Cyberpunk 2077 ray tracing: what does it look like and how does it run?

Cyberpunk 2077 is without doubt one of the biggest ray tracing games that’s ever been released on PC, and it should come as no surprise that it’s also one of the most demanding. Like Metro Exodus before it, CD Projekt Red have gone all in on this ultra-realistic lighting technology to make Night City look and feel like a living, breathing city, using everything from ray traced reflections and shadows to three separate ray traced illumination techniques. Indeed, if you’ve been searching for an excuse to show off your new Nvidia RTX card, this is definitely the game you’ve been waiting for. Or is it? Night City can look spectacular with all of its ray traced bells and whistles switched on, but only a select few GPUs are really capable of depicting this futuristic cityscape at playable frame rates.

To help you get the best ray tracing performance, I’ve put together this handy guide, showing you what the game’s ray tracing looks like in the flesh compared to its regular non-ray traced quality settings, as well as what kind of performance you can expect to see at 1080p, 1440p and 4K across almost every Nvidia RTX card that’s available today, from the entry-level RTX 2060 all the way up to the brand-new RTX 3080. Regardless of whether you’re an existing RTX owner or are looking to upgrade once hardware prices settle down again, here’s everything you need to know about Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing settings.

To take advantage of Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing effects you will, naturally, need a ray tracing-capable graphics card. Ordinarily, this would mean any Nvidia RTX card or one of AMD’s new RX 6000 GPUs, but be warned: at time of writing, AMD’s Radeon RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT GPUs don’t currently support Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing effects, despite being able to do ray tracing in other PC games.

CD Projekt Red have said they’re working with AMD to rectify this as soon as possible, but it’s not yet known when support for AMD’s Big Navi GPUs will be added into the game. As a result, if you want to play Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing right now, then you’ll need one of Nvidia RTX 20 or 30-series cards.

Cyberpunk 2077 ray tracing performance

If you want to jump straight into our Cyberpunk 2077 ray tracing performance figures, you can find out how Nvidia’s RTX 20 and 30-series GPUs fared against Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing effects by clicking the links below. As mentioned above, I’ve tested every Nvidia RTX GPU that’s currently available, including all of Nvidia’s new RTX 30-series, and each page will tell you exactly what kind of performance you can expect across all resolutions and graphics presets – and that includes with and without Nvidia’s performance-boosting DLSS tech enabled, too.

Be warned, though. Lower-end RTX owners will likely be in for a pretty rough ride when it comes to Cyberpunk 2077’s more advanced ray tracing effects, particularly if you’ve got an RTX 2060 in your PC. Indeed, even with DLSS enabled (which is pretty much mandatory across all cards at the moment), the RTX 2060 will struggle to hit playable frame rates at 1080p with ray tracing switched on, and I’d strongly recommend buying an RTX 3060 Ti at the very least if you want a decent ray tracing experience in this game.

Honestly, though, the best ray tracing graphics card for Cyberpunk 2077 right now is either the RTX 3070 or the RTX 3080, as these are more or less the only cards that can consistently hit above 50fps at 1080p on its RT Ultra preset – which, as you’ll soon discover below, is arguably the only setting that’s worth bothering with when it comes to this fancy pants lighting tech. If it’s ray tracing at 1440p or 4K you’re after, on the other hand, then the RTX 3080 is really the only way to go right now.

Cyberpunk 2077 ray tracing requirements

In a way, these revelations aren’t wholly surprising, especially when we take a closer look at Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing PC requirements. CD Projekt Red have outlined three ray tracing specifications in their official system requirements for the game: Minimum, High and Ultra, which I’ve listed below:

Cyberpunk 2077 PC requirements RT Minimum (1080p)

CPU: Intel Core i7-4790 / AMD Ryzen 3 3200G
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
Storage: 70GB SSD
OS: Windows 10 (64-bit)

Cyberpunk 2077 PC requirements RT High (1440p)

