Red Dead Redemption 2 PC graphics settings guide

Understanding the abundance of graphics settings in Rockstar's new PC port of Red Dead Redemption 2.

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While it was not officially announced until late in the year, Red Dead Redemption 2 had been one of the most anticipated PC titles in a long time. Debuting on Xbox One and PS4 last October, Rockstar’s western opus pushed the console to their limits and left PC gaming enthusiasts wondering what a PC version might look like. That question was answered on November 5, 2019, when the game launched on PC, bringing along many graphical improvements. Rockstar opted to include loads of graphics settings in Red Dead Redemption 2 so that players could tinker with performance and image quality. This guide will explain those settings so that you can get the most out of your time with the PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2.

Before diving headfirst into the ocean of graphics settings, check the official system requirements for the game to see how your PC stacks up. If your hardware falls closer to the minimum required configuration, you might want to stick with the lowest possible settings to ensure smooth performance. Those with higher-end PCs will have lots of room to experiment with the options Rockstar has provided.

Disclaimer: Red Dead Redemption 2 is an insanely large and complex game. It is impossible to definitively test all scenarios, so the performance and settings recommendations contained within this guide are based on our own findings. All systems vary and the game may perform better or worse depending on your exact hardware configuration. Use these recommendations as a starting point for your graphical experimentation rather than a definitive authority.


Red Dead Redemption 2 PC graphics settings guide

The PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2 offers a substantial upgrade over its console counterparts.
The PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2 offers a substantial upgrade over its console counterparts.

The graphics settings for Red Dead Redemption 2 can be accessed from the Story Mode main menu before you launch the game or once you’ve loaded in by pausing and navigating to the settings menu. Some of the available graphics options will require that the game be restarted to take effect.

Output Adapter

This allows laptop users to specify which GPU the game will be rendered on (if the laptop has integrated and discrete GPUs built-in).

Output Monitor

Designates the monitor on which the game will be displayed for users with multi-monitor configurations. It will be greyed out if only one display is connected.

Resolution

The output resolution of the game to your display. We recommend always using the native resolution of your device for the best image quality. If you want to lower resolution to increase performance, use the built-in Resolution Scaling option for the best results.

Refresh Rate

Users can force the game to output to their display at a specific refresh rate. This option is only modifiable when using exclusive fullscreen mode. For windowed and borderless window modes, the game defaults to your Windows desktop refresh rate.

Screen Type

This setting determines if the game will run in a window, borderless window or in exclusive fullscreen mode.

VSync

This setting toggles the game’s built-in VSync solution for the elimination of screen tearing.

Triple Buffering

This setting determines how the VSync setting operates. Triple Buffering introduces a single frame delay to ensure smooth output regardless of frame rate fluctuations below the display refresh rate. This option is used in the console versions of the game. Double Buffering eliminates the delay but will drop the frame rate to half each time it falls below the refresh rate. For example, if your PC is unable to stay at 60Hz or above, each dip down to 30Hz when Double Buffering is enabled will make the game feel stuttery. 

Graphics Settings

Red Dead Redemption 2 can be made to look great and perform smoothly with a few settings adjustments.
Red Dead Redemption 2 can be made to look great and perform smoothly with a few settings adjustments.

Quality Preset Level

This slider offers a way to set image quality without fussing over each individual toggle. Moving the slider all the way to the left will offer the best performance at the cost of overall image quality. Moving the slider all the way to the right offers high image quality (though individual options below may still be possible to push higher). If you set individual options first and then use this slider, it may undo or override any alterations you made. It is best to use this slider first before changing individual settings.

Texture Quality

This setting dictates the quality of all textures in the game. The Ultra option is equivalent to the Xbox One X version of the game. We recommend using Ultra for all GPUs with at least 6GB VRAM, as the lesser choices drastically affect image quality. GPUs with 4GB or less VRAM should try High or Medium.

Anisotropic Filtering

This will affect how detailed textures will appear when shown at an angle to the camera. It is most noticeable on dirt roads and other surfaces not covered in vegetation. The higher the setting, the farther away the textures will appear to be full resolution. We recommend 16X for high-end PCs and either 8X or 4X if you need just a little bit more performance (1 to 2%).

Setting Lighting Quality to High or Ultra allows the moon and other sources to cast dynamic light at night.
Setting Lighting Quality to High or Ultra allows the moon and other sources to cast dynamic light at night.

