This post has spoilers. Both in text and images. Do not read beyond the summary if you do not want anything spoiled.
Table of Contents
- The Game Itself
- RPG Mechanics
- Attribute Points
- Performance and Bugs
- The Open World
- Open World Aspects
- The Engine and Details
- Side Quests
- Areas I Felt Lacking
- Empty World
- Empathy and Cyberpsychosis Mechanics
- World Interactions
- Combat Music
- Ultrawide Pr0n
- Final Thoughts
- The Story Overall
- The Future
Disclaimer: I have been a long time fan of the pen and paper RPG system Cyberpunk 2020. I played it with my nerdy friends back in the 90’s when it was super un-fucking cool to do that sort of thing. I loved the books, the artwork, everything.
I saw Johnny Mnemonic in the theater, alone, for my birthday in 1995. It was a crime Dina Meyer didn’t have a cameo in this game. This is literally everything I wanted.
This is un-apologetically a biased review, and I do genuinely love Cyberpunk 2077.
When CDPR posted the CP2077 teaser trailer in January 2013, I was counting down the days. It clearly showed the cyberpsychosis in action as well as the Psycho Squad, mantis blades, and skinweave armor.
It was quickly announced that Mike Pondsmith was also involved. Again, I had the first ticket on the hype train.
This game took YEARS, and we only saw a few snippets about what the game would be like from the official twitter account. The only memorable thing after the teaser trailer was the E3 preview with game play footage.
I recall this was peak hype. Keanu Reeves was shown in game, he has his infamous “no you’re beautiful” moment on stage. It was perfect.
Skipping over the delays and, depending who you ask, either buggy or unplayable launch there was a titanic sized backlash from journalists and gamers alike.
PC Gamer seemed so personally offended (they being one of the HUGE hype machines for Cyberpunk 2077), they still continue to release some of the worst “I’ve never played Cyberpunk 2077 but here is why its bad” articles over a year after release.
So, as a person that was extremely excited about the game, I am going to do my best to give an honest assessment based on my experience and hardware.
The Game Itself
Cyberpunk 2077 is a first person game, which was a departure from CDPR previous title as a 3rd person perspective. I was highly skeptical of this path, and I was completely wrong.
I replayed some parts of the Witcher 3 after CP2077, and realized how repetative the shot/reverse shot in the Witcher really is. Works out in film, but you have less agency. I greatly prefer CP2077’s first person perspective now.
The game focuses on you, V, a customizable character. I think this is the first mis-step. The Witcher, to me, was such a fantastic series because of Geralt and who he was molded into and the voice actor Doug Cockle. I think CDPR was caught up in the open world multi-player whirlwind that Rockstar made, they did really think they could have customized characters with the eventual mutliplayer world.
Personally, I think they should have been honest in the scope of the work ahead of them, and never mentioned the idea of multiplayer and skipped character customizations. There are only one male and one female voice actor. You can make a character that does not line up with the voice at all and its just jarring.
With that, I like V. I like the male and female voice actors, and I really like the dialog choices the game gives you. CDPR excels at creating characters. Similar to The Witcher, Cyberpunk 2077 has a slew of rich characters:
And, Adam Smasher:
Who I like to point out as the most true to form example of full on cybernetic body replacements. According the Mike Pondsmith, Adam had a closet full of bodies he would wear (one even looking like Elvis Presley).
The list just goes on and on.
V can have three origins:
- Street Kid
I have done both Streetkid and Corpo, and I always use the optional dialog. I don’t think it really matters a ton, but I might have enjoyed the Corpo path as it felt even better to become anti-corp with Johnny.
The first chapter focuses on V and Jackie getting their first big gig from a known, but also slightly untrustworthy Fixer DeShawn. Since Jackie and V’s entire motivation at this point is to have “cred” and be “the best in Night City”, this is their big break.
Chapter One is fantastic, well paced, and touches a lot of territory. It introduces you to the majority of gameplay mechanics like quick-hacks and combat. Even the opening scene of rescuing the girl from Animals is pretty damn good.
This big gig, and SPOILER ends in tragedy. Your netrunner is brutally fried (which kudos for building up a character and completely offing them GRRM style), everything about the gig goes tits up and sets the stage for the rest of the game.
Introduce Johnny Silverhand.
