Yes, I know we’re late to the party – but CD Projekt’s recent promises of being devoted to fixing Cyberpunk 2077 got us interested again, even if slightly. Starting with a myriad of recent patches, with additional content to come in the future, their latest RPG offering is seemingly aiming for a “2.0” overhaul. So here a good opportunity to see what’s changed since launch, if at all.
Set in the year 2077, the bustling metropolis of Night City (hence abbreviated as NC), its denizens and the lore in general is picked up from Mike Pondsmith’s longrunning tabletop RPG series, Cyberpunk. The game puts the player in the role of V, a mercenary-for-hire who desires to be the best in this lawless city ruled by megacorporations. Eventually, he and his buddy-in-crime Jackie Welles find themselves faced with the opportunity of a lifetime: stealing a biochip, which allegedly grants immortality, from the biggest corporation in town called Arasaka. As would be expected, things go downhill for them; for the sake of avoiding major spoilers, just know that V ends up being haunted by the long-dead NC rockerboy (and major NPC) Johnny Silverhand – brought to life by none other than popular actor Keanu Reeves himself. All this in addition to being turned into a ticking time bomb of course, defusing which is what the plot more or less revolves around.
Cyberpunk 2077 is without a doubt one of the best looking games out right now on the market. The beautiful lighting adds an unreal level of depth to areas, especially indoors like clubs. The highly detailed character models work in tandem with the densely packed world to really immerse the player in the game. Textures and materials on environmental assets can be a bit iffy, but where they do matter, like vehicles, architectures and some characters, they’re amazing.
3. Writing & Characters
Honestly, the writing is easily the next best thing after visuals; throughout their journey for salvation, V encounters a number of interesting and well acted characters: like V’s sidekick Jackie Wells, the enigmatic Afterlife fixer Rogue or the ever-friendly ripperdoc Viktor Vector. To no one’s surprise though, it’s Silverhand who ends up stealing the spotlight; yes it’s not just V’s story to tell, but also Johnny’s – the devs did a great job in handling his dynamic with V and their drama from beginning until the finale is engaging to watch unfold. Same applies for several side quests which, while self-contained, do a great job in fleshing out the world of Cyberpunk – one mission may have you sneaking around to uncover the legitimacy of a conspiracy theory, while another tackles the controversial topic of religious beliefs and perception.
All of this is backed by a solid score of electronic and rock music befitting an urban jungle of chaos and dreams such as Night City. Combat themes, gang themes, boss themes, radio music, all are equally solid – CDPR did not disappoint in that regard, not even one bit.
The Mixed & The Bad:
With all that being said, it saddens me to say that the game drops the ball in nearly every other area. It’s public knowledge now that Cyberpunk 2077 was an unfortunate victim of a few problems: specifically unchecked ambition, sluggish development and horrible management. This further dominoed into misleading marketing and PR damage control by the time the game neared release. As a CDPR fan who loved The Witcher 3 and played this game at launch, I was in disbelief at the mess I was witnessing: constant immersion-breaking bugs and glitches of varying degrees, outright MISSING features that were promised via marketing and worst of all, a miserably designed open world. The latest patch has reduced some anomalies and brushed up certain existing gameplay elements, but make no mistake – this game is far from polished or complete.
Cyberpunk 2077 is played in a first person perspective as a looter shooter as you explore this neon lit city; the world is pretty sizable and is divided into several Districts, each with their unique architecture and resident gangs – like the malicious Maelstroms of the Watson district or Pacifica’s Haitian hacker gang called the Voodoo Boys. V will come across every gang one way or another, be it via the main storyline or just exploration. They certainly spice up the geography of Night City but otherwise only play an insignificant role in the plot. Additionally “fixers” (i.e dealers) and other important NPCs will contact V frequently to dish out missions (both main and side quests) that will earn them money (called Eurodollars or Eddies), XP (Experience Points) and a third progression element called Street Cred (basically a gating system for equipping certain gear and augs).
The game also has something called Braindances (or BDs in short) – these are Cyberpunk’s highly immersive take on virtual reality; so immersive in fact that they let the viewer even feel emotions that the BD wants them to experience. In this game, they’re used in Batman Arkham style investigation scenarios to progress the story and well, that’s about it. They’re pretty straightforward.
Coming to the combat aspect, there’s many guns at the player’s disposal: pistols, shotguns, snipers, ARs, SMGs – these are divided into three categories: Tech, Power and Smart, each with their own benefits, like Power weapons ignoring cover and Smart’s autotargetting. The gunplay isn’t punchy but decent enough to be fun. On the Other hand, the melee fistfights (particularly encountered in one of the side quests) are absolutely horrible and clunky – by far the worst melee I’ve seen yet in a modern game. Thankfully the melee weapons themselves – like katanas, machetes and bats, or augs like Monowire and Mantis Blades – they work well enough. All attacks also inflict different types of damage – physical, fire, chemical, shock etc and enemies can resist one or more (revealed by scanning them). And speaking of scanning, that’s how V makes use of the Cyberdeck – a tool that allows performing actions called Quickhacks to manipulate electronic devices in the surroundings from afar, ranging from hacking microwaves for distraction to the augmented enemies themselves (eg. blinding them temporarily) – a pretty novel concept, on paper at least.
