One of the best things about gaming on a PC over gaming on a console is the customisation available to you. While a PlayStation or Xbox needs to be able to play everything from FIFA to Grand Theft Auto, a gaming PC can stack the deck – sometimes even in favour of a single title! After all, if you know you’ll be spending most of your time playing a specific game or category, then why not optimise your PC by game?
Skip to your favourite game
GPU versus CPU
In general, most new-builds are built around a balancing act between the GPU and the CPU.
If you’re only going to be playing Twitch-based FPS games where the environments are simple and every frame counts, it might make sense to allocate more of your budget towards the GPU. On the other hand, if you’re playing a game with lots of simulated characters and projectile physics calculations, like a real-time strategy game, then your CPU will have a bigger say on your performance – Intel’s 12th Gen chips start to look tantalising.
Let’s work out how to choose your PC by game. If your favourite title isn’t listed, don’t worry – many of the principles we discuss can be applied more broadly.
Fortnite, like many mainstream games, can be run on just about every machine available, but that doesn’t mean that the experience won’t change if you invest in the right horsepower.
It might be that you’d like to crank the settings up to ‘Epic’, and thereby bump up the shadow maps, post-processing effects and textures. You might also decide to crank up the resolution from 1080p to 1440p or even 2160p. Quadruple the number of pixels rendered, and even butter-smooth 1080p gameplay may start to look slightly choppy.
This is a GPU-bound title. Since the game was first launched, there have been marked improvements in multithreaded performance, which means that even a modest multicore CPU can deal with whatever is thrown at it. If you’re buying a current chip, you can easily shop at the very bottom of the range without worrying about the frame rate dropping below 100.
Call of Duty: WarZone
For the best part of two decades, the Call of Duty titles have been providing gamers with a slice of fast-paced, gritty FPS action. One welcome inclusion here is the profound and well-presented customisation options. If you’ve forgotten exactly what the screen-space ambient occlusion does, you’ll get a helpful reminder, along with slider-based controls that let you see just how much further you can take things.
On PC, WarZone is DX12-only. As such, it’s built from the ground up to improve multithreaded performance, and to allow for sophisticated features like raytracing. With its smaller environments, ultra-high polygon assets, and emphasis on high frame rates, this is another game that places a burden firmly on the GPU.
A mid-range CPU, like the Core i5 10400, will be more than sufficient to help you deal with bottlenecks. That allows you to allocate more funds toward a high-end graphics card, which will unlock all of the eye candy that the PC version of this game offers, without compromising on frame rate.
League of Legends
This classic free-to-play arena fighter celebrated its 10th birthday last year, and its popularity is showing no signs of ailing. More than 100 million people play the game, and competitive finals are watched by millions more.
Given that this is an old game, you’ll assume it will play smoothly on a very old computer. And you’d be right – sort of. The game has received a succession of graphical improvements over the years, but it’s built to be playable even on weaker machines. If you invest in the best available modern hardware, you might find that you can push this game well beyond the frame rates at which an advanced display can put pixels on the screen. So, don’t forget to invest in a monitor with an accordingly high refresh rate.
Of course, there are certain upgrades which, while not directly affecting frame times or frame rates, will change the gameplay experience. For example, a modern NVMe hard drive, which attaches directly to the PCI bus, will help the game load quickly. It’s among the more noticeable upgrades you can make to a machine – and it’ll improve the way you use your PC in general.
World of Warcraft is a game that’s been enthralling millions for more than 15 years. During that time, there has been all manner of new stories and modes of gameplay thrown in, as well as graphical updates.
The upcoming Shadowlands expansion is going to be a big one, with high-level players’ squished’ down to level 50, and a range of graphical options thrown in. Blizzard recommends a GTX 1080 or Radeon RX Vega 64, which suggests that 8GB of video ram will be required to handle the monstrous textures that will be flung your way.
When it comes to the specifics, Blizzard is keeping its cards close to its chest – although options for ray-traced shadows found their way into the alpha build recently, which suggests there will be advantages for those who invest in a decent card.
While we can’t know exactly what’s in store in an unreleased game, we can look at how World of Warcraft runs today. To cut a long story short, the game depends heavily on the CPU, especially in large environments with many players casting spells at the same time.
Of course, even the most sophisticated machine isn’t going to protect players against a sufficiently large crowd on launch day. Fortunately, Blizzard has had a great deal of practice at getting this sort of thing right, and it’s reasonable to expect smooth sailing from the word go.
What’s the Best Machine Overall?
We all have our personal preferences when it comes to gaming, and some titles might consume most of our leisure time. But the truth is that life would get stale without a bit of variety. Most of us will want to build a machine that’s flexible enough to cater to a range of challenges and will stand up to future titles, too. While many of the machines we construct are specialised to cater to a given game, we’re careful to keep things balanced enough to stand up to just about every game you might decide to buy.
You’ll still need to think about the amount of money you’re spending – so be sure to check out our guide to building the best possible PC with your budget!