CPU: Intel Core i7-6700 / AMD Ryzen 5 3600
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070
Storage: 70GB SSD
OS: Windows 10 (64-bit)

Cyberpunk 2077 PC requirements RT Ultra (4K)

CPU: Intel Core i7-6700 / AMD Ryzen 5 3600
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
Storage: 70GB SSD
OS: Windows 10 (64-bit)

As we can see, both the RTX 3070 and RTX 3080 are the recommended cards for playing Cyberpunk 2077 at 1440p and 4K with ray tracing switched on, although I’m surprised CD Projekt Red haven’t since bumped up their minimum requirement to an RTX 3060 Ti, as I don’t believe the RTX 2060 offers a good enough experience here.

Still, it’s interesting to note that Cyberpunk 2077’s RT Minimum spec is actually pretty much the same as the game’s regular High PC requirements (that is, Ultra settings at 1440p). The only differences are a slightly higher RAM requirement (16GB vs 12GB), and the removal of AMD’s Radeon RX 5700 XT graphics card recommendation as it can’t do ray tracing. Everything else, including the game’s CPU, VRAM and storage recommendations, is exactly the same.

The RT High and Ultra specs also have a lot in common with Cyberpunk 2077’s normal Ultra PC requirements, too, which detail what you need for playing the game on Ultra settings at 4K. The only real difference (apart from a lack of AMD GPU recommendations) is their slightly higher CPU requirement. Whereas Cyberpunk 2077’s regular Ultra spec only listed an Intel Core i7-4790 processor (the same as the RT Minimum spec), here you’re looking at the slightly newer (but still relatively old) Core i7-6700. CD Projekt Red’s AMD CPU choice, on the other hand, is still the same Ryzen 5 3600 – which is actually surprisingly low compared to other ray tracing games out there.

In any case, the key takeaway here is that, graphics card aside, you shouldn’t need a substantially more powerful PC to play Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing than you would playing the game on its normal non-ray tracing settings. That doesn’t mean it still isn’t an absolute brute to run, though, so make sure you have a read of our Cyberpunk 2077 best settings guide to help improve your PC’s performance if it’s still struggling.

Cyberpunk 2077 ray tracing settings

Next up, let’s take a closer look at Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing settings. You’ll find these at the bottom of the graphics menu in the main settings. There are two ray tracing presets available: RT Medium and RT Ultra. Both are effectively the same as the game’s normal Ultra preset, with the main difference being the number of ray tracing effects they employ.

A screenshot of Cyberpunk 2077's RT Medium preset settings.

Cyberpunk 2077’s RT Medium preset is the same as its default Ultra settings, only you get ray traced shadows and ‘medium’ ray traced lighting.

As you can see from the screenshot above, RT Medium, for example, doesn’t include ray traced reflections. You still get ray traced shadows, though, and a ‘medium’ application of its ray traced ambient occlusion, diffuse and global illumination effects, which are all lumped into the ‘ray traced lighting’ setting. DLSS is also set to Auto by default, but you can also opt for its Quality, Balanced or Performance modes. There’s also an Ultra Performance DLSS option for those playing in 8K on an RTX 3090, too.

A screenshot of Cyberpunk 2077's RT Ultra preset settings.

Cyberpunk 2077’s ‘Ultra’ Ray Tracing settings also include ray traced reflections, but there’s also an additional ‘Psycho’ Lighting option if you feel like pushing the boat out.

RT Ultra, on the other hand, adds in ray traced reflections and dials up its three lighting effects to Ultra, with DLSS left on Auto again. There is, however, another ‘Psycho’ setting for the three lighting effects should you feel so inclined, but in practice, I couldn’t really see the benefit of it. Instead, I’d recommend sticking with the default Ultra setting if I were you, if only to prevent yourself from tanking your PC’s performance in the process.

Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing effects in the flesh

Here’s what Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing effects look like in practice (click to enlarge and all that). I’ve tried to find areas of Night City that show off these effects to best effect, but I’ve also included some shots where having ray tracing switched on doesn’t actually make as much difference as you might expect.

