The hype train can be a blessing or a damnation. It can make a smaller release turn into a phenomenon like what we have seen with Cuphead or this year’s Elden Ring (not a small release, but sales have blown expectations), or it can tank a game that advertises well but only plays okay, like what happened at the launch of No Man’s Sky (thankfully that game turned itself around). But it is a different thing entirely when a game’s hype reaches such intense levels that it breaks into the general consciousness and ends up getting mentioned on cable news and NPR. Cyberpunk 2077 was one such game, and for all unfortunate reasons. So much has been written and said about the fiasco and repeated delays that resulted in Cyberpunk 2077 being a buggy mess upon its original release. The game still sold well, but the clearly difficult finalization process coupled with the grandiose marketing and close to unanimous bad press the game had in the weeks that followed solidified CD Projekt RED’s place as an industry cautionary tale for the ages.
But now it’s 2022. All that initial talk and negative press has faded as fans and the industry have moved on. The new consoles have launched and after yet another delay, the next-gen version has finally arrived. Naturally the question on everyone’s minds has been if the update fixes all the problems? And for those of us that waited until this current-gen version dropped to try it out, is the game even worth the time at all even if the bugs are fixed. The answer to that, much like the morality of the choices the game asks you to make, depends on how you look at it.
Let’s Do some Catch Up and Squash Some Concerns
For those of you that may not know, Cyberpunk 2077 is the game CD Projekt RED spent most of a decade working on after putting out the incredibly well received The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It is based on a pen and paper role-playing game that was introduced in the ’80s and received several expansions. Following the core principles of the subgenre: it takes place in a future cityscape called Night City where corporations control every aspect of the citizens’ lives and the definition of “human” has come into question via the use of electro-mechanical body augments and the ability to upload your consciousness onto a thumbdrive to put into cold storage, not to mention high end AI that’s nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. It is on this landscape that the game’s story of V takes place. V is the nondescript name of the player character intended to allow the player to fill in all the blanks a full name normally insinuates.
The game starts off with a unique but somewhat lopsided character creator. There isn’t a lot of depth but there are unusual features like very mild but heavily publicized genital customization. It is a relatively simple creator that has you also choose a character backstory that you’ll play out as the opening mission. Being that the game is in first-person, the physical choices only partially matter in the long run as you will only see your character in game when you open the equipment screen from the menu.
At this point I’m just going to address the biggest question most are likely to have: what about the bugs. If all you care to know is if the bugs are fixed and if the game is finally in a solid playable state, then you should ask those questions separately. Yes, the game has mostly been cleaned up and in my experience is in a perfectly playable state for a large AAA game. I never had it crash nor did I have any serious issues that prevented progression. I did encounter a number of more humorous bugs like objects spinning off into the air at extremely high speed, or on two occasions, NPC vehicles crashing into nothing, flipping up into the air, and exploding. I also encountered some more frustrating but not game breaking issues, the most significant of which was having the NPC dialogue audio cut out so I could hear V talking, and then only had the subtitles to tell me what the other character was saying. A few of my other collogues experienced game crashes playing on the PS5 but we can’t say definitively if the platform is what made the difference between our experiences or random chance.
Telling a Story of the Future From the Past.
All three origin story options seem to feature the same kind of story but with different details. Your character starts off in one situation, be they a street kid, a rover out in the wilderness, or a middle level ambitious bureaucrat. But through the events of the opening you find yourself taking on the role of a Merc, a street agent for hire in a citywide underground network. The character development in Cyberpunk 2077, and the story in general has a great start. I found myself really feeling a connection to V and trying to make decisions that I felt she would make, not necessarily that I would make if I was playing as myself. The other characters are mostly interesting as well, though I found that as the story develops there was some weakness in several key character’s relationship with V herself.
I am being purposefully vague but I think the story goes to interesting places, and I don’t want to spoil it despite the game coming up on its two-year anniversary this December. Suffice to say that I think the RPG nature of the communication encounters sometimes comes up against the scripting for late game chats and cutscenes. Several times late in the story I felt that the way these main NPCs were relating to me seemed to be discordant with how we had related to each other so far. One major instance was a character that I had been largely combatant and disagreeable with talking about how much we had been through together and how much we had become friends. Likewise the final point-of-no-return mission didn’t feel like any of my previous choices were even considered in a major way and instead all the different options in the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style setup were laid out one after another.
