Is Ryse’s “Downgrade” Really a Downgrade? Polygons Don’t Always Tell the Whole Story

Throwing around the term “Downgrade” when you talk about a next generation game is a surefire way to turn a lot of heads. It’s the nature of that silly thing called “console war,” which prompts so many gamers to find a guilty pleasure in reading that a game on the “enemy” console might not look as good as initially expected.

That’s why, when we learn that a game’s character models have been reduced from 150,000 polygons to 80,000, honestly silly headlines like “Ryse downgrade officially confirmed by Crytek CEO” pop up like poisonous mushrooms on the internet, ready to catch your clicks. Not that I’m completely innocent, I guess, since I used the term “downgrade” twice in the headline of this article, but do read on.

Crytek’s CEO Cevat Yerli did indeed provide a confirmation, but it’s not so “official” that he confirmed a real “downgrade.” As a matter of fact Yerli seems to imply that we’re looking at an upgrade, or at least at a simple tradeoff.

Mind you, this article doesn’t have the purpose to tell you if the game has really been downgraded, or upgraded, or was kept pretty much the same, because quite frankly no one (unless you can find someone currently working at Crytek or Microsoft willing to talk) can tell you that. We simply don’t have the tools to know if the current graphics push the Xbox One’s GPU less or more than the visuals of the older build.

The purpose of this article is to explain a simple fact: in game development, and especially in graphics design, polygons don’t tell the whole story. While it’s easy for the eye to be caught by that big number almost sliced in half, there’s a lot more to visuals than the number of polygons.


Above you can see a screenshot from an older build of the game (the one with 150,000 polygons per character), while at the top of the post there’s a new one portraying almost the same scene in the new build (the one with 85,000 polygons per character). If you want to see a much deeper comparison you can check out the one I posted this morning.

On the other hand, now we’re gonna talk tech, and primarily analyze Yerli’s tweet.

First of all he mentions that now LODs aren’t used anymore. LOD stands for “Level of Detail,” and it’s a technique that involves reducing the triangle density models (normally in multiple stages) depending on how far they are displayed from the player’s point of view.

This means that when a model with LODs appears on your screen, you’ll see the full number of polygons only when it’s up close. The more it’s displayed far from your view point, the lower its actual polygon count will be. We’re talking about a steep reduction here, with many games using extreme LODs that are, at their farthest point, 2-3% or less of the polygons of the full model, while they display half, a quarter or even 10% of them at medium distances. Below you can see an example of LODs from the OpenSG tutorial.


Of course using LODs means reducing the rendering load on the GPU by a lot, and developers can get away with it because the low polygon density isn’t very visible from afar. Unfortunately there also are adverse effects, especially in graphics-intensive games, where you can often very easily see the extremely annoying “pop-in” effect when a model gets closer and literally “switches gears,” increasing its polycount right in front of your eyes.

This means that if Ryse is not using LODs anymore, the total number of polygons displayed on screen, especially during crowded scenes, may be very well equal or even higher than what was rendered before, as now the models that were downgraded when seen from afar are displayed with their full triangle count at all distances, eliminating the pop-in effect and increasing the visual quality of models when they’re shown at a distance.

If you want to see the difference between using LODs and not using them, you can quite easily do so if you are a PC gamer, as there are many titles that allow you to switch the feature on and off. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a good example, especially since you can download its benchmark for free, and it allows you to set LODs on and off. On my machine turning LODs off means losing an average of 7-8 FPS and 600 from the final benchmark score.

The choice of eliminating LODs is actually a quite interesting one, as they’re very widely used by developers, and almost considered a standard, but it does fit Crytek’s usual uncompromising approach to graphics, so we’ll have to see how it’ll pan out in the game.

One thing is for sure though: as we don’t know what kinds of LODs were used before (and by how much the polycount was sliced at a distance by those LODs), on what models exactly they were applied, and if they’ve completely gone the way of the dodo now, or only removed from specific models, we can’t safely assume that the total number of triangles rendered by the engine at any given time has been decreased or has been “downgraded”, because it may very well be the opposite.


Mind you, it’s also worth mentioning that 85,000 polygons per characters are nothing to sneer at. Just to give a term of comparison, Prophet in Crysis 3 has about 60,000 polygons when wearing his nanosuit, while Geralt from The Witcher 2 sports “only” 20,000.

