Fortnite wasn’t the first battle royale to splash across online stores in early access, and it’s no longer the newest, but it remains the most popular. Even with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4‘s Blackout mode on the scene, it’s unlikely the Fortnite craze will subside any time soon. Fortnite has the benefit of being free-to-play along with being available on just about every platform imaginable, from consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One, to Android and iOS, and even Nintendo Switch. Chances are you have a device that can play Fortnite without too much trouble. Yet PC remains the original platform and, in the eyes of many, the best. There’s no matching the precision accuracy of a keyboard and mouse.
Luckily, Fortnite is a very forgiving game, and it can run on just about any PC if you have a discrete graphics card and a decent processor. With that said, there’s a huge gap between how it looks – and how smoothly it plays – between entry-level laptops and high-end gaming desktops. And all the tips and tricks in the world can’t close that gap.
Our test rig has an AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920X processor, 32GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. We’re using such powerful hardware for these tests to get a baseline for each graphics card in our stable. That way, we can see definitively how well each card performs on its own. With such a powerful processor and more than enough RAM, we’re able to remove any bottlenecks that might end up throttling our graphics card performance.
Digital Trend’s Complete Fortnite Coverage
We tested the game by trekking to approximately the same location in Fortnite and doing our best to survive long enough to manage some performance metrics. We ran the benchmark several times for each graphical preset with one exception. We kept the in-game render scale at 100 percent no matter the graphical settings, to get a clear picture of performance without “juicing” the results by tweaking the in-game render scale. More on that in a bit.
Finally, we performed our tests on the following graphics cards — The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, GTX 1070 Ti, GTX 1060, and GTX 1050. On the red team, we tested the AMD Radeon RX Vega 64, Vega 56, RX 580, RX 570, and RX 550.
Pressing the presets
Like most games, Fortnite has several different built-in graphical presets to help customize your performance — Low, Medium, High, and Epic. And like most recent games, you’re going to notice something about the way they change your settings. Instead of just turning graphical details up or down, these presets also include tweaks to the in-game render scale. That’s a problem for our benchmarks.
Changing the render scale changes the in-game graphical resolution for everything but menus and user interface assets. If you turned your resolution up to, say 1440p, and your render scale all the way down, your game would look and run like it was being played at a much lower resolution than 1440p.
It’s an easy way to put the thumb on the scale and squeeze extra performance out of underpowered hardware, but it can skew the results of our benchmarks. With that in mind, it’s important to point out that changes to the render scale are bundled in as part of the presets in Fortnite, but we set the render scale back up to 100 percent for each benchmark so our results more accurately reflect what you’ll see at a given resolution.
Starting at 1440p resolution, one thing makes itself abundantly clear about Fortnite. This game is incredibly well-made. Nearly every GPU we tested was capable of hitting a playable framerate at 1440p without too much trouble. Our high-end cards hit ultra-high figures that should make anyone with a 144Hz monitor happy, and our mid and low-end cards managed surprisingly solid performance at the High and Medium presets. Let’s dig into the numbers.
In short, all but the most entry-level cards, like the RX 550, will have no problem running Fortnite even at High settings with the resolution cranked up to 1440p. Step down to Medium, and the RX 550 can even achieve a reasonable 30 FPS at 1440p, but the GTX 1050 really shines at Medium settings — it hits a nice, comfy 60 FPS.When we step down to High settings, things get interesting on the mid-range and low-end. The GTX 1050, the variant with 2GB of memory, easily manages a playable 37 FPS average at 1440p, putting it just behind the RX 570. The GTX 1060 even achieves an admirable 70 FPS, putting it on par with the RX 580.Looking at the average FPS at the high-end, on the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, GTX 1070 Ti, and both the AMD RX Vega cards, performance stays comfortably above the 60 FPS mark, even with all the settings pushed to Epic. The 1080 Ti easily doubles that figure, which means the ultra-premium graphics cards can definitely keep up with a similarly ultra-premium high-refresh-rate monitor.
Moving down to 1080p, we saw our performance spike across the board. It’s not a surprise that we saw better performance at a lower resolution, but the performance increase opens things up all the way down to the RX 570. That means even an entry-level card like the GTX 1050 can hit an impressive 85 FPS at max detail and 1080p.
At the high-end, the Vega cards saw a significant increase in performance, bringing the average FPS figures into high-refresh-rate territory, with the Vega 64 hitting 116 FPS, and the Vega 56 hitting 100 FPS. Naturally, the GTX 1080 Ti outperformed all the other cards with an impressive 176 FPS at 1080p. That means if you do have a 144Hz gaming monitor, you have enough FPS headroom that you’re going to see some seriously smooth gameplay out of the GTX 1080 in Fortnite. And who knows, those extra frames might give you a competitive edge.
