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Kratos holding one of his Blades of Chaos, which is glowing red with heat, in front of Tyr sitting on the floor
This screenshot of Tyr and Kratos was captured in God of War Ragnarök’s HFR performance mode on PlayStation 5.
Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

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God of War Ragnarök may be the most technically impressive PS5 game yet

We break down all the how-did-they-do-it graphics modes

Santa Monica Studio’s 2018 reboot of the God of War franchise was an absolute home run — so much so that it’s easy to forget some of its less successful elements now. God of War continued the series’ tradition of pushing console hardware to its limits, resulting in a graphical powerhouse whose performance left something to be desired, whether on a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro. It wasn’t until three years later, with a patch that unleashed the power of the PlayStation 5, that we could experience the game the way it was meant to be played: in 60-frames-per-second glory.

I’m thrilled to report that that’s the baseline for the sequel, God of War Ragnarök, on PlayStation 5. I can put to rest any fears that the game’s cross-generation status would compromise the PS5 version: It takes full advantage of Sony’s newest console to deliver an astounding level of performance that has impressed me at every turn, and continues to do so almost 30 hours in. In particular, the game’s support for the technological bells and whistles packed into the latest televisions elevates the experience to make this a defining technical showcase for the PS5.

You can read our review of God of War Ragnarök, which launches Nov. 9 on PS5 and PS4, to learn more about Kratos’ and Atreus’ continuing adventures through the canon of Norse mythology. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how the game looks and feels.

God of War Ragnarök’s graphics modes on PS5 and PS4, explained

Freya holding her sword at Atreus’ throat in God of War Ragnarök
This screenshot of Freya and Atreus was captured in God of War Ragnarök’s HFR performance mode on PS5.
Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

God of War Ragnarök offers four ways to play on PS5. While I haven’t been able to check out the PS4 version myself, I can explain the options available there, which depend on whether you’re playing on a PS4 or PS4 Pro.

In the “Graphics & Camera” section of God of War Ragnarök’s options menu on PS5, you’ll find two settings that combine to let you adjust the visuals and performance. First up is Graphics Mode: either “Favor Performance” (prioritizes higher frame rate over sharper visuals) or “Favor Resolution” (prioritizes sharper visuals over a higher frame rate). The other is High Frame Rate Mode (HFR), which can be off or on. This second setting will be available only if your PS5 is connected to a display that supports 4K resolution at 120 Hz, which requires an HDMI 2.1 port.

Another HDMI 2.1 feature God of War Ragnarök supports at launch is variable refresh rate (VRR). The game’s settings don’t mention it anywhere, but a PlayStation spokesperson confirmed to me that as long as you’ve enabled VRR in the PS5 system settings and you’re playing on a TV that supports it, it’ll work. And as I’ll explain later, VRR goes above and beyond to provide the best ways to play God of War Ragnarök.

I also asked Sony for specifics on what each of these options will deliver. Let’s set aside HFR and VRR for now, since they complicate things somewhat (and since a significant portion of the audience probably hasn’t upgraded to an HDMI 2.1 television yet). Here are all the details, courtesy of the PlayStation representative.

God of War Ragnarök’s default graphics mode, Favor Performance, runs at a locked frame rate of 60 fps, and uses dynamic resolution scaling — with a minimum of 1440p and a maximum of 2160p — to maintain it. Meanwhile, the Favor Resolution setting delivers native 4K (aka 2160p) at a locked 30 fps.

Playing God of War Ragnarök on a PS5 is the only way to experience the game at 60 fps. That does include playing the PS4 version in backward compatibility mode, which doesn’t offer any graphics options. Instead, the frame rate is locked at 60 fps, with the resolution varying from 1440p to 1656p.

