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Far Cry 6 Proves Consoles Aren't Powerful Enough for Ray Tracing

Far Cry 6 screenshot
(Image credit: Ubi)

WCCFTech recently interviewed the lead programmer for Far Cry 6, discussing some of the graphical upgrades we'll see when the game launches on October 7. More importantly, it seems the next generation consoles won't be getting all the enhancements, specifically the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X won't get ray tracing effects—or FidelityFX Super Resolution and CAS. There are good reasons to limit the consoles, but what it all boils down to is that the consoles simply aren't as powerful as PCs with the best graphics cards, and the visual improvements offered by ray tracing in particular aren't worth the loss in performance. Shocking, right?

It has now been over three years since Nvidia attempted to usher in the era of real-time ray tracing for games with its RTX 20-series Turing GPUs. There have been some good examples of how ray tracing can improve the look and feel of games, the best being Control, Cyberpunk 2077, and Minecraft—and Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition probably warrants inclusion in the list as well now. 

All those games make use of multiple ray tracing effects for reflections, shadows, lighting, and more. I've also been impressed with the visuals in the upcoming Bright Memory Infinity, which will also use multiple RT effects. But for each of those games that makes better use of RT, there are multiple games with RT effects that make me wonder why the developers even bothered.

Let's just be blunt. The ray traced shadows in Call of Duty, Dirt 5, Godfall, Resident Evil Village, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and World of Warcraft feel like a waste of effort. It's not that they're bad, but they're just not enough of an improvement over good shadow mapping—and they still cause a 15–30% loss in performance, depending on the game and hardware you're running on. 

The global illumination used in the original Metro Exodus also only mattered in select scenes, and RT reflections that are only visible on a few surfaces also don't make a huge difference in how a game looks and feels (Battlefield V, Doom Eternal, MechWarrior 5 Mercenaries, Watch Dogs Legion, and Wolfenstein Youngblood). Again, it's not that ray tracing is bad… it's just not good enough that it's really necessary in most games.

Of course, I'd say the same for the ultra presets that are in a lot of games as well. It's often a placebo setting, providing negligible improvements over the high preset for a 10–20% loss in performance. PC gaming enthusiasts have become conditioned to think that if we're not running with every setting cranked up to the maximum, at more than 144 fps, we're missing out. Console gamers manage to survive with 30–60 fps gameplay and predefined settings, and they're happy. But that's a separate topic.

Eschewing ray tracing on console versions of Far Cry 6 is a telling stance for Ubisoft to take. Forget all that nonsense about RT on consoles because the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X simply aren't fast enough to do RT justice, which we've known for about a year now, ever since the RX 6000 series launched. Add a few minor ray tracing effects and you can get okay performance on the RX 6000 GPUs and the latest consoles, but those minor ray tracing effects are just that: minor. 

So far, every RT-enabled game promoted by AMD has been in that same category, which makes sense as even the fastest of the consoles — the 12 TFLOPS Xbox Series X with 52 CUs and 52 ray accelerators — can't even match the RX 6800, never mind the RX 6800 XT and RX 6900 XT

And yet, when we looked at ray tracing performance across a suite of games, AMD's best only matches an RTX 3070 Ti, and sometimes it can't even beat the RTX 3060 Ti. And Far Cry 6 isn't even going all-in on ray tracing for PCs. It includes RT shadows and hybrid RT reflections—it uses a combination of RT reflections with SSR (screen space reflections), providing a compromise between quality and performance.

Ultimately, even with the fastest ray tracing GPUs right now—the GeForce RTX 3090 and RTX 3080 Ti—we're still coming up short when trying to get high performance and compelling image quality in a lot of games that use ray tracing. RT might look better in a lot of cases, but the visual improvements aren't large enough that turning off RT and getting a boost in framerates isn't generally the better choice. 

We're probably still a couple of generations of hardware away from the point where all games can start doing multiple RT effects without tanking performance, and even five years from now, developers will still have plenty of reasons to keep doing traditional rendering. Just look at the latest Steam Hardware Survey, where the combined percentage of gamers with RTX 20- and 30-series plus RX 6000-series hardware accounts for less than 25% of the market — and more than half of those are RTX 2060 6GB cards that are slower than even AMD's RX 6600 XT at ray tracing.