But when V isn’t mowing down enemies or sightseeing, they will be talking to people – and this is where dialogue comes in. V’s chosen lifepath and Attributes both factor in to provide what speech options they have at their disposal to proceed with situations. A high Body Attribute can allow you to intimidate the opposition into giving you answers or being a Corpo starts you off with the know-hows of NC’s cold, shady biz. Too bad most choices don’t make a lick of a difference in the grand scheme of things – it’s a linear story with linear outcomes, regardless of what V does.
2. RPG Mechanics
Players will initially be prompted to select a Lifepath (from Nomad, Street Kid or Corpo) and customize their V (in a surprisingly limiting character creator). The game employs a classless system for moulding V via five Attributes: Body, Reflex, Technical Ability, Intelligence and Cool each contributing to a stat (like HP or Resistance) and playstyle. Want to be a tank? Pour your points into Body. Prefer being a netrunner instead? Intelligence should prove handy. Depending on how many points you have in an Attribute, it can aid V in dealing with situations. eg. doors may have a certain Tech or Body requirement to open. These Attributes in turn have 2-3 skill trees each; they’re nothing significant, mostly minor stat boosts and passive skills. They’re still designed well enough to supplement the appropriate means of gameplay (eg. movement boost and HP regen skills increasing survivability of a close-ranged build).
There’s playstyles and appropriate toys for all kinds of players here: Barge in guns blazing, take a stealthier approach or try a mix of both – not unlike Deus Ex or Fallout. Same for the loot elements; it’s your generic tier based system: white (common), green (uncommon), blue (rare), purple (epic), orange (legendary) – just don’t expect Borderlands or Destiny-esque loot variety, since high tiers do not change the fundamentals of a weapon but only increase stats. There however are a handful of unique weapons called Iconics but they’re rare and honestly not that great. All in all, the weapons look and feel lackluster to use.
The augmentations (called Cyberware) also underwhelm – minus a handful like Kereznikov, Mantis Blades or Double Jump, the body modifications also consist of passives (like Immunity to shock), stat boosts (eg. increased carrying capacity) and modifiers (such as instant HP recovery on reaching a low threshold). But for the most part, the Cyberwares do NOTHING to diversify gameplay approach.
Clothes have a lot more variety and are the player’s main source of Armor (to decrease oncoming damage); but since there is no rhyme or rhythm as to what kinds of clothes have better Armor, V ends up having to wear mismatched gear, looking like a complete buffoon. So much for fashion being one of the highlights of this game. Oh and did I mention there is NO way to change V’s appearance after exiting the character creator? Yeah. Not even a barber to change hairstyle. But there are Ripperdoc clinics which can be visited to change Cyberware and different docs have unique gear to sell that you may not find anywhere else.
And as a staple of modern RPGs, there’s crafting as well which is fine for what it is. Sadly it CAN get quite tedious; there is no bulk disassembly option so if the player wants to craft/upgrade components (which are needed to upgrade gear), they’d have to hammer away at the Craft button until they finally get to that shiny legendary component. Higher tier craftable weapons have ridiculously high component requirements, close to the hundreds even. Seriously who thought this was a good idea?
3. Open World
From a gameplay standpoint, NC takes the Ubisoft mantra of “quantity over quality” to heart. Open the Map and it wouldn’t be hard for one to be overwhelmed at the sheer number of markers scattered throughout the cityscape. Most of the blips on the map are Gigs (86 of them to be precise, consisting of the same 4 types of sub-missions of infilitrating hideouts and killing enemies to reach a goal) and NCPD activities (basically smaller scale, context-less Gigs). Other than that, there’s Side Jobs which are the narrative side quests – which are surprisingly varied but at the end of the day completionists should be prepared to slog through the same copy paste mission design over and over till their eyes bleed.
What else is there to in NC besides that, you ask? Well… nothing. Nothing besides running around, driving from A to B, shooting things, collecting loot and upgrading V – no recreational activities at all. While there’s V’s apartment and vendors but…. honestly what’s the point of these? There’s no reason to head back to V’s place outside of quests. There’s an overabundance of loot and consumables scattered throughout the world to keep the player stocked on healing supplies so restaurants are useless – they don’t have anything of value to sell anyways. Clothing, melee weapon and gun stores may prove handy around the initial few levels as better gear is always desirable but after a certain point, they become redundant – most of the gear the player will need can be looted off of enemies or loot containers. Well at least the Drop Points at nearly every corner around the city are useful if the player wants to sell junk gear in a pinch.
Now let’s talk about V’s means of getting around the city: vehicles. They will have access to a number of cars and bikes (obtained via quests, purchased or otherwise) as they progress through the story and open world.The driving just felt off, for most vehicles anyways – they were either too slippery or handle like a sack of potatoes. There are a handful that are just the right balance between both and the patches have improved handling since launch – but ultimately there is zero incentive to purchase new vehicles when the ones you get for free get the job done and are equally good.