Lighting Quality

This is one of the most demanding settings in the game. As far as we can tell, it only affects performance at night, regardless of which level you choose. Medium is a match for what you get on Xbox One X. On High, dynamic light from the moon and other emissive sources (lanterns, etc) is enabled. This makes a massive difference in image quality and is arguably the biggest upgrade the PC version has over consoles. On Ultra, the light simulation is even more accurate and the light emitted from lanterns will flicker and move like their real-life counterparts. If you are looking for a big boost in performance, dropping Lighting Quality to Medium can help you grab a 25-40% performance boost over High and Ultra.

Global Illumination Quality

This setting determines the accuracy of the Global Illumination simulation. Global Illumination calculates how light bounces off of other surfaces (think shining a flashlight against a wall in a dark room and how the light is reflected all over the room to dimly illuminate it). We recommend keeping this setting on Ultra since lowering it offers no measurable boost in performance.

Shadow Quality

This determines the resolution of shadows being cast near the player. Use High Quality to get something similar to what is seen on Xbox One X or Ultra to make the shadows even sharper. We recommend using High to gain a small performance bump with a minimal hit to quality.

Far Shadow Quality

This setting controls the quality of shadows cast by trees and objects that are very far from the player. Maxing this option can come with a 2-5% performance cost, but we recommend using it on high-end PCs because it adds a lot to the moments where you stop and take in the breathtaking vistas on display. 

Scree Space Ambient Occlusion is what adds the shadow highlights to the logs at the bottom of the campfire.
Screen Space Ambient Occlusion is what adds the shadow highlights to the logs and rocks at the bottom of the campfire.

Screen Space Ambient Occlusion

SSAO helps to enhance visuals by darkening the areas where two objects or surfaces meet. It is most visible in places like the in-game shops, where leaving the setting off makes the shelves look like they came from a last-gen game. Enabling SSAO will add shadows to the cabinet interiors and around the items in them. It also applies to virtually every other object in the game. We recommend using Ultra unless you are hurting for performance.

Reflection Quality

This setting determines how accurate the reflections found in glass and puddles are rendered. The differences are easiest to see during daylight hours in shop windows. The Medium matches the Xbox One X and offers a good compromise between performance and image quality. Using ultra will greatly reduce performance for something you may never see while playing.

Mirror Quality

This option only affects the mirrors sparsely scattered around the game world. We recommend sticking with Ultra as there is no performance to be gained from going lower.

Water Quality

This setting controls the accuracy of water refraction, reflection, and physics quality. It has an enormous effect on frame rates at higher settings. This particular toggle adjusts three other toggles found in the Advanced Graphics section. If you modify those options individually, the Water Quality setting will read Custom. We recommend Medium or Low for most players unless you are going for image quality above all else, or are happy playing at 30fps (or worse).

The quality of volumetric simulation in the PC version of the game greatly outclasses what was seen on consoles.
The quality of volumetric simulation in the PC version of the game greatly outclasses what was seen on consoles.

Volumetrics Quality

Like the Water Quality setting above, this toggle controls multiple others in the Advanced Graphics Settings. The volumetric lighting simulation in the PC version is another of the big upgrades over consoles. It allows for light propagation through mist, fog, and smoke. It also controls overall cloud quality. The effect can be very striking at dusk or dawn, as well as nights with a full moon where players may find themselves in a damp forest. Opting for the higher settings will incur a large performance penalty, so we recommend going with Medium. If you change any of the volumetric options in the Advanced Settings, this toggle will display Custom.

Particle Quality

This setting determines the number of particle effects and quality. Things like campfire smoke, sparks, and more are affected by this toggle. Because it has a minimal performance cost, we recommend leaving it on Ultra. Changing this option requires the game to be restarted.

Tessellation Quality

Greatly affecting the quality of tracks in the snow or mud, Tessellation Quality can have a large impact on visual quality. On Ultra, players can make deep tracks in the snow or mud that will cast self shadows. We recommend keeping this one cranked unless you are desperate for a 2-4% performance hike.

TAA

Short for Temporal Anti-Aliasing, this setting will eliminate jaggies and stair-stepping by sampling previous frames. It makes a huge impact on visual quality, though some players may find that it makes the overall image look too soft. At higher resolutions (1440p and above) the visuals remain sharp and we recommend using High, though going to Low can help you reclaim a frame or two of performance.

FXAA

Short for Fast Approximate Anti Aliasing, this setting also attempts to eliminate aliasing with a different approach. FXAA does well on static shots but offers worse results in motion. We recommend leaving this off and using TAA unless you need the performance.

