Wondering if Ray Tracing is worth it and how much is actually matters? You’re definitely not alone.
If you’ve been paying attention to the PC landscape the past couple of years, you’ve definitely heard the term as a major buzzword. “Does it support Ray Tracing?” has become one of the first questions visually-compelled gamers ask when a new title is mentioned. This begets the question: just what is the craze over and is it worth your time (and money) to explore?
We created this guide to help you cut through the noise and determine exactly whether or not Ray Tracing is a feature that makes sense for you.
Is Ray Tracing Worth It?
Generally, Ray Tracing is definitely worth it as a feature for those who demand the most visually stunning, cinematic gaming experience and don’t mind the expense to achieve it. However, competitive eSports gamers or gamers who opt for visually simple games (like Fortnite or League of Legends) will find that Ray Tracing is usually unnecessary.
You need to really think about what kind of gamer you are before investing in graphics cards that will support Ray Tracing.
Do you play games that have the scenery and exploration as the most important part of the experience? Or do you play games where gameplay is king and all that matters is the competition?
For online competitive gamers, Ray Tracing is not at all important and you likely won’t care how pretty the lighting is coming from the nearby lamp while you’re lining up your next headshot. Most competitive eSports gamers are running games are the lowest graphical settings anyway in order to get the fastest, smoothest visuals.
For games that emphasize the beauty of a digital word, amplifying gaming from hobby to artwork, Ray Tracing could absolutely be the next thing to upgrade your gaming experience. Otherwise, don’t worry too much about it, unless your GPU is at the end of its lifespan and you’re already in the market for something with a bit of future-proofing.
What Does Ray Tracing Actually Do?
In laymen’s terms, Ray Tracing is a way to rend lighting and shadow effects to create an incredibly lifelike quality when put into motion. It literally takes into account every ray of light created by a light source in-game and simulates what the actual effect would look like.
Before gaming got its hand on it, movies and television used it to create a fusion of CGI and real-life scenes. If you’ve seen a Marvel movie in the past decade, you’ve Ray Tracing at work without realizing. Torches, lights, Sunlight, Moonlight, any source can create this amazing effect and the difference it makes in a game’s visuals is really quite striking.
Pros and Cons of Ray Tracing
When you’re investing in something that’s going to cost more than some PC’s just to access, you should know exactly what you’re getting and if there’s any reason for pause before your big purchase.
- Incredible, lifelike visuals that will make the separation of game vs. reality far slimmer than it has ever been, providing some of the most gorgeous looking scenery and computerized effects you will ever see.
- Top of the line graphics cards that have access to Ray Tracing will provide an amazing gaming experience regardless of whether you turn the feature on and off
- You will get the pinnacle experience visually speaking for whatever game you buy if you have access to Ray Tracing
- Large price tag to buy to the graphics cards that have access to Ray Tracing
- It requires a heavy amount of horsepower to render the technology, so you may have to play some games on lower settings in order to maintain a smooth experience while having the Ray Tracing option enabled.
- Ray Tracing’s demand on your computer’s hardware can often hinder gameplay in competitive settings.
Can You Actually See a Difference with Ray Tracing?
Whether or not there is a noticeable visual difference with Ray Tracing is 100% dependent on the game you’re playing. Major AAA titles (especially RPGs and open-world games) will almost always see significant visual gains with Ray Tracing. Most eSports games and visually simple games typically won’t benefit from Ray Tracing nearly as much.
Video games such as the Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey will have some very noticeable effects, as these are AAA games utilizing some absolutely top of the line graphics (regardless of whether Ray Tracing is on or off).
The sands of Greece in AC:O, blinding lights of Cyberpunk’s Night City and the vibrance of the world of the Witcher are undoubtedly enhanced to some unreal beauty at the hands of Ray Tracing.
These games and games of this ilk that involve, massive sprawling landscapes and some impressive realistic effects will show effect more than an older game that doesn’t require much horsepower to run.
Games that use day and night cycles in particular get a great deal out of Ray Tracing because you’re constantly exposed to light sources throughout the game.
It’s not just the day and night cycles that benefit from Ray Tracing either. For example, Dark Souls 3, a favorite of ours, looks fantastic with Ray Tracing and that’s because of the moody and atmospheric lighting present throughout the game. Ray Tracing makes those dimly lit torches and explosive weapon and magic effects burst out of your screen with such vibrancy that you’ll swear you can reach out and touch it.
Other games like Fortnite and more cartoonish games don’t really see as big of a boost because they are played in a mostly static lighting system, so the visual changes lighting wise come primarily from gunfire and other effects and while they’ll be there, it’ll be very hard to notice because of the quickness of which they’ll appear and disappear.
How Expensive are Ray Tracing Supported Graphics Cards?
Ray Tracing isn’t something you just purchase on its own but rather a feature of the newest generations of graphics cards. While some of the older models like the GTX 1060 graphics cards do support Ray Tracing, having tested them comparatively ourselves, there is a much larger difference with the option turned on and off the higher quality you go in your graphics cards.
The top-of-the-line GTX models will run you $700 and up for just the card itself, so if you’re actually just buying the card and not the PC it’s part of, that’s not going be a cheap purchase.
Buying a PC that has something like a RTX 3080 model will be very pricey as well, so you should consider building your own PC to save some money here.
In terms of availability of Ray Tracing cards, luckily, it’s all over the market now. Everywhere from Amazon to Best Buy to the Nvidia online store itself has top of the line ray tracing accessible models ready for you to pickup and play if you can afford it.
Why Has it Taken for Ray Tracing to Come to Gaming?
The reason it’s taken so long to come to gaming is because of one thing: money. While gaming is now the most lucrative form of media worldwide, tech can sometimes outrun user’s budgets. Now that gaming has become more cinematic and regularly employing Hollywood actors to play characters in games, the line between movie and game has blurred quite a bit and with that has come the graphical firepower that has supplied us with blockbusters for over a decade.
That’s not to say these upgrades come for free though, with great power comes great amounts of money being spent, so in order to get your hands on this shiny new technology, you’ll have to shell out the cash for the experience to come to your home.
To conclude, Ray Tracing is little more than a pretty upgrade that will change your gaming experience visually for the better if you play games that have amazing scenery. But for those competitive gamers or gamers that opt for more graphically simple titles, the difference will be barely noticeable.
There really is no inherent negative when it comes to Ray Tracing. While some systems may not be able to handle the extra load on a PC, for the ones that can, it creates an amazing graphical experience.
Some gamers might worry that getting too realistic is a bad thing for gaming, but that has nothing do with Ray Tracing, because it is not affecting the actual graphics at work, but rather the lighting within.
The most important feature of Ray Tracing, ironically, is the ability to turn it off. If it’s causing your PC to stutter and your gameplay to skip around, then all the pretty lighting and shadow effects in the world won’t make a difference to you.
Ray Tracing will likely be the golden standard going forward in both console and PC gaming. It will help make games more lifelike until it’s hard to tell the difference between a movie and a videogame, all while never compromising the actual graphics at play.
It’s a compromise for all but the robust systems and it’s something you have to consider when the decision of graphics card comes up for you and your PC, but it can be an absolutely stunning feature when handled properly.