The real-time ray tracing feature is finally here, and today we're examining how it looks and works in the first game to fully support it: Battlefield V. This article doesn't just cover the three GeForce RTX cards for the entire ray tracing method compared in-game presets, but we also have some great comparisons for you to show exactly the difference between RTX on and RTX off.
We've already mentioned Battlefield V's GPU performance and found that it works quite well in Ultra settings with a number of graphics cards. The new RTX cards from Nvidia are particularly suitable. Something like the RTX 2070 can be played with over 120 FPS at 1080p or well over 80 FPS at 1440p. Of course, the RTX 2080 Ti is a beast at both resolutions with frame rates above 140 FPS.
But we now have ray tracing in Battlefield V and since the launch of the RTX cards, the big question has been how the game would behave if this control effect were enabled. Nvidia has been careful not to display any official performance data for the effect that itself runs on its flagship RTX 2080 Ti. However, we've seen numerous reports from those who tried an early demo, suggesting that we're dealing with 1080p 60 FPS at best.
How does the final version stack? We'll come back to that shortly, I won't spoil the surprise for you yet …
For Battlefield V to support ray tracing, you must download the Windows Update of October 10, 2018, version 1809, which provides support for Microsoft's DirectX Ray Tracing Technology (DXR). This operating system update was delayed by a few weeks due to a malicious file deletion error, but Microsoft has now resumed the rollout. You will also need to upgrade Battlefield V to the latest version using an extensive 16GB patch and install the latest GeForce 416.94 drivers from Nvidia.
Then load the game, activate DirectX 12 and then DirectX Ray Tracing Reflections. From there you have access to four preset options for DXR: Ultra, High, Medium and Low. If you only use the presets instead of the user-defined settings, the DXR mode corresponding to your preset is selected.
Here you can also see that DICE does not use GameWorks to integrate ray tracing, but adheres to a basic cross-vendor DirectX ray tracing implementation. RTX, Nvidia's ray tracing technology platform, located below DXR, is the technology that essentially translates DirectX ray tracing requirements into things that the GPU can actually work with.
What does DXR look like in Battlefield V? Above you can find a direct comparison of the four presets. The first thing you should notice is that there is a big visual difference between Ultra and Low, but not that big a difference between Ultra and Medium. In fact, there is no difference between the settings for Ultra, High and Medium for DXR reflections, and not only in this scene. We tested several other sections of the game and couldn't find any difference between the three higher settings.
This leads me to conclude that there are only two DXR modes: Ultra, which uses the full range of ray tracing reflections in the game, and a reduced Low mode for better performance. Reflections are applied to surfaces such as water, puddles and shiny objects in both low and ultra modes. Only the Ultra mode applies these reflections to matt surfaces such as mud and your weapon.
In this scene, for example, you will find that Ultra Mode reflects the fiery vehicle wreck from the muddy surface in front as well as on the barrel of your weapon at some distance. If you switch to "Low", the reflections on your weapon and in the mud disappear and only leave reflections on the water surface.
As far as we know, this is the main difference between the two modes. The quality of the reflections in terms of resolution, accuracy and drawing distance remains unaffected. So you get the same experience looking at these shiny surfaces regardless of whether you are playing on Ultra or Low. The downshift only affects the amount of materials and surfaces to which RTX reflections are applied. In my opinion Ultra offers a much better and more realistic display and really shows the quality of the ray tracing function.
One of the main questions we've seen so far is how raytracing can be compared to the game's standard reflection mode, screen space reflections. DXR undoubtedly offers a more realistic representation with far greater reflection accuracy and resolution and of course the ability to reflect objects that are not necessarily in your field of vision.
Screen space reflections can only reflect objects on the screen, so things outside of the field of view are cut off unnaturally depending on the angle of reflection. You will find in the DXR-Off footage that anything that runs over the reflected area, such as falling leaf particles or other people, causes artifacts in the reflected area and looks pretty ugly. This was also the case in Battlefield 1. So it's not that DICE specifically downgraded reflections in BFV to improve them again with ray tracing. These problems don't occur with ray tracing, but you get beautiful, accurate reflections in real time.
