Warhammer 40K: Darktide PC performance tips: Turn off ray tracing and pray

Image for Warhammer 40K: Darktide PC performance tips: Turn off ray tracing and pray
(Image credit: Fatshark)

Warhammer 40K: Darktide might've needed another month of beta testing.

After a two week pre-order beta, Darktide is officially out today, Wednesday November 30—but it doesn't feel like a complete game just yet. The crafting system is incomplete, with "coming soon" text blocking off a couple menu entries. There's no way to play Darktide in a private match, though Fatshark says that's coming in December. And I can't remember the last time I played a PC game that gave my fps counter this much of a workout. It goes up, it goes down, and I don't know whether to blame my six-year-old CPU or the game itself.

But judging by the comments I'm seeing on Reddit and the Steam forums, even players with top-of-the-line hardware are struggling to run Darktide consistently at better than 60 fps.

Has performance gotten worse since the beta?

Frustrated players online are claiming that launch-day Darktide runs significantly worse than it did during the beta. Anecdotally, this rings true to me. During the beta I managed to mostly run Darktide at 60 fps and 1440p, with ray tracing set to "low" and DLSS enabled. That was on an RTX 3070 and an i7-7700K. Now ray tracing seems to regularly drag my frame rate down to 40 fps, with most other optional settings at low or medium. While the frame rate peaks as high as 70, it's too erratic to comfortably use.

PC Gamer editor Fraser Brown, who has a significantly more powerful rig than I do—an RTX 3080 Ti and a 10th gen Intel CPU—hasn't been able to play with ray tracing at all. 

"Ray tracing is still a horrible fps killer for me, can't even get 60 consistently on low," he wrote after testing the launch day build of Darktide. "But with it turned off performance is much better than it was during the beta." 

In its launch day patch notes, Fatshark included this entry under Known Issues: 

  • "Ray tracing optimization and performance. This is an area we continue to work on, and see issues with performance." 

I'm not sure if "see issues with performance" pertains specifically to ray tracing or to the game as a whole, but based on many players' reactions on day one, Darktide runs more poorly than expected.

A medicae servitor

(Image credit: Fatshark)

Sometimes that just means a game is more demanding than the average player's hardware, though, and Darktide is a very nice-looking videogame. The recommended settings suggest an RTX 3060, and judging by the graphics cards tracked by the Steam hardware survey, roughly 25% of PC gamers can meet that spec. Players jumping into Darktide right now likely skew towards higher-end rigs, but with its big environments and huge hordes of enemies, this is clearly a heavyweight game.

Yet Darktide's fluctuating frame rate makes it hard to pin down what settings to change—and anecdotal accounts of significantly worse performance post-beta raise the suspicion that Fatshark launched the game in rough shape.

General Darktide performance tips

 If you're struggling to run Darktide alongside everyone else, the quick and dirty advice isn't very exciting:  

  • Enable DLSS if you're on an Nvidia GPU
  • Disable ray tracing
  • Set the performance profile to low or medium

I've seen some people in the Steam forums claiming that editing Darktide's config file is the secret to fixing performance—specifically that a ray tracing setting can get "stuck" on in the file, even if you turn it off in-game. I've made multiple modifications to this file, going back and forth with the game, and don't believe it actually has any impact; I believe the "rt_light_quality" entry they're modifying only matters if you have ray tracing enabled. That said, if you're desperate it won't hurt to try. You can muck with the config file and even delete it, and Darktide will create a new one on next boot.

To figure out what settings to focus on, enable the Nvidia or AMD performance overlay for your graphics card and keep an eye on CPU Utilization and GPU utilization. Whichever is higher, try making some of the changes below.

Darktide settings for CPU limitations

According to Fatshark's overwhelmingly detailed performance guide, these are the best settings to lower if you're seeing very high CPU utilization.  

  • Max ragdolls
  • Scatter density
  • Lens flares - specifically the "all lights" option
  • Field of view

Darktide settings for GPU limitations

These are the settings I'd suggest setting to "low" or "off" first if you're seeing very high GPU utilization (I'm assuming you already have ray tracing turned off):  

  • Ambient occlusion quality (low)
  • Volumetric fog quality (low)
  • Skin sub-surface scattering (off)

If your framerate is generally good but specifically dips in hectic combat situations, lower these three settings, instead (or in addition):  

  • Max weapon impact decals
  • Max blood decals
  • Decal lifetime
Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).