Skip to main content

Ray tracing on Elden Ring? Here’s how I added it myself

Elden Ring doesn’t look great. It’s serviceable, but it’s a step backward in image quality compared to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Dark Souls 3, at least to me. While I was playing, I kept thinking to myself: “Man, it would be nice if the developers patched ray tracing into the game.”

But then I realized I could do that myself.

Related Videos

Elden Ring prompted an adventure through ray tracing and its flimsy definition, the various ways games calculate lighting, and how Nvidia’s RTX games work on a technical level. I ended up adding ray tracing to several PC games, including Elden Ring. Here’s how I did it.

A ray tracing primer

An explosion reflecting off of an eye in Battlefield V.

Achieving ray tracing glory in a game that doesn’t support it isn’t easy. But thanks to a tool called ReShade, it is possible.

How, you ask? Well, the thing to remember is that ray tracing is a technique, not a feature. Nvidia’s RTX ray tracing has led the charge on defining what it is, which is what some may refer to as proper ray tracing. In short, RTX ray tracing traces rays of light out from each light source in a scene, regardless of what you can currently see on screen.

What I’m talking about adding myself is sometimes called “ray marching,” and it should be said: Calling the gray area between it and ray tracing ambiguous would be an understatement. Instead of going through the painstaking process of determining how each ray interacts with objects for the entire scene, ray marching uses a depth map to shoot rays out (or have them march forward) to determine lighting characteristics. You can see an example of a depth map, which just shows how far or close objects are to the camera, below.

A depth map in Elden Ring.

There’s a lot of technical detail here, but here’s what’s important: Ray tracing is attempting to simulate lifelike lighting no matter how demanding of a process that is, while ray marching is only concerned with what you can currently see on screen. Both are ray tracing in that they’re calculating how rays of light bounce off of objects, but they’re going about it in very different ways.

All of that explanation is critical to understanding that ray tracing has different uses. Undoubtedly, most people think of ray tracing as reflections, but it has far more applications. Ray tracing also touches shadows, ambient occlusion, global illumination, and basically any other technique that has to do with lighting and shadows.

That brings us back to Pascal “Marty McFly” Gilcher’s RTGI ReShade shader. It’s a shader that handles ray-traced global illumination through a tool called ReShade, which is basically a middleman that modifies instructions from the game before they reach the graphics driver. It’s not “real” ray tracing as you’d find from an RTX-enabled game, but it’s using ray tracing as a technique to offer more realistic lighting and shadows in games that aren’t properly supported.

Gilcher offers the RTGI shader through Patreon for $5 per month, but it’s also available on Nvidia graphics cards (the SSRTGI, or screen space ray-traced global illumination, filter in GeForce Experience) for free. I subscribed to show some support, and I immediately took the shader out for a spin in some of my favorite games.

But then I realized how in-depth of a process getting it working would be.

A test of patience

A normal map and depth map next to each other in Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

Once I had the RTGI shader in hand, I had to install ReShade. I’ve used ReShade before, and if you’re interested in modifying the look of your games, it’s worth learning. The first step was getting ReShade and the RTGI shader installed for each game I wanted to test. You have to do them one at a time.

Configuring ReShade is easy enough thanks to a quick tutorial it runs whenever you launch it for the first time. I switched on the shader in Elden Ring for the first time, and it didn’t do anything. I did a little extra research, but I couldn’t find out why, so I shelved this idea for a bit.

My issue, and one I encountered in nearly every game I tested, came from the depth map. This is the most important thing for the RTGI shader, as it uses the depth map to determine how to simulate the lighting. Games use a different approach, so in some cases, they wouldn’t pull the depth map at all, while in others, they would flip the map so objects close to the camera rendered like they were far away and vice versa.

RTGI provides tools to combat these issues, but they’re not exactly user-friendly. In games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, I had to invert the depth map using RTGI, and in games like Batman Arkham City, I had to how far the depth map reached into the scene. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but after a bit of practice, I was quickly able to adjust the depth map to achieve the results I wanted.

RTGI ReShade settings in Elden Ring.

That’s the main thing to worry about to achieve a realistic result, but I encountered at least a dozen other hurdles. Halos around objects, harsh and unattractive light spill, and strange interactions with shadows cropped up several times. And in some games, like Half-Life 2, the shader just didn’t look right no matter what I did.

