It’s early days for Nvidia’s newly announced GeForce RTX 2080 Ti but on the Gamescom 2018 show floor, the first gameplay demonstrations are already taking place. One of these is for the upcoming Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the finale to the Tomb Raider origins trilogy.
Now, it’s painfully apparent that real-time ray tracing, or RTX, is one of the most demanding graphics options ever created. It’s been the goal of GPU manufacturers for years, offering up physics-based lighting systems that track the trajectory of each and every ray of light from the source to the destination, refracting and reflecting exactly as it should. It requires a tremendous amount of GPU horsepower, and it was certainly surprising that Nvidia had managed to get RTX-capable graphics cards to market so soon.
Hitting the market early with the technology may have come at a prohibitive cost though. Two separate accounts from the Gamescom 2018 show floor have indicated Shadow of the Tomb Raider is fluctuating between just 30 and 50 frames per second with a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. This frame rate is achieved while playing Tomb Raider at 1920 x 1080p screen resolution with ray tracing enabled, and the other graphics settings are undetermined but presumed to be Very High/Ultra.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Performance
Before we discuss this, the important thing to remember is that this is an early implementation of ray tracing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Eidos Montreal likely hasn’t had much time to optimise performance, while the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti isn’t even out for another month and there will be improvements delivered by Nvidia via driver updates.
Still, there’s no getting around the fact these are worrying metrics, and certainly a disappointment for Nvidia fans potentially splashing out $1199 for a top-end ray tracing capable GPU. We knew ray tracing was going to be demanding, but it could end up being the ultimate performance hit.
German gaming site PC Games Hardware were the first to report on playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider with ray tracing enabled. They confirmed that Shadow of the Tomb Raider will launch without raytracing features and these will be added through a patch after release. During their playthrough, the frame rate with ray tracing turned on was running at 30-50 frames per second.
There are reports of other members of press getting some hands-on with the 2080 Ti and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, confirming the FPS counter was sat between 33-48fps while running with raytracing on in game. The single light source in game was the sun, which was dynamically lighting (and shadowing) the entire level. The reports went on say that while it looked good, it was hard to clarify how the ray tracing was much better than the original lighting techniques used in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Certainly, of the RTX demo trailers we’ve seen so far, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the worst looking of the bunch.
If we were to compare the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti’s performance in Shadow of the Tomb Raider with the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti’s frames per second in 2016's Rise of the Tomb Raider, it doesn’t come out favourably at all. The two games, arguably, look similar visually. With ray tracing enabled we’re looking at an average FPS of 40fps with the RTX 2080 Ti, while the GTX 1080 Ti averages 185fps at 1080p/Ultra in Rise of the Tomb Raider. While it’s not the ideal like-for-like scenario, it’s the best we have. It’s equivalent to a 77% drop in performance for enabling raytracing.
Again, bearing in mind there’s still a long way to go between now and the arrival of ray tracing in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, here’s how the frame rates could stack up based on the current performance of the game.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider GeForce GTX 20 Series Performance
Graphics Card Ray Tracing Performance Average Frame Rate GeForce RTX 2080 Ti 10 Giga Rays/s 40fps GeForce RTX 2080 8 Giga Rays/s 32fps GeForce RTX 2070 6 Giga Rays/s 24fps
Nvidia has had to come up with a new metric to cover ray tracing performance. The previous-gen GPUs are basically insignificant in terms of their ability to render ray tracing, while the base level GeForce RTX 2070 is capable of 6 Giga Rays per second. This is 40% less than the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, allowing us to come up with a rough figure in terms of expected performance.
The prognosis is not looking great right now, but there is plenty to assuage our fears. Nvidia themselves have assured their customer base that ray tracing “just works”. It’s almost unthinkable they could do it with performance this crippled. There will be major changes between now and when the Shadow of the Tomb Raider ray tracing patch is on our hard drives, but we’re certainly itching to find out just how improved it is.
PC gamers will be surprised how well RTX runs - DICE Developer
Secondly, a DICE developer has dived into the discussion and reassured fans that the performance hit won’t be anywhere near as heavy once the GPUs are out and supported by up-to-date drivers.
“I think people will be surprised at how well this will run in their respective final releases,” said Elenarie, a DICE developer”.
Battlefield V is, by all accounts, a better showcase for the technology than Shadow of the Tomb Raider. DICE's multiplayer shooter looks considerably better with raytracing enabled. Again though, it struggles to hit 60fps at 1080p, although DICE has a way still to go until its game is released.
For now, the jury is very much out in terms of ray tracing performance. Nvideo CEO Jen-Sen Huang claimed during yesterday's showcase the RTX 2080 Ti is twice as powerful as the GTX 1080 Ti, although we still don't know by which metric he's referring to. It will undoubtedly be an improvement over the 1080 Ti, and likely a significant one, but there is the fear that real-time raytracing is a proof of concept rather than something actually ready for gamers to adopt en masse.
If you're planning to drop some serious cash on a GeForce RTX graphics card for the express purpose of experiencing raytracing, we'd definitely recommend waiting and checking out benchmarks once these cards in the wild. It's a tantalising taste of the future but it may pay to hold fire.
The GeForce RTX 20 Series GPUs launch worldwide on September 20th.