Review – Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077 was the most anticipated game of 2020. Of course, it’s easy to remain the most anticipated game of the year when the release date gets incrementally moved back from April 16th to December 10th. It’s even easier to keep the hype going when you’ve been releasing trailers since 2013. But after seven years of waiting for the hype train to arrive in the station, it’s been a bit of a disaster. The kind of disaster that comes barreling through the station as everyone looks on in horror.
I was so excited for release night that I pre-loaded Cyberpunk 2077 onto my desktop days in advance. I knew that there was a massive day one patch, but figured that pre-loading would spare me some of the installation pain and get me playing sooner. It turns out that when a game as popular as Cyberpunk releases, it has the potential to all out break Steam. So many users were installing at once that Steam’s servers simply couldn’t handle it. Many users like myself were stuck at 95% downloaded while others couldn’t get started at all. I ended up watching not one, but two Christmas movies with my wife before Steam was able push through that last 5%. She went to bed and I stayed up way too late playing through the tutorial areas.
Arguably one of the most impressive parts of Cyberpunk is the character creator. Since the release of Dark Souls III, I will make the hideous looking character possible and dub them some variation of “McPasty Face”. Fortunately for the other citizens of Night City, Cyberpunk‘s character creator works too well to permit such a monstrosity.
Most character creators work by changing isolated elements of a face. As you browse through the different options for eye shapes, the only element that will change is the eyes themselves. It’s entirely possible to make a character with unnaturally small eyes and Neanderthal brows.
Cyberpunk 2077 goes in the opposite direction and goes for a more natural aesthetic. When choosing from the selection of eye shapes, the brows and cheekbones will adjust to support the change and maintain a natural look. The level of care and detail that went into the character creator is unprecedented. It goes as far as being able to customize the shape and size of genitalia. Despite how extensive the creator is, I limited myself to fifteen minutes in the character creator so I could dive in as soon as I could. In the end, it was the best decision I could have made given how rarely you see yourself. Unless players take the time to activate mirrors and examine themselves, it’s entirely possible to go through the game without ever seeing your character.
During the character creation process, players also have the option to choose from three different backgrounds: Nomad, Street Kid, or Corpo. This selection determines which of the three prologue stories players get the experience, as well as the occasional unique dialogue option. Personally, I chose Nomad. Considering how large Night City and the surrounding areas are, I felt it would be best to have a character background focused around transit.
The game opened up in a desert outside Night City with V needing access to a radio tower in order to get in touch with the fixer who introduces players to Jackie. I spent a lot of time playing Dishonored this year so naturally, I decided to run a fall damage test off the radio tower. It turns out this insta-kills V and it was at that moment that I realized how much of an RPG Cyberpunk was.
It was always known that Cyberpunk 2077 was an RPG. But the term “RPG” covers a wide range of experiences. The advertising campaigns looked like Cyberpunk was an action-heavy first-person shooter, but the final product feels closer to a higher-budget Fallout. With the exception of acrobatic movement like sliding and the ability to drive vehicles around freely, Cyberpunk is much closer to a traditional RPG game than I’d anticipated. To be entirely clear, I don’t see that as a bad thing, but it was unexpected how important a classic RPG skill tree would be.
Overall, my thirty hours with Cyberpunk 2077 was a pretty mixed bag. Early on, I was completely engrossed in every part of the experience, but the more I played, the more it felt Cyberpunk overstayed its welcome. The beginning of the game makes grand promises of adventure and power. But as it progressed, I found myself dealing with more and more street crime, rarely feeling I’d climbed much more than a few too many staircases.
As promised, Night City is gigantic. If there’s anything that CD Projekt Red can do well is make an expansive world. But in an industry where open world games are a dime a dozen, the competition is fierce. Surprisingly, as crowded as Night City is, it doesn’t feel alive.
Recent releases like Spider-Man have a smaller map, but feel more lively than that of Cyberpunk 2077. In Spider-Man crowded sidewalks of chatty pedestrians and honking cars in traffic give the digital city a sense that people are going about their daily lives. On the other end of the spectrum is Night City, where people crowd the streets, but all feel dead inside. Lively chatter is kept to the occasional market place and cars only honk when I park my motorcycle in the middle of an intersection. There was a moment of reprieve when I stood around a campfire with about fifteen other people listening to two people playing guitars. Despite the crowd drinking and dancing, the only audio was one of the two guitars. Rather than being the celebratory moment it looked like, it felt sad and somber.
It was fitting of the mood. Cyberpunk 2077 is a bleak and heavy imagining of the future. Corporations control everything, poverty is rampant, and you playing as a character whose brain is rapidly deteriorating. It’s not exactly a recipe for for a feel good game.
Early on I attempted to complete a side quest entitled “Happy Together”, which turned out to be anything but happy. I won’t say what I did and did not do for the sake of not spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t experienced it yet. However, there were a few details that I missed that were required for a successful outcome. Toward the end of the quest thread, I was prompted to wait a few hours. Using the skip time feature, I jumped ahead only for the game to load and inform me that I failed the mission.
