There are minor spoilers all over and a few bigger ones in my Act 3 but I have tried to avoid anything too specific beyond the first act of the game story. The screenshots may contain spoilers, I haven’t avoided that but I assume that they don’t uncover a lot out of context. Sorry, this has become a rather long review again. 😁 Preem, here we go…
I believe one could say that there have been few games – certainly in 2020, if not the last two years – that were as eagerly expected as Cyberpunk 2077. The digital games media machine has been on hype mode for this one for a long, long time. And after the game’s release was postponed several times already it finally launched on December 17th. I certainly took note of some of the reporting prior and post launch. I don’t particularly care for hype or drama and I’m certainly old enough to not believe trailers or previews prior to release, any ad material that’s been put out or the hype of people who are essentially paid to be excited by whatever game they’re talking about. So I can’t say I had a big expectation of what the game might be, nor did I know what it was supposed to be like. And from what I gathered, most people did not. So this is a review of a game I played now for 150+ hours. I’m not big into shooters, I do like and have played RPGs like Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Fallout New Vegas, Outer Worlds, Mass Effect, TES: Skyrim, Knights of the old Republic and so on. If you consider GTA IV and V to be in that category, I played those too. I am a big fan of science fiction and especially the sub genre of cyberpunk. So here’s my impression of Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Project Red based on the table top RPG by Mike Pondsmith.
Act 1 – Exposition
Cyberpunk 2077 could be described as a story-driven Open World RPG action game. Those words don’t mean a whole lot in recent times, AAA games seem to more and more assimilate genres to the degree where they try to be a jack of all trades game or what we call in Germany the eierlegende Wollmilchsau (egg-laying wool-milk-pig). They try to be as much as possible, maybe too much. But the game could be compared to Fallout 4, a dystopian world of the future that in this case is basically a huge mega city and its surroundings filled with a bunch of odd characters of which you are one. You can design your own avatar similar to Fallout 4, and also similarly you are essentially playing a role that is somewhat pre-defined or limited by the game world and story, so it’s not like you can be anyone you choose to be. It’s also similar to The Witcher III and GTA V in that you quest your way through the world with one main quest and a huge number of side quests and odd jobs. Much like in Fallout 4 or GTA you have a backstory and it defines the boundaries. But the backstory can be picked from three different factions, so there is room for you to actually do some role-playing from the get go. You can also choose a body type, but with that you don’t necessarily choose a gender role which I feel is quite intriguing and different than the other games mentioned. You can also choose to play a male body type with a female voice and vice versa. Some argue that the main story doesn’t take into account your faction choice very much, and I would disagree with that but I’ll make that argument later. Similarities with GTA V can also be found in the extensive role cars and motorbikes play for getting around town. And like Fallout 4 and The Witcher III the level of detail and lore that is found everywhere is amazing, with a lot of the backstory being told through the world and little bits of text found in so called shards.
The game was released on PC, XBox One (and the newer ones I assume) and PS4/5. Apparently the console versions seem to be technically inferior to the PC version to the point where they are/were unplayable for some which prompted a lot of players to ask to get their money back. Developer CD Projekt Red has released 3 hot fixes within three weeks after launch, but I don’t know how much got fixed on consoles as I don’t have one. More patches have been announced since. I decided against linking to the numerous articles on this as you can google for yourself. That whole drama is not gonna be discussed here, as I don’t care for any of it and it had little impact on my entertainment. I played the game on PC and not even with a current NVIDIA graphics card. It did crash five or six times during 150 hours, and that might not be an issue of the game (it happens in other games sometimes). There are bugs for sure, but I can’t say it’s way worse than with other new games I’ve played in the past. Two or three times bugs kept me from progressing a quest so I had to reload. A lot of times fun glitches and weird actions happen, I’d say CDPR imitates Bethesda on that end. But again, this is my opinion and experience, doesn’t have to be yours. Don’t buy the game on consoles just yet I guess. But now let’s see what all the fuzz is about…
Act 2 – What to do in Night City
I am not quite convinced that “open-world” already qualifies as a genre. As far as I understand it, it’s merely a game feature, meaning you can travel freely all over the map and seek quests and activities whenever and in any order you want to. As such it’s usually best coupled with an action-adventure game or an RPG. Cyberpunk 2077 combines several gameplay mechanics from several genres. The main mechanics during quests are first-person gun and rifle fights (lots of choices between pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns with different technical abilities), melee fight (using knifes, blades and a few special weapons), sneaking/stealth and hacking. Most of the time for any given quest and task you can employ all of those mechanics to reach the goal. You can rely mostly on one of them or even freely combine them e.g. you could hack a door or window to sneak inside a warehouse, sneak your way to the object or person to obtain and then hack your enemies before you engage them in battle on your way out.