The 2019 E3 reveal with Keanu Reeves as Johnny was a big deal, which sadly turned sour post-launch. The launch was so ill-recieved, that fans started blaming Keanu’s involvement. There were wild speculations that he himself tanked the game, demanded more “screen time” and thus made the devs focus on him and not the initially planned features (like car combat and wall running)
I think this is completely unsubstantiated wild speculation I can’t roll my eyes hard enough. Take an objective stance with online gamer discourse, and really think about how people make these incredibly confident and absolute claims with no backing.
Johnny is a fantastic fanatical character and he is played INCREDIBLY well. I love the banter between V and Johnny, and you can pick and choose when you call him an asshole of if you agree. He’s fairly single dimension in his motivation, but:
- He’s basically a construct, he’s not really Johnny.
- He’s got a few good points
like the Ship of Theseus, how real is Silverhand? The Soulkiller technology that destroyed and caputered Johnny; assuming the technology is perfect, the relic is damaged. Let’s also point out that the construct of Johnny Silverhand should also be considered an unreliable narrator. Johnny is a narcissist and egomaniac, so his memories are him being this unstoppable flawless killing machine which cannot be true since HE GETS FUCKING GOT and Alt dies.
This more or less feels like a MacGuffin, because you’re propelled forward with two major plot devices:
- Clear your name. Goro needs to regain his honor, and let the family know he did not fail his duties. That no one but Yorinubo killed Saburo
- Find a cure. The engram of Johnny is taking over V’s mind and will “kill” him.
This is my second major issue with the game. You cannot be simultaniously dying, and getting more powerful at the same time. This ludonarrative dissonance in my opinion is a huge flaw. It think it also sets us up for a certain amount of hopelessness, and where does the DLC or continuation of the franchise fit in? I can see this adding to some amount of resentment when we are used to bonding with a character like Geralt over 3 games and a successful Netflix series.
So, with those two, there are dozens and dozens of major side quests and very minor skirmishes you can do. Since this is an “Action RPG”, all of these help you level up, because what else is the point of a game if you cannot have a way to introduce new mechanics and playstyles?
Cyberpunk 2077 contains RPG like mechanics.
First off, you have you overall level. Each level grants you 1 attribute point and one skill point. There is also a separate street cred level that increases based on the side quest or NCPD firefight you complete. Dialog options and weapons are gated by these two stats. Certain legendary weapons require a high level and or street cred. On game launch, you could find legendary cybernetic upgrades like the mantis blades WAY early, and that was patched out. In 1.5, you have to buy these items from specific ripper docs and you must meet the minimum requirements.
Attribute points: Body, Reflex, Cool, Tech ability, and Intelligence
Similar to level, there are actions and the occasional dialog that are accessible once you reach a certain level. For example, force opening a door might require a body of 7. The game will tell you, if you don’t meet the check it will be grayed out. I like to save 1 attribute point in the even I just barely miss a skill check. I can quickly upgrade it to pass the check. This doesn’t work mid-dialog though. Attibute points can also increase your health, stamina recovery, quick-hacks or increase certain weapon type damage. Certain weapons and cyberware also have attribute requirements.
There are way to many skills. I have a harder time ugprading these because the benefits are not always clear, or, its difficult to remember all of options and which attribute has which skill. These are nice perks.
Your playstyle can evolve with your attributes and skills. It is nice that in patch 1.5 you can spend eddies to re-spec (just like you can in Elden Ring and Dark Souls 3). I found that I personally like an fairly even approach, as I like to have as many options available. I did find that with both of my playthroughs I prefered some stealth, using quick hacks and mantis blades. This usually drove me towards reflex and intelligence.
The final mechanic I want to discuss is combat/shooting. I don’t have a lot of issues with perks associated with combat (ie: quick-hacks dealing more damage in stealth mode), nor the melee weaons.
Its the shooting I want to bring up. Shooting with RPG mechanics will never really feel okay with me unless its turn-based combat. There is something un-rewarding about shooting with hit point mechanics that falls flat with me. I do wish there was a blend of the RPG game mechanics, and Wolfenstein II shooting. The gunplay in Wolfenstein is so satisfying, I wish every shooter had the same sound and physical weight that it pulls off. For instance, if id Software wanted to make an enemy “beefier”, they would add visible armor. Armor could even pop off as you shoot the enemy. This lets you fight more powerful enemies, but its communicated through gameplay why they are taking multiple shots.
