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A first look at ray tracing on the $299 Xbox Series S

A first look at ray tracing on the $299 Xbox Series S


The little next-gen Xbox is capable of ray tracing

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Ubisoft provided a first look at ray tracing on next-gen Xbox consoles a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve now had the chance to play the optimized version of Watch Dogs: Legion on both the Xbox Series X and Series S. The most visible change over a regular Xbox One or PS4 version of the game is the introduction of ray tracing for the Series X and S.

On both consoles, there are plenty of reflective windows, puddles, and bright neon signs inside the London-based world of Watch Dogs: Legion. These are all ideal for ray tracing. These ray-traced reflections more accurately demonstrate the often wet and dark parts of London, and it often feels like there are numerous puddles on the floor in Watch Dogs: Legion just ready to reflect nearby light sources.

One of the best places to demonstrate this in the game is Piccadilly Circus, a tourist hotspot in the heart of London’s West End theater district. There are large screens, reflective puddles, neon signs, and lots of windows nearby to really show off ray tracing at nighttime.

The $299 Xbox Series S handles most of these well, albeit running at 30fps in 1080p. In fact, I’m surprised at this early example of ray tracing on this smaller next-gen Xbox. Because the Xbox Series S is able to output at 4K, I’ve been playing Watch Dogs on a 4K OLED TV.

While the game doesn’t render in 4K on the Series S, the console upscales the image quality from its 1080p target to 4K. The result is a little rough around the edges at times, but an OLED TV certainly helped mask the fact the image is being upscaled from 1080p for me.

The $499 Xbox Series X targets a 4K resolution at 30fps, and the image quality is often close to the ultra settings found on the PC version of the game. I’ve also been testing Watch Dogs: Legion on a PC equipped with a Core i9-10900K and Nvidia’s latest RTX 3090 graphics card. The PC version is obviously superior thanks to a higher frame rate, improved ray-tracing effects, and just more detail, but the Xbox Series X is also surprisingly close.

Ray tracing feels like one of the bigger promises of this next generation of consoles, but we weren’t able to test it fully on the Xbox Series X and S during the review period. The PS5 is also using ray tracing in a variety of games, including Spider-Man Miles Morales, which includes a ray tracing mode at 30fps or a performance mode at 60fps. We haven’t been able to test Watch Dogs: Legion on the PS5 just yet.

We might need to wait to see a AAA next-gen game running at 60fps with lots of ray-tracing effects enabled, but these early examples across Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, and PS5 are encouraging. We’re bound to see even more impressive examples in the months and years ahead.