Another core mechanic of course is looting, because the world is filled with all kinds of objects like consumables, weapons, clothes, items for crafting and shards with information of various kinds. They are scattered all over the place and also dropped by all enemies. Weapons and clothing can be modified with mod items and all of those can be crafted if you own the necessary ressources. You can also upgrade weapons and clothing to improve their stats as you progress in the game, but they also come in five rarities: common, uncommon, rare, epic and legendary. There are also unique iconic weapons and clothes to be found that carry specific bonuses.
To get you around in the world you can travel by car and motor bike, which is used in quests as well e.g. with scripted car chases. Alternatively there are fast travel points all over the city, so you can ignore the vehicles altogether, but they are quite a lot of fun to use and you may more likely want to ignore fast traveling instead.
Then there are the RPG mechanics which let you level your character in 5 disciplines with two or three skills connected to them. The skills each contain several perks that affect fighting, sneaking, crafting and hacking abilities. By using specific skills you level them automatically and get points to invest in perks. You also get XP which you can invest to level up the disciplines. You can level up to a maximum of 50 overall and 20 for each discipline.
Now, if I understand it correctly a lot of those RPGmechanics stem from the original table top RPG. A lot of the other game mechanics are common for open-world rpgs like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout, Assassin’s Creed and others. They are in that sense standard mechanics that gamers know and there are only slight variations in some aspects. There is not a lot of innovation there but it all feels solid and challenging, if you play at the hard or very hard difficulty. With normal and easy you’re possibly only playing for the story and can ignore a lot of the finer points of mechanics, at least in my opinion. But of course that also depends on your experience. During my first playthrough on normal I ignored the crafting and a lot of the finer points of combat and hacking. When I started a new character on hard, I found that you really need to have a strategy for using perks, for leveling weapons and for how you explore the world, because even quests of moderate danger could easily be your quick death. Sneaking and hacking grow much more helpful and finding legendary armor and weaponry can also help quite a bit.
There also are plenty of hidden caches and easter eggs that you can spend hours searching for. Or you can plow through YouTube Videos for help. You also collect a lot of Eurodollars in-game, or Eddies as the natives call it. You can spend those on cars, weaponry, hacker equipment or body modifications. You need to choose wisely though, as money only at the very end becomes available in such amounts that you can just throw it around. You can also give money to homeless people if you feel so inclined. Or to Joytoys for some quick… joy.
I played the game on PC with a Radeon RX 7600 XT graphics card and an Intel Core i9-9900. I could get 50 to 60 fps at 1800p (not at 4k though), which I think is quite fine. I know it would look better on current gen NVidia cards because of the raytracing. But it does look great as it is now. The biggest graphical glitches seem to stem from my hdd not being fast enough. If that happens cars and people do not load fast enough when I’m quickly moving through town. But that’s really not a big deal and there is even an option in the settings for slow HDDs which helps a little with that.
The game is mostly played from a first person perspective, which means you don’t see your character, except for when you’re driving. I guess that’s a deliberate decision to make the game more immersive, and for the shooting it’s great, but for melee fights I would prefer a 3rd person alternative. However, instead of having to switch all the time I guess in the end I would stick to first person, but I guess this could have been different. Especially during scripted sequences it would have been nice to see your character, but then again, it might break immersion.
Music & Sound
I’ve played the game a lot with headphones and the soundscape is very impressive. People talking, weapon fire, tv and ads, background noises and even the occasional musical cue, they are all very well done and really sell the specific environment you’re in. The dialogue ist superbly done too, not only in the English version but also in the German translation which I heard during my first playthrough. The cast is great, in the German version you can hear the popular German voice of Keanu Reeves for Johnny Silverhand and the German voice of Trinity in The Matrix as Rogue. Also the smart gun Skippy is voiced by the German voice of Spongebob Squarepants. All the voice actors really do sell their respective roles.
There also ist plenty of music on the radio that you can listen to and I really liked how the soundtrack covers several music genres that you can imagine existing in the cyberpunk future.
Act 3 – My Opinion
At the time of writing this I have spent 150+ hours in game, played a male and a female bodied character (it makes a difference) and thus played most of the quests at least twice, at normal and hard difficulty. I deliberately tried to make different choices during my second playthrough.
