When you’ve splashed out on one of the best graphics cards (opens in new tab) around, naturally you’re going to want to push it to its limit with the flashiest looking games. You want those freakishly realistic textures, ray-traced reflections you can stare at all day and lighting so good you’ll wear down your screenshot button.
I managed to snag a 3080 Ti this year, inspiring me to download all my most fetching games just to gawk at. My PC has transformed into a showcase of stunning worlds where I’ve become a tourist, just taking snaps and trying to justify the expense of a GPU in this era of shortages. If you’re in the same boat, allow me to lend you a hand with some recommendations. Here are the best games to show off your new GPU.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
(Image credit: Ubisoft)
Britain (and a bit of France and Norway) has never looked this good before. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (opens in new tab) could almost trick you into thinking it’s a nice place to live. It’s a technical and aesthetic marvel, offering up some of the most striking vistas you’ll see on your PC. As you run and ride across the sprawling map, you’ll see absurd distances while maintaining a surprising amount of detail, with the views made all the better by too-good-to-be-true lighting.
Despite not taking advantage of all your GPU’s bells and whistles—there are no ray tracing options, for instance—it’s still a singularly striking game that depends on a powerful GPU to get everything out of. With my old 1080 Ti—still a great card—I had to make a few concessions here and there to get a stable 60fps at 1440p, but with my 3080 Ti there aren’t really any hurdles.
While Battlefield 5 (opens in new tab) is no longer the newest game in the series, the poor response to Battlefield 2042 means its predecessor is a more tempting offer, and thankfully still looks exceptional. It was one of the first games to take advantage of ray tracing, which brings the carnage up to a whole new level, letting you admire the way that the fire reflects off the chassis of a ruined vehicle, or the way the light hits the bombed-out battlefield.
DLSS uses machine-learning magic to create an image close to the native resolution but with far fewer pixels, potentially giving you a significant performance boost with a low visual cost. It wasn’t available in Battlefield straight away, but it was eventually patched in, letting you enjoy the flashy effects without a huge performance hit even if your RTX card isn’t a powerhouse. Because it’s from the early days of ray tracing, the effect is subtle, but if you’ve got a capable card you won’t want to be without it.
(Image credit: Remedy)
Control (opens in new tab) is often cited as the game that sold people on ray tracing. The minimalist aesthetic of the Oldest House, all concrete and shiny floors, really lets you see the impact immediately. It’s a lot more noticeable than it is with other games on this list, genuinely having a transformative effect on the eerie building. With fewer visual distractions, you can really see the power of your GPU.
The moody lighting also really benefits from ray tracing. So much drama and tension are created by just a single bright light in a dark room, and Control is full of scenes like this. It’s still a looker without ray tracing, if you want to achieve the highest possible fps, but if you’ve got an Nvidia GPU you can find a nice middle ground with DLSS.
(Image credit: CD Projekt/Petri Levälahti)
Despite its incredibly rough launch—something that CDPR is still reckoning with more than a year later—there’s no denying that Cyberpunk 2077 (opens in new tab) is a game bursting with eye candy. Night City is a place like no other videogame location, full of shining, monolithic skyscrapers, huge holograms, and an atmosphere so thick you could cut it with your cyberknife.
This incredibly busy open world also really puts your GPU to work, especially when you turn on ray tracing. Like Control, this is a game that really shows off the impact of this setting, but for very different reasons. Here, it’s the big number of light sources, the contrast between gloomy alleys and glamorous sky palaces, and the countless reflective surfaces that makes it stand out. This does make it harder to notice individual improvements, though. It’s a lot, and that also means there isn’t a card out there able to handle it smoothly without DLSS or FSR.
Dying Light 2
(Image credit: Techland)
Dying Light 2 (opens in new tab) presents one of the most picturesque post-apocalypses around, packing a surprising amount of beauty into its zombie-infested city. It’s a high-fidelity parkour playground that’s busy and vibrant, regardless of the settings, but looks significantly better when the ray tracing settings are activated, which punch up the depth and realism of every scene.
While Nvidia’s RTX cards were heavily promoted, non-RTX cards can still take advantage of ray tracing in Dying Light 2, as well as alternatives to DLSS. FSR and linear upscaling options are both available, and a necessity even if you’ve got a new high end card. Even the 3090 struggles to get 60 fps with ray tracing and no DLSS. With one of the upscaling options on, however, you’ll see substantial FPS gains. The image quality is slightly compromised if you use the DLSS alternatives, but this is less noticeable at resolutions higher than 1080p.
