Nvidia's Turing architecture promised to bring the holy grail of real-time ray tracing to desktop graphics hardware by blending the best of rasterization and ray tracing into a new form of hybrid rendering platform, but that revolution took longer to arrive than the company probably hoped for. Although GeForce RTX cards have been available to gamers for a couple of months, Microsoft only just finished exorcising a troublesome file-deletion bug that inadvertently delayed the release of the essential-for-RTX Windows 10 October 2018 Update. On top of that, developer DICE and publisher EA pushed back the release of the headlining RTX title, Battlefield V, from October 19 to November 20. Gamers who sprung for Nvidia RTX-ready hardware have understandably been getting antsy for the day when they could finally fire up their cards' RT cores and trace some rays for realistic takes on effects like reflections, ambient occlusion, global illumination, and more.
Last week, the support structure that the RTX hardware-and-software stack needed to work finally began to fall into place. As we noted above, Microsoft made the Windows 10 October 2018 update available again after a long period of review and retesting, and DICE began opening up early access to Battlefield V for those who had paid for the privilege. Nvidia also released a corresponding driver to get Turing cards' ray-tracing hardware up and running in that game. We ponied up for the Deluxe Edition of Battlefield V to get into the game early, and we've been working hard over the weekend to see just how RTX effects look—and perform—ahead of that game's release to a wider audience tomorrow.
As we hinted at above, titles that incorporate RTX effects can use Turing cards' ray-tracing hardware in a variety of ways. In the case of Battlefield V, DICE has opted to use the technology to improve the quality of certain reflections on cars, glass, small puddles of water, stone flooring, and more. The best way to appreciate these reflections is in motion, so I've created two 4K gameplay videos to try and show the differences.
To test the performance and appearance of RTX effects, we walked through a portion of the game's "Tirailleur" single-player mission with an abundance of standing water for light and objects to reflect from. To establish a baseline for what to look for in our RTX-enabled walk through the woods, I traveled through the scene with RTX off and Battlefield V's settings otherwise left on the ultra preset.
I've stopped in a few places in the video above to show some of the ways that the game's default reflections fall short of realism. You'll especially want to note how leaves passing over puddles create distracting flickering between dark and light tones in the water, as well as comet-trail-like artifacts in some cases. To my eye, there's a lot happening in these reflections, but they often fall short of realism in ways that break the sense of immersion to the watchful eye.
With RTX on at the game's low preset, the appearance of reflections in these puddles becomes more subtle, and to my eye, more convincing. Part of that may be because the RTX reflection algorithm doesn't seem to try to account for the leaves blowing across the puddles of water in the scene, as the default reflections do, simply because casting that many rays on fast-moving objects may be too much to ask at the moment. Still, the fainter images of trees, structures, and such that do get reflected seem more true to life, in my estimation, and there's much less of the jarring alternation between quite light and quite dark values of tone that we can sometimes see in Battlefield V's default reflection rendering.
Despite the photorealism promised by ray tracing, RTX reflections aren't free of artifacts of their own. As we approach and move up the hill past the guard shack in this video, you might see some of the puddles exhibit what appears to be noise. These artifacts appear as "sparkles" or cross-shaped areas of bright pixels whose source isn't immediately evident. I didn't see this kind of noise too often while putting my nose in this section of the game, but it was evident enough when it did appear that I was reminded of the fact that I was looking at a screen. Whether this noise is something that can be worked out with future software updates and improved use of RTX resources will remain to be seen, but at the moment, it is a reminder that we haven't quite grasped the holy grail of computer graphics even in the limited context of hybrid rendering.
Now that we have a basic idea of how RTX effects look in practice in Battlefield V, let's see what those improved reflections ask of the hardware used to generate them.