Anthem load times tested: HDD vs SSD vs NVMe

How much will an SSD help Anthem’s load times compared to a hard drive?

ANTHEM TEST PC

Intel Core i7-8700K @ 5.0GHz
Intel Core i3-8100
NZXT Kraken X62
MSI Z390 MEG Godlike
2x8GB G.Skill TridentZ RGB DDR4-3200
Samsung 970 Evo 1TB
Samsung 860 Evo 1TB
WD Black 4TB HDD
EVGA SuperNova P2 1000W
Corsair Carbide Air 740

One of the biggest complaints from our Anthem review in progress is the excessive number of loading screens—loading the game, loading into Fort Tarsis, loading into a mission, loading when you’re too far behind your squad in a mission, loading into a smaller area within a mission, loading back into the main world, loading to the mission summary page, loading back into Fort Tarsis… There are a lot of loading screens, and some of them can stick around for more than a minute. Ugh.

With that in mind, I wanted to test the storage performance of Anthem load times, before and after the upcoming day one patch. I’ll be updating the results once the patch arrives, but here’s how things stand right now. For testing, I have three storage devices: a Samsung 860 Evo SATA SSD, a Samsung 970 Evo NVMe SSD, and a WD Black SATA HDD. I tested various aspects of loading and even looked at framerates. For my testbed, I’m using my normal performance analysis hardware—shown in the boxout on the right. Keep in mind this is a very high-end gaming PC sporting an overclocked CPU, and CPU speed can definitely impact load times as well. More on that in a moment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthem hard drive performance

Let’s start with loading times of the hard drive, keeping in mind that this is basically as good as it gets for HDDs since it’s a practically new HDD without a ton of other files on it, plus it’s running as a secondary drive so the OS isn’t peppering it with extra read/write request. Loading Anthem, from the initial click of the play button in Origin to the “Press [Space] to join server” prompt, includes several unskippable videos. These appear to eat quite a bit of time, so the total launch time consists of two parts—getting to the join server prompt, and then getting to Fort Tarsis.

On the HDD, launching Anthem took about 41 seconds to get to the join server prompt, while getting to Fort Tarsis varied a bit. The first time I loaded from the HDD, it took 46 seconds to bring up Fort Tarsis, but subsequent launches were all around 21 seconds. The server load likely plays a role here. Launching into a free play expedition meanwhile took a consistent 93-97 seconds, depending on what graphics quality I was using. (Higher settings mean more textures to load, so slightly longer load times.)

If you exit the game during a mission/expedition (or crash to desktop) and immediately relaunch, you can skip the Fort Tarsis bit and rejoin your mission in progress, which also takes about 93-97 seconds on a fast hard drive. Returning to Fort Tarsis at the end of a mission is another 18 seconds or so to the mission summary screens, and then 32 seconds to actually get back into the fort.

A full cycle for purposes of these tests consists of loading the game, joining a server, starting an expedition, leaving the expedition, and getting back into Fort Tarsis.

With a fast HDD, the full load cycle takes at least 205 seconds—nearly three minutes.

Anthem SATA SSD performance

Moving on to the Samsung 860 Evo, a 1TB model, things improve quite a decent amount. The initial load screen still takes about 39-40 seconds before you can join a server, and getting to Fort Tarsis is another 20 seconds. Launching a mission is faster, however, down to just 68-73 seconds (again, depending on your graphics settings), and the same goes for rejoining a mission in progress. You shave off some time at the end of a mission as well, as the summary screen takes 16 seconds and then another 16 seconds to return to Fort Tarsis. All of the load times are also more consistent from an SSD, with no deviations of more than 1-2 seconds.

For the SSD, the full loading cycle takes about 160 seconds.

Anthem NVMe SSD performance

Many people will tell you that NVMe SSDs don’t make your games load or run any faster. Those people are generally correct. The initial launch to the join server prompt still takes 40 seconds (including about 25 seconds of unskippable videos). Getting to Fort Tarsis is another 20 seconds. Launching a mission for whatever reason was actually slower on the NVMe drive by a few seconds, 70-75 seconds, but it could have been the specific server I was joining causing the delay. Getting back into Fort Tarsis at the end of an expedition meanwhile was similar, at 15-16 seconds.

That makes the whole cycle with an NVMe SSD 162 seconds.

Again, I wouldn’t put too much weight on the minor drop, as persistent world games tend to have far more variance with things like number of currently active players, servers, etc.

Anthem SATA SSD with Core i3-8100

One thing I haven’t touched on yet is how much the CPU affects load times. I took the same SATA SSD but swapped out the CPU for a Core i3-8100. The initial launch time dropped to 46 seconds, and 23 seconds to get into Fort Tarsis—that’s longer than it took to load off a hard drive with the overclocked i7-8700K. Launching an expedition was also longer, at 107-115 seconds, and returning at the end of an expedition took 20 seconds to get to the summary screen and 17 seconds to get back to Fort Tarsis.

Total cycle time: 213 seconds.

I would expect the combination of a slower hard drive with the Core i3-8100 (or a similarly slow CPU) to further increase load times, but I haven’t had time to test that.

Initial thoughts on Anthem load times

For those of you who don’t know, my background includes a CS degree. That’s right, I actually studied software development (and had aspirations of becoming a game developer) back in my earlier days. The point is that I actually know quite a bit about what goes on behind the scenes in terms of the game code. The code will differ from one game to another, and it’s not too difficult to come up with a quick and dirty solution for loading and saving data that is far from optimal.

Reading in one large chunk of data and then processing it as an example tends to be far better (and more complex in terms of code) than doing lots of small reads. Your CPU and memory are typically several orders of magnitude faster than even an SSD, and an SSD can be several orders of magnitude faster than a hard drive if you’re doing lots of random IO. I’m not suggesting BioWare is doing a really poor job at loading data, but there’s always potential to make things faster.

These results were gathered on February 19, and that means a few updates have already been pushed out and perhaps improved the load times. Still, Anthem could use some help. It could also use a fast travel system, especially in Fort Tarsis where your two movement speeds are currently shuffle or walk. I’ll be running these same loading tests in a few days once the official launch hits and the day one patch arrives. Hopefully BioWare can cut some of the long load times down, but we’ll have to wait and see.

By Jarred Walton

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