I can only say I really love this game, it’s a beautiful culmination of the cyberpunk genre and not only includes all the elements you would expect, it also references plenty of the books, movies and other games of the genre. During my first go I didn’t really focus on the gameplay too much, I wanted to get on with the story, it took me close to 80 hours to do the main and the vast majority of the side quests. In my second (hard) go I really got the gameplay which turns out to be quite complex if you let it be. The leveling really makes a difference on hard, so makes crafting and upgrading your weapons. Once I had learned about what the perks do, I could really make conscious choices where to improve and understanding the different mechanics made me see the game world differently. That leads to quests feeling quite different the second time you play them, although the characters you meet and the dialogue might be mostly the same. I found secret entrances and exits, ways to talk my way out of fights or to hack the environment. Even in the first few missions of Act 1 you have quite a number of choices that are not game changing but will have consequences during Act 2 (and sometimes beyond that). So I feel there is already plenty of game, a huge world to discover and it’s all a very entertaining experience however you choose to play it. And your choices do matter, because you can play this mostly as an action adventure and get through it in 60 hours, or you can really get into the RPG aspects, try to find every legendary weapon and clothing item and spend hundreds of hours in there, even before any DLCs have come out. Sure, there may be games who do some of the things Cyberpunk does, just better. But at the end of the day the question is how much fun you get out of this and it was plenty of fun for me, and complex enough that you have somewhat of a learning curve.
But the main strength of Cyberpunk 2077 to me lies on the narrative side. The major characters and how they are woven into the overall story are magnificiently crafted. Especially Johnny Silverhand who turns out to be a constant companion/nuisance (however you look at it) with comments on almost everything you do and with a string of side quests to dive into his former life is a treat. Keanu Reeves pulls this one off, because it’s essentially a crossover from a lot of the characters he’s played over the years. There is also much to be said about the social commentary and philosophical themes that run through the game (there is a whole great video essay about this by ProbablyJacob on YouTube ). Because there is plenty of backstory from the pen and paper RPG and lots of lore, the world is not shallow in the slightest, but rather has been build very carefully. But: The game doesn’t shove that in your face, you can and may miss some or all of the lore if you play the game without an open mind or with a strong focus on goals. So the game gives you a lot of freedom, and this seems like an important thing to know when listening to some people’s criticism.
Epilog – Criticism
Obviously because of the rocky launch expecially on consoles fans have been very critical of the game, but not only for the obvious technical flaws but for several other perceived shotcomings. Some of those I’ll try to address here because it seems relevant to my experience.
The story is very branched out and, for a commercial computer game, rather complex and dynamic. But there has been criticism about there being too little variation between the three walks of life, and I have to say I partly agree but I also don’t understand the extend of that expectation. Sure, the prolog of about 30 – 40 minutes, that establishes V’s backstory as a Nomad, Corpo or Streetkid ultimately ends in all of them meeting and moving in with Jackie Wells and the mission to save Sandra Dorsett. But that’s enough to understand where you come from and to decide whether you’re into that and want to role-play as this character. It is a way to get the player into the mood and during my playtime I felt that it really sets the tone of how you want to act in the world. Of course this can’t change the whole plot of the game, cannot be reflected in every dialog option, but it can change the story you create in your mind and how you think about your character. And yes, via the subtly alternate dialog options the game helps you do that throughout. In the end the whole game operates with the classic three act structure, with the second act being the actual open world game, the first being the introduction we already talked about and the third (at least the last big chunk) being the ending that seems to have five or six different alternate branches, depending on if and how you played certain side missions. So at the beginning and the end this plays rather linear. The middle however is a huge tree of interconnected quests, as was promised by CD Project Red. You meet some characters during the main quest and they later give you side quests, where you get to meet more new people and those may end up having rather long side quests of their own. And that in return may impact the main quests in unforeseen ways. You can’t even tell from the quest descriptions or givers which role they play to the overall arc. This strategy made The Witcher III a great experience and it also works for me in Cyberpunk. It is in my opinion the strongest point for the game and also way more complex than e.g. GTA V’s very linear story. I think it also is a step up from the Witcher III because the main character there doesn’t give you a whole lot of variation, or at least not as much as this game does. Not all of your choices have heavy consequences, but many do. And many you may miss because you don’t care to check out the same place twice. I think it’s a fine line to add too many consequential choices because you then have to poke the players to recognize the outcomes. Sometimes there are text messages you get, sometimes you can find dead people in random places who would still be alive if you had made a different choice. And vice versa.