Let’s move on to the next part of Yerli’s tweet: Shaders.

Shaders are very relevant element to the final visual fidelity of a game: reflections, reaction to lighting, special effects and much more are all done via shaders. Shaders can also improve the three dimensional depth of a model via normal mapping, effectively giving the player the impression of a higher polygon density with a much smaller loss in performance and framerate.


The two pictures I posted at the top of the post are a very clear example of this. In the picture showing the new build materials look more realistic and weathered, while skin looks more detailed in many areas, The normal maps are also very telling.

In the older build normal maps (that manipulate light in order to give flat surface a three-dimensional look, as explained by the picture above.) look jagged in quite a few areas. It’s very evident in the armor of the character on the right for instance. That’s a clear telltale sign of a low resolution or excessively compressed normal map texture.

Evidently in the newer build the developers at Crytek had enough hardware resources available to squeeze-in a much higher resolution or less compressed normal map, eliminating the jaggies and giving the etching of the armor a much better definition. Examples of the influences of better shaders and normal maps can be found quite easily scattered around the screenshots, and you can see a couple of the most evident examples in the comparison picture below.


As I mentioned above, this article did not mean to tell you whether the game’s graphics have been downgraded or upgraded. The only thing we can really say is whether the game looks better or worse, but that depends a lot on individual taste, and you’ll have to decide on your own about that.

One thing is for sure, though, saying that the game has been objectively (or officially) “downgraded” is grossly inaccurate, as better shaders can have a very relevant impact on a game’s visual fidelity. Furthermore, judging the game’s polygon count just by the raw triangle density of a character is misleading and pretty disingenuous, as the removal of LODs completely throws that equation off, and can easily mean that the overall triangle density for the game remained the same, or even increased.

Ultimately it all boils down on whether you like how the game looks or not, and I can’t tell you that. What I can definitely tell you is that you shouldn’t let very partial numbers decide for you either.

Join the Discussion

  • Riwer

    Obvious Upgrade =P

  • Wow didn’t know you guys get jealous and take cheap shots in your articles…”honestly silly headlines like “Ryse downgrade officially confirmed by Crytek CEO” pop up like poisonous mushrooms on the internet”. That’s bad journalism IMO.

    Looks completely like a cheap shot aimed at that heated article on N4G. Didn’t expect this.

    • Nime

      Less polygons isnt downgrade.

      If they can do THE SAME with less polygons, is called optimization.

      You cant see the difference (polygon related), but the new one has better quality (better shaders).

      This the reality.

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      Here’s a suggestion: don’t write openly sensationalist headlines based on very partial data that doesn’t paint the whole picture if you don’t like to be called on it.

      It was a honestly silly headline, and pretty disingenuous as well.

      • joshdeane

        Well said. Great read, cleared up some confusion I was having.

        • Giuseppe Nelva

          Glad to be of service 😀

      • Whether or not it was silly or not is debatable. You taking a pot-shot directly while having a reputation is IMO not good-looking.

        • mahunterjr

          It wasn’t a pot shot. He’s alerting his readers to obvious bias and backing his claims with fact. That’s good journalism.

          • By bringing more flame wars? Okay.

          • mahunterjr

            You’re mistaken. The article he mentioned brought on flame wars by presenting false information at the expense of others.

            This article works to calm such wars, by presenting factual information, and steering folks away from misinformation.

            Hopefully, after being called out, the author of the original flame bait will learn the errors of his ways, and in the future will not create sensationalist articles intended only to mislead.

            What’s the point of fact checking, if you don’t mention the original source and gold them accountable.

    • Mick

      Alright, just shut up. It was a ridiculously sensationalistic headline with zero journalistic work behind, just accept it.

    • Texazzpete

      So the article on N4G wasn’t a ‘cheap shot’ at the team at Crytek?
      CRy me a river. This is an awesome retort to the knee-jerk brigade!

  • Tact

    Well stated.

  • xkingxnitemare

    its not even about the downgrade, its about promising and showing gamers one thing and then quietly try to change it when they think we wont notice.its not just crytek and microsoft either, this is starting to become a common practice by alot of devs. and its shady as hell.

