GeForce RTX Performance And IQ In Metro Exodus Explored Post Patch

Metro Exodus Test Setup, Hardware, Settings And Image Quality Comparison

For our test bench we chose Intel's newest mainstream platform with its Z390 chipset and a Core i9-9900K 8-core CPU, overclocked to 5.1GHz. The CPU overclock will help ensure our GPUs are well-fed and minimize any potential CPU bottleneck during testing. Note that Windows 10 version 1809 is required for DXR/RTX features to be enabled and function. In addition, when testing pre-patch scenarios, we used the NVIDIA game ready driver v419.17, which is optimized for Metro Exodus.

Our Z390 Test bench to push Metro Exodus with GeForce RTX features

HotHardware's Test System
Intel Core i9 Powered
Hardware Used:
Intel Core i9-9900K
(5.1GHz 8-Core)

ASUS Maximus XI Extreme
(Intel Z390 Chipset)

GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition
GeForce RTX 2080 Founders Edition
GeForce RTX 2070 Founders Edition
GeForce RTX 2060 Founders Edition

32GB Corsair DDR4-3200
Samsung SM961 512GB
Samsung 860 EVO 4TB
Integrated Audio & Network
Relevant Software: 
Windows 10 Pro x64 - ver. 1809

NVIDIA Drivers:


Game Benchmarks Used:

Metro Exodus

Our GeForce RTX cards, but can they Metro Exodus RTX? (RTX 2060 not pictured)

These are the graphics cards we are testing today and will be representative of the relative performance you can expect when playing Metro Exodus on your rig, only if you mirror our component config exactly. Otherwise, the following performance and image quality results should only be used as a guideline for what you can expect to see. As always, your mileage can and likely will vary...

Here is the full RTX lineup of cards we are testing:
These cards will be run through a series of in-game loops with various image quality settings to best showcase the following:
  • Expected Impact of each quality level
    • Extreme, Ultra and High
  • Expected impact of each RTX Level 
    • Ultra, High and Off
  • Performance uplift from DLSS

NOTE: The following settings were left static for all tests:
  • DirectX Version = 12
  • Texture Filtering = AF 16X
  • Motion Blur = Normal
  • Tesselation = Full
  • Advanced Physics = On
  • Hairworks = On
As you can see, the above settings are basically maxed-out, so we can assume this new title, like Metro games before it, will be quite taxing. This should also give us a good scale to measure each GPU's performance.

The following settings were the in-game settings employed and will be noted on the performance charts to follow:
  • Resolution
    • 1920 x 1080, 2560 x 1440, 3840 x 2160
  • Quality
    • High, Ultra, Extreme
  • Ray Tracing
    • Off, High, Ultra
  • DLSS
    • Off, On
The reason we are only testing down to High preset for quality, is that once going below High, it makes more sense to go to a lower resolution with a higher graphical setting than to have the lower texture quality.

Why Are People Complaining About Lack Of Detail In DLSS Image Rendering?
DLSS is in our minds still in its infancy. DLSS libraries that NVIDIA is developing for game titles are actively learning, iterating and improving over time to give better overall performance and image quality. As we saw with the recent patch, DLSS became much sharper vs the hazy, blurry rendering in Metro Exodus' initial release. While we can't say for sure whether DLSS will take off with broad game developer adoption, we do believe this is only the beginning for DLSS, as it will mature like any technology to potentially offer better overall quality and performance.

Does DLSS "Just Work"?
This question is tougher to answer and sorry to say but it's simply not that easy. It works when you can enable it, but NVIDIA does limit what resolutions and settings in which you can enable DLSS. For example, if you are already over 60 FPS on average or higher, in many cases NVIDIA will not allow enabling DLSS due to the fact that the complex math involved might actually slow down finishing frames which would otherwise be rendered natively. We also found that at 4K resolution, for example, a GeForce RTX 2060 could not enable DLSS and we can only assume that is due to the less powerful TU106 GPU on board and its lower number of Tensor cores which won't handle the workload anyway. However, you can still enable RTX real-time ray tracing on that same RTX 2060 card, See the chart below to see how DLSS is segmented and allowed on specific settings.

Chart Showing DLSS Available (Green) vs Not Available (Red)

You can read more detail about DLSS from the NVIDIA DLSS Q&A.

Now lets get Metro Exodus fired up with RTX and see what all of this fuss is about...

RTX Ray Tracing Image Quality Comparison

The images below are side by side comparisons of each RTX quality setting from Ultra, to High and Off. This should give you a good idea of what RTX features bring to Metro Exodus compared to playing the game on its traditional rasterization-only settings.

OFF 1 High 1
  Ultra 1
Scene 1 - Train Engine Internal Illumination

Here we have the Metro Exodus team in the train engine. Comparing RTX Off to RTX High or Ultra, you will notice the traditional lighting effects we have become used to in games. Things such as the radio to the lower left and even the gold colored tank are illuminated almost like you have a light source emanating from your character. This is due to the standard global illumination method used, and while there are better ways to fake positional lighting, this implementation, when looking at it versus a scene with GeForce RTX features on, is quite noticeable. Examining just those elements in the RTX images, you can see where for example the leading right hand edge of the front of the radio gets some light from the forward-facing train windows while the rest is visibly shadowed. The same can be seen with the gold tank behind the radio; it too shows more highlights like it is getting light reflected onto it rather than the entire face being fairly evenly lit. Another place you can see the difference is by observing the pants and knee pads of the NPC sitting in front of you. In the non-RTX image, his pants and knee pads almost blend together, whereas in the RTX-lit version you get more light reflection from the pants while the black knee pads absorb some light and you get better definition of the individual parts of the materials.

