Update (02 Jan 2024): this post has been retroactively included as the first entry in the Hardware and Graphics series.
Video games are a little off topic for this blog, but what started as a Reddit post draft to help others felt like it would be better served as a blog post to help even more people.
I’ve seen quite a few posts on r/Starfield and other places online with folks asking the following: “will my PC be able to run Starfield?”. With today’s new Into the Starfield entry likely bringing in more folks worried about being able to play the game on release, I wrote this collection of speculative answers to help those who have the aforementioned, well-intentioned question.
TL;DR Link to heading
Let’s start with my estimate at what kind of system will be required to play the game and then dive into the reasoning later.
I suspect that your system will likely be fine for at least native 1080p 30fps play at Low-to-Medium settings if it has “near-equivalent-or-better” components to the Xbox Series S. The Xbox Series S is the entry level console that Starfield will be released on, so we should try to match or exceed its relative performance. If we want to do that, but also cover easier-to-upgrade components in the macroeconomic climate, like RAM and storage, our system might look at a bit like the following:
- GPU: Various
- Slightly Less Optimistic: Nvidia GTX 1060, AMD RX 580
- Slightly More Optimistic: Nvidia GTX 1070 Ti, Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti, AMD RX 6600 XT, Nvidia RTX 3050
- CPU: Intel Core i5-9400F, AMD Ryzen 5 3600
- RAM: Mid-range 16 GB DDR4
- SSD: Mid-range PCIe Gen 3 SATA SSD
I suspect that your system will likely be fine for at least native 1080p 30fps play at low to medium settings if it has “near-equivalent-or-better” components. Even then, for components like the CPU, you could likely use older components than what I’ve listed. The variability is just too wide without any concrete data on how Creation Engine 2 works or how Starfield performs, so I’m playing it a bit safe with this estimation.
Want to know how this estimate came to fruition? Read on!
Context Link to heading
The quick answer to “will my PC be able to run this unreleased game?”: we have no idea.
We may not even have the full idea when BGS (Bethesda Game Studios) announces minimum and recommended specs because the depth of those lists can vary between developers. Until independent reviewers, specifically performance-focused ones like Digital Foundry, meaningfully benchmark the game, we will not have substantive answers to that question.
On the other hand, many folks are new to PC gaming, not interested in the more technical aspects of the hobby, and/or have other situations where they are just looking for help to ensure that they can play the game when it comes out. This post aims to help those folks and possibly others.
Short disclaimer: I’ve been playing PC games with a discrete GPU for over a decade, but I am not a game developer.
I’m a software engineer who has mainly worked on cloud infrastructure software. Sure, I’ve dabbled in graphics APIs here and there, have made tiny, unreleased mods for Skyrim and Fallout 4, and try to keep up with the technical aspects of game development at a high level. However, I do not consider myself qualified to give answers on how games exactly work or what to fully expect out of Starfield’s performance on your PC.
I share my background to be transparent: I am writing this post from the propsective of a fan and player, not a game developer (though that could be fun at some point).
With those bits of context out of the way, please take the following thoughts with a huge grain of salt as they are merely meant to help folks between today and the day we will begin to see actual benchmarks before the game’s release.
Compare to BGS’ Latest Title, Fallout 76 Link to heading
You can look at how your system performs with Fallout 76 as a start, but since that game is an online, AAA game using a modified version the first Creation Engine, it might play “differently” to BGS’ offline singleplayer titles.
- Example of playing “differently”: using VATS in Fallout 76 PvP might not necessarily indicate that Starfield will behave similarly due to networking and major gameplay differences
- I would ask myself, “could this similar type of system taxing behavior happen often (or at all) in Starfield?”
- Example where the games may perform similarly: private Fallout 76 worlds where you are exploring areas of the game where you get “average” framerate
- Removing “best case” and “worst case” performance areas from your benchmarks may help since since we do not know the performance demands of Starfield and its use of Creation Engine 2
Compare to the Entry Level Console, the Xbox Series S, Across Several Titles Link to heading
I would expect for the worst and hope for the best when comparing relative performance between your system and the Xbox Series S in modern, AAA offline-or-mostly-offline titles.
Short note on “equivalent” hardware: you are going to see me put the word “equivalent” in double quotes everywhere. I do this because it is difficult to discern which discrete GPU produces “equivalent” performance to the Xbox Series S in one game, let alone several games. The Xbox Series S may architecturally look like a PC more than the vast majority of consoles preceding it, but it still differs in key areas that we will touch on later. It is helpful to keep this in mind since console and “equivalent” PC performance can vary depending on a lot of factors.
- The Xbox Series S rasterization performance (“how many frames can I pump out without doing anything fancy, like ray-tracing”) is difficult to declare “equivalent” to one from a discrete GPU, but let’s say it lands somewhere between a GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 Ti
- This estimate is based on anecdotal knowledge from several titles, videos, articles, etc. and is purely meant to provide a baseline for the rest of the article
- The Xbox Series S shares memory between the CPU and GPU, meaning recommended RAM quantity is difficult to calculate (i.e. unlike the Xbox Series S, a discrete GPU in your PC, like the GTX 1060, has its own RAM called VRAM)
- It may be best to see how the Xbox Series S performs in other cross-platform titles
- The Xbox Series S has a fast SSD that works in tandem with the DirectStorage API, meaning that it may be able to take advantage of loading objects, areas, NPCs, etc. compared to an average gaming PC
- This is coming to Windows 11, but we don’t know the full extent to how and if this will work with the PC version of Starfield (and even PC games in general)
- The Xbox Series S will likely get special tuning and treatment for Starfield, meaning that an “equivalent-ish” PC may experience slightly worse performance
- This point is very speculative, but I want to highlight that it may be a good idea to ensure that your rig overshoots anticipated Xbox Series S performance for “equivalent” hardware (if you can swing it!)
