Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition: The First True Triple-A Ray Tracing Game - Article

Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition: The First True Triple-A Ray Tracing Game - Article

Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition

Here we are finally. The first release has arrived that runs exclusively on graphics cards that support ray tracing. Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition takes the RT global illumination originally implemented in the PC version, improves it, and takes it virtually to a new generational level, running even faster than the original title. Today we are only looking at the PC version, but we expect the work done for this platform to be leveraged for the Xbox Series and PS5 versions coming later in the year. This is a very interesting release because it takes an already excellent game to an even higher level, and could be said to represent the first look at a cross-platform engine of the near future built on the foundations of ray tracing rendering.

By base, the Enhanced Edition takes the original 2019 version of Metro Exodus and renews the engine to support global illumination and a host of additional RT-based features. There are also further upgrades such as the addition of VRS (variable rate shading), Nvidia's DLSS 2.1 AI upscaling, and a temporal anti-aliasing option for AMD graphics cards. We can expect these to be the scaling techniques we will see implemented in the console versions as well (both PS5 and Series X aim for 60fps).

So, how has the RT improved? The original release of Metro Exodus had a single global illumination of sunlight bouncing off surfaces, combined with a ray traced ambient occlusion for all interior areas. It looked fantastic compared to the default real-time global lighting technique turned on for rasterization rendering. The RT system was added in the course of development, so 4A Games essentially had to develop the game with two lighting schemes in mind. In the new Metro, the standard rasterized versions of each map, including all individual art lights, are removed. All the scenic tricks, faux light sources and other legacy elements are replaced by full blown RT lighting that cuts a great figure.

Our extensive 40 minute analysis of the new Metro Exodus, with its RT features, upgrades and performance.

Watch on YouTube. Ray traced features are also improved in overall quality and functionality. Any light that casts shadow now, and contributes to global illumination. So all the torches, street lights and the rest now diffuse the light that bounces off the surfaces into the surrounding environment, greatly increasing the realism of the lighting. Metro Exodus 2019's GI RT system saw light bounce at most once (and it was already stunning), while here the bounces of the rays are theoretically infinite. As you will see in the attached video, the effect completely transforms the scene, making the game make a generational leap in terms of fidelity and realism. If you want to make a comparison, it's like comparing the graphics in real time with the pre-rendered and photorealistic ones.

Realistically bouncing lights, however, often generate more washed out scenes, so we were curious to see if Metro Exodus with these changes had lost its luster in its typical grim and scary scenarios. The reality is that the atmosphere is kept intact, it's just that the individual lights in the scenes color the surrounding elements more realistically, so the shadows have color gradients instead of being dark black near those light sources. Handling a flashlight and lighting the environment in such a realistic way is a show, but watch the video to realize how pronounced this effect is.

Another welcome addition to the ray traced feature set is the surfaces emissive: surfaces such as flames or lights of various shapes and volumes emanate glows from their entire surface area, creating soft and diffused shadows in the environment. In the video, we have a scene editor showing how this aspect works, simply by moving a solid block of light around the enclosed space, the correct propagation of light is brought out, and all with no or minimal artifacts.

Ray traced light bouncing indoors plays a big role in the realism of the lighting. The ray traced light bouncing around in the interior plays a big role in the realism of the lighting. Ray traced emissive light helps with shadow-generating objects and ground lights, such as candles in this scene. The infinite bounces for RT global illumination visually transform the quality of the game. The infinite bounces for RT global illumination visually transform the quality of the game. Ray traced reflections can help clean some highly reflective surfaces such as water. The new ray traced lighting also affects transparent surfaces and volumetric fog. Particles are also correctly hit by ray traced emissive light, while materials such as hair and eyes correctly receive reflected light rather than using some approximation that could cause glow artifacts in the hair in the original release. Finally, the RTGI infinite bounce effect produces ultra-realistic lighting conditions that almost look like an offline rendering. Many games have statically generated offline light maps where everything is stationary, but in this game everything is in real time, and the dynamic global lighting integrates seamlessly with the day-night alternation system. We can say without a doubt that Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition offers the best global lighting system ever seen in a video game.

