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Lego Builder's Journey: the ray tracing showcase hits PS5

How does the latest console version compare to Xbox and PC?

Lego Builder's Journey is a stunning game with a comprehensive ray tracing feature set that gives the title a CG-like quality on a high-end gaming PC. This makes the new PS5 release rather intriguing. Like the PC, it promises ray-traced visuals, unlike last year's release on Xbox Series consoles - so can the PS5 deliver a top-class experience and how does it compare to the conventionally-rendered Xbox versions?

Before we get into the comparisons, let's break down Lego Builder's Journey into its building blocks. This is a rather limited title, essentially a series of small puzzle stages, presented from an isometric perspective with limited camera movement. The original release targeted iPhones and iPads after all, with simple and graphically basic levels that wouldn't look particularly exciting on consoles or PC. But this relative simplicity, along with a conversion from Unity's more limited Universal Render Pipeline to their advanced High Definition Render Pipeline, allowed Light Brick Studio to really scale up the visual quality when it shipped on PC last year. Even without raytracing features the title looked excellent, with carefully implemented SSR, ambient occlusion, subsurface scattering, and volumetric lighting.

Ray tracing, of course, took the title to the next level, solving all the problems inherent to the screen-space techniques and delivering a much more accurate lighting simulation complete with RT for shadows, ambient occlusion, global illumination and reflections. An upgrade like this would likely prove very challenging for a typical AAA title that was built from the ground-up with precalculated solutions in mind, but here, a ray-traced pathway was eminently feasible and produced great results. So how well do these console releases compare to the top-end PC release?

lego a builder's journey screenshot comparison digital foundry
The original iOS release has been massively scaled up for PC - and PS5.

Let's start with resolution. According to Light Brick Studio, the game runs at a native resolution of 2954x1662 on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and 1970x1108 on Series S. The heavy reliance on post-processing serves as a bit of a leveling mechanism and all console versions of the game look subdued, without a lot of fine detail. However, the base resolutions are being upscaled to a 4K output here using AMD's FSR spatial upscaling technology. For the relatively simple artwork here, FSR does a great job at maintaining detail. The Series S release, for instance, has very similar edge detailing to the higher-end machines despite rendering internally with less than half the pixel count. FSR often gives somewhat mixed results in other titles but here it works well: the combination of lower-detail artwork and limited camera movement shows the technique at its best.

But what about the underlying visual settings? Builder's Journey is an extremely scalable title, and the current=gen console versions come in towards the top end of that scale. The Xbox Series releases lack any RT features, but look fairly similar to the PC version at max settings and RT disabled. There are some cutbacks, however - bloom, volumetrics, motion blur, and depth of field settings are all pegged to the PC's medium options, while ambient occlusion is set to low and global illumination is curiously set to off. In direct comparisons the console versions hold up pretty well relative to the maxed-out non-RT PC release at the same resolution, so these settings tweaks don't seem to impact visual quality much.

Meanwhile, the later PS5 release packs two modes, like most games with RT on console. The default mode is to leave ray-tracing disabled with a 60fps frame-rate target. This mode appears identical to the Xbox Series releases in visual settings. Far more interesting is the ray-tracing mode, which halves frame-rate to 30fps but resolution remains at 1662p with FSR upscaling. The visual settings that don't involve RT seem similar to the PS5 in 60fps mode.

lego a builder's journey screenshot comparison digital foundry
By accepting a halved frame-rate, the RT mode offers a more realistic look.

For reference, the PC version offers four ray-tracing settings - shadows, reflections, ambient occlusion, and global illumination, at three quality levels - low, medium, and high. PS5 in RT mode appears to feature implementations of RT AO and reflections, though the PC-equivalent settings aren't exactly straightforward.

The PC's low RT AO setting seems like a good match for PS5 - just a faint touch of AO around areas where geometry intersects. The situation with reflections is a bit more curious. In general, reflections seem much less present here than in other versions of the game. The PS5 version running in the 60fps mode showcases some good-looking reflections, as does the PC version with all RT effects enabled. On PS5 in RT mode however, reflections appear absent from the sides of many surfaces.

According to the developer, issues with the way the reflections interact with fog, and problems with a specific shader sub-pass for computing lighting for reflections, cause the reflections to essentially disappear on some surfaces. A patch to fix the issue should arrive in the next week or two, which would put the PS5 on level pegging with the PC's low RT reflections setting.

lego a builder's journey screenshot comparison digital foundry
Screenshots provided by Light Brick Studios show the missing reflections issue solved post-patch.

Thankfully performance is a much more straightforward proposition on PS5. Both the 60fps and RT modes hit their targets perfectly, without even a hint of frame-rate drops. This is a rather sedate title with little need for twitch reflexes, but even still the consistency is appreciated. Series X is similarly perfect, with only Series S showing any weakness with frame-rates dropping to the 50s in some of the densest stages.

So what's the final word on the console releases? Unfortunately, the headline feature that caught our attention in the first place - a ray-tracing option on PS5 - doesn't deliver the expected results at the moment. Presuming the upcoming patch fixes the issues on PS5, the RT mode should become a beautiful showcase.

Excitingly, Light Brick Studio also told us that they are planning to release this RT mode on Xbox Series consoles later this year, once the Unity engine implements RT support for Xbox.

lego a builder's journey screenshot comparison digital foundry
Is there enough headroom on PS5 and Series X to target more advanced RT at the expense of resolution?

I wonder if there's room for an even more ambitious RT mode too - one that sacrifices resolution for even more ray-tracing features at higher quality. The maxed-out PC release is extremely demanding, but there should be headroom to push settings further here. For example, in my testing with an RTX 3080 Laptop GPU, which has similar performance to a desktop RTX 3060 Ti, a stable 30fps in Builder's Journey with all settings maxed out was possible. That includes RT fully enabled at a 1080p internal resolution, upscaled to 4K through FSR. This laptop is a more powerful system than the PS5 but it's in the same ballpark, and the use of FSR manages to keep image quality within acceptable bounds.

That said, the non-ray traced iterations of the game on PS5 and Series X/S are also well worth playing. Even without all the ray-tracing bells and whistles, Lego Builder's Journey is still a beautiful title. This isn't a premier ray tracing experience just yet, but the pieces are here, just waiting to be assembled.

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