So, bring on RDNA 3 and Lovelace, and then give us RDNA 4 and whatever comes after Lovelace — the RX 8000-series and RTX 50-series hardware. Maybe then we'll finally have hardware that's fast enough to handle all the bells and whistles without breaking a sweat, hopefully with GPU prices and availability that aren't completely bonkers as well. 

We might also have PlayStation 6 and Xbox Series Zzyzx by then, with performance that's still a step down from the fastest PCs but with enough RT hardware that Ubisoft won't feel the need to further dumb down visuals on consoles in pursuit of 60 fps. Probably not.

Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom's Hardware as a team.

Jarred Walton

Jarred Walton's (Senior Editor) love of computers dates back to the dark ages, when his dad brought home a DOS 2.3 PC and he left his C-64 behind. He eventually built his first custom PC in 1990 with a 286 12MHz, only to discover it was already woefully outdated when Wing Commander released a few months later. He holds a BS in Computer Science from Brigham Young University and has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.

  • Phaaze88
    Wait, that wasn't obvious before?
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    The global illumination used in the original Metro Exodus also only mattered in select scenes, and RT reflections that are only visible on a few surfaces also don't make a huge difference in how a game looks and feels (Battlefield V, Doom Eternal, MechWarrior 5 Mercenaries, Watch Dogs Legion, and Wolfenstein Youngblood). Again, it's not that ray tracing is bad… it's just not good enough that it's really necessary in most games.
    Unfortunately I'm at a point where outside light spillage on a floor in an enclosed space and screens-space reflections irks me. Like it will break my immersion. Especially screen-space reflections, because they're just slapped on things without any regard as to where they'll fail and it's really obvious it's failing.

    I suppose that's my fault that I'm a snob though. :p
    Reply
  • giorgiog
    Despite having a RTX 3080, I prefer to keep RT off to eek out more FPS. In a couple of generations RT will come without that tradeoff, but for now, the minimal visual differences aren't worth it (in my experience)
    Reply
  • Mandark
    yeah. i dont even care about RT to be honest. I can wait, it's great enough as it is if you have a nice 4k TV with that console.
    Reply
  • Mandark
    Phaaze88 said:
    Wait, that wasn't obvious before?
    LOL
    Reply
  • jpe1701
    What happened to "Just buy it" ?
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    jpe1701 said:
    What happened to "Just buy it" ?
    https://www.tomshardware.com/news/wait-to-buy-nvidia-geforce-rtx-gpus,37673.html
    Reply
  • Friesiansam
    Admin said:
    but what it all boils down to is that the consoles simply aren't as powerful as PCs with the best graphics cards, and the visual improvements offered by ray tracing in particular aren't worth the loss in performance. Shocking, right?
    How is it shocking? Sufficiently powerful hardware would make them too expensive.
    Reply
  • Nolonar
    Phaaze88 said:
    Wait, that wasn't obvious before?
    Yes, considering Nvidia's RTX cards actually need DLSS for raytracing to perform well enough and are way faster at raytracing than even the fastest AMD Radeon card.

    Not only do the current gen consoles not use discrete GPUs (limiting how much heat they can generate before they need throttling), they don't have DLSS to improve performance, and their graphics are based on the RDNA architecture, as opposed to RDNA 2 used in the RX 6900 XT.

    To be honest, I'm surprised they even support raytracing at all.
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    Nolonar said:
    Not only do the current gen consoles not use discrete GPUs (limiting how much heat they can generate before they need throttling)
    Which was well defined ahead of time and so the console manufacturers know what kind of cooling system they need to put on it. And it's likely consoles don't throttle, they just shutdown, because consistency is God in consoles.

    Nolonar said:
    they don't have DLSS to improve performance, and their graphics are based on the RDNA architecture, as opposed to RDNA 2 used in the RX 6900 XT.
    There's still FidelityFX FSR. Also they use RDNA 2. Otherwise AMD is lying to us.
    Reply