For example, I thought these glossy, rain-slicked street in Little China would be a great candidate for some ray traced reflections, but the effect is much less pronounced than what I was expecting. There’s clearly some reflection work going on here, but the regular Ultra settings still look pretty darn great as well. In cases like this, I’d be okay with giving ray traced reflections a miss.

Instead, it’s only big puddles of water where you can really see the full impact of ray traced reflections, as you can see below.

Interestingly, your character V is about the only thing that isn’t reflected in the world of Cyberpunk 2077, so you’ll only ever see the world staring back at you rather than your own face. This is disappointing, especially after the lovely ray traced reflections implementations we’ve seen in other games, such as Control and Watch Dogs Legion, but I can only assume it’s because your appearance is so variable depending on what clothes you’re currently wearing. Indeed, even just looking in the mirror in your apartment is requires you to select it and enter a special viewing mode, so maybe having V reflected in the world as well was just deemed too much for it to handle (although at least the mirror bugs seem to have thankfully been ironed out now).

As for the game’s ray traced shadows, this is enabled on both the RT Medium and RT Ultra presets, and looks pretty much identical across both settings. As for whether it’s “better” than regular shadows, it really depends on how much you dig soft lighting.

The other ray traced lighting effects are slightly harder to pin down into individual examples. Ambient occlusion, for example, is all to do with ambient light – the kind of soft shadows that help ground objects in a scene – whereas global illumination is all to do with the way light strikes a particular surface – the kind of natural illumination you get from the sun and other light sources. Diffuse illumination, on the other hand, is tied up with emissive lighting – the kind of glow you get from neon signs and the like. They’re all very closely related, so here are some general ‘lighting’ shots I’ve seen around the city to give you an idea of when ray tracing is and isn’t in effect.

In the top set of images, Ultra and RT Medium are once again very similar. The lights coming out of the windows on the left are almost identical, as are the wet patches on the ground directly in front of me. Even the big neon sign doesn’t seem to be having a huge impact on the surrounding environment, and it’s only when you step up to RT Ultra that you begin to see a difference. Here, the windows and puddles are reflecting the outside world, and there’s a greater variety of shadows and soft-lighting around the neon sign.

The same goes for the next cityscape, too. The neon signs are more accurately reflected in the surrounding buildings when you’re got RT Ultra enabled, and there’s a much softer gradient in the areas where light meets shadow. It’s quite subtle, but if you dig fine details, then there are plenty to be found on RT Ultra. RT Medium, on the other hand, still looks a lot like regular Ultra to me.

The latter is also true of the last set of images as well – at least to my eyes, anyway. RT Medium does add a lot more ray traced shadows into the mix, admittedly (see the rooftops in the lower right corner), but in terms of lighting, it all looks quite similar to me. The lights in the buildings are pretty much the same, and you get a very similar red glow coming off the 24 sign in the foreground. RT Ultra, meanwhile, is noticeably different, offering more shadows, more definition in the red glow, and a greater sense of depth in the central glass buildings.

In summary: There are no doubt many more examples where RT Medium shines brighter than regular Ultra settings, but honestly, based on what I’ve seen, it’s either go big or go home with Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing effects. To my eyes, RT Medium just isn’t visibly different enough from the game’s standard Ultra settings to be really worth bothering with in my books, and if you want to play with any ray tracing effects at all, then let it be ray traced reflections rather than ray traced shadows. The former have a much more visible impact on the game’s environment, and are arguably what make it look and feel more ‘next-gen’ than anything else.

With that in mind, here’s how each Nvidia RTX card I tested fared on both of Cyberpunk 2077’s ray tracing presets, both with and without DLSS, as well as what kind of performance you can expect with no ray tracing effects enabled whatsoever. I’ve covered every RTX card that’s currently available (save the ludicrously expensive RTX 3090), so you should be able to get a pretty good idea of how each they all stack up performance-wise.

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Cyberpunk 2077 ray tracing: what does it look like and how does it run?

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