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      Eh, they promised a good game that looks good. We still have to see if that promise will prove true or not.

      You play the game, not its polycount.

    • mahunterjr

      Who complains about a developer making their game more visually impressive over time. They didn’t quietly change anything. In their first presentation, they had a PowerPoint detailing the poly count.

      When they changed it, they showed the details on another PowerPoint and explained why it makes the game look better.

      Game development is fluid up until the game is released. There is nothing shady about this what so ever… except the shady journalists who inaccurately characterize this as a downgrade.

      • xkingxnitemare

        you keep drinking that koolaid sir.

        • mahunterjr

          What kool-aid? My background in such matters, coupled with my ability to look with my own to eyes at the games current visuals compared to the old bring me, and any reasonable person to the same conclusion.

  • andrew salvat

    is funny how Sony’s fan are quickly to troll at the beginning now the realize look better no one talk or say noting. I am so happy I am not one of those drones.

    • ex-xboner

      you happy just for that ? .. i guess your life must be miserable

  • Nick TwinkleToes Setzer

    I agree with the ideal the article represents but the “new” though having more precise lines has pitiful light recreation in comparison. Looks like his armor is made of rubber.

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      I disagree there. It looks like weathered metal, like it should be, in my opinion. The reflection in the old screenshot was way excessive, making the armor look like it was made of tin.

      Battle worn armor simply can’t look like that.

      • Nick TwinkleToes Setzer

        Oh, don’t worry I wan’t saying the original lighting was spot on it looks like hes wearing alluminum or something … but it had visible lighting for example the gold rim around the armpiece looks better on the old due to lighting/shadows. There is no question the new looks a million times better in general though.

  • Great read. Nice to see technical example to better understand the change.

  • sazse

    In fact, I also think the new caracters look better overall. Materials look more natural and edges are smoother.

  • Megaman

    Si <— Hey…Look here….Where them sony trolls be hiddin???

  • JaQ

    I personally think the so-called “downgrades” are actually an improvement. Looks more realistic in my opinion! The skin imperfections and the smoother armor are impressive.
    The plastic, shiney look of the armor is at least a lot less…..
    Everybody has their own preferences though! I say “Well done Crytek”
    I just hope it doesn’t influence the framerate….Rather have some pop-up than framesdips!

    But I think you guys know what you’re doing 😉

  • You are flat out wrong

    God, look at that horrendous downgrade. Looking forward to the 4/10s this stinker is going to get in November. Ryse? More like Shyt.

    • You are flat out wrongs Mother

      Nothing to see here folks. This guy is all over every xbox page he can find playing the console warrior. Take it easy sony pony, nobody cares what you think. You aren’t witty, and you aren’t funny. You’re just a sad sad little boy. This must be your first time around console releases.

      • You are flat out wrong

        Obviously you care enough to reply to an opinion you don’t like twenty hours later.

  • George Brayner

    There is some misconception about how LOD actually works and its functionality, first of all, the polygons are drawed by the CPU! So by removing polygons you make an optimization for the CPU workload ( I’m not quite sure how the things work with GPGPU though ). The LOD aren’t the cause for “pop-ins”, though a bad implementation of LOD may cause pop-ins removing the LOD is much more likely to provoque severe pop-ins, due the draw distance, In a enviroment without LOD you need to make a shorter draw distance or smaller places. Or use some tricks on the level design to avoid very far distance view. Theirs strategy is clearly a memory wise movement. By removing LOD your main gain is memory! The extra meshes can consume a lot of high priority memory, and that compromise shaders! And they need to fit their shader into 32 megas of the fast memory on the Xone, Another point is, that polycount is about the Hero of the game! May the other characters still have LOD, or a lower mesh. This is a bold move, Since they will cause a severe impact at the CPU. The game looks awesome for sure, but may it’s now a little dumber. 😀

  • truthtellerdealwithit

    omg when will they make a nice exclusive, stop failing at everything microsoft 🙁

  • Beitragschreiber

    It still wont look as good as it was shown on e3, since that version was still running on a pc.

    • phaedruss

      It already looks better.

      • Beitragschreiber

        Because of some screenshots? How old are you, that you are still falling for this? Grow up, kid. Advertisements are lying.

