Minecraft's ray tracing exits beta as Nvidia pushes its DLSS advantage

DLSS 2.0 works like black magic, and Nvidia doesn't want you to forget.

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Just in time to spite the Radeon RX 6900 XT launch and drive home the fact that AMD lacks a crucial DLSS equivalent, Nvidia announced a flood of news related to ray tracing and Deep Learning Super Sampling on Tuesday. The most notable? Minecraft’s drool-inducing ray tracing capabilities are exiting beta, though a handful of other games are also adding DLSS 2.0.

Minecraft's Windows 10 version is an absolute ray tracing showcase. “Ray-traced Minecraft is glorious to behold, completely altering the look and feel of the game—though this low-fi legend can make even the most fearsome graphics cards sweat when you activate the cutting-edge lighting technology,” we said when we evaluated Minecraft’s ray tracing beta earlier this year.

“Like Quake II RTX, this new-look Minecraft is fully path-traced, meaning that all the lighting in the game comes from ray tracing—shadows, lighting, reflections, materials, you name it,” we said. “By comparison, the real-time ray tracing in other games thus far take a hybrid approach, applying only a handful of ray-traced effects around traditional rasterized graphics. Translation: Ray-traced Minecraft looks stunning and behaves realistically.”

Our Minecraft RTX tested article shows how impressive the technology is with several side-by-side comparisons of the game with ray tracing on and off.

Rendering the entire game with ray tracing hammers graphics cards, though. In Nvidia’s ray-traced Aquatic Adventure world, flipping on the technology sent frame rates plummeting from a flat 120 frames per second on a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti-based system all the way down to an agonizing 18 fps.

That’s where DLSS 2.0 comes in. Enabling it in Minecraft RTX via the game’s “Upscaling” option brought the game back up to an eminently playable 49 fps.

To celebrate the milestone, Nvidia plans to release two additional ray-traced Minecraft worlds, adding to the handful already released. Colosseum World launches today, while another world called Dungeon Dash “will be coming soon.”

The timing feels especially cruel. AMD’s $1,000 Radeon RX 6900 XT launches today with its eyes on the $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090, but AMD doesn’t offer an intelligent upscaling technology like DLSS, which leverages dedicated tensor AI cores in GeForce hardware. As a DirectX Raytracing title, Minecraft should support ray tracing on Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs, but without DLSS, you aren’t likely to achieve playable frame rates.

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In addition to Minecraft’s ray tracing ascension, Nvidia announced that four more games plan to integrate DLSS 2.0 in December. Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord is the biggest name, and Nvidia promises DLSS will increase performance by up to 50 percent, letting any GeForce RTX graphics card play the game at 60 fps in 4K. Scavengers, Moonlight Blade, and CRSED: F.O.A.D. also announced DLSS 2.0 support with similar performance uplifts, though Nvidia says that Moonlight Blade can see performance double. Hot damn.

Those announcements bring the total number of games with DLSS support to 30, Nvidia says. Like the Minecraft announcement, it drives home a key DLSS advantage: You don’t need to use ray tracing to tap into DLSS 2.0’s performance benefits. Games can integrate the technology purely for the extra frames, and titles like F1 2020 and Death Stranding have done so to remarkable effect.

Nvidia did a lot of heavy lifting to force ray tracing into existence. It’s finally starting to pay off with more high-profile game releases, but DLSS 2.0 might be its true silver bullet. When the hotly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 releases later this week, its stunning ray tracing effects will be reserved for Nvidia GPUs alone at first (Godfall’s ray tracing works only with AMD GPUs currently). From what we’ve played, you’re going to need DLSS 2.0 if you want to see all of the game’s impressive ray tracing effects—just like with Minecraft. Our Cyberpunk 2077 review impressions dive into what we’ve seen on the PC performance side of things so far, complete with plenty of juicy screenshots that show just how beautiful Night City’s streets can be.

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