Cyberpunk doesn’t do this well, and I think its a problem with every shooter that is married at the hip to RPG mechanics. I don’t like when I shoot a basic enemy 6 times in the head, and they still have a good chunk of health. That is not immersive to me, and its not rewarding the players proficiency. I think guns in particular, shouldn’t come with ever increasing hit damage. I shotgun should do more damage than a pistol yes, but, not 100 vs 200 points of damage until you find the next pistol that does 400 points and the next shotgun that does 800 points. It also adds to inventory clutter, which is just a tedious distraction from the game itself.
Performance and Bugs
Cyberpunk, on release… was a bit under-cooked. Actually that is still too nice of a way to put it. CDPR had an embargo until the day before the launch, and they only allowed reviewers to play it on PC (if I’m recalling the events correctly). It was kind of a shady launch.
It seemed like CDPR was damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Dev’s had recieved death threats over a two month delay. In hind-sight, the game needed another good full year of testing and performance tuning. However, I don’t think a full year delay would not have gone over very well either.
Upon launch, I had a nice system:
- AMD Ryzen 2700X
- 32GB DDR4 RAM
- 512GB m.2 nvme drive
- Nvidia RTX 3080
- 1440p gsync monitor
And even then, I had a rough time in certain areas of the game. I had to decrease the city density, which made the city feel a little to much like Portland during the first COVID lockdown. It was desolate, but I could drive fast around the city and not drop below 30fps.
Overall though, after some tuning, I had a great experience with the game. Performance was mostly fine, I never had the game crash, no odd physics or T-posing models or any of that. I kept my drivers up to date, and the game patched.
I’m honestly incredibly suspicious of streamers who show non-stop bugs with games. Videogamedunky, who I enjoy, always seems to have a vast collection of truly game breaking physics issues. I can’t help but suspect they are sabotaging the game with out of date drivers or unstable hardware to get those views. I’m not saying my anecdotal experience was the standard for everyone’s game play, I’m just very cynical of people who are invested in outrage for views. Controversy sells.
I understand on consoles it was really really bad. Like, CDPR should have never made this next gen game and promised previous gen consoles. Not unless they were going to delay the release or have a side by side de-make version.
It is understandable that players, especially console and mid range desktops were upset. It took multiple patches to smooth out a lot of the performance issues.
I can say, at v1.5 today, the game is fast and stable (PC). Plus, I’ve upgraded to an ultra-wide display. Ultra-wide with HDR is a beautiful experience and well supported in this game.
Another really funny but super annoying, was NCPD spawning. You could literally be on a rooftop, snipe a civilian, and NCPD would spawn right behind you and start shooting, It was crazy aggressive. Its been fixed to a degree.
Before I move on, I want to offer some recent perspective of buggy open world games.
First, RDR2 on the PC was a terrible experience. I love that game, but it was not a great performer until well after a year. Its online experience is also riddled with hackers, cheaters, very little updates, and in general neglected.
Second: Fallout 4. I recently bought this because I thought I really missed that world. I played the heck out of Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, Skyrim, and I was in a gaming lull. So on a whim I bought FO4, really looking forward to the terminal hacking minigame.
What a horrible buggy piece of shit game, and this is 7 years later. I played it for 4 hours. It crashed multiple times. NPC’s constantly walked into trees and got stuck. Physics still seems heavily tied to framerate, and it lacks ultrawide support being it was a console first title. I still might try to hate-play it, but I cannot believe how poor of a experience it was. It is also just a bad game in most gamey aspects.
Yet, because Cyberpunk 2077 caught the ire of the community I think it was given an unfair or heavily biased evaluation. Meanwhile, everyone is still looking forward to Starfield and just from the in game footage released at non-E3 this year, I’m getting heavy fallout4 vibes with a fresh coat of paint.
The Open World
Night City is a character in itself. Incredibly detailed, vast, and true to the source material.
Level designers just don’t whip up a city, and especially not one like this, I cannot stress enough how realistic and vast CDPR made Night City. It was noted they even worked with city planners and engineers for accuracy. What makes a good open world game? Is CP2077 a good, mediocre, or poor example?
Open World Aspects
Here is my semi coherent and maybe thought out in advanced list of what I think are good and bad open world elements.
Downtime. Being able to have a moment of safety, and even knowing you are safe. This isn’t just your apartment(s), but you can normally travel around the city unscathed. You can pop into a skirmish, and rarely you will run into a driving shootout (new in recent patches), overall you will be left on your own to enjoy Night City.
