The sky above the city was the color of television, tuned to the latest pop channel.
Hopefully that paraphrased quote from William Gibson’s Neuromancer sums up how Cyberpunk 2077 - the latest game by legendary developers CD Projekt Red - handles the Cyberpunk genre as a whole. At times it feels more like action sci-fi than tech noir. It's definitely not Blade Runner or Neuromancer, though it clearly takes inspiration from each, and it definitely takes some liberties with the Cyberpunk genre as a whole: It's much more colorful and action packed than what you would expect from most Cyberpunk media.
That said, it’s certainly not a parody, or a gross copy, or even a sleazy imitation of anything. It has its roots in a lot of other media, but CP2077 stands high above on it’s own feet. Whether it’s the kind of corporate espionage, or lack thereof I should say, that you were expecting is another question.
The topic of audience expectations in media has been cropping up a lot recently surrounding Cyberpunk 2077’s launch, so in order to truly get to grips with the game and experience it mostly for what it is without as many bugs as possible, and to let the wave of enormously high expectations subside, we held off a little bit from dropping a review on launch day and perhaps not getting the right side of a game with this much hype.
First up, what is Cyberpunk 2077? Like we mentioned above, it’s an open world RPG, but at times also feels like an open world sandbox, or a looter shooter, or even an immersive sim. It’s a lot of things, but RPG describes it best. You play as V, a merc in Night City looking to make it as a big time hotshot and pull off the job of a lifetime.
Obviously things don’t quite go according to plan and you end up in a life threatening situation. The clock is ticking and you only have a short while to figure out what to do and how to do it before, hopefully, surviving the process.
The main quest then takes you through the very depths, alleyways, and outskirts of Night City. You’ll meet a diverse cast of unique and interesting characters, and engage in a variety of side content that could have your head spinning for days at the amount available to you at any given moment.
It's been said so much already that it's almost a joke at this point, but CD Projekt Red puts so much care and attention into the writing in every aspect of the game. The main story is incredibly engaging, and definitely only a story that could be told in a Cyberpunk world. That said, it is surprisingly short compared to previous games by CDPR and given the size and scope of Cyberpunk itself.
Granted, I did put a lot of hours into side content before finishing off the main story. Even still, I managed to reach the ‘point of no return’ at an incredibly short time. If all you play is the main story of Cyberpunk 2077, and you don’t engage with any of the side content, you could easily finish it in 30-40 hours which is definitely a little disappointing. But that just reflects how much you will yearn for more, once the game has you.
On the other hand, there’s an overwhelming amount of side content to complete. You have the usual side quests that almost feel like extensions of the main story at points - that’s how good they are. But there’s also gigs and optional activities, which are more minor in terms of story content than side quests, but they still have lots of story attached to them.
It really goes to show how much passion and care gets put into the writing in a CD Projekt Red game though: every side mission is given the exact same amount of attention and quality that the main quest does. Even clearing out a small den of enemies that is in no way connected to any other side mission will reveal little story moments that can offer more context to the location and enemies you just defeated.
[Start of minor spoilers]
Based on previous trailers and gameplay released up until launch, I knew that a certain character was going to die early on in the story. I didn't know exactly when or how, but I knew this was going to happen.
Despite this, when the moment happened I still couldn't help but tear up a little, because up to that moment I had made a real connection with this character. It felt like we were friends who would stick by each other to the end. Which only made their abrupt death all the more impactful.
I have a particular anecdote here which contains a very minor spoiler that has already been revealed in gameplay/trailers leading up to Cyberpunk 2077’s launch. So if you haven’t played CP2077 yet and have been avoiding everything you can in order to go in as blind as possible, then skip the next few paragraphs just in case!
For instance, at some point early on in the story you meet an important NPC that becomes entangled with you. This plays a huge role in the main storyline, but to my surprise this character makes an appearance in a lot of the side missions you do as well. And it's not just a quippy one-liner here and there, he talks to you, converses with you. He gives valuable advice and reflects on the situation at hand, sometimes even having a major impact on the choices you make and the insights you can learn. Sometimes he’s there to make a short comment, other times he plays a major role in the story.
Stuff like that makes you realize that this isn’t just the usual copy and paste side activities you see in many AAA games at the moment. Each mission is unique in it’s own way, and due to imaginative writing can go in directions you weren’t expecting.
One quest had me tasked with killing a man, but just before we made the hit the plan went to shit, and I instead found myself conversing with the very man I was meant to kill. This then led to another series of missions that dealt with the subjects of death, religion, repentance, and the implications of corporate intrusion.
None of that I was expecting, especially from an ordinary side gig that I had just accepted for quick cash and experience.
[End of minor spoilers]
CD Projekt Red have also done a fantastic job of adapting Mike Pondsmith’s world of Cyberpunk 2020. Dialogue feels grounded and real thanks to the great use of street slang. People talk like they would talk in this world, in this era. There’s a whole history of this world that you can either spend hours delving into or completely ignore.
However, I do have to address the bugs here. As of writing this there’s still an enormous amount of bugs to fix. Not only that, but there’s also a lot of polish that still needs work; from odd pacing issues, to long walks and drives of silence, to awkward pauses and cuts in dialogue/cutscenes. Interestingly most of these issues were prevalent in the first 10 hours of the game, which is a bit odd, considering those would be the most important and probably most played by the QA team.
It's like CD Projekt Red actively tried to cull a fair portion of the player base who would not enjoy this game as much as some other hardcore RPG players. Because for the first 10 hours of Cyberpunk 2077 I honestly thought it was just... okay. The story was interesting for sure, but the execution wasn't handled very well. I'm not quite sure if this was purely down to the frequent immersion-breaking bugs that cropped up, or the odd pacing issues, but they certainly didn't help.