But there are also some problems with DXR. In this large puddle scene, DXR appears to reflect Godray-type lighting effects that are not present in the non-reflective world. One of these effects is also cut off bizarrely. In the footage that shows reflections on the surface of your weapon, the reflection quality is quite poor, and even at 4K, the effect is almost video encoded. The resolution of water's reflection does not appear to be affected nearly as much by this low-resolution effect. I would even say that the quality of these reflections is very good.
It's also worth noting that raytrace reflections are the only raytrace effect in Battlefield V. Every other aspect of game play is traditional, so shadows and ambient occlusion are the standard effects of the game, for example. This means that DXR is basically of no use if you are not in an area with reflective surfaces.
Let's talk about performance. And here everything falls apart with ray tracing, because the performance is absolutely horrendous, even if you have a flagship RTX 2080 Ti. And just wait for me to show you the results of the RTX 2070, because it is … well, you will see it shortly.
For this test, we used all three Nvidia RTX cards running on a Core i7-8700K test bench, and we tested both 1080p and 1440p. For reasons that will become apparent quickly, we didn't bother testing at 4K. All other settings were set to Ultra and we only tested with the Ultra and Low DXR and DXR Off settings. There was no difference in performance between Ultra, High and Medium for DXR reflections.
Our test run took place during an intensive part of the single player campaign with many reflective areas. We also did some random sampling in multiplayer, but it is difficult to get consistent, accurate results that are only tested in the multiplayer part of the game. In similar environments, we found no significant differences in performance between single-player and multiplayer.
These first results were achieved with the fastest gaming GPU you can buy today, the RTX 2080 Ti, and boy, doesn't it look pretty? At 1080p, the game runs comfortably at 150 FPS with the DXR disabled, but once you crank it up on ultra power tanks and drop below 50 FPS. In other words, performance is reduced to a third. Switching down to low mode improves the situation somewhat, although we're still facing half of the frame rate we once had. And even with an RTX 2080 Ti, we only see average frame rates above 60 FPS at low DXR settings at 1080p.
Around 1440p it is a nightmare area. In Ultra DXR mode, the performance is approximately a quarter of the performance when the DXR is switched off, while the frame rate in Low mode has been more than halved. Neither setting can deliver with an RTX 2080 Ti 60 FPS. The game is smooth and very entertaining when DXR is off with this flagship GPU at 1440p, but when DXR is on, it's not a walk in the parking situation.
Let's switch to the RTX 2080.
With the low DXR mode, we only crawl over 60 FPS at 1080p on average. The pattern is the same, reducing performance to a third of the power in ultra mode, which in this case delivers about 40 FPS, an unacceptable mark for a first person shooter like this, even in single player mode. At 1440p, the RTX 2080 delivers an average of 47 FPS in low DXR mode compared to over 100 FPS with DXR disabled.
What we were most afraid of is the ray tracing performance with the RTX 2070 is ridiculous. Ultra mode delivers 30 FPS at 1080p, compared to 110 FPS with DXR disabled. And with the low mode, we can't get an average of 60 FPS. The game is completely unplayable at 1440p with DXR on an RTX 2070 in our opinion.
It is interesting to note that we are limited to RT Core in these tests. The higher the resolution, the higher the performance in Ultra DXR mode, to the point where 4K gaming is more than four times faster with DXR turned off. This also happens when we recognize the verified power consumption: The cards ran with a constantly lower power when the DXR was switched on, since the regular CUDA cores are not used at such a low frame rate.
Real-time ray tracing is a significant graphical achievement. It has so far been impossible to produce it with a single GPU, and it will likely be the future of the graphics industry. But right now …
However, the extent to which performance is reduced depends on how many reflective surfaces are in the environment. Wet, muddy areas are hardest hit. Playing in the urban area of Rotterdam in multiplayer mostly had glossy reflective surfaces, so the drop in performance wasn't as bad as in our benchmark runs, but we still have less than half the frame rate with Ultra mode. And then snow-covered areas with a relatively good performance seem to be the least affected, namely over 80 FPS at 1080p with the DXR turned on and a 2080 Ti if you can see that as good.
