Before this review commences proper we would like to inform you that we'll be focusing on how the Windows Edition differs from the normal/Royal edition we all know and love, and how well the port itself has been done from a technical standpoint.
Final Fantasy XV: Windows edition was announced alongside the Royal Edition of the game for PS4 and Xbox One last year, and to summarise, the Royal Edition includes the fully update game, all the DLC that comes with the Season Pass (including Episodes Gladiolus, Prompto, Ignis, as well as the Comrades Multiplayer pack), a brand new area and story in Insomnia City Ruins, first-person mode, Armiger Unleashed gameplay element, the Royal Crusier, new quests for the Regalio Type D offroader, more achievements, and new gear, equipment, and vehicle customisations.
The Windows Edition includes all of the above too, but with added perks that may be of extra interest to PC gamers, especially the resolution, which can go up to 8K, upscaled from 4K/2160p). Then there comes the HDR10, and support for up to 120 frames-per-second. Mods are supported too, with modding tools developed by FFXV devs themselves, and last but not least are NVIDIA Hairworks and Turf Effects... we'll talk more about these later
In other words, it's a nice package for those who haven't yet had the time to play the best road trip to grace the good screens of this world. If you've got a PC with enough muscles to run this behemoth of a game, this would seem like the edition of FFXV you'd want to play, then, although there is one caveat: the storage space.
It's not often we have to mention how much space a game takes up (on PC at least), but in the case of FFXV: WE you need a smidge over 100 available gigabytes for the standard edition, and a whopping 155GB(!) if you download the high-definition texture pack. It's actually a first in our career as a PC gamer that we've encountered storage requirements this high, and even World of Warcraft that's well on its fourteenth year will only take up about 45GB if you undertake a fresh install.
Elsewhere, these are the recommended specs from Square Enix, which you'll have to meet if you want to witness Noctis' hair in all its splendor:
As you can see, this is a rather lot, and with a 1080Ti as the recommended card for 2160p-gaming you'd better ready your arm-and-leg amputation kit if you're looking to upgrade your PC exclusively to Finalise this Fantasy. If you're already sitting on enough hardware though, go right ahead.
We've got (after what some might consider a few financially dubious mis-steps) enough hard wares to push the settings up to max. Unfortunately, however, our screen is only of the 1440p variant, so we couldn't experience The Chocobros' adventure in full 2160p. This wasn't too much of a problem though, as with lower resolution comes higher frames-per-second, and if there's one thing PC-gamers know, it's that the more frames the better.
After firing up the game it's not long before it's readily apparent that the dev team has a keen eye for details, as FFXV picks up instantly that we're playing with a DualShock 4, changing the on-screen button icons to reflect this. And you know what? This is exactly the kind of extra mile that is a pleasure to see someone taking the effort to go, so kudos to the devs and the game.
It's not long until a few problems arise, however. As we move from arid desert to more flora-, fauna-, and foe-rich environments the game struggles a bit to keep up. Occasional stuttering and more frame drops than can be ignored keep cropping up, for example, and even though it averages around the high 60s, a drop of 10 or more frames is beyond noticeable, and annoying to boot. This isn't acceptable, and even less so when we're talking about a title the size of Final Fantasy.
A bit of googling reveals that FFXV is rather jealous and clingy when it comes to processor-threads, and that the standard setting for multiple processes in-game is 'Highest', which if you're familiar with thread priorities means that they will be put ahead of almost all other processes that need to use the CPU and results in rather meager amounts of processing power being left to the rest of the game, as well as coordinating graphics and such.
Fortunately the Final Fantasy XV community comes to our rescue, and with the help of an easily-installed mod we can adjust the thread priorities down to 'Normal' or 'Above Normal' which almost eliminates the frame drops and other hang-ups. So until an official patch is released to fix these problems, we deem this mod essential to experience the game as intended. It also enables you to turn off mouse and keyboard inputs, as the game stutters ever so slightly when it detects a different source of input. This gets annoying fast if you're playing with a gamepad and accidentally shift your mouse or want to take a screenshot.