Far Cry 6
(Image credit: Ubisoft)
Crysis showed us that a really good way to push GPUs was just covering the game in foliage. Forests: they look pretty, and boy does that have a cost. Years later, this remains the case, making Far Cry 6 (opens in new tab) the perfect showcase for your new card. Yara is a lush, gorgeous island, and just a bit demanding.
Few GPUs can handle the game at 1440p on the ultra preset and still get 60 fps, and its AMD cards that see the best performance. The ray tracing implementation isn’t the best, unfortunately, though it does include one of the best implementations of FSR. If you just bought a new Nvidia GPU, Yara is a good place to put it through its paces, but it gets an even stronger recommendation for AMD users.
(Image credit: IO Interactive)
Agent 47’s final (for now) mission sends the stoic assassin to striking locations all over the world—complex spaces filled with dynamic crowds, dramatic lighting, realistic reflections and some of the best rainy weather around. If you’re wanting to test your new GPU, turn on super sampling, jack up the space screen reflections and then enjoy the eye candy.
The Glacier Engine has proved to be a real feather in IO’s cap, especially as it’s evolved, bringing the earlier games up to the standard of the latest. While ray tracing isn’t currently supported, it is coming in 2022, along with DLSS, FSR and XeSS support. Until then, Hitman 3 (opens in new tab) still looks impressive, and has several options that will let you push your latest hardware acquisition.
It’s a few years old now, but Metro Exodus (opens in new tab) still paints a memorable, moody picture of the post-apocalypse. With this sequel leaving the titular metro behind, we get to explore the world above ground, traipsing through gloomy marshes and idyllic autumnal forests. Each big area has its own vibe, with the atmosphere elevated by the addition of ray tracing, included in the Enhanced Edition that everyone gets access to.
Though not as dramatic a difference as you get with some other games, ray tracing does noticeably improve Metro’s forlorn environments, especially when you’re near water, snow and other reflective surfaces. And if you’d like all the bells and whistles on while still maintaining a stable fps, then you can fire up DLSS.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
(Image credit: Microsoft Flight Simulator)
Ah yes, the first game to make my poor 1080 Ti (RIP) weep. And my CPU. And my RAM. Microsoft Flight Simulator (opens in new tab) is a demanding sim. Which also makes it a great game to put your new card through its paces. On the highest settings, this thing looks like real flight footage at times, with the world below you recreated with an absurd level of detail.
MS Flight Sim will continue to be a good test of a new GPU (or a broader hardware upgrade) for a long time, too. Even now, a decent, stable framerate at 4k with the ultra preset is largely unattainable for all but the most future-proofed setups. Thankfully, the long list of graphics settings means that you can still get plenty to gawk at without sacrificing too much performance.
Red Dead Redemption 2
(Image credit: Future)
Red Dead Redemption 2 (opens in new tab) could come out today and still be hailed as a visual feast, able to satisfy even the most graphics-hungry cowboys. The PC version is a few years old now, but still stands as one of the flashiest games outs there, with vistas of sprawling plains, intimidating storms and lush forests unmatched by any other open world.
It looks incredible with a range of graphics settings, but if you’re reading this list you’re probably not interested in making concessions. Thankfully, you only have to make one. You can turn on every bell and whistle and then use DLSS, added last year, to claw back some performance. Regardless of what RTX GPU you’ve got, you’ll need to do this if you want the highest fidelity and a reasonable framerate.
Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (opens in new tab) was already a visual treat back in 2018, with its thick jungles, atmospheric ruins and Lara’s trademark billowing ponytail. The quality of the tessellation, HDR and ambient occlusion add life and depth to the already moody locations, and it only got better after launch.
Ray-traced shadows were eventually implemented, amping up the realism and giving scenes—especially darker ones with multiple sources of light—even more depth and making those forests and ruins much more dramatic. DLSS and FSR are also supported, if you don’t want to sacrifice any frames for those fancy shadows.
Total War: Warhammer 3
(Image credit: Sega)
Total War has always been the perfect series to test a big hardware upgrade. The gargantuan battles full of extremely detailed, extremely animated troops can be equally demanding, which is why there are options to turn down things like troop numbers or reduce the time corpses remain on the battlefield. But you’ve splashed out on a new GPU because you don’t want to worry about that.
These days, even the campaign maps can strain older hardware, and even otherwise solid GPUs can struggle with the ultra settings. So Total War: Warhammer 3 (opens in new tab), which ups the ante when it comes to the scope and fidelity of its fantasy conflict, is one of the best ways to show off your upgrade and see how far you can push it.