Apparently a lot of criticism is also directed at the simulation aspect of Cyberpunk’s Night City. And yes, if you expect an experience similar to GTA V, then maybe it can be disappointing. There are no mini games or activities disconnected from quests. But there are quests that get you on shooting ranges (two or three I think), a quest to make you dive, a quest for racing and so on. There are joytoys offering their services, and you can fight five boxing matches. No card game though. Could there be more of that? Yes, and I hope coming DLCs (paid or for free) will address this. I also missed a way to create my own home or buy or build your own place (but that was bad in GTA as well, and I guess there was no way to add a similar system of base building to what Bethesda introduced with Fallout 4 or Skyrim). For The Witcher III CDPR added a whole vineyard you could repair and extend for cash, maybe they will come up with something similar here. Also the police system doesn’t seem very polished, if you drive over or shoot civilians police will show up from nowhere and they will not chase you if you drive away. Personally I’m not sure, if I need that in this game. It makes sense in GTA because you’re essentially a criminal and police is your enemy. Here however your enemies are the different gangs and corporations and the police is somebody you occasionally can work for. They play a very different role and I’m not sure if it is essential for them to capture or kill you. However if this was the original intention to have police in the game maybe they just have to fix this to work properly. For me it doesn’t really impact my enjoyment that much.
There probably are not many automatically generated events or missions, they are mostly scripted. I don’t mind that, because you can choose to play them differently. There is a day and night cycle and there are different weather phenomena like rain, sunny skies, sour rain and sand storms outside in the desert, but I’m not sure if that qualifies as a dynamic weather system. I like that for certain quests time and weather do change, I don’t really see how this adds a lot more entertainment, but again: If the plan was to have very different weather scenarios then this might need fixing.
However, other criticism is very correct: No, you cannot have a meaningful conversation with every single person on the street. No, you cannot enter every apartment or shop, many of the doors are closed and you can’t even access most of the floors of a lot of the buildings. But then again… Why would you? I mean, the world feels huge to me. Looking at the map and my quest log, I feel there is plenty to do. Yes, there are lots of gigs where you essentially have to kill a group of enemies, but they are not as generic as it may sound. You have to deal with cyberpsychos, gangs, rogue policemen, sad neighbours, child abuse, runaways. You can steal and drive a tank, help politicians, destroy corpo structures, fight or support organized crime, free prisoners or netrunners stuck inside cyberspace. You can invade secret clubs of casinos. Yes, the mechanics repeat at some point, they have to, they do in every open world game. But it’s always fun, even if you play it for a second and maybe even third time. So maybe more was promised but I feel we’re all experienced enough with marketing procedure to not take anything said before a product releases at face value. Sometimes there are scenes in movie trailers that don’t make it into the finished film. And sometimes game designers plan to add a feature and then can’t pull it off or it simply doesn’t fit the experience in the end. Yes, it’s not nice, but managing your expectations is a basic feature of life. It is what it is. There are also rumors of cut content. To this I have to say: The game is a work of art and the designers decide what to put in and what not to put in. Ultimately you’re free to not like or play the game but you’re not the artist and if you want a different experience you may create it yourself (aka modding). But as long as the artists don’t say otherwise I’d assume what we get is the closest to their vision they could get.
Changing the character’s look
Once you have assembled your look in the beginning of the game you cannot change your hair, tattoos or anything else visible about your body, except for clothes and your implants. On the one hand this seems like a missing feature, but then again you can’t see yourself much really, so it kinda doesn’t matter much. Still many people found it irritating and maybe this can be fixed. To me this also seems like a minor thing, nothing that would make me play the game if I didn’t like it already.
Again, I’ve had a fun 150+ hours in Night City and I don’t regret the 46 Eddies, no, Euros that I paid. It seems you can even get a better deal with some online stores atm. It is a very story-focused game, characters like Johnny, Jackie, Goro, Judy, Panam, Rogue or River (along countless others) made it a very emotional journey multiple times. I’m in for more Night City and while the game does have a few issues (technical), I don’t see any reason to not applaud CDPR for what they have created and especially how much freedom I have in exploring the world. Yes, they may not have gotten as close to their own vision as they wanted to and yes, there still are technical issue even after the first patches, but that only means they’ll probably keep trying to improve. The current metacritic score is 86 and the game has sold 13 million copies during its first weeks. That merely underlines my impression that this is a very entertaining game that is worth playing and get lost in.
So don’t give me any of that other drama, there’s plenty in the game, no need for adding any. If nothing of what I said tickles your fancy, there are plenty of other games to get (Medieval Dynasty or Dyson Sphere Program maybe?). But if you want to play the only open-world cyberpunk action RPG of the last decade then I’m afraid there’s no way around Cyberpunk 2077. And you won’t regret it.