Announced back in May 2012 with its first teaser in 2013, Cyberpunk 2077 would not release until five years after the wildly successful The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Like with Final Fantasy XV (previously Versus XIII), there was a constant hype cycle around all things Cyberpunk up until it’s planned release back in March 2020, every new trailer was greeted with excitement and the game seemed to be full of so much promise, especially given the recent success off CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher series. However, since the delay in March, constant concern was raising for the game with many rumblings around the game’s troubled development and the fast-approaching release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. What eventually released was a game that had some of it’s promise realized but felt like a game that, despite its many delays, still released before it was ready.
Cyberpunk as a genre is an interesting one, it usually focuses on a dystopian future combining both high tech advancements along with a focus on a seedy underbelly and the rise of corporations as global superpowers. It is one that first rose to prominence around the 1960-70s and found large success on the screen with movie sensations Blade Runner and later, the Matrix trilogy. Cyberpunk 2077 itself is based on a tabletop role-playing game, Cyberpunk, created by Mike Pondsmith back in 1988 and as such, features a lot of the themes that were present back then that are not relevant in today’s world, something that would cause problems for the game. It is a genre that’s not seen too many videogame releases with the Deus Ex series perhaps being the most famous so having the team behind The Witcher 3 take on this genre seemed like a match made in heaven.
Cyberpunk 2077’s story sees you assume the role of mercenary V, a character you create with, despite the choices during character creation, either a male or female persona (more on this later). After selecting a life path for V, one of a Nomad (someone who lives life on the road, usually outside of Night City), a Corpo (an agent for the Arasaka Corporation) or a Street Kid (a regular joe off the street usually involved in gang activity), you’ll play out a short prologue mission that introduces both the world and characters of Cyberpunk 2077 before the paths meet up and the game begins in Watson with your partner in crime, Jackie Welles. The main story itself is on the shorter side, especially when compared to CD Projekt Red’s previous release, The Witcher 3, however there is plenty of side content (of varying quality) where you can etch out more of a story. The life paths for V in general feel like a relic of a design decision that never got fully fleshed out, the introduction mission is on the short side and the dialogue choices that follow in the plot seem to have little effect outside of a bit of salad dressing.
With a story set in a Cyberpunk world, the stories you can tell are numerous but the central plot to Cyberpunk 2077 is a more basic one and you are encouraged to undertake some of the longer Side Job chains to meet characters that will play a larger part in the game’s finale. You will be given choices, usually based on your life path, on how you want to interact with most characters but outside of some rare situations, your choices will not matter too much. Indeed, the changes that impact the game’s many endings can all be found just before the point of no return so you can essentially ignore most choice driven options and still find yourself presented with the same choices at the end. This was a massive disappointment for a game that had the potential to really make your choices matter more, much in the vein like the Mass Effect series (Mass Effect 2 especially). For the most part, the conclusion to the main narrative is a rather satisfying one based on your endings but by the time it is all over, still feels far too short.
The story focuses on V’s rise as a mercenary, why then can I not take some of that hard earned eddies and purchase a luxury apartment in North Oak that befits V’s status?
Night City Activities
Outside of the rather short central storyline, you have Side Jobs, Gigs and NCPD Hustles as your primary way of exploring Night City. There are some generally fantastic storylines to be found in some of the more involved Side Job chains, arguably the best in the game, but a lot are also quick errand style missions that would perhaps be better served as Gigs, smaller than most Side Jobs where much of the story you piece together via Shards (similar to a data terminal that you find scattered around the world) or via a Fixer, a contractor that issues the jobs in the first place. Finally, the NCPD Hustles offer truly little in the way of story and serve as your more typical open world encounters. When all said and done, I find myself let down with the overall story in Cyberpunk 2077 considering how much a fan of The Witcher 3’s writing I was. I do have some praise for some of the central characters in the game however and it is where some of the writing shines the brightest. All the characters that can be romanced all feature in lengthy Side Job chains that really fleshes out each character and are arguably some of the better missions in the game.
As mentioned above, Cyberpunk 2077 was released far too early (even given its delays) considering the initial ambition of the project. This review is written on the PC version of the game and admittedly, it runs a little better than the disastrous console versions but so much of the game just screams unfinished. Be it from the lack of interesting activities to do in the open world outside of combat to the lack of balance for most of the game’s systems making it absurdly easy to break the game in terms of any difficulty. On top of this, there are plenty of concerning takes on issues faced in today’s world that are handled terribly, such as your character creation choices not really having any effect on how you are perceived in the world. Regardless of your choices, you’re still very much a male or female V based on how the rest of the world interacts with you and with the distasteful messaging across the game as a whole (advertising especially), it shows that CD Projekt Red were more interested in being edgy rather than tackling complex issues in society, one that they had a unique opportunity to do.
Your options for building your V include where you want to place your stats, split across Body, Reflex, Technical, Intelligence and Cool and within them, 2-3 skills that level up based on actions associated to them. For example, run and jump around a lot and you’ll increase the Athletics skill in the Body Attribute, this will then unlock a Perk Point (which can be found in said Skills) or grant you a passive (such as increased movement speed). These core Attributes do come into play in both dialogue and interaction with the open world but yet again, they seem to serve little purpose. You may be able to skip a confrontation with a character by passing a Cool skill check if your attribute is high enough but in the grand scheme of things, this will just have a small impact on a Side Job down the line, the main storyline itself won’t change that much outside of those final choices made just before the point of no return. Likewise, you may be able to pry open a door with a high enough Body skill however if you don’t meet it, another alternative, usually based on the Technical attribute is just around the corner giving you the illusion of choice.
