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Minecraft RTX is way more than a tech showcase

The effects of ray-tracing tech can be hard to point out in games like Control, Battlefield 5 and Metro Exodus where the lighting effects are more nuanced, but the same can’t be said for Minecraft RTX, offering the biggest transformation of any game on the market right now. It’s about as close as we’re going to get to the failed Super Duper Graphics Update that Microsoft canned back in 2019, although this beta update is exclusive to those that own a recent Nvidia RTX-series card. 

While that is a setback for those with older gaming setups, the results are arguably worth the requirement. I’ve spent time exploring the RTX-infused world of Minecraft, and let me tell you, it’s a real treat for Minecraft fans old and new. 

A transformative experience

One reason as to why the Minecraft RTX beta looks so dramatically different is due to the use of full path tracing technology, compared to the ray tracing on offer from most other RTX-enabled games available right now. Full path tracing is incredibly demanding compared to ray tracing, meaning it simply can’t be used on hyper-realistic games like Metro Exodus – you’d probably need a supercomputer to run it at a playable frame rate. 

However, Minecraft’s blocky and simplistic nature means it’s the perfect candidate for true path tracing, and the effects are instantly noticeable in just about every area of the game. Windows now stream with light, and when it hits the floor, it’ll bounce and passively light the area around it – just like sunlight would in real life. Metallic surfaces really do have a glossy sheen, even reflecting the world around it if you look closely enough, and diamond blocks glint gently in the darkness of dingy subterranean caves.

That’s partly thanks to new physical properties of the different blocks available, featuring new finishes including Normal, Metallic, Roughness and Emissive, with the former three dictating how light reacts when hitting the block in question. Emissive, on the other hand, improves the effectiveness of light sources like lava and torches, giving a more true-to-life glow as you explore darker environments. 

If you’re a Minecraft no0b like me, you may not be able to create incredible worlds that really take advantage of the new RTX tech, so that’s why Microsoft and Nvidia worked together with popular creators including Razzleberries, Blockworks and GeminiTay to create six new worlds for beta players to explore. 

These range from forest-y worlds to underwater kingdoms, and help showcase what’s on offer from the RTX beta. In essence, the new lighting tech creates an atmosphere previously unattainable in Minecraft. Underwater pathways glisten in the light, lava flows provide an orange hue in caves and coloured windows interact with the light to produce stunning lightshows.

In fact, the light can even be used as a puzzle element, as shown in one of the beta worlds. When exploring the world of “Colour, Light & Shadow” you’ll come across a puzzle that requires you to move coloured glass shards to produce a specific multi-colour light pattern on the floor in order to open the door to the next room. Whether a builder or an explorer, the RTX technology can truly transform the Minecraft experience. 

Those rays require a lot of power

I’ve been using an Nvidia RTX 2080Ti to play the Minecraft RTX beta, one of the most powerful consumer GPUs on the market at the moment, and even that struggles to run the game natively at a consistent [email protected] with graphics settings maxed out.

Thankfully, the introduction of the improved DLSS 2.0 helps things quite a bit, and while the initial implementation of DLSS wasn’t perfect, it’s much better this time around. I couldn’t really notice any difference in overall quality with DLSS 2.0 on or off, but where DLSS does help is in the framerate department; with DLSS on, I comfortably hit 60fps+ while exploring the RTX-infused world of Minecraft, and even hit 144fps on a 144Hz 1080p monitor. 

But even with DLSS 2.0 technology on offer the RTX tech is incredibly demanding, so Nvidia and Microsoft have limited the draw distance to 8 chunks by default. To you at home, this means you won’t be able to see as far into the distance as you would playing standard Minecraft, and although you can crank this up to 24 chunks, you do so with a greatly increased graphical demand.

It can be detrimental to the experience at times; when I first loaded up the fantasy world of Crystal Palace, complete with sea, boat, castle and dragons in the sky, I couldn’t actually see the castle from the starting point on the boat – it was only once I ventured into the depths of the sea that I saw it pop into frame. Of course, it is a beta so there’s a chance this could be improved in future, but considering it’s the full path tracing tech that’s so demanding, I think this is a limitation that RTX gamers will have to put up with. 

The Minecraft RTX beta is available right now to anyone with an RTX card running the Windows 10 version of the game. It’s worth pointing out that usual beta restrictions apply here too; you won’t be able to join multiplayer realms, third-party servers or cross-play, but these are relatively small gripes when going hands-on with truly revolutionary technologies. 

If you’re unable to join in the RTX fun, take a look at our selection of the best free PC games to keep you occupied.

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