Rise of the Tomb Raider originally launched on November 10th and received widespread critical acclaim from various press outlets. Unfortunately, the game went under the radar because Fallout 4 released on the same day. This was a strategic error which hindered the game’s sales and prevented consumers from giving it their undivided attention. It’s such a shame because Rise of the Tomb Raider is a technical marvel when you consider the Xbox One’s limited horsepower. Even though it’s not technically an exclusive, PC players had to wait until after the Christmas period to enjoy the latest exploits of everyone’s favourite heroine.
The PC version was created by Nixxes Software who worked on the previous Tomb Raider reboot as well as a number of other graphically diverse PC games. The studio is renowned for creating highly polished and well-optimized PC versions featuring an astonishing level of graphical fidelity. Prior to release, NVIDIA recommended a GTX 970 for the optimal 1080p experience and 980 Ti for 1440P. Since then, there have been some performance patches from the developer and driver updates to help with scaling across various hardware configuration. This means it will be fascinating to see the performance numbers now that the game has matured and gone through a large number of post-release hot fixes.
“Rise of the Tomb Raider is an action-adventure video game developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. It is the sequel to the 2013 video game Tomb Raider, which was itself, the second reboot to its series. It was released for Xbox One and Xbox 360 in November 2015 and for Microsoft Windows in January 2016. It is set to release for PlayStation 4 in late 2016.
The game’s storyline follows Lara Croft as she ventures into Siberia in search of the legendary city of Kitezh, whilst battling a paramilitary organization that intends on beating her to the city’s promise of immortality. Presented from a third-person perspective, the game primarily focuses on survival and combat, while the player may also explore its landscape and various optional tombs. Camilla Luddington returns to voice and perform her role as Lara.” From Wikipedia.
So, let’s get to it and see how some of the latest graphics cards on the market hold up with the latest from Crystal Dynamics!
Test Systems and Procedures
Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to overview our test system.
- Motherboard – Gigabyte X99-Gaming G1 WiFi LGA 2011-3 Motherboard
- Processor – Intel Core i7 5820K at Stock 3.3GHz
- RAM – 16GB (4 X 4GB) Crucial Ballistix Sport DDR4 2400MHz
- CPU Cooler – Thermaltake Water 3.0 with Gelid GC-Extreme
- Power Supply – BeQuiet Dark Power Pro 11 1200w
- Main Storage Drive – Crucial M550 512GB
- Chassis – Lian Li T80 Test Bench
- Displays – AOC U2868PQU 4K
- Operating System – Windows 8.1 Pro 64 Bit
We always ensure the latest drivers are used at the time of testing to find each GPU’s current potential.
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
It can be quite challenging for any system analysis to remain completely accurate due to driver enhancements and improved optimization through post-release patches. Therefore, it’s imperative to provide readers with this information so they can easily determine how the results might differ in a few months time. As you can see, the latest patch updates the game to version 1.0.615.5 and helps in GPU-bound scenarios. This means the data is up-to-date and a more accurate depiction of the performance compared to initial analysis on release.
Rise of the Tomb Raider contains a number of presets, and oddly enough the Very High setting doesn’t run everything on maximum details. However, this preset is still extremely demanding and the highest default configuration on offer. Please note, when using the Very High preset, NVIDIA’s propriety HBAO+ solution is selected alongside AMD’s open source PureHair technology. Even though PureHair has a minimal impact on performance given the clear visual benefits, it’s enough to become noticeable. HBAO+ can be another source of frame drops and in the interest of fairness, both PureHair and HBAO+ have been disabled to nullify the impact of any vendor-based technologies.
On another note, some consumers dislike FXAA so much that they prefer to disregard it entirely. Typically, FXAA is used to add a very primitive and fast form of Anti-Aliasing without having a marked performance impact. There’s a wide range of better alternatives out there which encouraged us to disable FXAA during the benchmarking process.
Unlike its predecessor, the game’s options menu doesn’t include a benchmarking tool which means we have to rely on MSI Afterburner to monitor the frame-rate in real-time. Subsequently, there’s a greater variation between runs compared to a traditional benchmark and more room for user error. To determine the performance, two thirty-second runs were recorded on the Siberia and Syria locations with an average figure forming the final result.
