It’s not an overstatement to say that Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most anticipated games of all time. Announced back in 2012 by developer CD Projekt Red, it had its hype train go full steam after the smashing success of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which was CDPR’s first open-world RPG. The Witcher 3 surpassed all expectations and went on to become one of the greatest games ever made. It stands right alongside legendary RPG franchises like Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls. Fallout and even gave other open-world franchises like Grand Theft Auto some stiff competition. After all of this, when more people came to know about CDPR’s next game also being open-world and set in a cyberpunk future, all bets were off. After years of teasing and an exceptionally hyped-up marketing campaign, how does Cyberpunk 2077 actually fare as a game?
Preamble – Reflecting on Cyberpunk 2077’s Messy Launch
The game has had a rocky launch, with CDPR coming under fire from fans and investors alike for failing to deliver the game in an acceptable state. It doesn’t take much to figure out that the game has issues when the publisher refused to give access to the console version to reviewers. Even with PC review codes, day one reviewers were only allowed to share B-roll footage provided by CDPR. This is extremely unheard of. When coupled with the developers’ goodwill that it has earned from fans for their pro-consumer practices, it made the Cyberpunk 2077’s review period more confusing that Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding.
I got access to the game on the day of the launch, which was December 9th. Given that there was no way I could play through the story and properly experience other side-stories/gameplay mechanics for an early review, I took my sweet time with it. After 2 weeks and 60 hours of playtime, I can now say that I’ve gone through enough adventures in Night City to properly assess the game in its current state. And that itself comes with caveats as I’ve only played the PC version on a mid-range system.
I personally had a good time with the performance, but the same cannot be said for console gamers. Patches are coming in almost every other day, and CDPR has promised that they’ll get the game to an acceptable state by February 2021. With that in mind, I think a late review like mine may not be the worst thing in the world for cautionary gamers who will get the game down the line after it has been fixed properly.
Welcome to Night City
Regardless of whatever one might say about the game, Night City comes out on top as probably the single best thing in the game. This metropolis of the future has been so painstakingly crafted that it sometimes feels too detailed. I’m a sucker for neon-lit futuristic vibes. Blade Runner and its subsequent followup set in 2049 are some of my favourite films of all time, and it’s clear to see the inspiration from them. However, CDPR has also done enough work to distinguish Night City from other similar works. Going back to the E3 2018 trailer, I remember how everyone was surprised with the city being shown in broad daylight – something you don’t associate with a neo-noir/cyberpunk aesthetic.
Night City is the ultimate metropolis. Called many things like ‘city of dreams’, ‘the city that never sleeps’, it captures many ideas that we’ve come to associate with big urban environments. Divided into 4 districts and a sprawling ‘badlands’ area, it’s about the most detailed in-game map I’ve ever set (my digital) foot in. It’s not as vast as the Continent from The Witcher 3, but it makes up for the decreased space with increased verticality. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever been inside so many buildings in a game as I have in Cyberpunk 2077.
I’ve seen many reviewers compare it to the recent Deus Ex games, saying that Night City feels like an extension of the hub-based worlds in those games. That’s quite apt. The sheer density of assets on display in every corner of Night City is fascinating. There’s plenty of neon-lit billboards and overpopulated streets, and an overdose of advertisements are everywhere, swiftly cementing the city as one of the most well-defined spaces to have been occupied in the cyberpunk genre. CDPR is a master of environmental storytelling, and much like The Witcher, every street in Night City has its own story to tell.
Story and Characters – CDPR’s Strong Suit
At the heart of Cyberpunk 2077 is a well-realized story and interesting characters, which isn’t a surprise given it was the same case with The Witcher 3. The game has a well-rounded cast of characters and focuses on building on established character relationships rather than throwing new ones every other arc. I was almost a little underwhelmed at first in the first act when I realized that so many of the game’s pre-release marketing demos had shown key story moments, perhaps slightly disguised as dynamic events. But the more I played the game, the more I fell in love with the characters.
Cyberpunk 2077 follows V, our own custom-created protagonist, a rising mercenary in the belly of the beast that is Night City. Following a botched heist, V finds himself merged with a cybernetic implant which includes the consciousness of former rocker boy-turned-terrorist Johnny Silverhand. V’s primary objective throughout the story includes coming to terms with Johnny, finding a solution to remove his construct and a clash with the Araksaka megacorporation which is at the heart of this mystery.
Everyone here is used really well, with clear reasons to exist, with those being either integrated well with the main plot or to flesh out the world of Cyberpunk. While you get to meet every major character here during the main campaign, their stories continue really well with side-quests.
Take Judy or Panam for example – 2 of the main romantic interests the game presents to you. They’re both well-rounded characters who have significant importance in V’s story throughout the game. However, after certain points, their stories diverge into their own interesting side-quests. You can either come back to those quests and help them out or choose to ignore them if you’re focused on the main story. Regardless of what you choose, their stories continue well into the game’s epilogue. The same goes for nearly every other major character you meet throughout the story. It’s nice to know that I can call up any of these characters after the story wraps up to continue their side stories, and even catch up with them after those have been finished.
Conversely, let’s talk about the star of the game – Johnny Silverhand, played by Keanu Reeves. He is very much a co-protagonist of this story, with him being in your head all the time helping quite a bit. There are moments where you get to control Johnny directly, most of which are through flashbacks. These work well to establish Silverhand’s backstory and motives, which were originally explained within the lore of Cyberpunk 2020, the tabletop RPG which inspired the game itself. Other essential characters like Takemura and Jackie are also a welcome addition, with enough wit and charm to be as impactful as the story needs them to be.
