Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s frame rate hints at a bigger next-gen problem
The new game may only run at 30 FPS on Xbox Series X and PS5, whichs speaks to the wider issue of diminishing returns in next-gen visuals for any game.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla has been championed by Ubisoft and Microsoft as one of the first major next-gen games, but the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X ports may come with a major caveat: a potentially low frame rate. This recent revelation has elicited a negative response from fans but also highlighted the diminishing returns of visuals in next-gen consoles in general.
Following the game's disappointing appearance during the May 7 Xbox Series X showcase, Eurogamer Portugal reached out to a Ubisoft representative to clarify what the game's frame rate — the number of image frames updated on-screen per second — on the next-gen console would be. The representative told them on Monday that "currently, we can guarantee that Assassin's Creed Valhalla will run at least 30 FPS."
A higher frame rate means that gamers can perceive motion more clearly, and in this regard, next-gen consoles might not look that much better.
While developers will sometimes describe 30 FPS as cinematic, being closer to the 24 FPS that film is displayed at, hardcore gamers tend to prefer games that are smoother and run at higher frame rates. 30 FPS became a standard for the industry over the last decade, and the leap to the next-gen consoles like PS5 and Xbox Series X seemed like it would finally make 60 FPS the new standard. This isn't proving to be the case, however, at least with Assassin's Creed Valhalla. 30 FPS is the minimum thus far, but there's no telling what the highest frame rate will be on next-gen consoles just yet.
This confirmation seems disappointing, especially when you consider the technical advancements companies like Microsoft are promising. In a March Xbox Wire post delving into Xbox Series X's specs, the console is described as a platform "that could run games in 4K at 60 FPS with no compromises for developers." Because that made it seem like 60 FPS would to be the standard going forward, Assassin's Creed Valhalla coming it at half that feels disappointing.
While the frame rate might not be that outstanding, it is worth noting that the game will take advantage of Xbox Series X in other ways. "Assassin's Creed Valhalla will benefit from faster loading times, allowing players to immerse themselves in history and the world without friction," Eurogamer Portugal's source also said. "Assassin's Creed Valhalla will benefit from improved graphics made possible by the Xbox Series X, and we can't wait to see the beautiful world we're creating in stunning 4K resolution."
But the Xbox One S and Xbox One X can already handle 4K resolution and 40 FPS, so just how much better will next-gen consoles like the Xbox Series X appear?
The Inverse Analysis — These comments show that Ubisoft is more concerned with making individual frames of the game look better rather than in providing a higher frame rate. It's a subtle distinction but an important one. Increased graphical fidelity is more immediately noticeable than something like frame rate. A casual fan who has been playing Assassin's Creed games at 30 FPS for years won't notice.
This lower frame rate target with Assassin's Creed Valhalla seems representative of an industry-wide approach to developing games for next-gen platforms. We seem to have finally hit a point of diminishing returns with next-gen consoles where the jump in quality won't be as immediately noticeable in most cases, especially at a time when most games are being developed for current- and next-gen consoles simultaneously.
Frame rate seemed like it would be the biggest indicator that technology has progressed, but companies like Ubisoft are showing that developers may prefer to focus on improved loading times and higher resolutions instead of achieving frame rates upwards of 120 FPS.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla will be released in time for the 2020 holiday season.