Rise of the Tomb Raider Graphics & Performance Guide

By Andrew Burnes on January 28, 2016 | Guides Featured Stories NVIDIA GameWorks

Rise of the Tomb Raider launches on Steam and the Windows Store today, sporting exclusive PC enhancements in addition to a bevy of other improvements, making Lara Croft's latest outing a graphical tour de force, just like 2013's Tomb Raider.

Crystal Dynamics' Foundation Engine returns for the sequel with upgrades galore. Physically Based Rendering gives materials a natural look under all conditions, HDR and adaptive tone mapping create stunningly bright zone transitions and highlights, deferred lighting with localized Global Illumination increases the realism of lighting, volumetric lighting adds God Rays and other shafts of light, dynamic color grading gives artists control over the appearance of individual areas, reactive water enables dynamic water ripples game-wide, physically correct forward lighting enables translucencies to be accurately lit, particle lighting enables particles to be dynamically lit by light from their surroundings, and Subsurface Scattering and Backscattering increases the quality of lighting on characters' skin.

Of the many additions, Crystal Dynamics' use of Side Effects' Houdini software is the most impressive. With this package highly realistic water effects and avalanches were created offline, recorded as Bink videos, and dynamically merged into real-time cutscenes to display visual effects that would be otherwise impossible to render. Less accurate effects could be rendered in real-time, though they wouldn't appear anywhere near as dramatic or thrilling.

As well as those enhancements, the PC release of Rise of the Tomb Raider also sees several game settings improved with new features and functionality, and the addition of entirely new settings. Not to mention the option to utilize NVIDIA technologies like DSR, G-SYNC, SLI, and Surround.

In this guide you'll see all of those effects in our screenshots as we examine Rise of the Tomb Raider's many settings and PC-only upgrades. We'll also show comparisons that highlight their benefits, and reveal their relative performance cost at 1920x1080, the most popular PC gaming resolution. Furthermore, we'll reveal the GPUs you require for a max setting experience, and demonstrate how NVIDIA technologies can enhance your time in Rise of the Tomb Raider's stunning environments.

System Requirements

The official Rise of the Tomb Raider system requirements recommend gamers equip their systems with GeForce GTX 970 or GeForce GTX 980 Ti graphics cards for High-quality, 60 FPS gameplay at 1920x1080 and 2560x1440, respectively. These settings deliver an excellent level of detail, and at 60 FPS it's a super smooth experience free from stuttering and stalls, translating to fluid, responsive gaming. Learn more here.

This being the PC, you can of course crank many of the settings to Very High, bolstering graphical fidelity that bit further. To discover the system you'll require for a maxed out experience skip to our settings summary.

Rise of the Tomb Raider PC-Exclusive Graphics Enhancements

As is the case with the vast majority of multi-platform titles, Rise of the Tomb Raider looks even better on PC thanks to graphics settings that can run at higher detail levels. In addition, there's a new game-wide application of tessellation, a new shadow setting that applies realistic softening, supersampling anti-aliasing options, and NVIDIA HBAO+ ambient occlusion shadowing. Combined, the PC-exclusive options and other enhancements increase fidelity far beyond the level seen on other platforms, delivering the definitive Rise of the Tomb Raider experience.

For detailed explanations of every enhancement, and demonstrations of their capabilities, keep reading. For a first look, check out our Rise of the Tomb Raider Tech Trailer below:

Ambient Occlusion

Ambient Occlusion (AO) adds contact shadows where two surfaces or objects meet, and where an object blocks light from reaching another nearby game element. The AO technique used and the quality of the implementation affects the shadowing's accuracy, and whether new shadows are formed when the level of occlusion is low. Without Ambient Occlusion scenes look flat and unrealistic, and objects appear as if they are floating.

In Rise of the Tomb Raider, the Ambient Occlusion option enables players to choose between Microsoft and Crystal Dynamics' custom Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) technique, called Broad Temporal Ambient Obscurance (BTAO), and our own HBAO+ and VXAO techniques.

BTAO, seen originally in the Xbox One edition of the game and further tweaked for this PC release, is inspired by a 2012 AO technique called Scalable Ambient Obscurance (SAO). Microsoft built upon the ideas presented in the linked SAO paper to create BTAO, and worked with Crystal Dynamics to customize it for Rise of the Tomb Raider. The result is a technique that is better and faster than Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO), which we developed back in 2008.