Rise of the Tomb Raider – 1080p, 1440p and 4K Benchmarks
At 1920×1080, it’s evidently clear how well the engine scales across various tiers of graphics cards. For example, the minimum figures remain very close to the average frame-rate in almost every usage scenario. This indicates that the experience is very smooth and you’re less likely to notice a sudden variation in performance. Please note, Rise of the Tomb Raider has a propensity to reach maximums well above the average frame-rate every so often. This occurs when slowly panning around the environment and can be a little unnerving with a frame-rate counter. Nevertheless, it’s not something to be overly concerned about and just a small quirk of the game’s performance.
When the resolution is increased to 1440P, we can see the mid-range products struggle to reach 60 frames-per-second even with AA disabled. There’s also a huge gap between AMD’s flagship GPU and NVIDIA’s top two cards. In one retrospect this isn’t surprising because the game is bundled with any GTX 970 or above and utilizes NVIDIA’s GameWorks. Saying that, I hope a future DirectX 12 patch or driver updates from AMD can help narrow the gap.
The spectacular weather effects, beautiful shadows and remarkable texture quality looks phenomenal on a 4K display. Despite this, no single GPU on the market is capable of running Rise of the Tomb Raider at such a detailed resolution. Arguably, it’s just about playable on a GTX Titan X or 980 Ti, but the drops from 39-41 to 30 are very jarring. On another note, The Fury X becomes a lot more competitive at higher resolutions. This is great news for AMD owners who use a crossfire setup on displays above 1440P.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is a very demanding game and requires top-tier hardware to maintain 60 frames-per-second at the Very High preset. Please note that simultaneously turning on HBAO+, PureHair and MSAA x2/x4 will reduce your frame-rate by a substantial margin. At least the comprehensive options menu allows you to find the perfect balance between performance and visual quality. For instance, if you manage to exceed 60 frames-per-second at your chosen resolution, then it might be worth trying to add a more complex form of AA. Personally, I don’t think the level of optimization is as good as the original Tomb Raider reboot but that was always going to be a herculean task.
The effect of FXAA on our benchmark results would typically be around 2-5 frames-per-second. This doesn’t seem like much but it might be enough to drop the average performance under 60 frames-per-second. Furthermore, many people really do not care for the FXAA implementation and prefer TXAA or MSAA. This is something to take into consideration when tweaking the default presets. Even though the game has some hefty requirements, it’s warranted given the immense graphics on show. Any captured footage or spectacular screenshots fail to showcase the engine’s impressive array of PC upgrades. This ranges from HDR and adaptive tone mapping to volumetric lighting and localized Global Illumination. Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the best looking PC games ever made, and it’s so easy to sit and gaze at how far technology has progressed.
In terms of performance, the GTX Titan X and 980 Ti consistently beat the Fury X by a large margin. Perhaps, this is due to it being an NVIDIA bundled title, or AMD needs to do some work in the drivers department. On another note, AMD could make some substantial gains if the rumoured DirectX 12 patch actually comes to fruition. If this happens, we will certainly compare the results from DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 testing. Towards the mid-range, the R9 Nano did extremely well and defeated the GTX 970 and 980 at higher resolutions. This is fantastic when you take the small form factor into account. As you might expect, it’s pretty even between the low-mid range GPUs, and it seems the 380X is a good starting point for 60 frames-per-second at 1080p with high details.
Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider scales rather well across modern graphics cards providing you’re using a 1920×1080 monitor. Once the resolution increases to 1440P and beyond, you really need to invest in higher end solutions such as the Fury X, and GTX 980 Ti. This isn’t a surprising revelation and most users with a QHD or UHD panel usually opt for the appropriate graphics hardware. To reiterate, the game has hefty requirements because of its astonishing visuals and not due to lacklustre optimization. Nixxes Software have emphasized their credentials as one of the best PC developers around and I can’t wait to see what projects they work on next.
Thank you to all our partners who provided the hardware and software that made this performance analysis possible.