In terms of playing on PS4, you’ll be able to choose between graphics modes only if you’re using a PS4 Pro — but either way, the experience will be in the realm of 30 fps. Favor Resolution runs at a locked 30 fps at resolutions between 1440p and 1656p, while Favor Performance drops the minimum resolution to 1080p at an unlocked 30 fps. On a base or slim PS4, the game always runs in 1080p at 30 fps.

PS5 resolution or performance mode: Which is better?

Atreus, Brok, Mimir, Tyr, and Kratos sit around a square wooden table, eating stew out of bowls, in God of War Ragnarök
This screenshot of Atreus, Brok, Mimir, Tyr, and Kratos was captured in God of War Ragnarök’s HFR performance mode on PS5.
Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

There’s a reason that Favor Performance is the default graphics mode in God of War Ragnarök on PS5: It’s a clear winner over Favor Resolution.

I, and everyone else on the Polygon team with a copy of the game, has been primarily using the performance mode. In a combat-heavy action game like this, the locked 60 fps frame rate provides undeniable benefits in terms of attack fluidity and responsiveness. For so long, console owners have missed out on this experience; even if action games ran with an unlocked frame rate, they were often hard-pressed to reliably hit 60 fps. That’s finally becoming more common on this generation of consoles, and more importantly, the performance mode is a no-compromise experience in God of War Ragnarök — unlike, say, the one in the launch version of Horizon Forbidden West.

The Favor Performance mode’s trade-off in resolution — dropping from native 4K to as low as 1440p — is an easy compromise to make because God of War Ragnarök looks nearly as spectacular there as it does in the Favor Resolution mode. This is thanks to Sony Santa Monica’s terrific temporal upsampling algorithm, which the game uses to upscale sub-4K resolutions to 4K. As you can see in the comparison screenshots here, it’s difficult to distinguish between the performance and resolution modes unless you scrutinize the images with a magnifying glass; at my viewing distance of about 7.5 feet from my 65-inch TV, I’m barely able to tell the difference.

The gap in fidelity between God of War Ragnarök’s Favor Performance mode (left) and Favor Resolution mode (right) is most obvious in a general uptick in clarity due to the latter’s higher pixel count. But also note that the performance mode uses shadows to obscure certain faraway areas that are visible in the quality mode, like the inside of the gold trim on the right side of the entrance to Sindri’s house, and the gate to the right. (Note: The high frame rate mode was disabled for both of these screenshots.)
Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon and Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Sure, the lower native resolution in the performance mode makes things fuzzier, but that’s the one major noticeable change; elements such as lighting and draw distance appear identical. The only problem I’ve seen is some minor pop-in: The level of detail changes visibly with respect to certain objects and textures near the player character. For instance, trees may become more or less defined as you move toward or away from them. But this issue is limited to background detail like individual flowers appearing and disappearing, not the environment as a whole; I haven’t found it distracting at all.

And when God of War Ragnarök is in motion, the game doesn’t really exhibit any visual artifacts from the temporal upsampling technique. This is true irrespective of whatever finely detailed environments may be on the screen, such as the swampy jungles of Vanaheim. It’s a stunning achievement, especially considering that shimmering foliage was a big enough issue for me in the performance mode of Horizon Forbidden West — a technical showpiece in its own right — that I initially used it only in combat. (Developer Guerrilla Games has since issued multiple patches to address this problem and improve the visuals.)

For players who prefer to have the sharpest, best-looking image, there’s nothing wrong with the Favor Resolution mode. This is the first time that any God of War title has been playable on console in native 4K, and in static shots, or when I’m simply exploring the Nine Realms, it looks terrific. But it certainly doesn’t look far better than the performance mode — and that would have to be the case to get me to choose it over playing at 60 fps (and above). After spending dozens of hours in the performance mode, the resolution mode’s 30 fps frame rate almost makes me feel like Kratos is swinging his Leviathan Axe and Blades of Chaos through molasses. I’ve only been able to enjoy it when playing in the high frame rate mode with VRR enabled.

What about the high frame rate (HFR) mode and VRR?

