We spoke to developers Wargaming.net about the engine used in the game, and the graphical features that it incorporates.
Victor Kislyi, head of the European studio, told us that the game engine is written around DirectX 8.1. That means that gamers with DirectX 9 compatible cards won't see any extra eye candy, but the engine has been written to take advantage of Shader Model 1.1, which can still do a few fancy effects - as seen in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
The primary strength the engine has is that it is full 3D, and the in-game view is fully rotatable and zoomable, giving the player a freeform camera angle. Even in an RTS like Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, this isn't the case, although we honestly don't know why - it's not like the engine isn't rendering the detail.
Some of the more complicated maps in Domination are made up of over 400,000 polygons on screen at a time. Those kinds of numbers are going to tax even high-end cards.
To find out just how taxing the game is, and to give you some idea of how it might play on your system, we've played with a mid-range card and a high-end card to get some idea of detail settings and framerates.
Establishing our graphical Dominance
Our test rig was configured as follows:
- Athlon 64 3500+ CPU
- ATI RX480 motherboard
- 1GB PC3200 RAM
- ATI X700 and X850XT graphics cards
The graphical options that you can set enable you to play with the quality settings to get optimal performance on your system. However, we'd suggest that with most mid-range and upwards systems, you'll easily be able to crank the settings up to max.
In terms of resolution, we found that our X700 played best at 1024x768, whereas our X850 could easily handle 1600x1200. Additionally, we found that forcing 2x Anti-Aliasing and 8x Anisotropic Filtering through the Catalyst driver wasn't a problem for the X850, although it caused our X700 to slow down to a crawl.
The shadows rendered by the Domination engine are more than adequate, and anisotropic filtering gives them a nice, soft look. However, some jaggy edges can be seen where shadows are cast by units.
Whilst the reflections might look a little crude as a still image, they're actually rather a nice shimmery effect in-game. The texture quality is mixed. As you can see from the picture on the right, unit detailing looks great. However, we do feel that the texture quality of the terrain, even on max, is a little lacking - it certainly is nowhere near the standard, say, of some first person shooters, even though there is a lot less happening on screen in Domination.
Here's a summary of the framerates that we achieved in-game with our test rig. We measured the average framerate on a couple of runs of the 'Shield of Democracy' map, which is the most graphically-intensive map in the game.
As you can see, the performance scales as you might expect, with the X700 benefitting from the lower resolution. Whilst you might think that some of the framerates we've recorded are a little low, bear in mind that for the vast majority of the game, you're not scrolling around - you're simply looking at a static playing area with some small unit animations. Consequently, the framerate really doesn't need to be high for an enjoyable gaming experience. A sub-20FPS framerate is absolutely playable, and the extra image quality that that allows makes the game a lot nicer to play.
For those that like to know exactly what they're getting, these two screenshots are clickable for the full 1600x1200, 2xAA 8xAF shots.
Domination is certainly one of the better-looking RTS titles out there, with a range of environments and some neat graphical options. With that said, we certainly hope that the next Massive Assault title is updated to make the most of the awesome things that DirectX 9 is capable of.