Off 2High 2
    Ultra 2
Scene 2 - Train Engine Light Scatter

Here we pan our view to the right and in the train interior we see some cues that tell you that there is a marked visual difference. Looking at the roof you can see that all components, even the red rust on pipes, are visible in the non-RTX image. Moving to the RTX version and we see that the roof is more shadowed as the interior surface of the train is not getting enough light, and the materials are not reflective enough to fully illuminate their surface. This has to do with light rays bouncing and scattering to illuminate key areas based on the absorption versus reflective values of each surface. This sort of result is indicative of the vast majority of RTX effects in Metro Exodus. That's not to say it's a bad thing but it's simply an environmental effect where the goal is more about making lighting more realistic as what it would look in the real world.
Off 3High 3
Ultra 3
Scene 3 - Radio Proper Ambient Lighting

This time we shifted our view to the left and you see the radio in greater detail. In the non-RTX image, you will notice the entire radio face appears evenly lit, the same as we observed before. Turn on RTX and suddenly the radio is more representative of a outward light source where the radio is placed roughly 30-40 degrees angled away from the main light sources for the scene. Another cool area to show how it can be faked but not as realistically here, is the non-RTX image, in which to the left of the radio, the wall is well-lit and you can make out vertical black wear marks. However, the RTX image offers much more realistic shadowing this section. Lastly, the files stacked on the top of the radio, are all manila colored and the color is clear as day in the non-RTX image, whereas they are far more accurately lit with the ray traced RTX image.
Off 4High 4
Ultra 4
Scene 4 - Character Lighting and Shadows

In this scene we see an NPC standing right in front of us. The reason we chose this scene is that you can see on the side facing Anna, he has a almost half body shadow covering mid abdomen up to his shoulder. In the non-RTX image, the shadow is visible and his sidearm chest holster on that side is still quite visible with its color easily apparent. Moving to the RTX version and you can see the holster is obscured by the same shadow. Since the character has its back to the light source, this is a better representation of what you would see in real life.

Off 7High 7
Ultra 7
Scene 5 - Light Obstruction by Characters

Here we have most of the group crowded around the radio and our character. The non-RTX image shows even with everyone crowded around, which should definitely cast shadows on the radio, it is still well-lit. Also, now the character's faces picked up a more orange color, which is something we can only assume is a byproduct of the light sources or textures added to fake the illumination.

Off 13High 13
Ultra 13
Scene 6 - Internal Light Reflection and Fill

Here we can see a little later in the train where the lighting has changed a fair bit. We look up to observe the areas where light rays will only lightly scatter into the overhead roof area. The non-RTX image shows a quite clear image of the pipes running overhead and the red turn valve integrated into one of the pipes. Enable RTX and suddenly the accurate lighting kicks in where the lower step of pipes gets glare from the window below. Moving up into the roof where the valve was found previously, we can clearly see (or not see in this case) that the valve is now shrouded by shadow due to lack of light rays reaching that area. Interestingly enough, things being hidden in plain sight is kind of what a game like Metro Exodus can be all about at times.

Off 14High 14
Ultra 14
Scene 7 - Cab Roof Light Reflection And Fill

Here again we look at the train roof and I am ashamed to admit how much time I spent looking at a train roof at this point, frankly. However, once again the non-RTX image shows clear detail of the central pipe/plug area, along with a large pipe at the far edge. Enabling RTX once again shrouds this area in much more shadow and you can only make out the more definitive edges, rather than clearly seeing the entire detail of every object in the dark. At this point, the non-RTX image almost seems like you took the RTX image and just pumped the gamma up.

DLSS Image Quality Comparison

Here we will explore the image quality differences between enabled and disabled DLSS or Deep Learning Super Sampling. This new tech, much like the rest of the RTX technology, has been lambasted from the onset and in some cases for good reason. For starters, DLSS itself can produce blurry or less-sharp imagery than what you will see with a natively rendered image, if NVIDIA's libraries haven't been sufficiently optimized for the game. The initial implementation of DLSS in Metro Exodus showed this same issue. However, 4A and NVIDIA worked quickly to put out a patch within a very short time and corrected the sharpness of most of the DLSS image area. They could be using a sharpening filter here, or it may be an improvement to DLSS as a whole but either way the results speak for themselves. As you can see below, the quality is quite good with DLSS enabled vs disabled (natively rendered).

side by side Radio
DLSS On Vs Off Close Up Of Radio

Here we see that the side-by-side zoomed in with DLSS disabled vs enabled. Fine details like the hairs on the knuckles would normally be smoothed and not fine or crisp (pre-patch). However, as you can see, they match quite well and very little if any visual distortion is observed between the two images.

side by side regulator
DLSS On Vs Off Character Detail

Here we see that when zooming in very close to one of our in-game captured stills, we see two areas where we can pick out either sharpening filter artifacts or potential smoothing. The silver regulator piece below her arm in the DLSS-enabled screen, you can see loses a little bit of definition where it is rounded. Also the stairs to the right of this also show a little bit of smoothing. Mind you, this is a 4K capture from the game, which we then zoomed-in to a much closer level and inspected scene by scene to find this. We think most people in the game would likely not notice this, since you simply wouldn't practically stop to peer at pixel detail in this way. However, true pixel snobs may or may not find these difference perceptible.

Now you see the comparisons between the RTX levels and DLSS. We fell, for our own personal preference, the sweet spot will likely be the RTX High setting with DLSS on, as it gives very similar visual quality and lighting to Ultra without extra taxing workload taking a toll on performance.

Now that we have looked at all of this, lets get to the frame rate results and see where all of these various settings fall, as far as in-game performance measurements are concerned...

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