MSAA

Short for Multi-Sample Anti-Aliasing, this setting offers aliasing reduction with the best possible image quality at the highest performance cost. Enabling MSAA, especially at higher resolutions, will tank performance. We recommend leaving this setting off and using TAA instead. This option will be one to come back to once you upgrade to hardware that is not yet released.

Advanced Graphics Settings

Adjustment of the Advanced Graphics settings allows you to push the experience beyond Ultra settings.
Adjustment of the Advanced Graphics settings allows you to push the experience beyond Ultra settings.

Graphics API

This setting determines which rendering API the game will use. Refer to our guide on the topic for a detailed look at which API to go with.

Near Volumetric Resolution

This setting controls the quality of volumetrics (fog, mist, etc) that are near the player. Higher settings will offer a better simulation with more accurate light scattering and shadow casting. Using High or Ultra looks amazing at high resolutions, but the performance hit is brutal. We recommend using Medium for the best compromise of speed and image quality. Adjusting this option will change the Volumetrics Quality option above to Custom.

Far Volumetric Resolution

Like its sister setting above, adjusting Far Volumetric Resolution will dictate quality for fog or clouds at a great distance. We recommend leaving this setting on High or Ultra as it does not seem to cause any performance hit. Adjusting this option will change the Volumetrics Quality option above to Custom.

Volumetric Lighting Quality

This toggle controls how accurate the light simulation is when dealing with volumetrics. Use the Low or Medium setting to get something close to the Xbox One X version of the game. At these settings, you will notice some slight banding or dithering in the light, but it will run 3-4% faster than using Ultra, which offers the best light simulation and eliminates the artifacts seen in the console versions. Cloud rendering resolution is also dictated by this setting, with High and Ultra eliminating the aliasing and artifacts in the clouds seen on the Xbox One X version. Adjusting this option will change the Volumetrics Quality option above to Custom.

The Volumetric Lighting Quality setting can produce stunning results at high resolution.
The Volumetric Lighting Quality setting can produce stunning results at high resolution.

Unlocked Volumetric Raymarch Resolution

This setting will enable the game engine to cast rays into clouds in order to offer a better light simulation. The rays measure how thick the cloud is at a given point so the game can more accurately determine how much light should be diffused when traveling from the sun or moon through the cloud (if any). It appears that using this option incurs no meaningful performance penalty, so we recommend leaving it on.

Particle Lighting Quality

Supposedly this option controls the accuracy at which particles are illuminated, but it is difficult to see any difference between the options in real-time. As it will drop your performance at Ultra, we recommend using Medium for all players.

Soft Shadows

This toggle will enable shadows to soften the farther they are rendered from the object that cast them. It seems as this option only applies to shadows cast by the sun or moon. Though it is less realistic, some players may prefer sharp shadows at all times and should disable this option altogether. Others should opt for Medium for the best balance between image quality and performance. Moving to High is not worth the slight performance penalty.

Grass Shadows

This allows for grass to cast shadows on the ground and on itself. We recommend using Medium or Low here as both options display the shadows and it helps image quality without the performance hit you get from High, which appears to only offer a placebo increase in image quality.

The Grass Shadows setting allow for individual clumps of grass to cast dynamic shadows.
The Grass Shadows setting allow for individual clumps of grass to cast dynamic shadows.

Long Shadows

This setting allows objects like mountains, cliffs, and trees to cast shadows over distances much farther than the typical in-game shadows. We highly recommend enabling this setting as it increases immersion and is one of the bigger upgrades over the console version.

Full Resolution Screen Space Ambient Occlusion

Enabling this setting will make the game apply SSAO at the same resolution the game is rendering at. By default, the SSAO is rendered at a fraction of the native resolution to help with performance. We didn’t really see any benefits to enabling this setting, so we recommend leaving it off to avoid the performance penalty it incurs.

Water Refraction Quality

This toggle will control how detailed the simulation of things like water ripples will appear in-game. The Xbox One X uses the equivalent of the High setting and we recommend using that setting.

Water Reflections still look great, even when set to Medium.
Water Reflections still look great when set to Medium.

Water Reflection Quality

This dictates the accuracy of water surface reflections. The Xbox One X seems to use the Medium setting and we also recommend that players opt for it as well. High does offer sharper, more detailed reflections, but almost all the water in the game has ripples on the surface or is fast-moving (in rivers, etc), so spotting the difference takes a lot of focus and using High isn’t worth the performance hit.

