One of my most anticipated games, well, ever, Neverwinter Nights 2 has been a fun, albeit resource-hogging experience. Most of the in-game options had to be toned down completely when I was gaming on my 7900 GS, but now with an 8800 GTS SLI-powered rig, I'm able to game with most of the settings cranked at 2560x1600 without much problem.
Fans of the first game and its subsequent addons will likely love Neverwinter Nights 2. The Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition ruleset is implemented brilliantly and is powering a rather attractive game. As attractive as it is, though, the lighting engine is an intense burden on even the most powerful machines and while the game is certainly pretty, the utterly abysmal performance at times seems completely unwarranted.
With all that in mind, I was eager to see just how high I could set graphics options and still have a playable experience with the 8800 GTS SLI setup. I tested differing levels of antialiasing with all other graphical options the same (laid out below) except for the resolution (2560x1600 and 1920x1200).
Neverwinter Nights 2 Engine Settings
Neverwinter Nights 2 Average FPS
MINOR SPOILER: The area I tested was outdoors, right after picking up the druid Elenae. My party of four was traversing a wooded path (with a small pond to get the water effects into the equation) and was attacked by a pack of wolves. I filmed a video (MPEG-1 5.2MB) at 2560x1600 with no antialiasing to show the area and performance.
Neverwinter Nights 2 In-Game Shot
Click Image to Enlarge - 2560x1600 (1.4MB)
The above image shows the area from which my benchmarking was completed. I tried to force the same situations each time, but the luck of the roll had a definite impact sometimes as certain spells were cast over others and so on. The below graphs show each run through the game at 2560x1600 with all three levels of antialiasing used.
Neverwinter Nights 2 FPS
As the bottom-most graph shows, the game barely had a pulse at 2560x1600 with 4x AA enabled. That run-through peaked at 3 frames-per-second.
Without antialiasing, the game was quite playable at both resolutions. Apart from some jagged patches of grass, I felt that antialiasing was almost unnecessary at the 3007WFP's native resolution. Nonetheless, 2x AA was applied and surprisingly, there was almost NO impact on performance. The 8800 series has been lauded for its implementation of antialiasing, with many claiming it to be "free antialiasing" because the performance impact is almost negligible. The game looked markedly better with 2x AA applied and with a nearly imperceptable loss in performance, it makes no sense NOT to use it. Below are the results of the three different levels of antialiasing at 1920x1200.
Neverwinter Nights 2 FPS
While 2x AA may have been "free", 4x was most certainly costly as the above graph shows. At 2560x1600, the game was basically just still images. It was also the longest benchmarking period of my life as I waited for the game to chug while FRAPS collected its data. Surprisingly, the hit at 1920x1200 was again almost neglibile. I was very surprised by that, but even after restarting the game and computer three or four times I ended up with nearly identical results each time.