Things to do besides combat. With downtime, there should be plenty to explore. Each major section of the city is with driving or walking. The outskirts, badlands, garbage dumps all have little things to offer. There is even a sadly accurate tent encampment hidden in the city. You can also find a monk in some locations, and he will give you these nice zen moments of meditation. Again, very refreshing for an action RPG.
If I can see it, I want to be able to go to it. Now, the city DOES have a limit but it is nice that for the most part, everything you see you can get to. With the cybernetic double jump upgrade, you can even get to areas you’re not supposed to be in.
Easter eggs, or hidden lore from exploration. I’ve found a handful of movie references tucked away. If you read logs or explore office spaces you can easily find more game references.
The map gives subtle but accurate information about an area. I think Elden Ring and Red Dead Redemption 2 are great at this as well.
Too many open tasks in AC or Far Cry give me anxiety. Cyberpunk 2077 still falls into this unfortunately. I think RDR2 and Elden Ring did well with this. Even Ghost of Tsushima minimizes the endless laundry list.
I do prefer a minimal UI, but I do use the auto path tracing in far cry while on a vehicle. A lot. What can I say, I’m terrible with directions.
Ubisoft has been in a rut with open world games by not really changing the core formula. Capture a base, unlock an area. CP2077 does not do this in any sense, Everything is up for exploration.
The Engine and Details
CDPR is moving away from the REDengine. Probably a really good idea to be fair. They have done some great things, and like Operating Systems, I feel there should be some diversity. Unreal 5 is really really good though, and if they can use that and have a less buggy release that is probably a good thing.
REDengine is still very impressive. Ray tracing and HDR in this game is really really good. I have a nvidia 3080, so I’m able to use dlss, ray tracing and an ultrawide resolution (3440×1440) with 60fps+
I’ve already mentioned it, but all of the NPC character designs are really well done. From the unique facial and body composition, to implants, hair and tattoo’s.
Vehicles are another aspect of attention to detail. I normally drive in third person mode, but, I do occasionally flip to first so I can see the interior of the cars and trucks.
Weapons feel about the same. I would say there are maybe 2 dozen unique models, and everything you pick up is just a different spec and reskin. With that though, they all have a lot of detail to the model and animations. These devs really did a great job, a lot of love and passion shows in their work.
I don’t know if side quests is even appropriate for most of these. The amout of world building and character development that happens in these is a playthrough requirement in my opinion. Lets call them minor quests vs the major required quests.
If I’m driving around the city, I’ll pick up a few side gigs like recovery X item, or take out Y individual. Those are nice and short, with just a little bit of prep and light reading.
On the other hand, there are very beefy minor quests and here are a few of my memorable and favorites:
- The Hunt
- Dream On
- Violence, with Lizzy Wizzy. I like this so much because it seemed to explore the detatchment someone with extreme cybernetic enhancements might experience
- They Wont Go When I Go
- The Pyramid. Having side quests that do not involve violence are refreshing. I appreciate that sort of story telling more and more now.
There are so many more, these are just the main ones that stuck in my head.
The score is zomg so great.
Music makes me vulnerable, really find its way to a raw exposed nerve. The score really presses at that raw nerve. Specifically the unlisted title when you’re having key dialog moments. I know its by design, and I’m being manipulated by digital sounds but it gives me the ear-gasm I need and goose flesh on my arms so I’ll take it.
The Samurai tracks are pretty good all by themselves, I like riding around on a motorcycle listening to them. Resist and Disorder is pretty damn good, I geniunly liked when it came on the radio.
Also, keep in mind Cyberpunk 2077 has a full OST, which is in-fucking-credible, as well as multiple radio station volumes that are great mix cd’s all on their own.
I am a sucker for the cheap and easy Sherlock Holmes mode. The Witcher has the follow the smell version of this, and I can see why a lot of people disliked it.
NOT ME, and Braindance is this on CSI:Miami crack. Let me fast forward, rewind, pause, change layers, find all the clues over and over again. I love it. More please.
Unless I’m pressed for time, I try not to use fast travel. Driving around the city is a fun experience, unless you’re driving a truck. I prefer the motorcycles most of the vehicles drive like out of control boats.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has that same feel. Riding on a horse with the occasional hunting in RDR2 is a big part of the game for me. It is relaxing, and I still can’t help but feel a sense of wonder existing in those worlds.