  • Mukul

    “Skin shows more detail with wrinkles and mark” – ummmm that’s just an upgraded diffuse map. 😐

  • Crapgamer

    Oddly enough Ryse still has higher polygons than any other game coming at launch on Xbox One or PS4. I think they had to make a choice and are on a time schedule to meet launch, they need to get this game done. Now if they had more time I’m sure it would still have the original polygon count.

    People are trying to read too much into something per usual because it’s Xbox One related. I just wish Sony fans would stop trolling for once, cheer up Sony peeps, your console is coming out soon, and you’ll have all the indie games and free 2 play PC ports you can handle! In the meantime let us Xbox One fans enjoy our personal choice.

    • You are flat out wrong

      Enjoy your QTEs, janky animations and three hour SP campaign, friend. 🙂

      • Crapgamer

        Shows that you have no clue what you’re talking about, after playing the game there aren’t QTE’s at all, you have the “Option” to execute enemies, the corresponding buttons don’t even pop up anymore, just a skull if you have the chance to execute.

        Then again, don’t Sony fans love QTE”s? I mean Heavy Rain and God Of War are full of them, hell you don’t even need a controller to play Beyond Two Souls, just a tablet or phone….

        Nice try with the trolling, but I’m very well informed with things I’ve pre-ordered, which include Xbox One, Ryse, Dead Riding 3, Forza 5, COD Ghosts so I can play a COD game on dedicated servers, and I’ll be picking up Killer Instinct, Crimson Dragon and LocoCycle as well.

        • You are flat out wrong

          “There’s no QTEs!!!!! They replaced them with coloured outlines!!!”

          As if that makes it any better. I hope you get paid to be this dumb.

          Wryte-Off: Son of Flop, Dud Framerates 3, Flopza 5 with its delicious pre-baked lighting, COD Shibe Doge, Filler ****Stink and some other $20 guff MS rushed out to make up the numbers. Thankfully, people clued in would rather suck on an exhaust pipe then indulge in this tripe.

          • Crapgamer

            Yea, the really smart ones are buying PS4 which has no dedicated servers, no games aside from indie games and free-2-play PC ports.

            There is no point in arguing with insecure Sony fanboys, if you’re so pre-Sony, why bother posting in an article about Xbox One? Only way that makes sense is A.You’re trolling B.You’re jealous or C.You’re insecure about picking the wrong console.

          • You are flat out wrong

            Because laughing at Xiglets is days of entertainment. “Muh dedicated servers!!!” Doesn’t mean **** to anyone except the MLG cretins. Most videogame players prefer SP campaigns.

            Why not try an “awesome potential of Kinect!!!!!” approach next time, might get more laughs going, Crapperson.

          • Crapgamer

            You do realize around 80% of gamer’s play online, games like Destiny, Titanfall, The Division are all online only games. We will see more and more online only games in the future.

            I’m not MLG, but I know peer-2-peer stinks for multiplayer games, any true gamer will want dedicated servers for online. If you don’t think the new Kinect has potential, not sure what to say. Watch some Vdocs on Project Spark with it, creating your own game animations is amazing. Head tracking with Battlefield 4, it has a lot of uses and developers can take full use of it thanks to it being bundled with every single Xbox One.

            Keep hating, you’re giving me a laugh with how insecure you are, probably can’t even afford a PS4, just like

          • You are flat out wrong

            I’ve seen enough videos of Kinect 2 having problems signing people in and having stupid amounts of lag to ever be functional. It’ll end up like the Sixaxis, Wii’s waggle and Kinect 1: unused, unloved and leaving people wondering why they even bothered.

            Now, VR is the future. Looking forward to seeing what Oculus Rift and Sony is cooking up.

          • Intoxic8edOne

            The devs of Oculus Rift has already stated that they will not be developing for consoles. There is 0 chance it will be natively compatible with ps4 or x-1

          • You are flat out wrong

            Sony have their own VR project in the works, they were supposed to have unveiled it at TGS but canned it because they didn’t want it to be distracting from the launch hardware and all the games they announced.


          • cheese

            Kinect 2 has improved greatly. You are clearly just a Sony fanboy that does not do enough research on the X1, and K2 to even have a valid comeback. Please do your research. Every K2 video I have seen looks amazing, and 100x better then the K1.

