Let’s Talk Cyberpunk 2077 — PC and Next Gen Technical Speculation

It’s no surprise that I’m very much looking forward to Cyberpunk 2077, the latest game from Polish studio CD PROJEKT RED, developers behind the masterful WItcher games. Ever since we were first teased of the game way back in 2013 with that CGI trailer, it’s been in my brain, burrowing deep. Join me for this fun bit of speculation below.

At E3 2018, we were finally given a glimpse of Cyberpunk 2077 via a 4K in-engine trailer. Needless to say, it was a strong finish to the Microsoft presser and had gamers and media alike abuzz with conversation about the game.

The press were able to get an hour-long behind-closed-doors demo of Cyberpunk 2077 and as of this writing, that demo has not been made available to the public. However, we were still able to glean some tidbits of information about the game, gameplay, and even its technical makeup.

And it’s this technical makeup that interests me most of all. We now know the specs of the PC the demo was running on, and they’re no joke:

  • CPU: Intel i7-8700K @ 3.70 GHz
  • RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws V, 2x16GB, 3000MHz, CL15
  • GPU: GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
  • SSD: Samsung 960 Pro 512 GB M.2 PCIe
  • PSU: Corsair SF600 600W

These specs are almost a match for my PC. Granted, there’s no indication that the CPU and GPU used in the demo were overclocked, but we now understand the horsepower envelope used to power the E3 demo.

While these specs may seem incredibly high (because they are), I actually take heart. The way I look at it, this tells me that CDPR is targeting the best of the best gaming hardware available today to power their demo — if not their entire game — at this stage in development.

When you throw this much power at a game and truly take advantage of it, you’re bound to get some truly extraordinary results, completely beyond the capabilities of any console available today, and yes I’m including the Xbox One X here.

For reference, keep in mind that the 1080 Ti is at least twice as powerful as the Xbox One X GPU, and the 8700k is orders of magnitude more powerful than the Jaguar CPUs in any and all of the current consoles. Meaning, compared to the Xbox One (the least powerful of the current gen systems), the PC powering this demo is like a Bugatti Chiron compared to the Xbox One’s horse and buggy. That sounds like hyperbole, but I assure you it’s not. I speak from experience because I own all consoles and a PC pretty much identical to the PC powering this E3 demo.

John Linneman of Digital Foundry had this to say of his experience with the demo,

“Cyberpunk 2077 is legit. I can’t even imagine this being current gen. Like holy shit. It’s like Deus Ex + Crysis + Witcher at a scale and level of detail that I’ve never seen. It’s the kind of game I’ve dreamt of for ages. That was one hell of an hour.”

Those are bold words from someone whose job and expertise lie in analyzing the technical makeup of games. For someone like him to be that impressed with what he saw speaks positively about the technical underpinnings of Cyberpunk 2077.

He continues when asked if the PC will be strangled by consoles by saying,

“Ha ha, it’s not console strangled. There’s nothing like this on PC right now. Not even close.”

Regarding fears of a downgrade harkening back to the infamous Watch Dogs 2012 E3 demo, he continues with,

“Unlike that demo, there were plenty of technical hitches and flaws. You can tell it’s a legit, in development build. It was played on a PC. Slowdown, glitches and other minor things popped up but didn’t take away from the experience.”

John concludes that he surmised the demo was running at around 30fps.

Again, this makes me optimistic about Cyberpunk 2077. But to a console gamer or to someone who doesn’t understand the constant pace of technical innovation on PC, this may seem worrisome, especially when it’s been confirmed that this game will also release on Xbox One and PS4. How can something that looks so good packed with so much detail possibly run on these woefully underpowered consoles from 2013?  

Before I answer that, it’s important to understand the PC hardware cycle. The CPU and GPU powering the demo are the i7 8700k and GTX 1080 Ti, respectively. The 8700k released in the fall of 2017, while the 1080 Ti released in March 2017. So while these two components are unquestionably beasts, they will be more than a year old by the time Gamescom rolls around this year.

Additionally, and this is the crucial bit, there’s no way Cyberpunk 2077 will release this year. While that’s not confirmed, I believe it to be a reasonable statement to make. Personally, I think this game will release either fall 2019, or more likely, summer 2020. And by that time, it’s reasonable to assume that we will have at least two more CPU generations from Intel, and at least one more GeForce GPU from Nvidia. In other words, by 2020, the 8700k and 1080 Ti will be mid-range to upper-mid-range components.

Furthermore, since the E3 demo ran at 4K at around 30fps on a 1080 Ti, we can reliably conclude that this means it could run at 1440p 30fps on a 1070, and at 1080p 30fps on a 1060, given the inherent repeatable scalability of these graphics cards. And in that sense, that same level of detail and visual fidelity running at 1080p 30fps on a 1060 doesn’t seem so intimidating.

So then, that’s the PC side of the equation, but what about the consoles? To be brutally frank, there is no way the E3 demo can run with the same visual fidelity on an Xbox One or a PS4, resolution notwithstanding (see rough power comparison above in this article). I suspect that in order to get Cyberpunk 2077 to run on these thoroughly outdated machines, CDPR will likely severely cull dynamic lights, implement aggressive LODs, remove incidental detail like detritus, simplify meshes and the like in order to scale down to fit the power bands of the Xbox One and PS4.

I fully expect the Xbox One X version to be scaled down compared to the balls-to-the-wall PC version as well. While it may be the most powerful console on the market today, it’s still nothing compared to the best of the best PC gaming hardware available.

And it’s here where the fun comes into play. Even though CDPR lists Cyberpunk 2077 as releasing on Xbox One and PS4 (and by extension, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X), I believe we’re looking at a cross-generation game here.

I’ve previously  speculated on the PS5, and stated that I believe a Zen CPU paired with a Navi GPU isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The Zen CPU alone would be a substantial generational leap over the Jaguar CPUs present in all Xbox and PlayStation consoles today. The Navi GPU would also be a great step up.

Coupled with the expected increase in RAM allocation and speed, and it’s clear to see how next generation consoles could more easily handle Cyberpunk 2077 than their current gen siblings. Note, I still don’t expect the next gen consoles to match a maxed out PC version of Cyberpunk 2077, but they should easily be able to display far more detail and visual fidelity than the current gen consoles.

And I think that’s where I’ll leave the discussion for now. While it’s fun to speculate, the fact is that we simply don’t know much about this game, nor has the public actually seen any sort of real-time gameplay. We know CDPR will be at Gamescom 2018 so I’m hoping to see more Cyberpunk 2077 there. But until then, let’s keep digging for more clues, shall we?

Written by
A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it. He runs a podcast, Gaming The Industry, with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, discussing industry practices and their effects on consumers.

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