DirectX Ray Tracing and this first generation of RTX GPUs played exactly as expected. It looked like performance was terrible and it is terrible. Judging only from the demo material compared to the performance you can achieve today, and it doesn't look like there have been many important steps to get ray tracing going at higher frame rates.
Real-time ray tracing is a significant graphical achievement. It has so far been impossible to produce it with a single GPU, and it will likely be the future of the graphics industry. At the moment, however, there is basically no reason to activate ray tracing in Battlefield V, since the drop in performance is so severe that it massively affects the experience.
We are in a situation where the RTX 2080 Ti with activated DXR is not playable at 1080p, while 1440p is borderline and 4K is out of the question. Then you may be able to get past the RTX 2080 with the low mode at 1080p, and in our opinion the RTX 2070 is not suitable for ray tracing at all. And that's just DXR performance in itself.
With the DXR disabled, the game looks great and runs on RTX cards with excellent frame rates. We speak well over 100 FPS on all three cards with 1080p. 1440p is very playable even at high frame rates on the RTX 2070, and you can even enjoy 4K gameplay, especially on the 2080 Ti.
Beyond raw performance and comparison in Battlefield V, real-time ray tracing should be the primary selling point for GeForce RTX cards.
In practice, I don't see any players switching from 130 FPS with the still visually stunning ultra graphics to 40 FPS with better reflections. The quality improvement from DXR reflections is good, but it is difficult for you to tell the difference in the fast movement. Reflections on the screen aren't perfect if you stare at a puddle for hours, but they do a good job of approximating reflections at respectable performance costs. And if you focus more on running around and shooting enemies, it's almost impossible to tell the difference between SSR and DXR reflections.
Beyond the raw performance and comparisons in Battlefield V, real-time ray tracing should be the primary selling point for GeForce RTX cards. Nvidia used this technology to justify the higher price of these cards compared to their GTX predecessors. It should be a breakthrough feature that would revolutionize your gaming experience with crazy visual quality levels.
With Battlefield V, at least, the quality improvement can't even justify the insane drop in performance you'll experience with DXR enabled. RTX in this game is simply no reason to buy the RTX cards. If you're spending a lot of money on an RTX 2080 Ti ($ 1,200), you'll want to play this or another game with more than 100 FPS at 1440p with all the feasts for the eyes enabled. You don't want to reduce this to below 60 FPS, and you should get well over 60 FPS at 4K, let alone 1080p.
For real-time ray tracing to become the future of graphics technology, we need more computing power. In particular, we need more RT cores in Nvidia's GPU architecture because the 68 cores that come with the RTX 2080 Ti and allow 10 gigarays per second are not enough. This may be a stepping stone to support ray tracing in games and showcasing technology to the world, but consumers shouldn't be paying a premium right now to run a tech demo on their PCs.
And frankly, Nvidia should have been much clearer about what to expect from ray tracing when they announced their new GPUs. It is all well and good to announce real-time ray tracing as an important new feature, but shoppers will be disappointed if they buy a $ 1,200 product, only to find out that using this feature results in terrible performance. If raytracing had been presented as a look into the future rather than a prime time feature in today's games, it would be much easier to swallow what comes out in this first version.
The RTX 2070 deserves a special mention because this card can hardly be classified as ray tracing compatible. With a performance of just over 30 FPS at 1080p and low DXR reflections, it is clear that 36 RT cores and 6 gigarays per second of ray tracing performance do not affect actual real-time ray tracing performance. We would be bitterly disappointed if we bought an RTX 2070 for ray tracing to get this performance.
We expect a similar story with other games that will use ray tracing in the future, such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Metro Exodus. Everything we've seen in DXR demos suggests we're experiencing a similar performance hit as Battlefield V to slightly improve quality. We'll test these games with ray tracing as soon as possible, but we wouldn't do anything better in future titles.