Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s DLSS and Ray Tracing are a mixed bag

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Credit: Nerd Reactor. Captured with GeForce RTX 3080 FE

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is the latest game from the franchise that takes players back into the era of the Cold War, and it features an action-packed campaign and multiplayer mode that pits America against the Soviet Union. The game also has ray tracing and DLSS for GeForce RTX GPUs, and we had the chance to test this out on the GeForce RTX 3080. We found that DLSS is definitely a welcomed addition, but Ray tracing, on the other hand, is hit and miss.

Ray Tracing

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War features ray tracing and DLSS support on Nvidia’s RTX graphic cards, and two videos have been released showing off what players can experience in the game.

The first video can be seen above with ray tracing being turned on and off. The feature creates realistic shadows and depth from light sources like the sun, street lights, lamps, ambient occlusion, etc.

We tested different areas to see if there were improvements in ray tracing shadows. There are different quality options from Medium to Ultra, and you can check out our screenshots below of ray tracing on and off.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War WD_Black 2TB External HDD

Ray Tracing on Ultra
Ray Tracing on Medium
Ray Tracing Off

Ray tracing offers all types of visual treats, but with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, the developers focused on realistic shadows. In the area seen above, turning on ray tracing basically turns on shadows for other characters and objects. The shadows from the tree and the NPC (Woods) can be seen, and there are more shadow effects on the actual tree and on Woods’ body. Your weapon is also affected by ray tracing, with more shadows from the sun above.

The screenshots include Ray Tracing on Ultra and Medium. The details for Medium and Ultra are subtle, so you necessarily won’t be missing out on a lot if you opt for the Medium setting.

Let’s check out another level at night. This one features a huge complex with searchlights and enemies all around.

Ray Tracing on Ultra
Ray Tracing on Medium
Ray Tracing Off

This night level really doesn’t take advantage of ray tracing, and the shadows from the light sources are seen across the three settings seen above, whether they have ray tracing disabled or enabled.

Here’s another look at ray tracing in a subway with a light source on the ceiling.

Ray Tracing Ultra
Ray Tracing Medium
Ray Tracing Off

This area doesn’t really show off the power of ray tracing. With it off, you can actually see the shadow from the woman on the left. With it on, her shadow disappears. Another weird thing is that with ray tracing on, it creates a shadow on top of the paper on the ground. A benefit for the Ray Tracing Ultra settings is the darkness of the shadows, which can be seen on the couple in the front with the green and orange jackets.

Here’s one more ray tracing comparison inside a subway station with the main light source on the wall.

Ray Tracing Ultra
Ray Tracing Ultra

There’s a subtle improvement with ray tracing on, which you can see from the shadows on the wall. The shadows from the bench and trash also benefit from this. It’s really subtle, and turning it off won’t be a deal-breaker since both are almost identical.

DLSS

DLSS offers more framerates by lowering the resolution and then using its technology to deliver high-quality graphics. Nvidia has released a split-screen video with DLSS turned on and off. The point of DLSS is to retain the image quality while offering more frames, so it’ll be hard to see the difference if it’s optimized well. Nvidia claims that it’ll boost frame rates up to 85% at 4K on GeForce RTX GPUs.

For the two screenshots below, we tested this on 1440p on Ultra settings.

DLSS Performance
DLSS Off

In the bar scene, DLSS Performance gives an extra 20 frames, and it’s still able to retain a lot of detail. There are a few differences, which you can see on the floor, wall and ceiling. The ceiling does lose a bit of detail, however. The bricks and floor are sharp with DLSS off, but you have to really focus on them to notice the differences.

Here are the DLSS settings for the East Berlin section.

Ray Tracing Ultra DLSS Quality
Ray Tracing Ultra DLSS Performance
Ray Tracing Off DLSS Performance
Ray Tracing Off DLSS Off
Ray Tracing Off DLSS Quality

Frame rates are really improved with ray tracing turned off. With DLSS on Quality settings, ray tracing off gave us around 134 fps for the East Berlin street, and Ray Tracing Ultra drops it down to around 87 fps. There aren’t any major differences with shadows with ray tracing on or off, so going with ray tracing off would be the best choice here. If you pay close attention, there is a very, very slight blur with DLSS on Performance settings, but the added 30 frames is a no-brainer.

Ray Tracing and DLSS Final Reaction

Are DLSS and ray tracing features worth it? There are a lot of variables, and it depends on the map and light source. Some areas will truly shine with ray tracing on, and other areas see no big improvements. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War features a better performance with DLSS on, giving you more framerates while still giving you high image quality.

The screenshots were captured at 1440p using the GeForce RTX 3080 FE.

Nuketown ’84

Image courtesy of Activision

In addition, The Nuketown ’84 map is now available in multiplayer, and players will get to take out enemy players in 6v6 mode. Held in a nuclear testing ground that is inspired by the ideal American neighborhood, the new map is a sister site to the original Nuketown that’s set in the Nevada desert.

As a sister site, it’s labeled “Site B” and remained dormant for 30 years since 1954. The layout includes two model homes facing each other at the end of the cul-de-sac. It has now been remodeled with graffiti, courtesy of the new inhabitants of social misfits.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War WD_Black 2TB External HDD

Activision has provided Nerd Reactor with a copy for coverage purposes.

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