The mod can be downloaded here, and also fixes a known problem with texture streaming, a performance issue with Steam API calls, and a rather annoying bug that locks the game into windowed mode should you alt-tab while playing. It's safe to say, then, that it's rather good.
In spite of some graphical hiccups, however, and even before we downloaded the mod, we couldn't help but be blown away by how well this game runs, because it's damn pretty. We're not ones to be splitting hairs, but Square Enix has made pretty damn sure that if we wanted to we could. Helping them make sure this game is as pretty as can be is NVIDIA, with enhancements spilling out the Regalia. This might seem a bit odd to some of you, considering that FFXV for consoles have been pretty heavily optimised for the Radeon-based GPUs found in the PS4 and Xbox One, so you'd be forgiven for thinking that Square Enix would continue down that road. Nevertheless, there's plenty that NVIDIA has done to polish our adventure.
Turf Effects, for example, affect how grass and shrubberies look, and adds extra realism to the foliage of Eos. Hair Works, on the other hand, is like a shampoo and conditioner combo that adds a ton of volume. This isn't new, but it's most commonly only used on a handful of characters. In FFXV's case however, almost all hairy and furry creatures of the realm have been given the ol' rinse and repeat. This makes the mammoth-esque Garulas, which can be found grassing peacefully here and there, look almost like giant balls of fluff - so if your PC can handle the extra load without overheating, this enhancement is highly recommended.
Shadow Libs are also there, which make the in-game characters' shadows look cleaner and more detailed. It's not too taxing on your hardware either. Voxel Ambient Occlusion (VXAO) is also said to make the shadows deeper and even more realistic, but from what we can see the impact isn't really all that. It takes a lot of resources that could be better spent rendering frames though, so if you find it too intensive just leave this one turned off.
It should also be said that if you're experiencing a bit of an unstable framerate, you can lock the amount of FPS to intervals of 30, 60, and 90 if 120 is too much and you'd rather have a more stable frequency of frames than spikes of them.
FFXV also supports NVIDIA's Ansel-technology, which lets you freeze the game and position the camera so that you can take a screenshot from any angle you'd like. A selection of filters and extra features are also available, including temporarily increasing the resolution of your game while you take the shot. The picture seen below, for instance, was taken with 5120 x 2880 px resolution
It's quite clear that there's been a lot of work done to get the attention of PC gamers who'd like to see with their own eyes exactly how pretty this game is. It's reminiscent of how Crysis garnered the reputation as one of the best graphical experiences of the time, and we really do hope they succeed, as we'd like for as many as possible to experience one of the best anime boyband roadtrip games to ever exist.
We can, hand on heart, vouch that this is a unique experience. The AI of your party members and brothers-in-arms is well-made and believable to a tee, and their personality comes to life through their abilities and body language. There's a layer of camaraderie there, and it is apparent that it drives their motivation. Honestly, it's heartwarming to witness how much they care about and take care of each other. The action-filled battles are spectacular to behold too, and your comrades flow easily between enemies and supporting Noctis with abilities and tactics. It's really something you need to witness with your own eyes.
Some odd choices have been made though, and while it wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game without degrees of over- and under-dressedness, there are times where you wonder if certain characters have been covered in glue and put on a chocobo barreling through a Hot Topic store. On the other end of this scale is Cindy, who for some reason works as a mechanic wearing hotpants, while the camera gives her cleavage a suspicious amount of attention. This reeks of fan service (and not of the good kind), especially considering how well-written and sweet her character otherwise is, and is a wrench in an otherwise wholesome machine.
All of the improvements, combined with the level of attention given to the high-resolution textures, are what makes us recommend this edition as the definitive way to experience Final Fantasy XV... if you've got enough Gil in your wallet to handle the machine specs. It's taxing, sure, but it's amazingly pretty despite its flaws, and plays like a dream too.