Microsoft’s DirectStorage tech arrives on PC with perplexing, encouraging results

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We’ve been waiting for Microsoft’s DirectStorage—the backbone of the Xbox Series X’s ultra-fast storage technology—to come to Windows for years now. After being released to developers last spring, it’s finally here, sinking its deep optimized-storage hooks into Square Enix’s Forspoken, which released this week to middling reviews…and no review copies for PC reviewers. Ominous. So is the lightning-fast load-free future of PC gaming finally here?

Definitely maybe? Forspoken indeed sports some damned impressive loading times, but it’s unclear how much of a difference DirectStorage itself makes in this game if you already have a fast NVMe SSD.

First, the good news. As spotted by Neowin, several users report achieving blisteringly fast load times on the PC. (Since PC review copies weren’t provided, user reports are key in these early days.) Twitter user BlooHook loaded all of Forspoken’s benchmark scenes in under two seconds, as measured by the game. Impressive!

#FORSPOKEN with @DirectX12 #DirectStorage SSD load speeds are incredible. Here, I am loaded in-engine and quit to the title screen. Then load back into the game.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

— 🅳🅸🆉🆉🅸🅴🅴🕶️👌🏾 (@JJDizz1L) January 24, 2023

JJDizz1L—who follows me on Twitter, hey JJDizz1L!—posted a similarly impressive video, showing Forspoken launching virtually instantaneously when he selected “Continue” after quitting the game. “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it,” he says, and he’s right. It’s cool!

But there are questions about whether those are the result of DirectStorage, or if Forspoken simply has ultra-fast loading times to begin with. On the r/hardware subreddit, user skipan noticed that the game only loads instantly when you’re continuing from the most recent save. “It seems they are ‘cheating’ by preloading the most recent save file in the start screen,” skipan said. “I get instant load on the most recent one and a loading screen on older ones. Thats actually useful for the player experience but for benchmarking you should load an older save.”

Skipan helpfully uploaded the following YouTube video showing the difference in load times after saving at the exact same spot twice, seen below:

As far as BlooHook’s two-second load times go, our own Adam Patrick Murray was playing around with the Forspoken benchmark last night and reports he saw similar results on a system with a fast NVMe drive—but he’s running Windows 10. Microsoft says DirectStorage will run on both Windows 10 and 11, with ostensible optimizations in the newer OS, but Square Enix says Forspoken’s DirectStorage support only applies to Windows 11.

Finally, we have one reviewer report, and it paints a less rosy picture. Wccftech benchmarked Forspoken’s loading times on an advanced gaming rig (Intel Core i7-12700KF, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, GeForce RTX 4090, WD Black SN850 NVMe SSD) and encountered good, but not stellar results. Several scenes loaded in under two seconds, but the longest took 7.5 and 9.5 seconds.

“The average load time (not provided by the benchmark, so we calculated it manually) is 4.30 seconds, which is not what we hoped from DirectStorage compared to the one-second loads available on PS5,” the site reports.

Square Enix’s Sunil Godhania took to the Steam forums yesterday to say that “By running a NVMe SSD drive, loading time may finish within 1~2 seconds. With SATA SSD it may take about 10 seconds,” though he did note that the “loading time may vary depending on other hardware configurations and the storage devices in use.”

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WD Black SN850X

So what’s really going on here? Is DirectStorage supercharging NVMe load times on Windows 10 and 11 alike despite Square Enix’s claim of Windows 11 exclusivity? Is the game just so well-optimized that it loads lightning-quick on Windows 10 even without official DirectStorage support? How much do your PC’s specs matter? That Wccftech rig certainly is ferocious.

We’ll need to investigate deeper and see DirectStorage implemented in more games to know for sure, especially as other PC users report that the game is a bit of a technical mess. (There’s a Forspoken demo available if you want to try it yourself.) A couple things seem clear, however. First, Forspoken has damned impressive load times no matter what, especially when resuming from your last save, and we want to see more of that regardless of the cause. And second, no matter what’s going on with DirectStorage here, PC gamers definitely want to be gaming on an NVMe SSD rather than a SATA drive these days if at all possible. Our roundup of the best SSDs can help you pick a gem.