In 2013 however we improved upon every aspect of HBAO to create HBAO+, and now in 2016 the latest iteration of HBAO+ is found in Rise of the Tomb Raider, creating richer, deeper, more accurate ambient occlusion shadows that further bolster the visual fidelity of the game's fantastic graphics. In a March 2016 update we also introduced NVIDIA Voxel Ambient Occlusion (VXAO), a new AO rendering technique that once again raises the bar. Click here to see how VXAO compares to HBAO+ and BTAO.

  Interactive Comparisons  
HBAO+ vs. On HBAO+ vs. No AO On vs. No AO

In this scene, HBAO+ accurately shadows the detail along the wall on the left of the screen, and further enhances the fidelity of other objects and surfaces.

  Interactive Comparisons  
HBAO+ vs. On HBAO+ vs. No AO On vs. No AO

Here we see how HBAO+'s accuracy enables all the folds in the tent's cloth to be seen, as well as a general improvement to the accuracy of ambient occlusion shadowing on and around other objects and surfaces.

  Interactive Comparisons  
HBAO+ vs. On HBAO+ vs. No AO On vs. No AO

With HBAO+ we're able to add greater depth to the cracks between the tessellated stones, and to combat halos like the one seen around the base of the bucket.

  Interactive Comparisons  
HBAO+ vs. On HBAO+ vs. No AO On vs. No AO

And finally, a set of images exemplifying the need for high-quality ambient occlusion techniques in today's games.

  Interactive Comparisons  
HBAO+ vs. On HBAO+ vs. No AO On vs. No AO

As the interactive comparisons and screenshots demonstrate, our HBAO+ Ambient Occlusion technique improves upon BTAO, which is itself rather good. With HBAO+, AO shadowing is improved, entirely new shadows are rendered, and detail has even greater depth and realism, with the smallest of details being accurately shadowed.

March 2016 NVIDIA Voxel Ambient Occlusion (VXAO) Update: Derived from our Voxel Global Illumination technology, VXAO is a new cutting-edge Ambient Occlusion technique that improves upon HBAO+ to deliver the most realistic Ambient Occlusion shadowing seen to date in games.

With VXAO, occlusion and lighting information is gathered from a ‘world space’ voxel representation of the scene, which takes into account a large area around the viewer. Included in this voxelization are objects and details currently invisible to the viewer, and those behind the viewer, too. The result is scene-wide Ambient Occlusion shadowing, instead of ‘screen space’ shadowing based on what you can currently see. This allows AO shadows to be cast into a scene from objects near to the player but just outside of their view, and from occluded objects in the distance large enough to affect the appearance of the scene.

In addition, VXAO’s precision and accuracy enables significantly improved Ambient Occlusion shadowing in detailed in-game environments. This is particularly evident in Crystal Dynamics’ Rise of the Tomb Raider, the first game to feature VXAO. As demonstrated below in our interactive comparisons, VXAO dramatically improves the quality of Ambient Occlusion shadowing in the game’s object and geometry-filled locations.

In this first set of comparisons, VXAO's precision is exemplified. Detailed objects spread across several layers are accurately and richly shadowed, light being cast and reflected in the room is accurately accounted for, and new AO shadows rendered .

Here we can observe VXAO's impact on overall image quality: with improved accuracy and a new technique for rendering AO, the intensity of the bright sunlight is increased, enhancing the look of the scene and improving the visibility of the God Rays on the upper left.

With VXAO the appearance of the shack is realistically improved, adding deep shadows where appropriate, and brightening surfaces and objects that are directly illuminated by sunlight.

VXAO excels in situations such as those shown below, greatly improving the quality of Ambient Occlusion shadowing.

In other locations VXAO subtly improves upon HBAO+. Here, it's increased precision and lack of screen-space blur allows for accurate AO shadowing around each blade of grass, and between every log on the right of the scene.

VXAO's improvements also enable us to accurately shadow scenes illuminated by several light sources of differing intensities.

VXAO improves Ambient Occlusion shadowing in Rise of the Tomb Raider's tessellated snow, and enables richer, more accurate shadows to be formed from the occlusion of light caused by Jacob and Lara's bodies. Elsewhere in the scene, VXAO highlights depth in undulating snow, and improves shadowing on and around the terrain.