This then leaves you with Perks and there are admittedly some interesting Perks to be found throughout the many Skills present in the game. You’ll need to raise some of the attributes higher to reach them but once again, the game’s awful attempt at any balancing renders many of these useless. Crafting is useful, you can craft some great equipment in the game and there are many schematics however you can simply just craft Armadillo mods (these increase defense) and slot them on to any armor regardless of their level to massively increase your defense. These simply scale based on your current level and cost very few materials to create, allowing you to pump your defense to absurd levels (to the point bullets will deal little to no damage at all) without even needing to invest in the crafting skill. Likewise, money can be obtained by crafting simple items and selling them back for profit, making any Perks designed to increase how you obtain money useless. Perhaps the Quickhacking skill is one of the few that seems to be useful but then that opens another can of worms, using Quickhacking effectively means clearing out large complexes of enemies without having to set foot into it at all.
Night City itself is a great city on a design level, the way the city works and flows between districts really gives it that feel of a real city. The districts are varied, and the themes make sense with The Badlands featured just outside adding some interesting takes on life outside the city itself. Unfortunately, it is woefully underused, I wanted excuses to really explore and see how I can interact with it but all the content in the game is only combat focused for the most part. There are no activities to do in the city and the fact that there is only one apartment in the entire game that you can own, the one that you start with, it creates a disconnect and leaves me wondering what could have been. The story focuses on V’s rise as a mercenary, why then can I not take some of that hard earned eddies and purchase a luxury apartment in North Oak that befits V’s status? It might not mean much but it all helps to sell the narrative and even gives you more of a reason to perhaps purchase the different cars to store in a garage. This is exemplified by the people in Night City having no sense of purpose, instead they exist to just fill the streets a little, indeed you can only get a throwaway line from most of the people out on the street.
Technically, Cyberpunk 2077 is a disaster from minute one until the credits roll, the game is littered with crashes, bugs, glitches and more. The PC version certainly looks a lot closer to the vision we imagined and given the right rig, is one of the best-looking games out there, especially if you enable raytracing but the cost of that means that a lot of the open world suffers from the many issues. I had instances where I moved a body out of a position that may have resulted in me being seen by the enemy and when I dropped it to the ground, it proceeded to violently explode, alerting the nearby enemies. Given that the difference between lethal and non-lethal seems to be so little that it’s often easier to dive into a gunfight but the fact that my entire Stealth approach was ruined by a bug is frustrating enough. I’ve seen guns, phones and more stuck in the air, sometimes during important story scenes, as amusing as it is to have Johnny Silverhand flick a cigarette and it float around my face during a cutscene, it really destroys the immersion.
Combat in general is considerably basic as far as shooting in first-person goes, there’s not enough outside of Quickhacking to change it up. Running around with a Katana can be a fun distraction but for the most part, simple headshots are enough to deal with most enemy encounters and the fact that there exist guns you can buy with ridiculous modifiers out there means you don’t have to work overly hard to start really seeing large damage numbers. Enemy AI is a massive letdown too, as of patch 1.06, it’s a little better than what was served at launch, enemies standing out in the open just firing away at you while you picked them off but it’s still lacking. Indeed, AI across the board seems to be a large issue of Cyberpunk, there seems to be truly little driving AI and it is especially troublesome when it involves the NCPD (the police system of the game) as cars will just appear from thin air to chase you down should you find yourself wanted. This would be more of a problem if it were not for the fact that losing the NCPD is as simple as driving down a short road, indeed one Side Job later in the game deals with losing them and is made into something that should be difficult but a short 15 second drive down the road and they were gone.
You have projectiles you can throw such as grenades, but they are another victim of the poor game balance when you can invest in the Projectile Launch System Cyberware and have infinite explosions with virtually no cooldown. Cooldowns seem to be a significant oversight in general, especially when it comes to healing which also serves to break all combat difficulty. There are two major healing items, and both are extremely plentiful or simple to craft (with no investment of points) to the point that it is not unusual to have more than 60+ on you. These are quick acting and feature no cooldown at all meaning you can brute force most encounters by simply healing through them. You can trivialize this even more with some easy-to-get Cyberware that will heal you upon certain situations.
All in all, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that was released far too early, the PC version is in much better shape than the unacceptable console release, but it still suffers from so many parts of the game that feels unfinished.
The sound design is fitting for the Cyberpunk theme and you have plenty of radio stations to choose from while cruising the streets of Night City, some with more of a Cyberpunk feel than others. Additionally, I was satisfied with the voice acting for the most part, one or two characters aside. I played through as a female V and the delivery for her character was exemplary for the most part and helped keep me invested in the story, I generally cared about my V’s journey. Keanu Reeves, as Johnny Silverhand however is more of a mixed bag. At times, he really sells the character as a narcissistic rockerboy only out for himself but at other times, he can come off sounding disinterested which makes it a chore to listen to his rants sometimes.
All in all, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that was released far too early, the PC version is in much better shape than the unacceptable console release, but it still suffers from so many parts of the game that feels unfinished. It is a game that at times, is a joy to play and has some interesting mechanics that would make an exceptional game with a little more care and time put into it. There are some parts of this game that will play very differently once they’ve been patched as evident by all of the excellent post release support The Witcher 3 had, I fail to believe that a lot of the balancing issues will not be addressed. On the other hand, there are some parts of this game that a simple patch won’t fix, the lack of impact your choices have, the rather short plot and the lifelessness of Night City are things we’ll be left wondering what could have been. For now, I encourage anybody who has yet to purchase Cyberpunk 2077 to wait for some more patches and hopefully an enhanced edition as what’s there now is tough to recommend to even the diehard fan.
An unfinished game
Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that was never going to live up to the massive hype it generated but what was released is an unfinished game with too many issues that may be beyond saving.