Red Dead Redemption 2 has launched on the Steam platform, and while that means those customers will avoid a lot of the problems that game with the Rockstar and Epic Games versions (Steam overlay aside...), it also means that a lot of research has already been done into the best settings for performance vs. quality when it comes to graphics.
Unfortunately, the game is a bit of a resource hog graphically, especially at the higher settings. The good news though is that you don't need to run everything on ultra to get a good experience, indeed, in my testing I've found a lot of the ultra and high settings make barely any difference visually but hurt a lot in terms of performance.
With that in mind, here's our guide to the optimal settings for Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC to maintain those frames while not loosing visual quality. These settings were obtained using a GTX 1070 graphics card, so if you're on a mid-high range card, this guide is for you.
Note: I suggest setting anything not listed below to default or preference.
First, we'll go over the basic settings. There's some extra performance and visual quality we can claw back in the advanced settings later, but this is where we'll need to start.
First of all, Texture Quality and Aniosotropic Filtering both need to be set to Ultra. There's literally no reason not to do this, especially when even the High texture setting reduces the visual quality quite drastically. Any graphics card you'd consider playing this game on will be more than capable of handling both of these settings on max, without any performance issues, so go ahead and set these to Ultra and 16x respectively.
Here's where things get interesting. I suggest setting your lighting quality to "Medium", unless you've got a seriously beefy card such as a GTX 2080Ti. It makes very, very little difference visually, but will improve performance dramatically.
Global Illumination, Shadow and Far Shadow quality can all be set to high. Most graphics cards these days can handle these with ease, and certainly when it comes to shadows the added fidelity really adds to the experience.
As for Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, I recommend setting this to High. There is some minor loss of quality in terms of light reflections, for example items on a shelf and the way the lighting works there, but it's very minor and provides much much better performance against Ultra. Again, set this to Ultra only if you have a really high powered card.
I suggest setting Reflection Quality and Mirror Quality to Medium. There's no real benefit to having this set any higher unless you either spend most of your time looking at your own reflection or have a really high end card and can afford the overhead of High or Ultra, which significantly affects performance.
Finally, set particle quality to high, and tessellation quality to low. Particles are easily rendered by most GPUs, but tesselation can provide some FPS hit for what is a small visual improvement to my eyes.
Water and Volumetrics settings leave for now, as we'll come onto these in the "Advanced" section (so show as "Custom" below)
To summarise, here's a screenshot showing my recommended "basic" settings.
Now, lets get into the advanced settings. There's a few things we can do here to let us claw back even more performance and even regain some visual quality we may have lost above without affecting performance.
Firstly, I really recommend setting Near and Far Volumetric Quality to "Low". Yes, I said low, and this is why - in my testing of this setting, I literally could not see a single bit of difference between the settings on this option, volumetrics look spectacular in this game regardless of this setting. The only thing setting this any higher will net you is FPS loss, so there's no real reason to do this in my opinion.
One thing that you should not set to low though is Volumetric Lighting Quality. Here, I suggest setting this to High. This affects the way the light shines through and interacts with the volumetric fog, so setting this to low will degrade visual quality. The good news is there's little performance hit on this setting so go ahead and set it to high.
I would suggest not enabling unlocked volumetric raymarch resolution, especially if you play at high resolutions, as this will almost certainly affect performance for little additional visual quality.
In terms of particle lighting quality, this affects things such as embers from fires, for example. I would recommend a Medium setting here, as any higher setting seems to bring the FPS down around these types of effects with no real visual improvement.
In terms of soft shadows, set these to medium, this will avoid unnecessary FPS drops in dense areas such as Saint Denis. Additionally, set grass shadows to Medium also, to avoid FPS slow down while out in the wilderness. Both of these settings offer no real visual improvement at higher settings but again, cause significant FPS loss.
Turn Long Shadows to on, these add much more immersive shadows, especially at sunset and sunrise, and offer no real performance impact.
I would suggest turning full resolution SSAO off, as this will significantly impact FPS quality, without offering much visual benefit.
Set water refraction quality to Medium. This changes the way light reflects and refracts on water surfaces. Water in this game is visually stunning and setting this any higher offers little improvement but causes a HUGE impact on FPS around water. I would not set this lower though, as water will become a little bland and muddy.
Keeping Water Reflection Quality at High really brings the most to the water effects and at high offers a reasonable impact, any higher I would not recommend as the FPS quickly drops off for very little improvement in quality.
In terms of Water Physics, I turn this down as low as it can go. It means water moves around less, but I honestly don't pay attention to that very much and don't personally notice. If this does matter to you, set it to around half, but setting it any higher will affect CPU performance significantly and cause FPS slowdown.
TAA Sharpening and Motion Blur don't affect performance, so set these to your own preference.
Next, turn off reflection MSAA, again unless you spend a lot of time looking at them or have the raw horsepower, this unnecessarily impacts performance.
I would suggest setting the Geometry Level of Detail to just above half, or 3 out of the 5 points along the selection bar. This will ensure a decent level of geometry view distance without impacting FPS. Setting this to max can hurt FPS when out in the wilderness with long view distances or dense forest.
As for Grass Level of Detail, set this to just below half way. The higher you set this the worse your FPS will be, and above this point, it's really hard to notice much difference visually, so I don't suggest setting this any higher.
I set tree quality to medium, and this helps protect your frame rate in dense forests. There's very little difference between this and the higher settings, so I suggest you keep your frame rate high and set this to medium.
Parallax Occlusion Mapping Quality I suggest setting to high, much like previously, setting this any higher will impact FPS but with diminishing returns on visual quality.
I suggest setting Decal Quality on Ultra, as this will have basically no performance impact. Decals are simply sprites overlaid to represent, for example, bullet holes on objects, and don't hurt FPS.
Finally, set Fur Quality to Medium or High. I'd suggest Medium if you have a hard time with FPS, but high is a lot better visually and adds much more realistic animal fur. Setting this to Ultra really hurts FPS when animals with fur are present, so I don't recommend going higher than high.
Finally, here's my suggested advanced settings in summary;
And these are my recommended settings. Of course, feel free to adjust these if you have headroom in your FPS, but if like me you struggle to get a consistent 60PFS from this game, I suggest these settings are a good starting point to getting some of that FPS back without loosing much in the way of visual quality.
Let us know how you get on down in the comments below!