Cyberpunk 2077 goes all-in on ray tracing and Nvidia's DLSS 2.0

Cyberpunk 2077 will have four different real-time ray tracing effects at launch, as well as Nvidia's impressive performane-boosting DLSS 2.0 technology.

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The first time we saw Cyberpunk 2077, we were convinced there was no way it would be a current-gen game, despite CD Projekt’s claims. Apparently we were wrong, but there’s no question the level of fidelity and sheer density of the game will make your graphics card sweat—especially because it’ll be a ray-tracing flagship.

On that note, while today’s hotly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay reveal felt pretty underwhelming after the stunning previews, Nvidia sent out more details on the ray tracing tech integrated into the game. It’s enough to stoke our excitement yet again.

We already knew Cyberpunk would have ray tracing, but without details about the specific effects. Today, Nvidia took off those wraps. While most games aside from Control support just one or two real-time ray tracing effects, Cyberpunk 2077 will integrate four different features into the game, as well as the faster, better DLSS 2.0 technology that can help reclaim frames lost to the strenuous lighting effects.

Here are the ray tracing effects you’ll find in Cyberpunk 2077, quoted verbatim from a release sent to me by Nvidia PR. (The screenshots and video in this article all show ray tracing in action in Cyberpunk.)

  • “Ray-traced ambient occlusion - Ambient occlusion is a shading and rendering technique used to calculate how exposed each point in a scene is to ambient lighting. The result is a diffuse shading effect that darkens enclosed and sheltered areas and enhances the rendered image’s overall tone. In Cyberpunk 2077, ray-traced ambient occlusion additionally can be used with local lights to approximate local shadowing effects where shadows are missing.
  • Ray-traced diffuse illumination - This technique is used to capture sky radiance as well as emissive lighting from various surfaces, which is difficult to achieve with traditional rendering techniques. 
  • Ray-traced reflections - In Cyberpunk 2077, ray-traced reflections are used on all surfaces and can trace ranges for up to several kilometers. They are present on both opaque and transparent objects to simulate the way light reflects from glossy and metal surfaces by tracing a single bounce of reflection rays against the scene. This includes smooth natural mirrors like window glass, but also rougher surfaces like brushed metal. Unlike screen space techniques which can only reflect what’s on screen, ray-traced reflections incorporate the entire scene around the character, and can accurately represent objects outside the camera view or facing away from the camera.
  • Ray-traced shadows - Cyberpunk 2077 preview supports directional shadows from the sun and the moon. These shadows aim to be physically accurate and even account for light scattering from clouds. Shadows may be enhanced in the final release to support other types of light sources where it is needed.”

Better yet, these are all expected to be available in the game on day one, along with DLSS 2.0. Most supporting games have added ray tracing as a later update to the game.  

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You’ll need a graphics card capable of real-time ray tracing to tap into those effects, of course. Right now, only Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 20-series GPUs support the cutting-edge technology. They’re killer, but if you’re planning to upgrade your system for Cyberpunk—we’ve heard from dozens of people with that very intention—it’s a bad time to buy a high-end graphics card right now. Better options should be available by the time Cyberpunk 2077 rolls out on November 19.

AMD’s potent next-gen “Big Navi” cards will include ray tracing and are expected to launch sometime before the Xbox Series X (read: November). Nvidia hasn’t said anything about a GeForce refresh, but it’s already revealed its next-gen Ampere GPU in data center form. Endless leaks and rumors point to a late summer or early fall launch for new GeForce cards.

The RTX 20-series will be two years old in August, so the timing checks out. Ampere leaps forward to a smaller process node, which usually results in significant performance and efficiency increases. The rumored GeForce RTX 30-series are expected to amp up ray tracing performance by a sizeable amount.

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Always take rumors with a big pinch of salt, but if you’re going to splurge on a pricey new graphics card to see Cyberpunk 2077 in all its ray traced glory, consider sitting tight for a few months. Yes, the GeForce RTX 2080 Super is amazing, but you don’t want buyer’s remorse on an $800 purchase.

(Unless you manage to win one of Nvidia's ultra-rare GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Cyberpunk 2077 Edition graphics cards, that is. There are still a few contests floating around out there.)

Here are four more Nvidia screenshots of ray traced environments in Cyberpunk 2077:

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This story, "Cyberpunk 2077 goes all-in on ray tracing and Nvidia's DLSS 2.0" was originally published by PCWorld.

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