VXAO isn't a spectacular particle effect or an obvious addition, but it is there in every scene, improving Ambient Occlusion shadowing to some degree.

VXAO's advancements and enhancements raise the bar for Ambient Occlusion shadowing once again, taking us one step closer to photorealism. To check it out for yourself simply select "VXAO" in the "Ambient Occlusion" setting in-game, on a system equipped with a GeForce GTX 900 Series, second generation Maxwell-architecture GPU.

Performance: The cost of Ambient Occlusion in Rise of the Tomb Raider can vary from scene to scene, especially in the early parts of the game. In the larger hub areas and later story sequences the cost of BTAO is around two frames per second, and HBAO+ a few frames per second more. The new VXAO mode, meanwhile, costs an extra 10 frames per second, though it does deliver the most realistic and accurate Ambient Occlusion shadowing seen to date in any game.

Anisotropic Filter

Texture Filtering, Anisotropic Filtering, and other similarly named options affect the sharpness of textures, especially those seen in the distance, on oblique angles, or on the sides of the screen. Without Texture Filtering surfaces appear blurry, and image quality is significantly degraded.

In Rise of the Tomb Raider players can choose between several Anisotropic detail levels, and a Trilinear mode for potato PCs.

Performance: Anisotropic Filtering has a negligible performance cost on PC, with the delta being just 1.2 frames per second between 2x and 16x. Trilinear Filtering does give you a significant speed-up, but no sane person should select the option unless they wish for the complete loss of texture fidelity game-wide.


The main anti-aliasing option in Rise of the Tomb Raider is FXAA, a fast post-process solution that anti-aliases edges and transparencies to a decent degree. It may not be to everyone's taste, because of texture blur and the introduction of temporal aliasing, but typically in modern games traditional Multisample Anti-Aliasing (MSAA) techniques are either incompatible or too demanding. Those seeking an alternative can try Rise of the Tomb Raider's other anti-aliasing option, Supersampling Anti-Aliasing (SSAA).

SSAA acts much like NVIDIA Dynamic Super Resolution, increasing the internal rendering resolution of the game before downsampling the result to the display's screen resolution. On a 1920x1080 monitor, 2x SSAA renders Rise of the Tomb Raider at 2688x1512, and at 3840x2160 with 4x SSAA. The output has significantly more detail per pixel, increasing the quality of texturing , the fidelity of effects, and the visibility of background detail. And aliasing is all but eliminated, delivering a super high-quality picture.

Of course, the performance cost is immense, as it would be when rendering natively at a higher resolution on a high-resolution monitor, or using Dynamic Super Resolution to boost the rendering resolution. If you have the horsepower though you can combine SSAA with higher rendering resolutions to output at an effective 7680x4320, which is how DeadEndThrills produced these stunning screenshots.

As the following comparisons hopefully demonstrate, FXAA often has little affect on aliasing in Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1920x1080, and while SSAA can improve image quality by a significant degree, downsampling with NVIDIA Dynamic Super Resolution offers greatly flexibility. Compared to SSAA, which essentially offers two resolutions to downsample from, NVIDIA Dynamic Super Resolution gives you seven, plus the ability to utilize in-game or out of game post process options. This enables greater control over image quality and performance, and results in superior picture quality.

In many of the caverns and tombs, FXAA anti-aliasing has minimal impact on image quality, bar the slight-to-moderate blurring of detail, which is especially noticeable on specular effects in this example.

Thanks to the Dynamic Foliage setting, almost all of the game's foliage sways and blows in the wind, making temporal aliasing a particular issue at 1920x1080. If you can, boost the resolution or inject a superior post-process anti-aliasing technique.

January 29th, 2016 Update: The launch-day build of the game added a SMAA post-process anti-aliasing mode. As you can see in the comparisons below it leaves many surfaces and edges aliased, and in some cases fails to anti-alias them whatsoever, but it does at least avoid FXAA's blurring of textures. Also included in the new set of comparisons is a look at an alternative SMAA technique that is injected into the game via a tool called ReShade. Popular with many enthusiasts, ReShade enables the alteration of a game's appearance through a number of post-process options, as well as the addition of alternative anti-aliasing and ambient occlusion solutions, often producing better results than the in-game settings.

