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Cyberpunk 2077 path tracing update gives RTX 4090 a reason to exist

Cyberpunk 2077 is soon set to receive a free patch that CD Projekt Red prepared in collaboration with Nvidia, and we have our first look at how the graphics will be improved. The update adds a new mode called Ray Tracing: Overdrive, and it feels as though Nvidia is truly squeezing every last bit of power from some of its best graphics cards, such as the RTX 4090, to make this patch a reality.

Cyberpunk 2077 | Ray Tracing: Overdrive Mode - 4K Technology Preview Reveal

Overdrive utilizes full ray tracing, also referred to as path tracing, to boost the game’s visuals to the max. Nvidia shared some game footage and screenshots to demonstrate the capabilities of the new tech. One thing is certain: you’ll need a really powerful GPU to experience the game like this.

Cyberpunk 2077 is already one of the most demanding games you can play on PC. Using an RTX 40-series GPU is recommended if you want to comfortably game on max settings with ray tracing enabled. However, Nvidia and CD Projekt Red managed to make it even more taxing on the GPU — but the result is pretty incredible.

As Nvidia explains in its announcement, path tracing is a technique that accurately simulates light throughout the entire scene. This means that lights, shadows, reflections, and global illumination are all faithfully replicated and look much more lifelike.

Regular ray tracing addresses all of these things separately for a limited number of light sources, but full ray tracing simulates physically correct lighting from a “virtually unlimited number of emissive sources,” says Nvidia.

Screenshot of full ray tracing in Cyberpunk 2077.

If you want to learn the inner workings of path tracing, check out Nvidia’s post. We’ll focus on the end result, which is the visuals and the way they affect the GPU. Needless to say, full ray tracing is very, very taxing on the graphics card.

Nvidia’s trailer shows off the entire package provided by new RTX 40 GPUs, including DLSS 3 and Shader Execution Reordering (SER). It’s safe to say that Night City has never looked better, with its dark alleyways and neon signs, all illuminated by realistic lighting.

The demo also does a good job of showing the difference between Overdrive mode and regular settings by splitting the screen at times. Direct illumination delivers much more lifelike results with a lot more depth.

To run Cyberpunk 2077 in Overdrive mode, Nvidia recommends an RTX 40-series GPU. It’s easy to see why — DLSS 3 seems to play a key part in making the whole thing run smoothly. Without DLSS 3, the RTX 4090 used in the test only managed to run the game at a measly 16 frames per second (fps). Using DLSS 3 boosted those numbers to as much as 135 fps.

While most gamers don’t need an RTX 4090 and could just buy an older GPU instead, it’s clear that this is not something an RTX 30-series card could comfortably tackle. Nvidia just gave more people a reason to spend upward of $1,600 on its flagship graphics card, although the RTX 4090 is still overkill for pretty much every other game out there.

The new Ray Tracing: Overdrive mode will become available on April 11 as part of a free update released to PC users of Cyberpunk 2077.

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Monica J. White
Monica is a UK-based freelance writer and self-proclaimed geek. A firm believer in the "PC building is just like expensive…
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