In that moment, I was witness to the horrible consequences of my decisions and it upset me to my core. I loaded up my previous save, and tried again. For this attempt, I skipped ahead a little less thinking that I might have missed my opportunity to interact and get different results. No luck. So I tried again. And then I tried three more times. Same results.
It was at this moment that I discovered that how engrossed I was in Cyberpunk 2077. I was invested in a better outcome for these otherwise inconsequential characters. Given how dark the world of Cyberpunk 2077 is, I’m not sure that I can use the word “enjoy” when I refer to my time in Night City. What really drove me to continue were the side quests, the characters we were introduced to, and the new skills I unlocked.
Characters like Panam and River have some great side quests that are worth pursuing. Not unlike Skyrim or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I feel that the most engaging stories are the side quests. Skyrim had guilds, The Witcher 3 had cast iron skillets, and Cyberpunk 2077 has hunting a serial killer. The problem with games as large as these is that the main story gets watered down by the sheer quantity of things to do. Focus gets pulled away from the main plot to showcase quests and open world diversions that in the case of Cyberpunk, don’t always feel worth the time to explore. Although some of the side quests, like the aforementioned, can be worth the the diversion, most have little payoff.
What motivated me to continue playing was my character build. I have played more than enough melee combat and gunslinger characters over the years, so I set out to play a character build that would be more unique to Cyberpunk. I put most of my stats into intelligence so I could focus on quick hacking and handguns.
Putting all of my character points and picks into intelligence ultimately super-charged my ability to deal damage to characters from afar. Even while playing on Hard mode, I was easily able to dispatch characters by using high damage dealing quick hacks, like Synapse Burnout and Contagion, without being spotted. The choice of having small arms skills to support hacking when ranged combat wasn’t a viable option was an added bonus. The freedom of choice that Cyberpunk 2077 gives players is the second best part of the whole package.
Where CD Projekt Red really put all of their time in effort was the visuals and it shows. Holy hell was I impressed by Cyberpunk 2077‘s visuals. Granted, I just recently built a new tower and got lucky enough to pick up an RTX 3080. But I ran the game on the Ray-tracing: Ultra graphics preset at 120fps and was in awe of the lighting. To be fair, my full-time role is as an AV Director for a large event venue with a specialty in lighting. I tend to pay more attention to lighting effects in media than most do, but if nothing else, this was the highlight of Cyberpunk‘s visual experience for me.
Cyberpunk 2077 is an incredibly pretty game. It’s a shame that it’s riddled with so many bugs, even on the PC. Some issues are just minor inconveniences, even humorous. It definitely ruined the immersion, but I couldn’t help but laugh when V would glitch onto the top of his car while driving around or Jackie gets stuck in a T-pose.
Other bugs are much more frustrating. On more than one occasion, I would answer a call or open a menu and when returning to normal gameplay, V’s movement would be prohibited in some way. Sometimes he would lose the ability to sprint and other times get stuck in a matter than only let him strafe side to side. My only solution so far has been to spam the jump and slide keys and eventually the matter would fix itself.
I’ve also had my guns disappear mid combat. They continued to fire, but it made for an odd set of animations when changing between weapons and watching particle effects fire from thin air.
However, the worst bug I’ve encountered so far caused my game to crash nine times. As I attempted to approach the final location of a side quest I’d been pursuing for awhile, my game would crash unexpectedly. At first I thought it might have something to do with how quickly I was hacking object in a literal minefield, but even after giving up that approach Cyberpunk would crash. It took about forty minutes, but I eventually got it to work. The solution? Validate local files and download an 8gb fix.
As annoying as these encounters have been, I’m grateful that I’m able to play an anything other than the previous generation of consoles, which have experienced a tremendous amount of problems. It was such a rough launch on the PlayStation 4 that Sony has pulled digital copies of the game from the store.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a good game. It’s not the end-all-be-all game that we were promised half a decade ago, but it is still an objectively good game. Despite even my own impatience for its release, I would have rather waited another few months than have seen it get released in its current state. But here we are. It’s been a mess of a release period and CDPR has some PR damage control to do, but in the end, we’ll all forget about this fiasco and get excited all over again when they release their free DLC expansions next year. In the meantime, I’m going to return to playing more positive sci-fi games like Mass Effect to cleanse my palate.
Cyberpunk 2077 offers the best visual experience I have ever seen.
There are a lot of layers to gameplay that make Cyberpunk 2077 an easy game to return to in the future.
The soundtrack is fantastic and inserts people right into the high-adrenaline action. There’s less directional audio than there was in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and that feels like a huge missed opportunity.
Cyberpunk 2077‘s current build is so riddled with bugs that it really took away from the experience. The dark world of Night City is a hell of a thing to experience, but it isn’t always a joy to be a part of.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Cyberpunk 2077 is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and PC.
Reviewed on PC.