          • You are flat out wrong

            I’ve seen the videos featuring Kinect’s horrendous lag and difficulty recognising people. I’ve seen it be horrific in Fighter Within. Kinect continues its proud history of being total crap and pointless for anything except menu navigation. The touchpad already has more meaningful gameplay functionality through map usage in AC4 alone. I’d better not even talk about how much better the Wii U’s gamepad is at providing a meaningful gameplay experience with second screen features.

          • You are flat out wrong

            Considering how long it’s taking your last comment to get through moderation, I’ll post this here.


            There’s two. Slowtaku also has negative impressions of the Kinect. And unless I see any actual evidence of Sony’s plans regarding the Eye, I’m going to assume that your statement is a conspiracy theory, similar to the “Sony, MS and Gamespot had a deal until Sony backed out!!!” bunk.

            Kinect is garbage, pure and simple. The sooner Xfriends just accept this and move on, the better it will be for their mental health.

          • cheese

            Google is your friend. You can easily find out that Sony is scum and andante do anything right. They just wait for MS to do something and they do the opposite. I can’t for all the Kinect features that you will never be able to use. You’ll be all butt hurt while I laugh my ass off. Get a job and a life you pathetic waste of skin.

          • You are flat out wrong

            Really, there’s no way to respond to this other than by hoping you get the mental health treatment you so desperately need. Always remember, there’s still hope. 🙂

          • DR.WHO

            sometime i wonder if you new gamer got your brains from a cereal box i mean you’re here bragging about dedicated servers i understand thats something new to xbox users but people that use playstation console have been using dedicated servers for years now on the ps3 ok

          • you are flat wrong’s mom

            Sweetie, that’s enough computer for today. You’ve got a big day at your new “special” school tomorrow!

      • CultureShock

        OMG! You sony fans ARE JUST THE WORST!! What is WRONG with you guys!? I’m just baffled!

        • Crapgamer

          This about sums up Sony fanboys.

          • CultureShock

            You know, where I stay, that’s exactly what people say about them. They’re busy complaining, while others(xbox&pc fans) are busy playing.

          • You are flat out wrong

            I’ll be getting a PS4 in February for Infamous, with MGS5, The Division, The Order, Thief, Destiny and The Evil Within, and catching up on Watch_Dogs and BF4. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying GTA: Online, the new TLOU DLC, all the excellent first party exclusives coming up and all the content my PS+ delivers.

            In the meantime, you’ll be waiting for Tits’n’Balls in…what? August, if you’re lucky? I suppose you can shout at your Kinect to watch The Price is Right while you wait. ^_^

          • JayD

            Obviously he doesn’t care… If he did he would just get a PS4 as well. Common sense…

          • some dude

            You realize all those games are coming to both consoles and will probably look about even on whatever console, right?

          • You are flat out wrong

            Infamous and The Order are on the Xbone? I know you fools are desperate for games but let’s not get delusional. ^_^

            Meanwhile, every other game will be better on the PS4 s

          • Jim

            Right you only have to flip your controller over so you can see what color the light bar is so you know what’s happening.

          • cheese

            “Tits’n’Balls”? You mean TitanFall? Which IMO beats EVERY game you just mentioned? Spring buddy. Not summer.

          • You are flat out wrong

            Your opinion also produced gems like “DRM would have brought consoles into the future” and “Devs will do something with Kinect 2 because it is bundled in.” Your delusion is not desirable.

          • Edonus

            The realest thing ever said on the the internet.

        • kftgr


      • JayD

        Heavy Rain was a QTE fest and I loved it. One of my favorite PS3 games. I love the QTE bosses from GOW as well. Don’t get the hate for QTE…

    • Jeremiah Enrile

      funny you know how many polygons sony games have. Give me a link where killzone, infamous, the order, driveclub stated their polygons. goes to show you Xbots really love to spout out lies.

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  • Michael Norris

    It’s called optimizations,looks better that’s for sure.Now fix the gameplay because it looks more shallow then a puddle of piss.

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  • Doogie

    Who even cares? This is Quick Time Events: The Game, literally no one is going to be playing it no matter what the graphics look like

  • You are flat out wrong

    Yep, Ryse still looks like total crap.

    Looking forward to the apologies I’ll be getting from Crapperson et al for their hyping of this turd.