But then after those 10 hours the bugs were still there but much less frequent, and I was easily able to get sucked in and immersed in the world and story. It's still not great, but much better than it was in those first 10 hours or so.
A couple of times I got stuck on the scenery and had to lose progress to restart at the last save. The game does auto save regularly and is pretty quick at saving when you choose to make a save, so it wasn’t too bad. But its always annoying, especially if you just picked up a new cool weapon or armor or beat a tough bad guy with style, only to have the event undone by trying to jump up a few cargo containers to hide.
Every character you talk to has a story attached to them in one way or another: one time I just wanted to get some new clothes and so I found the closest store to me. After walking down a small alleyway and up some stairs, I found a lone seller sitting next to his stall. There were no other shops or vendors around, and it’s a bit off the beaten path, so it's safe to say that this isn’t an area that most players would easily stumble by.
I was surprised then to talk to the vendor and realize that he was clearly part of a local gang, which is odd because gangs don't usually up and decide to start selling the latest threads on the street. On top of that he was also in a wheelchair, and so when I asked him about it he revealed that he started selling clothes after the Tyger Claws saw no use for him with a dodgy spine. This led to nothing, and no more questions could be asked, but it shows that even the smallest interactions can sometimes have a clear backstory attached to them.
It's moments like this - little interactions with random NPCs that you wouldn't normally seek out or accidentally find during your time playing - that really lets the writing chops of CDPR shine. This feels like a real person who lives in a real, bustling city, who needs a real job to live in and pay for a real apartment. No one needed to give this particular NPC a story, yet here he was adding color and depth to the landscape. Painting a picture of the Tyger Claws and what life is like on the streets of Night City.
Gameplay itself is fun. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible. Shooting feels a bit clunky, stealth feels a bit clunky, and driving feels a bit clunky. Despite all that, it’s still a lot of fun to shoot bad guys, perform stealth takedowns, and drive around the massive city. Quickhacking is also a lot of fun, if you put the time and effort into specializing in it.
Mechanically, it feels very much like a first-person Witcher reskin. There’s a lot of gameplay design taken from that game and transferred over here with some new additions and changes. You can customize your weapons, clothes, and cyberware, all of which are in some way linked to your skills and perks.
There’s also crafting, which I’ve heard some people never touched, yet for some reason I could not get enough of. There’s a lot more to the crafting page than meets the eye, and can oftentimes provide you with a quick way of obtaining some seriously powerful gear.
Talking about perks and abilities, there is an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. You can definitely specialize in a certain build type for your character, but I often had no idea what to put a perk point in as there’s just so many to choose from. It’s not necessarily a big deal, but it certainly requires a lot of time and effort to properly manage.
Skills can sometimes dictate what routes you take in certain areas. This is where that immersive sim aspect comes in. You’ll reach a location and have multiple different ways of entering it, some will lead you to better rewards, whilst others will just provide a different path to choose from. In the end, I never found gameplay was hindered by what abilities I chose to specialize in, but it definitely led to better loot most of the time.
This is top flight entertainment with a clunky exterior. A diamond in the rough, is never more appropriate. There really is an awful lot available in Cyberpunk 2077, from mechanics, to side quests, even the size of the rich world itself. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, and feels like it’s trying to be a lot of things at once. Whilst it mostly succeeds at being a jack of all trades, it hasn’t confidently established its mastery over anything. Except writing. The writing in Cyberpunk 2077 is a work of art and like the Witcher 3 sets the game out from almost all other games ever to come before it.
Cyberpunk 2077 is definitely not a game for everyone - and when a game tries to target as broad a demographic as possible it usually ends up pleasing few. While it could have been the next GTA or Red Dead 2 it fell a little short, as it lacks a lot of the same polish seen in those games.
What’s really exciting is that this is a first go at this type of gameplay for CDPR, and whilst aiming far beyond their own abilities, they have done a tremendous job. This foundation is now there in CD Projekts development arsenal waiting to be improved upon and added to. You know they will be number crunching the reviews and forums and finding out how many times certain “problems” or “exceptionally cool” things were mentioned by reviewers and the reader comments, as they work out their development roadmaps.
The Cyberpunk 2077 world and characters are amazing, and no matter how many times I felt frustrated, all I wanted to do was hop back in and continue playing. And the game has a very easy pick up and play feel to it. You know, where you just think, I have 20 mins free, I will jump in and do a quick side mission.
It certainly leaves a lot of room for improvement in Cyberpunk 2078 or whatever they call the sequel. But hey, The first Witcher game was a janky mess and by the third iteration it had become one of the best games ever made.
If you want to experience a truly engaging story, in a gorgeously designed and phenomenally detailed world, then Cyberpunk 2077 may just be for you. And make no bones about it, Cyberpunk 2077 won me over and all the other gamers I talked to about it. It may not be for you and that's okay; like I said it's not for everyone. But the stuff it does have absolutely caters towards the most hardcore of RPG fans.
Cyberpunk 2077 may not live up to everyone's expectations, but it's strengths lie within it's core. Few games have ever had the level of hype that came with CP2077's launch and so it had a lot further to fall in most peoples minds. But if you push those, possibly unreasonable, expectations out of our minds and then look at the game in front of us we can clearly see there’s a great game in Cyberpunk 2077. It has layers and a depth that lets you enjoy a futuristic world like few other games have ever done. Deep down and if you’re prepared to get your hands dirty and dig for it, you will be well rewarded.
There’s a lot of surface detail, that is clearly just set dressing, yet it still provides one of the most incredibly realized and mature worlds to date. The story and characters are wonderful and pull you into their needs and wants. If you don’t mind a number of immersion-breaking bugs or lack of polish, then Cyberpunk 2077 absolutely measures up to be one of the best games out there, but only if you're willing to put the work in to find the good stuff.