Despite this, I actually found the story to be interesting and I enjoyed all of the side quests I was able to complete. Something that routinely stuck out to me was how well the world as a whole, but especially the dialogue and characters, embodied the specific tone of the retro future sci-fi of the ’80s. The lingo all sounded exactly like words and phrases that someone in the ’80s could have written anticipating how American street English would develop. The story and world also has another unique quirk that I think shows off the tabletop RPG source material. The whole experience would actually be able to be completely swapped in most every aspect for a fantasy as opposed to science fiction equivalent. The rogue AI haunting the internet could just as easily be ghosts trapped in the nether world trying to break free, the hacks could be magical spells, the augments could be enchantments, and the big mega corporations running the world and oppressing people could be powerful wizards holding court through a feudal system network of dukes and princes instead of corpos. This isn’t a bad thing in any way, and I think it adds a charm by being very reminiscent of the era in which this genre came into popularity. (The tabletop game was written and published in the wake of Dungeons and Dragons sweeping the nation after all.)
Sky-berCall of Duty-77…Rim
The gameplay itself is not quite as unique or distinct, but it is arguably the best part of the experience. There are really two major areas of gameplay that are the same two that you expect to see in this kind of open world action RPG, Conversation and Combat. I found that both were competent but the dialogue aspect was closely linked to, and shares a lot of, the same highs and lows of the story. The sentence options were color coded to indicate which options will give more info, and which ones will move the interaction onward. Occasionally, you’ll see options that involve a skill check on one or more attributes (more on the character progression system in a minute) but the one conversation mechanic that stood out was how your backstory can change the course of dialogue trees. Every so often there was an option that was labeled as a “Corpo” option. The NPC would respond to it differently and I found a couple of places where outcomes actually changed slightly. It’s probably the most compelling feature when considering replayability.
As for combat: there isn’t much here you haven’t seen before. It is very adept FPS gameplay with most of the weapon classes and basic attachments you come to expect. There’s also a wide range of melee weapons, but I found that most of them ended up being useless except for the Katanas, all of which were a blast and easily my favorite weapons. There are augments which adjust stats or give special abilities, and hacks which as I mentioned function essentially as spells or magic to mess with enemies in various ways. I didn’t go very deep down the Netrunner (Hacker/Wizard) path but I also didn’t find many hacks that dealt damage rather than just creating opportunities.
Much like similar games (Deus Ex, Dishonored) you are able to approach most instances from multiple ways and you’re able to adjust strategies on the fly. But I found that the stealth option just took longer but didn’t feel anymore satisfying. The game is directed towards an aggressive and action oriented playstyle even if it offers the stealth option. It’s a fair mix that matches the demographics of how most gamers prefer the explosive, up-front approach. But as a long time stealth games fan I do often wish that stealth in these types of multi-approach games was given a little more thought and had more ways to play scenarios than just choking characters out and silencing pistol headshots.
All Systems Go! Or Not, Whatever.
The last major aspect of Cyberpunk 2077 that deserves some observation is probably the easiest one to talk about. The character progression and seemingly dozens of stats to adjust for are somehow both so complex that you could spend hours midmaxing to your heart’s content, and so frequently irrelevant that you could barely touch it and probably not have much of a different experience. It’s something of an odd paradigm but the weapons get powerful enough that you really could just throw points at the various complex skill trees in the general direction of the weapon type you like and you’re probably going to still be so powerful by the end of the game that it would play the same as if you do like I did and spent what felt like half my time in the menus adjusting equipment and stats. I say this because at least one other member of the team here at MP1st played exactly that more relaxed way and still had no trouble seeing most everything the game had to offer on the gameplay end.
This could be seen as a pro or a con. It has more options of how to spend your time, which is generally a positive in video games. But it is also disappointing that these systems don’t seem to have nearly the effect you might hope they do. In a way this is something of a microcosm of the whole experience. Cyberpunk 2077 is a fun game, but it can ultimately be a little mindless. You can spend hours combing over the experience for every detail and nuance or you can smash and bash your way through and let the details be damned. It creates a mixed experience that is nonetheless fun. And while I don’t think I would say it’s a groundbreaking advancement in any area, it is a fun ride and definitely worth it for people that love this style of game and I think it’s worth looking at for everyone else.
It’s unfortunate that the hype train got so carried away during the years long lead up to Cyberpunk 2077. CD Projekt RED definitely didn’t help with their marketing that leaned into the hyperbolic expectations. It made the backlash more powerful and more negative than this game probably deserved. This Next-Gen version isn’t hot trash or unplayable but it definitely has benefited from having another year and a half in the oven. One can only hope that the industry and its community members learn how to manage expectations and avoid this mistake in the future, but if human history has taught us anything, that’s not likely.
- A well realized environment
- Fun gun and sword play
- Oddly but positively Nostalgic for a specific slice of the 80’s
- Adaptable for different playstyles
- Infrequent but noticeable bugs. Still.
- Some systems are underutilized
- Story makes jumps in character development and relationships that don’t always make sense
Cyberpunk 2077 review code was provided by the publisher. Version tested using the Xbox Series X version. You can read MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.