It is frankly quite embarrassing to see Cyberpunk 2077 go from being one of the most anticipated video games ever, to becoming the laughing stock of the industry, in the blink of an eye. Last year’s open world sci-fi RPG from Polish publisher CD Projekt RED had an unimaginable level of hype backing it up – in part due to the studio’s fame achieved from 2015’s universally acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Additionally, their “pro-consumer” stance in today’s era of penny-pinching publishers cemented their identity as a “gaming industry messiah” among the public. So when CDPR finally unveiled their vision for the game (starting with 2012’s cryptic teaser), fan excitement reached an all time peak, particularly after the too-good-to-be-true 48 minute 2018 demo, involvement of Keanu Reeves as major NPC Johnny Silverhand and a number dev interviews detailing the game’s super ambitious scale.
Add in CDPR’s incessant reassurance about the game’s smooth development, and the hype train finally lost its brakes, successfully crashing though early red flags like public cancellations of gameplay features and numerous delays…. up until release where it finally erupted in a smoldering wreck of rubbish. Come launch day, the facade was blown, as the game was exposed to be a technical disaster of an unprecedented level – honestly, words can’t do it justice; yes it was THAT. BAD. For a company that everyone believed in to deliver a true genre-defining, next-gen experience, CDPR overpromised AND underdelivered, robbing themselves of any and all goodwill they had garnered throughout the years. As much as it pains us to say, Cyberpunk 2077 is the amalgamation of EVERYTHING wrong with the industry today – and here’s why:
- Extravagant Marketing
From Night City Wire livestreams and cinematic trailers to celeb involvement/promotion with Keanu Reeves, it’s no surprise that CDPR spent a LOT on marketing. In fact more budget went to marketing than development itself. If that’s not telling of publisher priorities, we don’t know what is. While this isn’t really abnormal in the gaming industry, the publisher clearly focused more on selling their product than making it – and that ended up badly for them.
- Misleading Advertising, Missing Features
Here comes the elephant in the room. Our first look at Cyberpunk 2077 debuted with the aforementioned 2018 demo – which we all know at this point is “fake”. One could argue that it was simply a “vertical slice”; industry term for a concept demo, a small cake slice if you will, that represents how the complete cake might look once finished – and that would have been fine if the final product wasn’t rushed, as promised content had to be dropped to make haste for the deadlines. And speaking of cut features, players have compiled massive lists noting everything missing or tweaked in the final game, down to a T.
- Chaotic Development Cycle
Ah, where to begin with this one? Bloomberg covered this aspect extensively a while back: management pressure, infeasible deadlines, design clashes, disordered organization, employee crunch and a high riding off the success of Witcher 3. That about sums it up.
And one the topic of design clashes, we’ve defended CDPR’s stance on why a first-person perspective worked for a cyberpunk game based on the deign they had originally envisioned. But now looking at the weird throwaway hand animations that V exhibits, it seems like that was more to do with the lack of stability and time to animate the character. Such shortcomings are evident in nearly every aspect of the game.
- PR Lies
This particularly deserves a mention since we’re talking about a company that always boasted about holding its players in high regard. Too bad they threw that mantra out the window for this game by outright lying to consumers’ faces and being a sneaky fox in general – like holding back footage of base PS4/XB1 versions until release or downright damage control (involving denial of issues faced by players).
- Quality Fall Off & Bland Design
Let’s be honest here, Cyberpunk 2077 is easily CDPR’s worst product yet – even ignoring technical issues, that is. While it is indeed their best-looking game yet, its writing, characters, cinematography, and overall gameplay fail to achieve the high standards set by Witcher 3. And while we can cut them some slack for this being their first sci-fi project, it does not even meet the bare minimum standards for a modern AAA open world game.
This assessment factors in their overall game design, which we wouldn’t say is any better than a modern Ubisoft game with its checklist map marker design and recycled open world content. Heck, we wondered ourselves if CDPR outsourced the design part to Ubisoft. Now Witcher 3 wasn’t a paragon of open world design by any means, but what it did exceptionally well was the world-building; on the other hand once Night City’s glamor wears off, you’re witnessed to an open world worse than not just Witcher 3 but even decade old games in the genre.
Remember how Witcher 3’s entire campaign had a sense of player agency/involvement? Even though it was sort of linear, the Bloody Baron Quest, the story of Novigrad, Skellige and then the final battle of Kaer Morhen had a structure to them where players could impact the story in small but meaningful ways. There is very little of that in CP2077. You select a character, play the first segment, a common cut scene, you go through a linear quest that only gives you more options at the end based on who’s side missions you complete.
- Final thoughts –
When you think about it, it’s ironic that Cyberpunk 2077’s despicable state was a result of the very thing it’s narrative rebels against – corporate influence. The game has issues from all the worst launches in the last decade: missing features like No Man’s Sky, misleading footage akin to WatchDogs, a bad port on last-gen consoles that lead to Sony pulling it down from the PS Store, etc. And yet, it sold 13 million copies in just over a week since launch and still raked in a profit despite refunds.
Recently, CDPR stated that they plan to support the game for a long time to come. The problem with that is a majority of the people think it is a good game just marred by bugs when in actuality, the bugs are just hiding how mediocre and lacking the game design actually is.