.


Medium is a good choice for weaker graphics cards as the lighting improves and the detail sharpens


High improves further on the lighting. However, if you have a choice between having to turn settings down to High or suffering with lower framerates, we would suggest that while playing the game, there is so much action, you may not notice the difference.



Ultra is considered the top setting and if your PC can handle it, it is a great experience.



You won’t see a lot of difference with Insane settings in this particular screenshot as DoF and SSR are not highlighted well here. However, Ultra with Insane settings are really only for the top cards like the TITAN X and the GTX 1080. However, even the mighty TITAN X cannot maintain 60 fps at 3440×1440 without overclocking. Fortunately, G-SYNC smooths the experience so that frame rate drops into the 40s can be tolerated.

Gears of War 4 – IQ in motion

Here is our same location with the game in motion at 1920×1080:

Gears of War 4 looks decent even at Low settings, and by the time we get to Ultra/Insane settings, we begin to sense what Unreal Engine is capable of once hardware gets faster. Let’s look at our Test configuration on the next page.

Test Configuration – Hardware

  • Intel Core i7-6700K (reference 4.0GHz, HyperThreading and Turbo boost is on to 4.4GHz; DX11 CPU graphics).
  • ASRock Z7170M OC Formula motherboard (Intel Z7170 chipset, latest BIOS, PCIe 3.0/3.1 specification, CrossFire/SLI 8x+8x)
  • HyperX 16GB DDR2 (2x8GB, dual channel at 3333MHz)
  • GTX 1080 8GB
  • GTX 1070 8GB
  • GTX 1060 6GB
  • GTX 1060 3GB
  • GTX 980 Ti 4GB
  • GTX 980 4GB
  • GTX 970 4GB
  • Fury X 4GB
  • RX 480 8GB
  • RX 470 4GB
  • R9 290 X
  • Two 2TB Toshiba 7200 rpm HDDs for each platform
  • EVGA 1000G 1000W power supply unit (for both platforms)
  • Thermaltake Water2.0, supplied by Thermaltake
  • Onboard Realtek Audio
  • Genius SP-D150 speakers, supplied by Genius
  • Thermaltake Overseer RX-I full tower case, supplied by Thermaltake
  • ASUS 12X Blu-ray writer
  • Monoprice Crystal Pro 4K
  • ACER Predator 34″ G-SYNC WHQD display

Test Configuration – Software

  • GeForce WHQL 373.03 was used for all Nvidia cards. High Quality, prefer maximum performance, single display. See control panel images below.
  • AMD Crimson Software 16.10.1 hotfix drivers were used for all AMD cards. See control panel image below.
  • VSync is off in the control panel. G-SYNC is off.
  • Specific settings enabled as noted on the chart.
  • All results show average frame rates including minimum frame rates shown in italics on the chart next to the averages in smaller font.
  • Highest quality sound (stereo) used in all games.
  • Windows 10 64-bit Home edition, Gears of War 4 was run under the DX12 render paths. Latest DirectX
  • Gears of War 4 has been patched to its latest version at time of publication.
  • Sapphire TriXX overclocking utility used to set the AMD cards Power Draw to +50% and to reference speeds.
  • MSI’s Afterburner used to set all Nvidia Power Limit and temperatures to maximum and clocks to reference speeds.

The Game

  • Gears of War 4, digital reviewer’s copy supplied by Microsoft/Nvidia

AMD Crimson Control Center Settings:

Crimson CP - system drivers Global-1

Nvidia Control Panel settings:


Let’s check the performance of our twelve video cards on the next page and then head for our conclusion.

Performance & Conclusion

Nvidia has their own optimization suggestions which may be quite helpful, or a player can just use the GeForce Experience included with the latest recommended 373.06 GeForce drivers. The GeForce Experience will, at the touch of a button, set near-ideal custom settings for any PC and for more than 100 games including for Gears of War 4.

For the best AMD experience, use the latest drivers – Crimson SW 16.10.1 hotfix which is optimized for Gears of War 4.


Nvidia suggests that a GTX 1080 can max out Gears of War 4 at Ultra settings at 3840×1080. Our own results suggest that this is correct if you don’t mind framerate dips into the mid-30s. It is a really demanding and good-looking game that scales very well.

There is a built-in benchmark that is reasonably representative of gameplay and the results provided are quite detailed.gears-of-war-4-bench-summar

Here are our performance results using 12 video cards at 4 resolutions using Ultra+Insane, Ultra, and High settings:

untitled-1 untitled-2 untitled-3

You will probably need 4GB of vRAM to max out your settings if you game above 1920×1080 resolution. We can see how the 3GB GTX 1060 struggles compared with the 6GB version. And even the Fury X appears to be somewhat limited by its 4GB of vRAM compared with the GTX 980 Ti. Perhaps some further memory management by AMD’s driver team will improve its performance.

Gears of War 4 is a very scalable game, and can run fluidly on Ultra settings on many GPUs, even at 2560×1440. At 4K, however, only the TITAN X comes close to 60 fps average in the in-game benchmark with minimums in the upper-40s. We overclocked our TITAN X and were able to achieve over 60 fps average and low 50s for minimums which is acceptable for running the campaign without resorting to G-SYNC.

However, once the “Insane” settings are enabled, the TITAN X average frame rate drops to 30 fps at 4K. SLI is planned for Gears of War 4, so perhaps this setting will be fluidly playable with TITAN X SLI and G-SYNC. Insane settings appear to be looking forward to the next generation of GPUs and will show more of what the Unreal 4 engine is capable of.

Our own personal preference is to play the game with a 21:9 WHQD G-SYNC display at Ultra settings with a GTX 1080 or with a TITAN X. Even a GTX 1060 6GB video card can handle these settings. AMD owners will also be able to use these same 3440×1440 Ultra settings with a Fury X or maybe a 390X and a Free-Sync display. An overclocked RX 480 8GB card may also be able to handle these same settings with drops into the low-30s


Gears of War 4 is a really fun game and it is the most fun we have had with a shooter in the past 2 years. We would have probably finished in one session instead of two if we did not have to sleep. And when we woke up the next morning we returned immediately to the game to complete it.

If we have to give it a score, Gears of War 4 deserves an “8” in our opinion as a very polished single player campaign. Gears of War 4 doesn’t really bring anything new to shooters, but what it does, it does very well. Gameplay is smooth and nearly flawless. And when you finally climb into you mech near the end of the game, you get an entirely new perspective that is the cherry on the topping.

Gears of War 4 comes highly recommended and it is a certain hit for Gears of War series fans. The graphics are extraordinary, the gameplay is excellent, and the story is decent enough to move the action without insulting the player’s intelligence. The voice acting is absolutely top-notch and it feels like a big budget cinematic experience. We feel it is worth the $60 asking price for a short but excellent single player adventure with good multiplayer action also.gears-of-war-4-benchmark

Gears of War 4 has become BTR’s latest benchmark. Stay tuned as we have many more reviews and evaluations coming up. This week, you can expect a full review of the HyperX Stinger gaming headset And we are also updating our drivers for our next review featuring a XFX RX 480

Happy Gaming!

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