To test Guild Wars, we used our standard mid-range rig, consisting of a ATI X700, Athlon 64 3500+, 1GB of RAM and an RX480 motherboard.
To get some additional insight into how the graphics routines run, we contacted the Guild Wars developer, ArenaNet, and asked them a few question - their feedback is included below.
Guild Wars is written to the DirectX 8.1 spec, to allow the maximum number of gamers to experience its features. This means no Shader Model 3.0, but the guys seem to have done a great job getting some unique graphical effects just with SM2.x. There are no render path differences between ATI and Nvidia hardware - the two cards render exactly the same image, although there are a few little tweaks for specific driver revisions across the hardware.
Throughout the title, there is a 'glow' to the terrain and to the characters that makes the whole world seem a little ethereal. This is achieved by extracting bright areas from a scene, downsampling them, then blurring them, then sampling them back up and compositing them back into the scene. This can be done with anti-aliasing, and artists can also add extra haze or radial blur effects to create different moods in different areas of the world.
The game allows for a pretty large amount of tweaking when it comes to graphical options, meaning you should be able to get the game up and running on even a low-end title.
High Quality vs Low Quality
Here you can see the difference between low and high detail settings:
At low detail (right), the detail level on the texture mipmap is dropped to consume less memory and run faster. You can see the quality difference that this entails on Dewdrop Fall, my character, especially around the, er, crotch area.
At high quality (left), you can see the gorgeous water reflection and texture detail in the foreground. Texture detailing is achieved by multi-texturing from a sheet of different tile textures. You can also see the amazing water reflections - at a high detail, these reflect the world, the props at the characters, whilst at low detail, only the sky is reflected.
When the lowest details settings are used (right), terrain textures are composited on the CPU rather than on the GPU, saving the graphics hardware for the rest of the scene, increasing performance.
The shadows in the game look simply gorgeous. Character shadows are rendered to textures, and then a blur effect is added to soften the edges. Terrain shadows are calculated as lightmaps in realtime.
The game doesn't make use of any proprietary shadowing techniques like Nvidia UltraShadow, meaning that you'll get the same great quality across both platforms. By making the character shadows textures, rather than completely dynamic, quite a lot of the overhead is taken off the graphics card. At low detail settings, the character shadows are dropped back to dead basic blobs.