Shadow Warrior 2 puts multi-res shading and HDR to good use

— 9:00 AM on October 14, 2016

Yesterday marked the release of the ultra-violent FPS Shadow Warrior 2. The game itself is apparently fantastic, judging by its 95% positive rating on Steam—but that should be no surprise to players of the previous release in the series. Besides being an excellent game in its own right, the oft-overlooked 2013 Shadow Warrior was a visual spectacle that competed with any of its contemporaries. Shadow Warrior 2 continues that tradition, and is the first released non-VR PC game to support both HDR output and Nvidia's "Multi-Res Shading."

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, but most gerbils probably already knew that. The buzzword is flying around a lot lately, but the ability to display a wider range of colors simultaneously isn't just a gimmick and should allow for particularly vivid colors and better reproduction of dark areas. Enabling HDR in Shadow Warrior 2 will require an HDR-enabled display chain, so most users won't find the option useful yet. In contrast, Multi-Res Shading can be used right now, and shows great promise.

Nvidia originally developed Multi-Res Shading to help reduce the gargantuan performance costs of rendering AAA-game-tier visuals in VR. There's nothing stopping developers from implementing it in a regular old 2D-projected game, though. The technique involves rendering different parts of the screen at different resolutions. Given that resolution is the single largest factor in game render performance, this has the potential to reduce the load that peripheral areas of the screen—which are rarely observed directly during gameplay—impose on the graphics card.

Ultimately this means some detail will be lost around the outside edges of the viewport, but in a fast action game like Shadow Warrior 2, that trade-off might just be worth it. The game supports two levels of MRS, named Conservative and Aggressive. Nvidia claims the Aggressive setting allows a single GeForce GTX 1080 to pump out an average of 64 FPS in 3840x2160 resolution, compared to 49 FPS with MRS disabled. That's a pretty significant speed-up, although we suspect the gains are magnified by the high resolution used for testing.

For now, MRS is only supported on 9- and 10-series GeForce cards, but there's no reason the concept behind the technology can't be applied more generally. If gamers take a liking to the new feature, it may become commonplace in first-person games, regardless of the underlying hardware. If you've got a GeForce card, make sure you're registered in GeForce Experience because Nvidia is giving away 1250 copies of the game to registered users this month.

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