Angrboda, a Black teenage girl, grabs the right wrist of Atreus, a white teenage boy, who is holding a glowing ball in his hand in God of War Ragnarök
This screenshot of Atreus and Angrboda was captured in God of War Ragnarök’s HFR performance mode on PS5.
Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

You’re always going to get the best results when you can pair powerful gaming hardware with audio/video equipment that makes the most of it. And if you’re lucky enough to have your PS5 hooked up to a TV that supports HDMI 2.1 and its associated gaming-oriented features, then you can get the best possible experience in God of War Ragnarök — no matter which mode you choose.

As a reminder, in performance mode, the game runs at a near-flawless 60 fps with a resolution that ranges from 1440p to native 4K. Enabling the high frame rate mode will unlock the frame rate, allowing the PS5 to render as many frames as it possibly can. (HFR also locks the resolution at the performance mode’s minimum of 1440p, which is 44% the pixel count of 4K but — again — looks almost as good, especially in motion. And as far as I can tell, turning on HFR doesn’t affect the performance mode’s image quality.)

Of course, running at frame rates above 60 fps will cause screen tearing if you’re playing on a 60 Hz display, or on a TV that has a 120 Hz panel but doesn’t support VRR (or doesn’t support it above 60 Hz). In my testing with VRR disabled, I certainly noticed a decent amount of screen tearing, but I actually found it less off-putting than I had expected. Depending on your tolerance for this visual artifact, you may be willing to accept it in order to get the highest possible frame rate and the most responsive gameplay experience.

There’s a noticeable fidelity gap between the HFR performance mode (left) and the HFR resolution mode (right). But also note that some fine detail is missing in the performance mode: Check out the grates on the gates of the two cranes in the center of the image, and the texture filtering on the golden rocks just to the right of the crane on the right.
Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon and Image: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

Thankfully, I have an LG C1 OLED television, which means I can get the best of both worlds. In the HFR performance mode, God of War Ragnarök ranges from 80-90 fps in most situations — including boss fights, battles with multiple enemies, and action-heavy cutscenes. In dense environments like Vanaheim, where Kratos essentially rows a canoe through a rainforest, the frame rate falls to the low 70s and into the 60s; I even saw it hit 59 fps once, but that was just a momentary drop. And if you crane Kratos’ neck up toward the heavens, you’ll see the frame rate soar past 100 fps.

I truly cannot recommend the HFR performance mode enough — it’s the definitive God of War Ragnarök experience. I worry that it has spoiled me, that I’ll try other action games at 60 fps and find them sluggish by comparison.

HFR also delivers a significant boost to the Favor Resolution mode. Turning on HFR lowers the resolution to a still-high range of 1800p to 2160p, and that drop allows the game to run at a locked 40 fps. That might not sound like a major improvement, but it’s a 33% jump in the frame rate, and it feels much more fluid than the standard mode’s 30 fps. Of course, this would cause stuttering on a 60 Hz display, but it works perfectly with a 120 Hz screen, and PlayStation exclusives such as Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Horizon Forbidden West have used 40 fps modes to great effect.

If your 120 Hz panel also supports VRR, that unlocks the HFR resolution mode’s frame rate and lets God of War Ragnarök run above 40 fps at the same 1800p-2160p resolution range. (I’m not sure of the actual performance here, since my LG C1 doesn’t report the frame rate correctly in this mode.) Either way, HFR resolution mode is a great middle ground, delivering close to the image quality of the regular resolution mode at a frame rate that feels like it’s approaching that of the regular performance mode.

Having gone through this entire analysis, I want to reiterate that there isn’t a bad option when it comes to God of War Ragnarök’s visual settings on PS5. That’s a testament to the skill and hard work of the developers at Santa Monica Studio, who have crafted an ambitious follow-up to 2018’s God of War. And it caps off a tremendous 2022 for PlayStation, topping the impressive technical achievements of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, and The Last of Us Part 1.

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