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Metro Exodus Makes Much Stronger Case for Nvidia RTX Ray Tracing, DLSS

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Metro Exodus drops on Friday, and early previews of the game have begun to appear on various websites. This is an important launch for Nvidia and its RTX GPU family. Metro Exodus is the second title to support Nvidia’s RTX technology and the first game to launch with support for both DLSS and ray tracing.

This article will focus on the technical aspects of Metro Exodus rather than the question of how good the game is. The reports on Nvidia’s RTX ray tracing (Microsoft’s more generic term for this capability is DXR) are best summarized by Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech, who writes:

[H]oly cow, is Metro Exodus built to stun with ray tracing enabled… I have uttered “wow” about the graphics more times in this game than I have in reviewing anything else in a while. Metro Exodus spends its entire ray tracing budget on lighting effects, as opposed to the reflection effects seen in Battlefield V, and the result is a far more realistic and balanced lighting model, especially when the game’s day/night cycle cranks into effect. Walking into dimly lit buildings, whose light comes as much from interior lanterns as it does a sun (or moon) across the entire sky results in an appreciably three-dimensional light model with attractive, deep blacks that don’t demand an immediate cranking of your monitor’s brightness level.

This is echoed by the other (pre)views we read from Tom’s Hardware, TechPowerUp, and PCGamesN. Even better, the performance hit for enabling RTX has been significantly lowered. PCGamesN benchmarked the game in their own custom tests (the current, baked-in benchmark doesn’t support DLSS, so most sites that wanted to test it ran their own custom tests). First, here’s a look at 1440p results with just RTX enabled (hit PCGamesN for a full discussion of results):

RTX-Performance-Exodus

Graph by PCGamesN

The best thing about this graph is the size of the decline between enabling and disabling ray tracing. The 2080 Ti takes a 23 percent performance hit from enabling RTX, while the 2080 drops 24 percent and the RTX 2060 drops 30 percent. All of these are a significant improvement over BFV, where enabling ray tracing could whack performance by 40 percent, even after launch patches to improve the feature.

Metro: Exodus

Image by Ars Technica, which calls this a prime example of RTX / DXR.

Most of the benchmark results have focused on High ray tracing rather than the more intensive ‘Ultra’ setting that’s apparently mostly reserved for the RTX 2080 Ti. Enabling RTX and DLSS simultaneously is also an excellent way to recover lost frame rates. DLSS reduces the workload on the GPU by rendering the scene at a lower resolution before using AI to create higher-resolution output. Opinions on the efficacy of the current DLSS implementation vary somewhat between sites — nobody calls it bad, but there are varying opinions on the degree to which it’s good. Ars is a larger fan, while THG would still use the feature, but hopes that the softness of it can be improved with further model training. (DLSS tends to create some blur.)

Gamers should be aware that DLSS also doesn’t work the same way for every card. It works at 4K (with ray tracing enabled or disabled) on the RTX 2080 Ti, 2080, and 2070SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce.

At 1440p, it can only be used with ray tracing enabled on an RTX 2060, 2070, 2080, or 2080 Ti. It can be used at this resolution with ray tracing disabled on an RTX 2060 and RTX 2070.

At 1080p, DLSS can be used with ray tracing enabled on an RTX 2060 and RTX 2070. It can be used at this resolution with ray tracing disabled on an RTX 2060. Finally, DLSS will also engage at 1280×720 with the RTX 2060. All of this information is from THG, so check their review for more details.

The Launch We’ve Been Waiting For

Metro Exodus is just one game. The economics of buying into Turing probably haven’t changed for anyone unless you’re a really big fan of eastern European shooters.

But as far as a technical launch event for Nvidia’s RTX implementation of Microsoft’s DXR ray-tracing standard? This is the kind of game we’ve been waiting for. The performance hit from the feature has been reduced. The overall visual impact of the feature is amazing; everyone raves about how good ray tracing looks in Exodus.

We still need to see more games shipping with RTX and DLSS support. The degree to which any feature is worth paying for is proportional to the amount of support available in-market. But if more games can implement DLSS and RTX following the Metro Exodus model, where the performance hit is significantly smaller and the level of visual improvement objectively higher, the chances of the feature being more widely adopted in the long term will improve. One game launch doesn’t change the trajectory of an entire feature or capability, but it does at least illustrate that these new visual improvements can be integrated without the same enormous performance penalties we saw under BFV.

Obviously there are a great many complexities that go into the timing of any GPU launch and it can be difficult to align partner demos and project reveals with what software developers are working on and ready to show. If Metro Exodus had been ready to debut alongside Turing (or vice-versa), I think it genuinely would’ve changed the conversation around these cards, at least a little. Regardless, the trick for Nvidia will be in helping its partners deliver more wins like these.

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