If you want to get started with RTGI, here are a few pointers to get you on the right path:

  • Always enable the DisplayDepth shader in ReShade after you turn on RTGI. You need it to see if your depth map is showing up correctly, but you can turn it off afterward.
  • Disable anti-aliasing in-game. You can handle anti-aliasing through ReShade, and it can mess with the depth map for RTGI.
  • RTGI provides global settings for the shader. They’re explained in the DisplayDepth interface, and you need to adjust them based off of what you see in the depth map.
  • In the Add-Ons tab of ReShade, make sure to select your depth map. You’ll see a list of maps on the bottom, and they’re very confusing. You’re looking for the one that has a resolution that matches your display.
  • RTGI can cause color issues on its own, so make sure to use the curves or levels tool to adjust the look of the game afterward.
  • RTGI includes several settings at the bottom of the interface (infinite bounces for rays, material-based lighting, etc). You’ll probably need to turn on at least a few of these features for the best results.

RTGI requires a lot of patience and experimentation, so don’t pick it up for a one-click solution. I’m not going to use it every game, but in titles like Elden Ring that I want to play a lot, the results are great.

The results

Simulated ray tracing in Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

That’s enough technobabble for a week  — maybe a month, or even a year. It’s time to see what RTGI can do in action. I applied it to 10 games, but I came away with five that I liked the look of: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Batman Arkham City, Hitman 3, Metro 2033 Redux, and of course, Elden Ring. 

Here are the screenshots:

RTGI isn’t doing all of the work on its own. As mentioned, it’s a good idea to add a levels or curves adjustment after RTGI to balance out anything weird it’s doing. I had to do that in every game, and like RTGI, it’s a process of trial and error.

But I still love the depth that RTGI brings. In Elden Ring, it’s how the back of the shield is properly shadowed. In Hitman 3, it’s the contact shadows of Agent 47’s coat and the bloom from bright lights that spill out onto other surfaces. RTGI doesn’t overhaul games; it just enhances them.

Was it worth it?

A hero riding a horse in Elden Ring.

No. For the vast majority of gamers, fussing around with ReShade and RTGI isn’t worth it at all. I did it because I’m a geek and I love computer graphics, and I was still frustrated multiple times during the process.

If you have a game that you want to up the look of, and you plan on dedicating a lot of time to it, RTGI is a solution. It’s not essential, but if you’re into modding PC games, RTGI provides plenty of fodder to toy around with. And the results are great, given that you spend some time getting your settings right.

I won’t use RTGI in every game, or even most of them. But in select single-player titles — using RTGI or any ReShade filter in a multiplayer game is a swift way to earn a ban — I’ll use it again.

Editors' Recommendations

Why I refuse to buy The Callisto Protocol on PC, even with an RTX 4090
A hand holding the RTX 4090 GPU.

The Callisto Protocol was one of my most anticipated games of the year, so you can imagine how disappointing it was to learn that the PC port runs terribly. I've been down this road before with the best graphics card money can buy, and I refuse to go down it again.

Although it's true that next-gen consoles are starting to show their age, they hold a benefit over PCs that's been exaggerated over the past year: precompiled shaders. The Callisto Protocol is the latest egregious example, so I'm saving my pennies on the PC port for the time being.
What's the problem with The Callisto Protocol on PC?

Read more
Are gaming PCs more expensive today? Here’s what $1,000 bought you 10 years ago
A close-up image of Nvidia's RTX 3080 Ti graphics card.

Say it with me: "Building a gaming PC is getting more expensive." Price is top of mind when building a gaming PC in 2022, and why wouldn't it be? Today, the best graphics cards will cost you well over $1,000, DDR5 is ungodly expensive, and CPU prices are double or even triple what they were a decade ago.

It's easy to add up the numbers and come to a conclusion, but that ignores game optimizations, falling prices of other components, and the various upscaling tools players have to squeeze extra performance out of their PCs. Instead of adding up what you could spend on a gaming PC, I added up what you would spend.

Read more
Which RTX 4080 should you buy on release day?
Three RTX 4080s sitting side-by-side.

The RTX 4080 is here, and you can pick up a card now -- if you're quick enough, that is. Although the RTX 4080 will almost certainly sell out like the RTX 4090 did, that doesn't mean you should pick up the first card you find in stock.

I tested three RTX 4080 models to see if there are any major differences in performance, power, and thermals: Nvidia's Founder's Edition design, PNY's XLR8 Verto Epic-X, and MSI's Suprim X. Although there aren't large gaps in performance, more expensive models like the Suprim X can offer slight advantages outside of performance.
RTX 4080 models you can buy today

Read more