The Call of Duty series is trying to keep up with all the current trends, including the technological development of the gaming industry. Therefore, support for ray tracing appeared in the games of the series quite quickly — first in the Modern Warfare remake of 2019, then in Black Ops Cold War and in the battle royale of Call of Duty: Warzone. A feature of tracing in these games is its limited use to create realistic shading, without improving standard reflections. We decided to consider the features and nuances of such a tracing using Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War as an example. Let’s make a visual comparison and evaluate how graphics with tracing changes, test NVIDIA and AMD video cards in different modes.
The game is based on its own Treyarch Engine, which is an improved version of the Black Ops III engine with elements of IW Engine 8.0 (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019). Cold War pleases with a detailed picture with clear textures and good work with lighting. The game runs in DirectX 12, other APIs are not supported.
Ray tracing is used for more realistic shading. In the settings there are three settings for shadows with tracing — shadows from the sun, local shadows and background shading. Reflections are implemented without tracing using the traditional method of baking. Therefore, here the utility of tracing initially seems doubtful, because it is realistic reflections that most affect the visual impression. Suffice it to recall how Control was transformed with the inclusion of tracing (details in our review).
First, let’s make a visual comparison of several scenes. There are three quality levels available for each of the three items in Traced Shadow Settings — Low, Medium, and Ultra. We’ll see what the game looks like without tracing, with shadows based on medium quality tracing and in ultra mode.
Tracing immediately changes the shading pattern in the sunset scene. Dark areas appear on the road in the center of the frame, emphasizing the unevenness of the landscape. Under the helicopters, the shadows brighten a little, the grass in the near zone seems to be more illuminated. In general, the shadows look softer and more blurry, which is closer to reality with a low position of the star and a long shadow length. It is extremely difficult to distinguish the differences between the average and maximum trace levels.
For clarity, below is an animated comparison of the same fragment.
With tracing, the entire zone seems to brighten, then the gaps between objects are darker. And this adds a sense of space to the picture with RTX.
Let’s look at another scene.
There is directional lighting from the lamp in the scene, and with ray tracing, the shape of the shadows better emphasizes this directionality. At the same time, the difference between the average and maximum quality of RTX is again not visible.
Below is an animated comparison of a frame fragment. Pay attention to the shadows from the objects on the wall and additional shadows from the controls on the equipment.
Next, look at the dark scene in the bar.
The difference seems minimal, but with tracing, the floor is better lit and this gives a more pleasant perception of the scene.
And another scene with sunlight.
Immediately striking is the softer shading and strong blurring of the contours of distant shadows. But the shadow under the car and the shadows in the round holes in the panels on the ground are more intense.
Let’s finish by comparing the image in 2560×1440 resolution with the DLSS Quality 2560×1440 mode.
Comparison of enlarged fragments:
The picture not only does not lose in detail, with DLSS we see sharper edges of the grille, headphones and dangling wires. But there is a nuance here. By default, when tracing, the game uses the most aggressive anti-aliasing mode, which is a variation of TAA, which implies some reduction in clarity and slight blurring. DLSS adds sharpness to the picture, is compatible with RTX and improves performance.
Next, let’s talk about performance in different modes.
The full list of video cards is as follows:
Characteristics of the tested video cards
|Video adapter||GeForce RTX 3080||GeForce RTX 3070||GeForce RTX 2080 Ti FE||GeForce RTX 2070 Super||GeForce RTX 3060||Radeon RX 6800 XT||Radeon RX 6800||Radeon RX 6800|
|Core||GA102||GA104||TU102||TU104||GA106||Navi 21||Navi 21||Navi 22|
|Number of transistors, million pieces||28300||17400||18600||13600||13250||26800||26800||17200|
|Process technology, nm||8||8||12||12||8||7||7||7|
|Core area, sq. mm||627||392||754||545||276||520||520||335|
|Number of CUDA Stream Processors||8704||5888||4352||2560||3584||4608||3840||2560|
|Number of RT cores||68||46||68||40||28||72||60||40|
|Number of texture blocks||272||184||272||160||112||288||240||160|
|Number of render units||96||96||88||64||48||128||96||40|
|Base core frequency, MHz||1440||1500||1350||1605||1320||1825||1700||2321|
|Game Clock frequency, MHz||–||–||–||–||–||2065||1815||2424|
|Boost frequency, MHz||1785||1725||1635||1770||1777||2310||2105||2581|
|Memory bus, bit||320||256||352||256||192||256||256||192|
|Memory frequency, MHz||19000||14000||14000||14000||15000||16000||16000||16000|
|Memory size, GB||10||8||11||8||12||16||16||12|
|Supported version of DirectX||12 Ultimate (12_2)||12 Ultimate (12_2)||12 Ultimate (12_2)||12 (12_1)||12 Ultimate (12_2)||12 Ultimate (12_2)||12 Ultimate (12_2)||12 Ultimate (12_2)|
|Interface||PCI-E 4.0||PCI-E 4.0||PCI-E 3.0||PCI-E 3.0||PCI-E 4.0||PCI-E 4.0||PCI-E 4.0||PCI-E 4.0|
Further, the graphs show the full frequency range — from the base value to the peak Boost (above the declared Boost Clock).
