Cyberpunk 2077 Is Best Played in the Cloud

Cyberpunk 2077 Is Best Played in the Cloud
Screenshot: CD Projekt Red

With ray tracing on, Cyberpunk 2077 is hungry. You could call it the new Crysis. Even Nvidia’s RTX 3080 is almost no match for the game when settings are cranked to the max, yet a high-end, current-gen GPU is crucial if you want the absolute best visual effects possible. For most people, that’s out of the question. The situation was the same for Crysis, too — if you didn’t have the cash to upgrade your rig, you were SOL. But when Crysis launched in 2007, cloud gaming was a far, far away fantasy. That’s not the case for people hoping to play Cyberpunk 2077 today. Bandwidth limitations aside, the cloud is the best place to play Cyberpunk 2077 for anyone with an RTX 2060 or lower who doesn’t want to look at Night City on medium or low graphics.

GPUs are incredibly hard to find right now without taking your chances on an eBay scalper or hoping your local Micro Centre has a few in stock. (Spoiler alert: They probably don’t.) But to get the most out of Cyberpunk 2077, you need an Nvidia GPU because of its frame rate-boosting tech. If you want ultra graphics settings at 4K, not only do you need at least an RTX 3080, but DLSS also needs to be turned on — and even the RTX 3080 can’t hit 60 frames per second without overclocking.

AMD and CD Projekt Red are still working together to implement ray tracing on AMD Radeon RX 6000 Series graphics cards, and judging by how hard of a hit those cards take with ray tracing turned on, I’m assuming it would not be possible for even the RX 6800 XT to handle the game at 1080p without turning the graphics settings down to medium or with its DLSS alternative, Super Resolution, which has yet to make it to current-gen GPUs. I’ll be surprised if ray tracing comes to Cyberpunk 2077 on current-gen AMD GPUs before the end of the year.

And the numbers explain why. My test bench was configured with an Intel Core i9-10900K, Asus ROG Maximus XII Extreme, 16 GB (8 GB x 2) G.Skill Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 DRAM, Samsung 970 Evo 500 GB M.2 PCIe SSD, a Seasonic 1000W PSU, and a Corsair H150i Pro RGB 360mm AIO for cooling. The same configuration was used for comparing all GPUs. For testing over the cloud, I used an Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC2900 router and an Ethernet connection with download speeds of more than 400 Mbps. (That much bandwidth is definitely not needed, though. You should have at least 50 Mbps for cloud gaming.)

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphics setting: ultra

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphics setting: ultra

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphics setting: ultra

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphics setting: ultra

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphics setting: ultra

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphic: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Graphics setting: ultra

If you’re wondering why I did not include non-DLSS ray tracing results for all the cards, it’s because the frame rates were astonishingly low. So low they weren’t worth creating an extra graph. On average, Cyberpunk 2077 hits Nvidia GPUs with a 40 fps penalty if DLSS is not turned on at the same time as ray tracing. If the RTX 3080 can manage just 43 fps at 1080p on ultra, then the RTX 3070 falls in the 30’s with the same settings. The RTX 3060 Ti? 20’s. At 1440p and 4K, the RTX 3080 manages only 37 fps and 17 fps, respectively. There’s no point in running the game with DLSS off even if you have an RTX 3080.

With ray tracing turned off on ultra at 1080p, DLSS is not needed. Although if you have anything lower than a RTX 2070 Super, you’ll want to have DLSS on regardless if you want ultra settings. Mid-range and budget cards rarely can manage 60 fps at 1080p, so your options are either turn on DLSS or turn down the graphics, and the latter is kind of anathema to what this game is all about. If you want at least 60 fps with the GTX 1660 Super at 1080p, for instance, you’ll have to turn the graphics settings down to medium. Medium with ray tracing nets 15 fps, and that’s as good as it will get — DLSS is not available with the GTX 1660 Super, only RTX GPUs.

And then there’s all the bugs I ran into on PC, most of which involved crashing when I tried to re-load my game or change the resolution from 1080p to 1440p.(The game apparently runs so bad on last-gen consoles that CD Projekt Red is offering refunds.) Even after the most recent patch, these issues still persist. I won’t get into all the bugs I’ve encountered, but compared to playing the game on Stadia and GeForce Now, the game ran much, much smoother via the cloud than on my high-end PC. The game still suffered the occasional freeze or crash, prompting me to close the program via the Task Manager, but overall my experience was much more enjoyable.

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Data usage wasn’t as big of an issue as I thought it would be either, even playing at 4K or with ray tracing turned on. That’s good news for anyone with one of those pesky data caps! Data usage will vary depending on what is happening on-screen. A massive gun fight with multiple allies and enemies will obviously use more data, but if you’re sitting along in your apartment rearranging your inventory, that will use much less. It all depends on how much data needs to flow to and from your device.

At four hours of gameplay on Stadia during a heavy-combat mission, I used only 28GB of data while playing on the 4K performance setting, or 7GB per hour, according to my router’s traffic analyser. A less strenuous mission used just 14GB after the same amount of time on the same performance setting. GeForce Now used roughly the same amount at 1080p with ray tracing turned on.

Those amounts might differ if you play Cyberpunk 2077 on your phone or TV, but for PC that’s not bad at all. (Not to mention any Mac owners can get in on the fun via desktop or laptop, because Stadia and GeForce Now are now compatible.) If you have a 1.2TB data cap, you could play Cyberpunk 2077 for four hours every single day for an entire month and still only use up just under 800GB of data. However, it’s a good idea to monitor your data usage, especially if there are multiple people living in your home.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately neither GeForce Now or Stadia are available in Australia.

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

GTX 1660 Super, medium 1080p graphics, ray tracing and DLSS off, 62 fps average.

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

GeForce Now, ultra 1080p graphics, ray tracing and DLSS on, 60 fps.

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Stadia, 1080p performance setting, 60 fps.

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Stadia, 4K performance setting, 60 fps.

Stadia’s performance settings aren’t as granular as GeForce Now, and you can’t get ray tracing performance on Stadia either, but if you have a Pro subscription, you can get up to a 4K resolution. GeForce Now doesn’t offer a higher resolution setting than 1080p, but if you want ray tracing and DLSS, a Founders subscription costs $US5 ($7) a month compared to Stadia’s $US10 ($13) a month for 4K only. If you hope to upgrade your PC down the road, you probably want to stick with GeForce Now, since it uses games you already have in your Steam, Epic, GOG, etc. libraries.

Getting a Founders subscription also ensures you have less time to wait for a rig to open up on Nvidia’s servers (it works on a first-come, first-serve basis), but Stadia doesn’t have queues. It might take a minute for the game to load, depending on how busy its servers are, but once you’re in, you’re in. Your connection might make the graphics a little fuzzy depending on how much bandwidth you have (and some detail is lost via streaming anyway), but you’ll always get 60 fps at the best settings. With ray tracing, GeForce Now does have better graphics than Stadia, even at 4K, as you’ll see from the screenshots above.

If you’re in the 37.3% of people who own a GTX 1660 Super or lower according to Steam’s most recent hardware survey, playing Cyberpunk 2077 in the cloud is a much more attractive option, because you can play it regardless of what’s in your PC.