And just when you think the upgrade list is over, 4A Games surprises you, having ray traced reflections are also included. They apply in any scenario but are especially noticeable on water, and help clean up some areas in a way that classic screen-space reflections can't. These RT reflexes are similar to what you may have seen in other games, but they differ in some respects. To name one, they combine with screen-space information to increase detail and to manage elements such as particles and volumetric fog (elements that are difficult to integrate with RT). At the same time, these reflections use the same worst quality materials as RT global illumination, so look at a reflection out of sight and you will find that the materials are simplified. Likewise, reflections do not include alpha-masked geometry (tree leaves are an example). This implies that if you move the camera into an area dense with leaves, these leaves will be deprived of reflections when they are out of sight. Finally, RT reflections do not seem to apply to transparent surfaces other than bodies of water, so there are limitations.

With all of these upgrades, there are inevitably some trade-offs. While phenomenal, the Enhanced Edition has gone downhill in some respects. In the global lighting system, only the first bounced light is calculated in real time, while all the others are the result of a temporal accumulation, with the result that you may notice some lag in the reconstruction of the light of some scenes. Setting up the system with the 'game' item in order to amplify this affection, it took 20 frames to render all the bounces and bring the game back to 60fps. We have rarely encountered glow effects on surfaces, while RT effects run at a relatively low sampling rate, so you may notice 'noise' in some scenes.

Despite the amount of improvements, Metro Enhanced Edition runs at the same speed , or even faster, than the 2019 release. On the other hand, there are more user-editable ray tracing options. The main ones dictate the internal resolution of the global illumination as in the 2019 version, but there is a new 'normal' setting that renders the GI at a quarter of the internal resolution of the high value, while the ultra one does it at native resolution. As in the original game, high looks a lot like ultra, it just adds some noise to the scenes. Noise which, however, increases considerably with the normal value. This value seems to be tuned for GPUs with lesser T computational capacity, and we wouldn't be surprised if it was adopted for the console versions. But even with all the improvements to the RT, we noticed that the RTX 2060 runs the game just as well as the 2019 version, in fact it's usually a bit faster, up to a maximum of + 16% fps. But running tests with the Ryzen 5 3600 we noticed that the new game requires more CPU cycles, with a loss of performance of 13%. But that's something you don't notice because in most cases it will be the GPU that will limit the fluidity.

Variable rate shading (VRS) is also added to the release, but this is more of a Tier 1 implementation that mainly handles transparencies. 2x and 4x modes are available, which degrade the transparency quality. We recommend limiting yourself to 2x if you enable DLSS. If VRS has limited utility, DLSS is amazing as usual. Metro Exodus in 2019 supported version 1.0 of Nvidia's technique and the 2.1 implemented here shows us how much improved and effective it is. Its performance mode also offers higher quality and looks good compared to native 4K rendering.

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For those without an RTX GPU, the game is also equipped with a TAA upsampler which uses technology similar to that of Unreal Engine 4 and Insomniac games. It is accessed by lowering the shading slider. In a face-to-face comparison we can say that the result is remarkable, especially with values ​​of 0.7 or higher, so we recommend using it without hesitation on AMD cards. In comparison to DLSS 2.1 we note how important the self-learning component is, since even the performance mode of the AI ​​upscaling Nvidia provides more details than the TAA alternative.

In conclusion, Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition is a new outstanding release. This game runs better than the original on the same GPU but looks noticeably better due to new image quality options such as temporal anti-aliasing and DLSS 2.1. With the new RT features, then, the game becomes really fantastic, so much so that some scenes with RT lighting seem truly photorealistic. 4A Games in this case has been widely promoted, proving to be ambitious to the point of producing the first AAA game to require hardware compatible with ray tracing on PC. So, if the 2019 release was a preview of the future, the Enhanced Edition is itself the future, and it's brilliant. The update is released on May 6th and is free for all owners of the game. We can also expect the new edition on consoles later in the year, and we will not fail to cover it as soon as it becomes available.

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