Areas I Felt Lacking
An Empty Open World
The open world is a little vapid. Compared to Red Dead Redemption 2, which feels like a full blown simulation. You collide with people realistically, the animals feel like real animals, and the facial and character models and animations are out of this world realistic. Rockstar did spend nearly half a billion dollars, it really showed. Maybe it is unfair to compare the two worlds and engines, but RDR2 feels more like a simulation than a game. To CP2077’s credit, it is more fun and less abusive to the player. Cyberpunk just lacks that oomf, where you just don’t collide into the world as much as you should. They did add a sort of dodging animation while running on the sidewalk in later patches.
Traffic in CP2077 is also really “dumb”, not nearly as life like as other games. One car will stop, and no others will just go around. It also seems to depend if you are looking at it or not.
Empathy and Cyberpsychosis Mechanics
I mentioned in my Games of 2021 post, but the empathy attribute was missing and that the theme of Cyberpsychosis comes up, but really isn’t explored. There is a side quest where you take down 10 psychos, and yuo discover reading through their log entries and emails, that a lot of them were exploited veterans. A lot of modern day parallels with rampant capitalism and worker exploitation.
I liked this aspect, the game is only a little subtle in pointing out how much corporations own and how much of a mirror this “science fiction” setting is for us. There was room however to point out that we, V, are a cyberpsycho. The amount of killing done, and how feely we add on cybernetics should have been a talking point. It feels like it was left of the cutting room floor.
I was expecting this highly fleshed out open world. I kept walking up to NPC’s on the street or waiting in an office waiting room hoping I could engage in some sort of dialog. No, it was not any more than previous titles. Again, this was CP2077 at launch and I had anticipated a lot more than was there.
I found it incredibly repetative. For most skirmishes, its the same track and I kind of hate it now.
The water is kinda jank. I’ve seen water in so many games now, and a lot of them deal with it well and accurately. Cyberpunk 2077 does not. Its like water game physics from the early 2000s.
I have no idea where CDPR was going with this. The game lets you customize your genitalia. There are hyper sexual advertisements and dildo’s sprinkled everywhere. There are sex workers and a large part of the main story focuses on “dolls”.
Look, the game is for adults; there is optional sex in the game. The story elements around dolls, Evelyn Parker and sex worker exploitation fit in well and are important story wise. I think I was a little put off because the advertisements and character customization’s around genitalia came off as more edgy and not actually part of the game.
Okay, that is all I want to show at this point. The rest are the last main quest.
The Story Overall
Overall I think CP2077 is an incredible game with not just entertaining but compelling and thought provoking dialog. I think the overall ultra capitalistic over-run society that is Night City is a good modern day parallel. I don’t think this is hit you on the head political, but if you glaze over politicians being re-written by AI to benefit themselves or Corporations, veterans being exploited, black market for medicine, tent encampments, oppressive brutalism architecture, shanty towns on the outskirts, and corporate owned law enforcement you are either not playing the same game or nuance is not part of your brain chemistry. There is more to this game than just the plot, there are emails and shards to pour over.
I think V going from a naive “Go out in glory and get a drink named after me” to the Sisyphus battle with Arasaka played well into the nihilistic world that is Cyberpunk. You never beat Arasaka, corpos rule, Militech rules. Jackie, Johnny and Alt are still dead and soon you will be too. The game I played made me feel like I made some headway into a world that will never change, but only by the people I helped. You could have played it differently, ruthlessly and that is still a good gameplay to me.
CDProject Red does a much much better job with giving you agency in this game than the Witcher series, and I didn’t feel like I was just activating Game of Thrones style cut-scenes where I just had to sit back and watch.
I hope CDPR continues to take care of the license IP, and release DLC and hopefully additional Cyberpunk 2077 games. Even if the DLC is V finding a magical cure and returning to Night City.
What I suspect though, is due to the backlash, CDPR is going to release DLC and call it done. They will return to the safety of The Witcher which they have already announced a new game.
Personally I find this heartbreaking. I had waited what felt like a lifetime for someone to pick up the property and build a faithful representation. CDRP did that, but burned their own street cred in the process.
Unfortunately, hard core gamers are a bit of an entitled crowd. The amount of people on the r/cyberpunkgame or PC Gamer in a fury over what they were owed is incredibly privileged. They held CDPR on a pedistal after The Witcher 3 and forgot it too was a flawed masterpiece. If you want a better online discourse, Reddit’s LowSodiumCyberpunk is better, and Mike Pondsmith sometimes chimes in because he’s a real gem of a human.
Thank you for reading, this has been a love letter that took me well over a year to deliver.