There is a lot of verticality to the city’s architecture but it, likely nearly everything else in this game, is just window dressing. Most of the buildings are “locked” and cannot be entered. The towering structures that you do enter have 2-3 floors at best and again, have nothing to do in them besides contextual actions.
Also, there’s only 4 prostitutes (called Joytoys) throughout the entire city – plus they’re a tad expensive considering all you get for spending 3000 bucks is an awkward 20 second humping cutscene – I mean come on, what’s the point of choosing Penis 2 during customization when I can’t even see it in action?! On that note, the entire character customization system is pointless; since everything is first person, including cutscenes, you won’t get to see your character (unless you use the occasional mirror or photo mode) until the very end of the game.
Which brings me to the next point of criticism…
Being massive Deus Ex fans here at Gaming Purists, CDPR’s original vision of a more emergent, environment-driven combat approach was what piqued our interest: Want to hack into the network? Takedown an enemy stealthily to jack in or use the Monowire. Or maybe find your own way across levels using the Mantis Blade’s wall scaling and wall running. The final game scraps this immersive sim concept for the worse and compresses some of these ideas into the Cyberdeck… which certainly is a cool concept and supplements the core combat well but this also simplifies and homogenizes the gameplay loop; there is no risk at play – why would the player need to find a security terminal when they can just turn off a camera by targeting it from around the corner? The terrible AI does not force the player to get creative either or even challenge them – especially when they lose their element of surprise due to limited enemy variety/attacks eg. enemy netrunners can only reveal V’s position and overheat them – meanwhile V themselves can walk into a store and buy some crazy Quickhacks to wreak havoc.
The narrative wasn’t spared in this regard either: as an example the game starts with a 20-30 minute lifepath-corresponding prologue that ends with a cinematic montage depicting V’s rise to fame as a mercenary. That’s right: the game simply throws the player right into the heat of things, condensing all the backstories of characters you further encounter and the feats you perform to rise up the ranks, into a short video. As a result, it’s incredibly jarring to see a character you met barely 5 seconds ago act like they’re a chummy mate you’ve known for months. *cough* T-Bug *cough*. And as mentioned before, most first person cutscenes bring in a sense of disconnect from what’s happening around V due to a lack of cinematic focus, resulting in an experience that fails to achieve immersion.
Same applies to the open world: The bustling Night City and it’s barren, trash-strewn outskirts of the Badlands combine to create a fairly sizable map, for a city at least. At first glance, there’s enough visual variety to keep the player looking around corners at towering building, bridges, boards, alleyways and shops with lots of people moving about. But when you really squint… well, things don’t look quite right. Stare at a busy street for too long and the flaw’s reveal themselves: barebones pedestrian AI, scripted gang fights, literally no vehicle pathing routines, zero interactivity etc. It’s a facade – beneath the pretty surface lies a very unorganic world that DOES NOT react or change based on your interactions.
Sure the devs can fix bugs, but no amount of patches can fix bad design. For example, the cop spawning was shockingly bad at launch; while the most recent patch mitigates this issue to an extent, it’s merely a bandaid solution – they don’t even have a cop pursuit AI in the first place. This is not enough – not when the game doesn’t even live up to their previous game The Witcher 3, much less modern AAA standards.
5. Performance & Bugs
The game is definitely more stable after patches, even on a humble setup featuring an Intel Core i5-8300H, 8 GB DDR4 RAM & Nvidia GTX 1050 (4 GB) tested on version 1.21. I do have a couple of specific issues though:
A) If V looks in the mirror, the game slows to a crawl and freezes for several seconds as the game renders the image in the mirror (even at a low in-mirror resolution).
B) The photo mode also freezes the game for a short while when I press the button to take screenshot. And yes the game is installed on an SSD.
On the bugs and glitches side, things have improved post patch – no more crashes to the desktop but minor problems persist like NPCs clipping through other assets. But again, that was just my experience, others’ mileage may vary.
Ultimately, Cyberpunk 2077 finds itself between a rock and a hard place despite factoring in the gripping narrative and satisfying finale. On one end it has a visually impressive but virtually dead open world that lacks any real incentive for engagement considering how superfluous everything is; on the other, are the mediocre gameplay and shallow RPG systems marred by poor design and glaring technical issues. It’s a schizophrenic product with a lot of good ideas but half-assed execution – no doubt in part due to the game’s troubled development cycle.
While CDPR’s attempts to polish the game haven’t been fruitless by any means, I still do not recommend anyone pick this up – for now at least. Cyberpunk 2077 admittedly does have some engaging stories to tell and scenic views to show, and I certainly had fun, if in bursts, throughout my ~120 hour journey – in fact, it’s the gripping characters and the stunning finale that kept me from regretting picking this up. But point stands: the game is at it’s peak for the first 6-7 hours which definitely got the most amount of effort and polish (reflected in the complexity of the first Maelstrom Spybot infiltration quest); give it enough time and you’ll see Night City for what it truly is – a faux paradise that was opened to the public while still under construction. Guess, as players, we have no choice but to return later when it’s finally ready – and for CDPR’s sake, I hope it is.