The test bench configuration is as follows:
- Processor: Intel Core i9-9900K;
- cooling system: be quiet! Silent Loop 280mm;
- motherboard: ASUS ROG Maximus XI Formula;
- Memory: Kingston HyperX HX434C16FB3K2/32 (DDR4-3466@3600);
- system disk: Kingston SSDNow UV400 480GB;
- Optional Drive #1: Kingston A2000 NVMe PCIe 1000GB;
- Optional Drive #2: Kingston KC2000 NVMe PCIe 1000GB;
- case: Antec NX800;
- power supply: Antec HCG850 Gold;
- monitor: ASUS PB278Q (2560×1440, 27″);
- operating system: Windows 10 Pro x64;
- AMD Radeon Adrenalin Edition driver 21.3.2/21.3.1
- NVIDIA GeForce 466.11/461.72 driver.
Testing done with MSI Afterburner. The episode was replayed in the introduction to the third mission.
Consider the results at 2560×1440 resolution in different modes.
Without tracing, all video cards show excellent results. Ray tracing reduces GeForce performance by 50–60%, while Radeon has two or more times the loss. This is already leading to a serious bias in favor of NVIDIA solutions. With tracing, even the Radeon RX 6800 XT can’t deliver the comfortable frame rates that the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and more powerful models can. Notably, the game’s engine easily loads the entire amount of video memory and can use even 16 GB at 1440p, but this does not help Radeon much.
Next, we will discard the weakest models and look at the performance when tracing high and maximum quality.
The drop in performance is no longer so critical, but only the GeForce RTX 3080 retains comfortable performance in the heaviest mode.
NVIDIA video adapters have an important advantage in the form of NVIDIA DLSS technology. Below are the results of the cards at 2560×1440 with mid-level RTX tracing with DLSS in Quality mode.
NVIDIA accelerators increase fps by 20-25% compared to results without DLSS. And it helps to achieve 60 traced frames even on the GeForce RTX 2070 Super.
An addition to the graphs will be a video comparison of four older models at a resolution of 2560×1440:
Now let’s talk about the results in 4K (3840×2160) using the top models from our list of participants.
In normal mode without tracing, comfortable performance is provided by the GeForce RTX 3080 and Radeon RX 6800 XT.
Activating RTX shadows reduces GeForce RTX 3080 results by 45%, while Radeon RX 6800 XT performance drops by 50-80%.
Enabling DLSS makes a big difference. This can be seen from the results of three NVIDIA video adapters in three DLSS modes at 4K resolution.
The GeForce RTX 3080 hits 60 frames in DLSS quality mode. The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and GeForce RTX 3070 are approaching 60fps at their fastest DLSS mode. The low amount of memory clearly holds back the potential of the GeForce RTX 3070 in 4K, and only DLSS Performance allows the video adapter to open up and catch up with the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.
An addition to the charts will be a video comparison of the GeForce RTX 3080 and Radeon RX 6800 XT in 4K resolution:
The Call of Duty games only use ray tracing for realistic shading. This isn’t the best use of tracing, as authentic soft shadows don’t really change the overall experience of Black Ops Cold War and Call of Duty: Warzone. Such changes do not give any wow effect, although some scenes look a little nicer. Not a required addition to graphics settings, but if tracing is available with good performance, it can be used. The new AMD Radeons don’t pull out this mode at high resolutions, and the owners of these video cards are forced to limit themselves to Full HD resolution or forget about traced shadows. Top-end GeForce RTXs will provide good performance at 1440p, and in combination with DLSS, this is available to lower-end models. At the same time, DLSS in quality mode provides an excellent picture, which is even slightly better than with standard anti-aliasing. You can comfortably play in 4K on the top GeForce RTX of the new series with active DLSS. If we talk about the shadow settings with tracing, we can limit ourselves to the average level, since their further increase does not lead to a clear change in the picture.