Fortnite makes it easy to customize your settings. There are just six categories — view distance, shadows, anti-aliasing, textures, effects, and post-processing — and each one has four settings from Epic at the top-end and Off or Low at the bottom-end. It’s a simple, straightforward graphics menu, and it’s very user-friendly.
Even if you’ve never bothered to fine-tune your settings, Fortnite is a great way to get started. Just mouse over any detail setting you’re curious about and the game will pop up a little box describing what each setting controls.
During our testing, we turned all the settings up and down to try and find out which ones had the biggest impact on visual quality and overall performance, but let’s start with a look at what each setting does to the visual quality in the game.
Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, the first battle royale game to hit it big, has struggled with issues of balance and view distance. In its case, players found that reducing view distance of objects like grass gave them an advantage because it revealed players who thought they were hiding. PUBG has issued patches to address that.
Fortnite has the same problem. Turning the view distance up or down impacts object render distance, not player render distance. That way players with more powerful computers don’t end up with a competitive advantage by being able to crank up the view distance. However, some players turn their view distance down so objects that might obscure enemies don’t render at long ranges, so you can see potential enemies more clearly.
The penalty you pay for that, however, is a big drop in visual quality. Fortnite’s signature art style blunts most of the quality loss as much as possible, but low view distances result in a significantly more barren world.
Despite that, we didn’t see much performance benefit from a short view distance, as the average framerate increase from 88 FPS to 91 FPS with the view distance turned all the way down. That’s not something you’ll notice in regular play.
Next up we have shadows. This setting is the one you almost always want to take a second look at if you’re having trouble with your performance. In most games, Fortnite included, high-quality shadows are a luxury that can really tank your framerate.
As you can see in the screenshots, scaling down the shadows does impact their sharpness and detail, but overall, we didn’t notice a significant hit to visual quality when they’re turned down to Low or Off. Most of the time, you probably won’t even notice. We attribute this to Fortnite’s cartoonish art style. You might not expect realistic shadows in a world this bright and vivid.
That’s good, because turning shadows off increased our overall performance by a huge margin. We went from 88 FPS to 119 FPS, just by turning shadows off. That’s a 35 percent increase from just changing one setting. This is the setting you should look at first if you need to boost your performance up to a specific ceiling.
Next up we have anti-aliasing. This setting mitigates in-game “jaggies” by using some extra graphical horsepower to smoothe them out. Look at the edge of the wooden shack in the screenshots above, and you can see the difference anti-aliasing makes. It’s even more noticeable in motion because the “jaggies” change with each frame, which adds a distracting shimmer to hard edges.
Turning the setting all the way down to Off only saw about a four percent performance bump, so it’s only going give you a significant performance increase if you’re going to turn down a few other settings as well. This is one we recommend you leave on.
Normally, adjusting your texture quality will have an enormous impact on what your game looks like, but in this case, it’s only barely noticeable. Fortnite’s art style mitigates most of the quality loss you’d see by turning down your textures, so your game looks great even at low textures.
That said, because textures don’t change too much up or down the scale, you’re only going to see about a three to four percent performance jump by turning your texture quality all the way down. Again, this is a setting you can leave at medium or high without too much of a performance hit.
Like most of the other settings in Fortnite, you’re only going to notice some minor detail changes when you turn your effects up or down. When you’re in a heated firefight, you might notice that rockets have less detailed plumes, or that explosions don’t look as sharp as they did at higher detail settings. Because this one doesn’t have a huge impact on visual quality, it’s another one that gave us a marginal three percent performance bump.
Notice the way light looks in Fortnite? How the environment has a sort of diffuse glow about it? How everything looks a little dreamy? That’s because of post-processing. It’s a term that encompasses a variety of different techniques game developers use to add a little more appeal to environments.
It’s usually graphically intensive, but in Fortnite’s case, it’s only noticeable when you find yourself stuck in the storm. Which you shouldn’t do. Because it kills you. Still, expect to see a small bump in performance from this if you turn the setting down, without much hit to visual quality.
If you’re looking to get the most out of Fortnite you, can probably breathe easy. Most of the graphics cards in our stable performed very well at 1440p, and even better at 1080p, so no matter what you have in your PC, chances are you’re going to be able to run the game well enough that it won’t be a slideshow.
Should you need to squeeze a little extra performance out of some aging hardware or max out your FPS for a high-refresh-rate monitor, it’s as simple as turning down a couple individual settings. We recommend you turn your shadows all the way off and turn your effects and post-processing to low. This should net you an overall performance increase close to 40 percent, depending on your hardware.