- The Xbox Series S may have dynamic resolution scaling, checkerboarding and similar methods that the PC version may not have
- Essentially, these strategies aim to run the game (or objects in your game) at a resolution lower than your monitor’s native resolution and upscale to your native resolution while trying to do so in ways that aren’t easily perceptible to the everyday player
- The Xbox Series S version may feature lightly implemented, well-tuned ray-tracing and/or real time lighting/shadow effects in Starfield that “equivalent” discrete GPUs might not be able to do
- Remember, the GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 Ti do not feature ray-tracing
- In general, “equivalent” discrete GPUs might not be able to take advantage of the exact same graphics “settings” as the console version
- The Xbox Series S might have better frametime consistency than “equivalent” hardware due to tuning and optimization
- On frametime consistency: a lack of frametime consistency is when frames aren’t delivered at smooth intervals, so even if you get an average 60fps in your game, if an average set of frames is delivered “choppily” and each frame is not spaced out “evenly”, then the experience will feel worse than another system with good frametime consistency at 60fps (this explanation is a tad reductive, but a high level understanding of this phenomenon can be helpful for the greater context)
- From my experience, less-than-ideal console ports to PC can have worse frametime consistency, but since BGS has solid history with PC releases, I bring this up purely for anticipating “worst case” scenarios
- Anticipate playing at 1080p if you are slightly above, around, or below the “equivalent” Xbox Series X spec
- My guess: the Xbox Series S will likely play at dynamic 1440p 30fps using resolution scaling methods
- Anticipating playing at native 1080p 30fps with near “equivalent” systems may set some good expectations
- All of the above points reflect the following fact: the RDNA 2 and Zen 2 based Xbox Series S hardware is newer than the GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 Ti, despite boasting similar performance
- There might be a feature or optimization here and there that makes the console perform better or more consistently than PCs using the aforementioned GPUs
Potential PC Advantage, Even With Older Hardware Link to heading
While I’ve been assuming native resolution for a lot of these thoughts, we have no idea if Creation Engine 2 has DLSS, FSR, dynamic resolution scaling, checkerboarding, and/or other similar features. If any those features are included in the PC version, the answer to our big question may be dramatically different.
- The second that you can run Starfield at an internal resolution of ~720p at 30 FPS with FSR 2.0, the second a lot more players will likely be able to enjoy the game
- Easy to upgrade parts (in the current macroeconomic climate) that may impact gameplay: RAM and SSD
- For RAM, I recommend having at least 16 GB
- Despite its performance issues, Elden Ring comes to mind, which “requires” 12 GB of RAM
- For SSDs, I recommend most mid-range-or-above SATA SSDs
- I would not plan on using a mechanical hard drive to play the game
- While the unknown nature Windows 11 and the DirectStorage API from before is something to keep in mind here, the performance of mid-range PCIe Gen 3 SATA SSDs (“average” SSD of the 2010s) have been enough for games in recent years and will likely be enough for Starfield
- That being said, keep an eye on this space…
Looking at Similar, Previously Released Games Link to heading
Look at Skyrim and Fallout 4: barring certain areas of these games, like parts of downtown Boston in the latter title, these games ran well relative to their hardware at the time, including lower-to-middle-range systems.
- Fallout 76 is worth considering too, as previously mentioned
- Searching for performance-focused reviews might not tell the whole story since, at present, performance is likely a different story from launch (ensure your sources are based on newer builds of the game)
- If you have the game, it might be a good idea to boot it up with an FPS counter (while I recommend Shadowplay for Nvidia GPU owners, the Steam FPS counter shoud work for everyone)
- Look at the newest, biggest open world, mostly-offline-or-offline, AAA games
- Forza Horizon 5 and the Halo Infinite campaign are other titles potentially worth using for comparison
- Elden Ring and some other AAA, cross-platform titles on PC have had a host of performance-related issues on launch, so if you plan to play any massive AAA game on day one, you should prepare for a non-ideal experience, but hope for a great one!
- I say the above understanding the difficulty of game development and have immense respect for game development teams
- Many Intel Core i5 and AMD Ryzen 5 CPUs will likely be more than enough for 30 to 60 FPS gameplay
- Perhaps, there will be CPU-bound areas and scenarios, but based on prior BGS releases, we can hope that this is the exception rather than the rule
- Remember, the goal is to answer whether the game will run Starfield, and not whether it’ll run well in all areas of the game
- The GPU will likely be the bottleneck, as it is for most PC titles
- This part is a bit annoying as the current GPU market is dramatically improving but is still… a bit annoying
- BGS games have often been relatively easy to run and scale relatively well with the available GPUs of each games’ time
Concluding Thoughts Link to heading
I hope my speculative answers and thoughts help folks that are preparing to play Starfield on PC when it releases!
As a reminder though, these are just thoughts from a software engineer way out of his lane in hopes of helping others. Take everything with a grain salt and thank you for reading.