When we first got word that Horizon Zero Dawn would be coming to PC, our first instinct was “finally, we can crank up the graphics and play this game as it was truly intended” – as we do with pretty much any major PC port. However, like Red Dead Redemption 2 before it, Horizon Zero Dawn has some pretty significant PC performance issues at launch. 

So, while the game proper is still the incredible work of art that we reviewed back on the PS4 Pro, the PC port leaves a lot to be desired. This is a game that no matter what kind of (consumer-level) hardware you have in your gaming rig, a 4K60 experience is just off the table at max settings. 

If that was the only issue, that would be one thing, but the problems facing the Horizon Zero Dawn port are more than just “it’s a bit hard to run on current-generation hardware”. 

Death Stranding: easily the best PS4 to PC port (Image credit: 505 Games)

A tale of two games

Horizon Zero Dawn is notable because it was the first game to be built on Guerilla Games’ Decima engine – the same engine that went on to be behind last year’s Death Stranding. That means while these two games are by different developers, they’re inextricably linked to one another. 

And Death Stranding is an excellent PC port. 

Kojima’s 2019 masterpiece transferred to PC beautifully. Not only was it easy to run through smart optimization, it included Nvidia’s DLSS and AMD’s CAS tech to make it even easier for people with mid-range hardware to run it in all of its glory. 

Seriously, you can hit 60fps at 4K with the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Super, provided you turn DLSS on to the “quality” preset – and it doesn’t look all that different from the native 4K presentation. 

That should have been the story with Horizon Zero Dawn, too. Both games not only run on the same game engine, but both use the PS4 Pro’s checkerboard upscaling to hit 4K on their home console, too.

Instead, Horizon Zero Dawn is an incredibly demanding piece of software, where even our RTX 2080 Ti, paired with an Intel Core i9-10900K couldn’t hit an average 60 fps at max settings, and only just scraped by with that at the “Favor Quality” or, basically ‘high’, graphics settings. 

The game is still pretty though (Image credit: Guerilla Games)

Not so average

But not only are frame rates as a whole lower than we’d like with Horizon Zero Dawn, but they’re also widely variable. Even after the day one patch, the delta between average and minimum frame rates is huge. For the RTX 2080 Ti at 4K Ultimate Quality settings, for instance, we’re talking about an average of 53 fps, with a 14 fps minimum. 

That is a minimum frame rate, so it doesn’t reflect what you’ll be seeing a vast majority of the time, however it does illustrate how low the framerate can potentially dip. What this effectively means for a lot of people is that your’e going to run into some stuttering issues when playing Horizon Zero Dawn on PC. 

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Horizon Zero Dawn “Original Quality” (Image credit: Sony)
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Horizon Zero Dawn “Ultimate Quality” (Image credit: Sony)

Now, to be completely clear, we did not play this game all the way through, or even a significant chunk of it. We didn’t just spend all of our time in the canned benchmark either though, and we played through about 3 hours of the game just to get a feel for how the port performed in the opening area. 

And, well, while on our personal rig with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, there were only a couple of times that we felt a hard stutter. But, throughout pretty much our entire time with the game, there were definitely moments when we felt the game starting to lag behind a bit, primarily while in large open areas filled with a lot of geometry. 

If you’ve played the game on PS4, though, you’ll know that describes a big portion of the game.

Horizon Zero Dawn on PC isn’t unplayable by any stretch of the imagination, but it largely feels like a PC port we would have gotten a decade ago. In fact, the closest comparison we could think of was how Assassin’s Creed III played when that launched on PC back in 2012. 

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Horizon Zero Dawn PC benchmarks

Test system specs

This is the system we used to test Horizon Zero Dawn PC performance:

CPU: Intel Core i9-10900K
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Masterliquid 360P Silver Edition
RAM: 32GB HyperX Predator RGB @ 3,200MHz Motherboard: MSI MEG Z490 Godlike
SSD: ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro @ 1TB
Power Supply: Phanteks RevoltX 1200
Case: Praxis Wetbench

If you’re looking to take advantage of all the visual extras packed into the PC version of Horizon Zero Dawn, running it with every quality option maxed out, you’re going to need some pretty hefty components on your side. 

Either the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 or AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT are what you’ll need if you want to get more than 60 fps with everything maxed out at 1080p, both of which are generally strong enough to break into 1440p gaming – but not so much here. 

Even at high settings, you’re still going to be restricted to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super or an AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT if you want to hit that 60 fps mark. 

Moving to 1440p is obviously even more demanding, with the game needing at least an AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT or an RTX 2070 Super to get the game running at max settings at 1440p. Or, you’re going to need something like the RTX 2060 Super or the Radeon RX 5600 XT to run it at high settings at the same resolution. 

Things are even more grim when you look at 4K performance, however. Even if you run at the high “Favor Quality” preset, rather than the maxed out “Ultimate Quality” preset, you will not be able to get an average of 60 fps on any card in our testing lineup. The beastly RTX 2080 Ti only manages an average of 56 fps at that preset, and drops down to 52 fps when everything is maxed out. 

This all likely comes down to poor optimization, and we do believe it can be fixed. However, right now, the game is one of the hardest mainstream titles to run, even giving graphical powerhouses like Control and Metro Exodus a run for their money – without the ray tracing. 

This can’t hurt (Image credit: Future)

Horizon Zero Dawn PC specs: what do you need to play?

If you go on the Steam store page and take a look at the minimum requirements, Horizon Zero Dawn doesn’t seem like it’d be that demanding of a game. The title only requires a GTX 780 and a Core i5-2500K to run, both of which are pretty ancient when it comes to PC components. 

Even with the recommended hardware, it’s only calling for a GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 580. The full requirements are below. 

Minimum: 

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-2500K or AMD FX 6300
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 or AMD Radeon R9 290
  • Storage: 100GB available

Recommended:

  • Processor: Intel Core i7-4770K or AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
  • RAM: 16GB
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB) or AMD Radeon RX 580 (8GB)
  • Storage: 100GB available

We don’t have access to the AMD Radeon RX 580 right now (thanks, pandemic), but we do have access to the GTX 1060, and, well, it doesn’t look like it can quite get up to 60 fps at 1080p. We did only test the “Favor Quality” and “Ultimate Quality” presets, though, and the GTX 1060 was able to score an average 53 fps with the “Favor Quality” preset. So, it look like these settings are for the “Original” preset, which is, as you may have guessed, basically what the PS4/PS4 Pro version looks like. 

In our experience, turning the settings down to the Original preset sees framerates jump up 20-25%, which means that’s how you’ll hit a solid 60fps at 4K, and that’s how you’ll get 60 fps at 1080p with the GTX 1060 6GB. 

However, if you’re content to just play the game at its original graphics settings, we’d actually recommend just picking it up on PS4. Even if you don’t already have one of those, it’d be cheaper than building or buying a gaming PC that can run the game, and the experience will 100% be smoother across the board.

If you do want to max out the game, with the way better shadows, lighting and reflection work, we’ve come up with the PC build we’d recommend at each resolution. 

TechRadar 1080p recommended build:  

TechRadar 1440p recommended build:

TechRadar super awesome 4K recommended build:

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