One thing that took me by surprise was the length of the game. Now, I’m not a fan of extremely long and drawn out 60 hour games (not to say they can’t be good), so I was satisfied with the 20 hours or so of main story content that CDPR has cooked up here. That can be extended when you factor in multiple endings and side missions which affect the flow of the game. Since I took my own time with exploring Night City, it took me about 50 hours before I was comfortable taking a break, having soaked in nearly every major mechanic the game has to offer.
Gameplay – More Action-Adventure, Less RPG?
Coming to the actual gameplay, it’s a little weird. Cyberpunk 2077 was marketed as a true RPG, complete with dialogue options, branching narratives, and a full-on character creator. Those elements are still here, but sometimes they take the backseat as the game gets into a slightly linear action-adventure path.
Take life paths for example. At the start of the game, you can choose one of 3 different life paths which make up your backstory – Nomad, Corpo and Street Kid. The beginning of the game differs depending upon which path you choose, but only for about the first hour. Following that we see a montage of V and Jackie rising through the ranks in Night City, and then when Act 1 properly starts, all players are at the same level in terms of city/gameplay exposure.
Going forward, during dialogue interactions you’ll occasionally see an optional line which relates to the life path you chose in the beginning, which may improve your relationship with the character you’re speaking with. However, most of the time they offer little more than lore drops. The opening montage, while impressive, is a perplexing choice taken by CDPR, which results in a slight disconnect with the player and V.
Quest Menu Dialogue Choices
Other gameplay mechanics include gunplay, melee, upgrading V through Cybernetic implants, and a fluid perks system to gain new abilities. All of these are implemented well enough, save for maybe the melee combat which sticks out like a sore thumb. I was more than impressed with the gunplay and the cybernetic upgrade system, which can net in really unique gameplay systems once you’ve poured enough time into them. The hacking mechanics are also pretty neat if a little too derivative. Your hacking abilities are directly tied to the level of your cyberdeck. Similar to the Watch Dogs games, you can only hack a certain amount of times before your charge runs out. You can upgrade that, and other skills, by visiting one of the many ripperdocs.
Heads up – get the double jump as early as possible. While the game doesn’t exactly call for using it much, it can open up new possibilities in combat and traversal when paired with certain other abilities.
Inventory Management Abilities Skills
As great as the upgrade system and shooting is, the in-game economy is so bad I’d say it’s almost broken. Cybernetic implants are way overpriced, and the same goes for purchasing any weapons. While side-gigs will net you a decent amount of eddies, they’re still not enough to warrant spending all of your savings on that one upgrade. I got the double jump upgrade more than halfway through the game because I could only afford it then after doing a lot of side-gigs. I can only imagine how day one reviewers might not have even specced into those systems if they mainlined the story, which they did.
Visuals and Sound – Pretty, Pretty, and Very Pretty!
Cyberpunk 2077 looks incredibly gorgeous. Even on the lowest settings, it realises the idea of a futuristic city across beautifully. The game’s lighting system stands out, making almost every scene is visually striking. And this is all without ray tracing turned on. I know that on consoles right now the game may not look as good, but I can’t speak for that. On a mid-range PC, this just might be the prettiest game you’ve ever laid eyes on. Taking visual cues from Blade Runner and other cyberpunk media that came after it, Night City stands right alongside the neon-lit urban jungles which are often the centrepiece of almost every Cyberpunk media ever put out.
I should also mention that the soundtrack captures the same feelings extremely well. I haven’t seen nearly enough praise for the music in the game as much as there is for the visuals. While there is the usual synth-wave inspired music, there are also tracks which reminded me of something like Red Dead Redemption 2. Cyberpunk 2077’s soundtrack is something that I’ll be coming back to for a long time, as it manages to not only capture vibes of a corporation-controlled future, but also the very human struggles which come with that.
PC Performance and Bugs
Cyberpunk 2077 is probably the prettiest game I’ve ever played on PC. I say probably because, well, there are the occasional bugs which can ruin the immersion. But in terms of sheer technical ambition, this game’s got it right all the way. Now, as I say this I know most people can’t run this game well on their mid-range PCs. I played the game on my PC which has and AMD Ryzen 7 3800 XT and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 Super. It’s quite a step down from AMD’s newer processors and NVIDIA’s newer graphics cards. However, it got the job done. Performance is bound to get better, as CDPR has been pushing out new patches every few days. The latest patch fixed performance issues for gamers with AMD Ryzen CPUs, and a later patch will fix ray tracing performance for owners of AMD’s new Radeon RX 6000 GPUs.
I ran the game with Digital Foundry’s optimised settings for PC, and averaged around 50-60 FPS when taking into account different types of scenarios. If you’re playing the game on PC, then I suggest you do the same. Here are the settings that DF suggests for optimal balance between performance and visuals.
Cyberpunk 2077 is an incredibly impressive and dense action-adventure game, with enough RPG elements to make it stand out. While the game is riddled with bugs, its story and characters are its most impactful elements. The game looks and sounds jaw-dropping, but I fear the majority of gamers won’t see that for themselves until the next-gen console versions drop. While there are some issues with the Cyberpunk’s NPC behaviour & other design decisions which break the illusion, I think most gamers will be in for a great time as long as they manage their expectations just a tiny bit. Just don’t go in thinking it’s a futuristic GTA- it’s not. It’s an action-adventure game with decent RPG mechanics, with rich characters and an impactful story.