It may come as a surprise, but Call of Duty and Modern Warfare specifically goes WAY back for LanOC. I wrote about the original Modern Warfare March 17th 2008, 11 and a half years ago and it was our first article. I’m embarrassed when I look back at my writing then, but between that multiple other COD game reviews, and MW and MW2 playing huge roles in our LAN events over the year's Call of Duty holds a special place in my heart. Of course my heart has been “newb tubed”, camped, and stabbed from across the room more times than I could ever count because of that as well. But I was still excited about checking out the new game. Nvidia who has been including Modern Warfare codes with most of their cards, notebooks, and PCs reached out and asked if I would like to check out how ray tracing looks in the latest installment and I jumped at the chance. So today I’m going to check out what the ray tracing option adds to the game and see if it's worth turning on when you play through the game.
Article Name: RTX On Modern Warfare
Game Code Provided by: Nvidia
Written by: Wes Compton
Amazon Affiliate Link: HERE
How is ray tracing enabled in Modern Warfare
So your experience with ray tracing depends a lot on the game that you are playing. It isn’t normally just turn on ray tracing and everything changes. With it being demanding most games have to pick and choose how it will be used. For example, some games will implement ray-traced reflections. Battlefield V and Control were good examples of this. Fire, explosions, and other light are rendered using ray tracing to improve detail and to open things up by even showing off-screen lighting effects in the reflections. There is then ray-traced global illumination which handles all of the lighting. This was used in Metro Exodus and its big advantage is that it allows light to bounce more realistically where the old precomputed lightmaps would have to go through and fake that bounce when it is needed.
There is one called ray-traced ambient occlusion which unlike the first few the name doesn’t do as good of a job of explaining this one. This is contact shadows where objects or surfaces block light like around a rock. It keeps things from looking like they are floating, better showing that they are touching the ground. Metro Exodus had this one as well.
The last ray tracing effect is what is used in Modern Warfare, it is called ray traced shadows. The ambient occlusion might sound the same but this one is a little different while both being shadows. This uses light sources to cast rays to create more lifelike shadows. In other words shadows aren’t always those cartoon-like direct copies. They are translucent, moving, and the have different sharpness or softness depending on how close they are to the object and how bright the lighting is. They were also used in Shadow of the Tomb Raider with at least some irony given the game's name.
Ray Traced Shadows in Modern Warfare
So today I’m going to check out how ray-traced shadows are implemented into Modern Warfare. All of my photos are from the single-player mode. Ray Tracing is implemented in multiplayer but not in all modes. I just haven’t had time to get into any online matches yet I haven’t even finished the single-player mode. Not to mention trying to get matching screenshots with the feature on and off in multiplayer might be impossible as well. So anyhow, what did I test the game on? I was running on the same configuration as I used in our Threadripper Air Cooling Roundup just a few weeks ago. This had a Threadripper 1920X which isn’t the most gaming-focused CPU, but it does work well for my dual function work and gaming desktop paired with an RTX 2080 Ti running at 1440p with a high refresh monitor.
I’m not really trying to do a game review at all, but Modern Warfare single player does manage to push the limits, just like they did years ago so if you get upset at some things or if you aren’t old enough to be playing without your parents permission you might not want to play it. That said none of the pictures below fall into that category.
Another thing about the game that drove me completely insane was the way they have implemented shader loading. Before getting into single or multiplayer you will have to wait for them to load and making big settings changes will require reloading them as well. Even worse, if you do go ahead in the campaign the cut scenes will be choppy and very slow. Early on after the launch, I had that problem even with the shaders loaded but a later update to both the game and drivers fixed the issue. Which is good because I was ready to never touch the game again.
So basically from here on out, I will have example images with short descriptions. The first photo is ray tracing on and the second is off. Then at the end I will talk about if its worth using. You will also notice some of my images have frame rates on, you can spot the FPS hit you will receive as well.