As the comparisons demonstrate, ReShade's injectable post-process SMAA is the best post-process anti-aliasing solution for Rise of the Tomb Raider. It anti-aliases edges far better than SMAA, as is particularly evident on the laptop, desk and lamp, and doesn't blur textures like FXAA.

Setting ReShade SMAA up is pretty simple: download the ReShade app, extract the archive, open Mediator.exe, follow the steps in the readme to add Rise of the Tomb Raider, click on the "Pipeline" tab, untick everything other "SMAA - SweetFX", click "Apply", switch back to the "Setup" tab, save or update your preset, and click "Permanent Push To Application". Now start Rise of the Tomb Raider, configure your options in the launcher to disable anti-aliasing, and load the game. If you've done everything correctly you'll see some ReShade info on the top left of the screen, and have SMAA anti-aliasing similar to that shown in our screenshots.

You can then tweak the SMAA options in Mediator on the SweetFX > SMAA tab, and make further changes to the game's appearance through the many other included options. Alternatively, download other people's ReShade profiles from here.

Performance: As detailed earlier, SSAA can have a significant performance cost, similar to the cost of increasing the rendering resolution. That turns out to be 13 FPS for 2x SSAA, and 21 FPS for 4x SSAA, which pushes our reference-speed GeForce GTX 980 Ti below 30 FPS. If you have a SLI setup though, SSAA is a viable option. The newly-added SMAA, meanwhile, runs about a frame per second slower than FXAA, despite its poor coverage. And ReShade SMAA is that bit slower, though definitely worth it in our opinion.

Our recommendation stands following the update: use ReShade SMAA if you dislike FXAA, or better yet downsample with NVIDIA DSR and add a post-process solution on top, be that FXAA, SMAA, or ReShade SMAA.


Bloom often brightens lights and adds some fringes of light, but here in Rise of the Tomb Raider its integral to the look of scenes, emphasizing tunnels, items of interest, transitions to exterior locations, and more.

In addition, HDR and adaptive tone mapping are utilized in concert to bolster the fidelity of what we ordinarily see from a Bloom effect, making it a must-have setting in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Thanks to the inclusion of Screen Space Reflections, Bloom and HDR lighting is reflected on bodies of water and other suitably reflective surfaces, too.

Performance: Being a post-process effect Bloom costs just a single frame per second in the overwhelming majority of locations.

Depth of Field

Depth of Field is prevalently used for cinematic effect in Rise of the Tomb Raider, helping enhance moments of action and drama.

In cutscenes, variable focus depth of field is utilized, with Bokeh applied to out of focus shapes and particles, imparting a cinematic appearance on these professionally-acted segments of story . In what the game classifies as "cinematics", typically minutes-long cutscenes, 'Very High' Depth of Field is fully utilized even when the lower-quality 'On' setting is selected in the graphics menu.

In shorter cutscenes that transition into and out of gameplay, 'Very High' applies the full Bokeh treatment as before, while 'On' applies a less precise blur lacking Bokeh.

Below, we highlight a spoiler-free moment from a "cinematic", which features identical Depth of Field blurring and Bokeh effects regardless of the setting chosen in the menu.

  Interactive Comparisons  
Very High vs. On Very High vs. Off On vs. Off

In comparison, this short gameplay cutscene lacks Bokeh, but still has a bit of blur when 'On' is selected in the game options.

  Interactive Comparisons  
Very High vs. On Very High vs. Off On vs. Off

During gameplay, depth of field is applied selectively to distant game elements, when diving underwater, during blizzards, in other scripted moments, and screen-wide when activating Lara's Survival Instinct ability that highlights items of note in the environment.

Using the 'On' setting, depth of field is visible during many of these scenarios, albeit at a lower quality with less blurring, and without Bokeh. Using 'Very High', max quality "cinematic" depth of field is applied to near-camera objects that are behind Lara and around the edge of the screen, to the occasional distant building or landmark, underwater, during blizzards, and in Instinct mode on all game elements.

Below a dramatic gameplay scene does a particularly good job at demonstrating the differences between the detail levels.

  Interactive Comparisons  
Very High vs. On Very High vs. Off On vs. Off

Underwater, Very High completely blurs the surface, and when there are visible lights and particles Bokeh is also applied.