First released in 2019, Metro Exodus took the already great Metro series and gave it an open world twist while simultaneously proving that story-driven first-person shooter campaigns still have a place in the current gaming landscape. 4A Games has a solid track record of releasing polished and quality games while also being committed to creating industry-leading visual experiences dating back to their first project, Metro 2033.
2033 was so graphically intense that it had trouble running on the best graphics cards at the time and even today holds up very well against modern games thanks to its forward-thinking graphical technologies.
The 2019 release of Metro Exodus continued 4A’s tradition of releasing the cream of the crop in terms of visual technologies and the team even got their feet wet by implementing new and groundbreaking technologies like ray-traced global illumination and Nvidia’s deep learning super sampling, or DLSS for short. These fresh technologies were optional settings and only for those with ray-tracing capable cards; for all intents and purposes, Metro Exodus was developed with conventional lighting and rasterization methods in mind.
However, 4A has been hard at work the last two years jumping back into Metro to completely rework the original art in service of a new, fully ray-traced version of Metro Exodus which looks nothing short of spectacular and is a true glimpse into the future of video game graphics.
The star of the show is Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition’s ray-traced global illumination wherein all light sources cast light rays coupled with an infinite number of light bounces for each ray. Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty, the way ray tracing works is that it follows light rays as they are cast from a source and then it decides how those rays bounce and interact with surfaces, almost simulating how real light rays actually work. The 2019 version of Metro Exodus shipped with global illumination from only the sun or moon, both of which cast their own light rays, and when that light hit a surface the rays would only bounce once and project itself on another surface. Visually it did look great and, at the time, was one of the few games to feature ray-traced global illumination as most other ray-tracing capable games were using RT for reflections or shadows due to the hardware-intensive nature of the technology.
In the Enhanced Edition, all sources of light, whether it be the sun, the moon, or lamps and candles, emit rays with the key feature being that the rays of light don’t just bounce once but bounce an infinite amount of times while picking up colors from the surfaces they bounce off of. The result creates scenes that look almost photorealistic as light is naturally diffused through a window or reflected off of a shiny wooden floor or even occluded thus creating accurate shadows that are not simply pitch black but slightly colored according to its environment.
Throughout the Enhanced Edition, certain scenes are actually brighter than in the original game due to the indirect lighting caused by the infinitely bouncing rays. In spite of a brighter image, Metro Exodus Enhanced still retains all the grit and mood that you have to expect out of Metro thanks to the carefully considered art direction. Stealth sequences feel all the more immersive as you navigate dark shadows, avoiding the warm glow of lamps and dodging blinding enemy flashlights. The visual uplift really enhances the gameplay experience and immersion level a lot more than I thought it would.
Running on an RTX 3080 at 1440p, Metro Exodus Enhanced can indeed hold a stable 60 frames per second or more with all the bells and whistles on and set to ultra and even runs better than the base game but it would absolutely not be possible without DLSS 2.0. For those not in the loop, DLSS is an Nvidia technology that renders a game scene at a lower resolution and upscales it to your native resolution through the power of machine learning.
Due to the low-resolution rendering of DLSS you get more frames back the lower you set the render resolution and the result still looks crisp on your screen. It’s honestly more like black magic than an actual technology if you ask me. However, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows for DLSS as the 1.0 version was blurry and overall disappointing while also being the DLSS version that shipped with the 2019 release of Metro Exodus. The Enhanced Edition features the new and improved DLSS 2.0 and is another instance of 4A going in and refining a good game with great tech that gamers would like to see added. Also included is VRS, or variable-rate shading, which will also give you back even more performance.
As video games become more demanding and 4K becomes more accessible there is reason to believe that more game engines will start using DLSS and VRS to fill the performance gaps between resolution, frame rate, and graphical fidelity so it is great to see 4A Games already embracing these technologies with arms wide open.
There are some drawbacks to using tech that is still partly in its infancy for game development use. Sometimes surfaces are hit with some visual noise on certain surfaces and end up creating an unnatural-looking scene. This is a known limitation of current ray tracing tech due to low sample rates and is mostly a visual hiccup that you have to look for while also recognizing what is happening. It won’t break your immersion but it is clear that there is still work to do until these types of issues are fixed in ray-traced games.
This visual feast also comes with a hefty price tag. While the Enhanced Edition is a free upgrade for any owners of the base game and is included with any purchase of base Metro Exodus, to actually enjoy the Enhanced Edition you’re going to have to fork over some serious dough as Metro Exodus Enhanced will only run on ray-tracing capable graphics cards. Being that Metro Exodus Enhanced is the first AAA game built from the ground up with ray tracing features in mind and while it is the future of what games will look like, for most people, it may not be until we are actually in the future that everyone can really appreciate what 4A has accomplished in this 2021 release.
Long gone is the era of PC-centric games like The Witcher 2, Crysis, and Metro 2033 that were not afraid to stand out as the most graphically demanding games of the time while leaving gamers salivating, awaiting the day they own the hardware to be able to run these games. This era of gaming gave us graphically stunning games that laid the visual foundations for the eighth generation of consoles and their impact cannot be understated. 4A Games gives us a taste of what that time was like with the release of Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition and presents to us the first-ever AAA game built from the ground up with ray tracing in mind. High-end hardware is starting its shift into the next decade of graphics and it is clear that so is 4A Games by showing that they are not afraid to shed past tech to create a game that is solely for the best of current hardware and for the best of future hardware as well.
Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition has laid the foundation for visual standards in the ninth generation of consoles and easily reigns supreme as the best lit video game you can play this year and likely for a long time to come.