So early in the story, you are walking through the woods and it is during the night. I didn’t expect this to have any big ray traced shadows but I did notice a difference. The tree shadows don’t really change at all but the lighting through the fog is a little more realistic with ray tracing on. You can see the trees in the distance better, it was almost light fog distance was different but all of the same trees loaded. The ones in the distance just have more of a shadow.
Also in the first part of the game, I ran into this truck with its lights on. You can spot the difference in the grass. With ray tracing on, the front foliage gets most of the light and it is darker behind them but with it off most of it is lit up, even when it shouldn’t be. The plant right in front of the truck on the ground also gets a big shadow with the ray tracing on.
A few levels in you end up in this dimly lit back alley. All of the water on the ground is begging for that cool ray-traced reflections but you can see there aren’t any. The rough road, however, does gain some definition where shadows show the dips. On the top left on the wall you can also how the shadows for the camera on the wall and pipes are crisp with the ray-tracing off and more diffused with the ray tracing on.
Right after the alley, you go into a building and in this kitchen I was impressed with the difference between the two modes. Without ray tracing the stool shadows are huge and extremely crisp where with it on they are more realistic and you can see the diffused areas where the shadow is farther away but still more solid when close like under the plates on the counter. Which by the way didn’t have any shadows with ray tracing off.
The rest of my examples are all from inside of this embassy which has low lighting in most areas. The stairs with bar railings might be the most obvious example of the ray-traced shadows. With it off they are solid which honestly seems like they were intentionally done badly. But even if they were bars like on the left by the stairs even from a distance they are crisp and sharp. Ray tracing turned on you have each bar but you can also see how the top bar is diffused the most and each bar as it gets closer to the shadow gets sharper
Here we are with a truck driven through a wall and lighting up above an office. My screenshots did change with the one guy shooting from the left in the second image so ignore that area. But look at the truck, the white box on the table, and the papers on the floor. Without ray tracing, you again have solid and crisp shadows for all of those but with it on you can see shadows under things close to the floor like the papers, but the shadow of a guy on the truck isn’t showing because he is too far away.
With some bright light showing and debris all around we once again see hard lines for the shadows with ray tracing off. With it on it does a better job of lighting the walls leaning over as well. I also was finally smart enough to turn on frame rates as well. They do bounce around and I wouldn’t consider these and end all be all result, but you can see how I was getting 80 with ray tracing on and 110 with it off. A big jump, however even with it on 80 is still very smooth.
More dark hallways with lighting coming in from thin windows up top. This time around you can see how the light is bigger and diffused out not with crisp lines. The same goes for up higher on the wall above the door where you can see it is softer with ray tracing on. The shadow behind the guy in front of me is also nice and crisp because the shadow is so close to the object. This time I had 87 FPS with it on and 110 with it off.
For the last image, we are in a security room with a server rack and two (why two) water coolers next to the servers. You can see the shadows for the people at the door, shadows under each server and the desk shadow are all sharp lines with dark shadows with ray tracing off but turning it on softens all of those out. FPS with ray tracing on was 79 and 104 with it off.
One thing is for sure, the setting does make changes, depending on the area in the game you are at that might mean no difference at all or significant differences that might even help you see things. In my opinion the changes do make the game a lot more realistic and unlike the ray-traced reflections which are cool to show people but can be distracting. I found the hard shadows that you get with the setting off to be a lot more distracting. It is more of a situation where you don’t notice it because that is how shadows should work until you see when it is done wrong. That said even with an extremely strong GPU, an okay CPU, and running at 1440p I did still see a big performance difference as well. I personally would (and have) play the game with ray tracing on, but I suspect that it will depend on what GPU you are running as well as what resolution you want to run it. Modern Warfare plays smooth (other than cut scene issues) on most everything, but getting keeping gameplay smooth may mean sacrificing this otherwise nice detail.
Now Nvidia did a great job breaking down what each in game setting does and the performance differences for each. I would recommend people checking that out HERE. I wanted to link a good review that breaks down performance per card and RTX on and off but I don’t see one from any of our friends. If anyone sees one please send it over so I can share it!