The RTX 4090 begs for a game that can make it shine

The new Nvidia RTX 4090 seems absurdly powerful. It’s also a hot and power-hungry card, and even with no third-party benchmarks to back it up, it’s already clear that the RTX 4090 has a big leg up on even the best previous-generation cards.

But does all that power really make sense? Sure, you can run the existing catalog of AAA games at 4K with ray tracing enabled at over 100fps, but there’s nothing on the list that will really push the 4090, and that’s a problem for Nvidia. It may be a while before an exciting new game can show just how much the RTX 4090 really can do.

Useless fear for all that money


According to Nvidia’s numbers, the RTX 4090 is about twice as fast as an RTX 3090 Ti and up to four times faster in ray tracing games with DLSS 3 enabled. That’s a huge leap, much more in line with the generational progress of earlier than recent generations, where incremental improvements and feature updates have been more of the selling point.

But it’s even clear from Nvidia’s own announcement that there isn’t really anything that pushes you to buy such a card. Higher frame rates and detail settings are always welcome, but if you’ve already played Cyberpunk 2077and explored Microsoft Flight Simulator to your heart’s content, the RTX 4090 is just extra horsepower with no room to gallop.

Nvidia had to create an entirely new demo environment itself, Racer RTX, to even show something new and exciting. Elsewhere, it almost exclusively used older AAA games to showcase the performance of its new card(s). Secure Microsoft Flight Simulator at 100 fps is impressive, but that game is over two years old. Cyberpunk 2077s new RT Overdrive mode with DLSS 3 and improved ray tracing looks great, but that game was pretty disappointing at launch from a purely fun perspective, and most of those raving about it have already played it.

NVIDIA Racer RTX | The future of graphics powered by the GeForce RTX 40 series

The only upcoming game that Nvidia even mentions in its vague benchmarks for the new card is Warhammer 40,000: Darktide. Since it is built on the same engine as the one from 2018 Vermintide 2and isn’t filled with elaborate environments or particularly detailed models, it won’t be the most demanding of games.

Even looking at the proliferation of AAA games coming this year, there’s not really anything that’s going to blow anyone away graphically. That doesn’t really matter from a gamers perspective, and this predominantly indie gamer certainly doesn’t care, but it makes sales of a new generation of extremely powerful graphics cards a real hurdle for Nvidia. Especially if it wants to increase prices and power demand.

The only new feature is even more performance

Nvidia DLSS 3 runs in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

While the RTX 2000 Turing graphics cards promised ray tracing and DLSS support as a reward for early adopters, and the RTX 3000 series promised comfortable frame rates in the most demanding games, the RTX 4000 does just that and a little more. DLSS 3 is the only truly unique feature.

And while it’s not exactly exclusive to this generation, Nvidia has said it wouldn’t work well on previous generations of RTX tensor cores. While that claim might sound dubious to the most skeptical, it offers at least one distinct advantage to the RTX 4090 over its predecessors, but when the goal of DLSS is to deliver even more performance in the limited number of supporting games, for a card that is already more than fast enough for its current job, it doesn’t do much to encourage early adopters. More than that, the best feature, frame generation, is exclusive to the new 40 series cards.

The progress in ray tracing is good, because ray tracing has still not really been worth it until now. But as beautiful as it is, ray tracing has had years to capture the gamer’s zeitgeist, and it still doesn’t work.

Whether that’s because of the performance limitations, or the still relatively limited use in even big games, doesn’t really matter. Ada Lovelace’s big selling point, like Turing and Ampere before it, is that it does ray tracing really well, and that just doesn’t seem to be something most gamers are excited about right now.

Maybe modders can save the white elephant

A screenshot of RTX Remix.

As a plea to the wider gaming community, Nvidia threw a bot at the true RTX evangelists: RTX Remix. It’s a modding tool designed to make it relatively easy to upscale older games and add ray-traced lighting, even on outdated versions of DirectX. Given the success of ray tracing on games like earthquake II and Minecraftthere’s some serious potential for some of the most iconic older games to be revived with an unofficial RTX remastering.

That’s great, and I’m definitely excited about some of my favorite older games that still take up too much of my time to get the RTX treatment. It’s also important to praise modders for creating some of the most successful game genres of recent years, including MOBAs and Battle Royale games, so there’s potential with something like this to explore new and exciting ways to play.

But – and this is a big but – Nvidia really hopes people spend $1,600 to get a ray-traced remaster of Portal? I certainly wouldn’t, but then I downclocked my RX 6950XT because it was too hot and too loud, so I’m probably not the target audience for such a card. Again, who is that?

The RTX 4090 will be the most powerful graphics card for the foreseeable future, unless RDNA3 is a real surprise. Most likely we’ll get some titles next year that can really push it – maybe a poorly optimized one Ark 2or perhaps Star Citizen will launch another Alpha.

But that’s no good at the moment, and ultimately leaves anyone who decides to spend as much as a high-end gaming PC on a single GPU wondering what they can actually do with it that they couldn’t already do with an RTX. 3090 for $500 less.

The answer is, for now at least, not much.

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