Water Physics Quality

This slider controls how accurate the water simulation is, as well as how much player interaction can cause fluid deformation. The slider offers four positions, with the fourth setting representing Ultra. Like Volumetrics, Far Shadows, and Lighting Quality, the Water Physics Quality slider represents one of the biggest upgrades over the console version of the game. The Xbox One version uses the lowest setting and offers no ripples from gunshots and low-quality displacement from moving in and around the water. We recommend the Medium setting for players with mid-range or better PC hardware. High and Ultra do offer nicer water, but the performance hit is massive, with nearly a 40% difference between Medium and Ultra. This is the most demanding setting in the entire game.

Resolution Scale

Players can alter the in-game rendering resolution using this setting while still outputting the result at the native resolution of their display. The scaling works both ways. If your native resolution is 1920x1080p, setting this option to 0.5 would result in the game being rendered at 1280x720p and upscaled to 1080p. Setting the option to 1.5 would result in the game being rendered at 2560x1440p and downscaled to 1080p. Resolution Scale will be very helpful to players using 4K displays and looking for higher frame rates. As a rule, the higher the resolution you scale up from, the better the final product will look. Scaling from 3200x1800p to 3840x2160p (4K) will provide better results than trying to scale 1920x1080p to 2560x1440p.

TAA Sharpening

This slider allows users to apply a post-process sharpening filter when using TAA anti-aliasing. If you find the overall image to be too soft after enabling TAA, you can increase the slider to help sharpen the image. 

Enabling Motion Blur allows for object-based blur to be shown. Notice the blur on the bridle as the horse jerks around.
Enabling Motion Blur allows for object-based blur to be shown. Notice the blur on the bridle as the horse jerks around.

Motion Blur

This setting controls the application of object-based motion blur. Red Dead Redemption 2 does not appear to use any full-screen motion blur, so we recommend keeping this setting on to get the benefits of the object-based blur.

Reflection MSAA

This setting applies Multisample Anti-Aliasing to items rendered in reflections. Because seeing most reflections in the game is tough during normal play, we recommend leaving this setting off. Any difference it may make for image quality will be nearly imperceptible, even if you go looking for it.

Geometry Level of Detail

This slider will enable and enhance objects that aren’t in the immediate vicinity of the player. When on the lowest setting, this slider removes many objects from distant view altogether. On the second setting, distant objects are added back in, with some receiving shading. Higher levels increase the complexity and shading of distant geometry. This slider can incur an intermediate performance hit on Ultra, so we recommend using a Medium or High position for the best compromise.

Grass Level of Detail

This slider determines the distance that grass and undergrowth will be rendered from the player as well as grass shadow level of detail. Moving this slider all the way to the right offers a big increase in visual quality, especially for scenic vistas, but comes with a large performance hit. If you can live with bringing the grass rendering distance closer and don’t mind losing some shadow detail, we recommend using one of the middle ticks on the slider.

The Grass Level of Detail slider determines how far out the game will render blades of grass from the player.
The Grass Level of Detail slider determines how far out the game will render blades of grass from the player.

Tree Quality

This setting determines how far away the game engine will display trees at full quality as well as the quality of shading performed on said trees. Using the High settings offers the best image quality, but the Medium setting often looks just as good and will help you gain a 2-3% performance boost.

Parallax Occlusion Mapping Quality

Red Dead Redemption 2 uses parallax occlusion mapping to add shading and detail to what would otherwise be flat, unshaded surfaces. It can make ruts in a dirt road have shadows, give brick textures the appearance of being individual 3D blocks, and more. We recommend putting this option on Ultra as it greatly affects image quality with a negligible performance cost.

Decal Quality

This setting dictates how many decals the game can draw in a scene and how far away they will be rendered. This affects things like bullet holes or blood sprays on walls and objects. Leave this setting on Ultra as it offers no real performance hit.

Fur Quality

This setting determines the quality of fur rendering across a few types of animals and some player character coats found in the game. The High setting offers the most lifelike recreation of fur on bears and the like but has a bit of a performance cost. We recommend the Medium setting as you get a slight boost to fps and fur is rarely on screen for the most part.

Tree Tessellation Quality

This toggle was added in a post-launch patch for the game and offers the option to hardware tessellate trees in-game. Enabling this option incurs a 3-5% performance hit for a minor boost in tree quality.


That wraps up our overview of the Red Dead Redemption 2 PC settings. For more guides and content on the game, check out our RDR2 hub page.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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