To say the release of Cyberpunk 2077 has been rocky is a bit of an understatement. Despite all of these issues, many people swear by the game itself, and many critics have given the title high review scores. Even with my tempered expectations, I was really looking forward to playing Cyberpunk at launch more out of a curiosity than excitement to see how a game with this much hype would end up. Even with tempered expectations, however, I found this game to be one of the most detached experiences I’ve ever had with a game.
Before getting into it, I should start with a few clarifications. Just about everything I talk about is my interpretation and my experience with the game. I’m sure you will find flaws in my thoughts on the game, but these are the things I thought of while playing nonetheless. I should say I only have roughly 35 hours in the game. I have beaten the game with two of the important endings (Panam and corporate ending) and have done enough of the open world activities and side questlines to get a good enough feel for the game. I know it’s a low hour count for the game, but at some point I realized no matter how much I played, things just weren’t going to change for me, so I just decided to stop before my experience got any worse. Finally, when I talk about a ‘detached’ experience, I essentially mean the opposite of an immersive one.
I think the first point I need to get out of the way more than anything is the technical side of the game. Even with playing on PC, I ran into a bevy of technical issues. Low framerates in dense city areas, a ton of bugs, bad pop-in, and much more. Some of the bugs I experienced were funny and aesthetic more than anything, but there were certainly some game breaking ones and some really annoying ones like my toggle crouch disabling every time I launched the game, an issue with a specific mission that spawned me outside of the mission area and didn’t allow me to leave, phone calls overlapping character conversations, and more. The more I played, the more egregious the bugs got, but even at their worse they were never the reason I detached from the experience. Sure, they didn’t help with immersion, but I am usually rather forgiving of technical issues in games. While I think it is not okay for bugs to exist at the launch of a game, let alone to the degree of this game, I know a lot of companies fix these bugs, so I tend to not bring up bugs in reviews because of their temporary nature in most games, unless they are as bad as this. I mainly wanted to bring up the bugs in this game for another reason though. A lot of people who haven’t played the game may think the issues with Cyberpunk begin and end with the bugs, but they were one the lesser issues for me. This game’s disappointments for me affect the core of this experience, and some of it is stuff that just can’t be patched away like technical issues.
Whenever I played this game, I could tell there’s a lot of missing content, and where this can best be seen is in the ‘role-playing’ part of the game. Whether it be the marketing for the game or mechanics in the game itself, Cyberpunk 2077 is constantly telling you that it’s an RPG with dialogue choices, factions, consequences to your actions, and the ability to be who you want to be. It wants you to believe the game is Fallout in a cyberpunk setting using the prestige CDPR gained with the Witcher series. In reality, the RPG side of the game is mostly hollow and inconsequential.
The first choice you make in the game is what life path you want to start with. You can choose to either be a corporate worker, street kid, or a nomad. I chose the corporate choice because I thought being a corporate hitman in all of the high rises would be pretty cool. Fortunately, this choice allowed me to live out my hitman dreams…for about twenty minutes. It sets up a hit job for me to take, but before I could even do it, the game kicked me out of that lifestyle and forced me to become a mercenary. The more I played, the more I realized just how meaningless this choice was. The only changes between the three life paths is a different intro and an occasional dialogue choice specific to each life path. As a corporate jockey, I would occasionally get a special dialogue option in conversations throughout the game, but I can recall only one time when that dialogue option gave me something other than acknowledgement of my corporate background with no change to the conversation or character relation. Between the marketing and the life path choice, Cyberpunk wants you to believe you can be anything you want to be, but the reality is you can be anything you want so long as that thing is being a mercenary.
Choose wisely…or don’t.
Another marketing slogan and mechanic the game itself wants you to believe is consequence. There are multiple ways to tackle missions, multiple choices you can make in missions, and consequences to those actions. All of this is partly true, but not in the right way. I would describe the main missions as funnel-shaped. A lot of the main missions do have multiple paths of entry and multiple ways of tackling missions, which I think is great. Unfortunately, this game does suffer from what I’ll call ‘Ubisoft Demo Syndrome,’ in which the gameplay shown in early showings is more fleshed out than the rest of the game (something I predicted back in 2018), but even outside of the E3 2018 mission, there is still a fair amount of wiggle room. As each mission progresses, however, its choices funnel into one possible conclusion. Some missions have certain impacts like seeing one character in a side mission instead of another or certain choices locking out possible romances, but none of it ever impacts the world or V in any meaningful way. For example, there is a mission where you can try to save Takemura or leave him. Saving him will result in him appearing in an ending, and leaving him to die will have someone else take his place, but they both say the same thing and don’t change the ending in any way. It’s a game where only the results truly matter, not your actions, and the game tries to convince you that there is a butterfly effect to your choices when in reality those outcomes don’t go far beyond aesthetic.
Coinciding with the lack of consequence are the factions, or rather the lack of them. This game makes a big deal out of their factions, and you can even view what factions lead each district from the map in the menu. While I think each group is aesthetically cool and diverse, they don’t really have any impact on anything. There are no faction relations (at least none that I’m aware of), and even if there were, I would have practically no compelling reason to side or fight with any of them. Shooting up one faction doesn’t tip the balance of power in whatever district they are in, and it doesn’t really affect your relations with them, so why should I care about shooting them or not shooting them or trying to immerse and role-play with the factions? Factions are boiled down to the bad guy the mission tells you to shoot, and you can choose which group you want to fight in missions that involve multiple factions, but what’s the point in choosing when it doesn’t matter which one you shoot? For example, one of the main missions involves working with a faction called the Voodoo Boys, and they wanted me to see why the abandoned mall was suddenly filled with another faction, The Animals. I go in guns blazing, shooting Animal gang members left and right, then reach the end to find a corporate employee who hired the Animals for protection asking me to join his side against the Voodoo Boys, in which I did. Not only did this choice not matter to me because there are no faction relations, but siding with the corporate suit (and thus, The Animals) meant the Animals turned friendly with me within the same mission, even though I was killing them moments before. A mixture of no consequence and no faction relations often left me taking the path of least resistance because I could without care, which in turn made trying to immerse all the more difficult.
The Animals turning friendly in the same mission I was shooting them in is a sign of a lack of faction relations, but it also leads to another issue I had with the game: Cyberpunk 2077 sometimes didn’t remember or care about my choices. Whether it be within the same mission or an appearance in a later point in the game, a few of my choices either were just straight wrong or didn’t really make sense. In the Panam ending, Mitch and Panam spoke to me in the credits like as if we parted ways even though I left the city with them. Another example was one mission where I killed the manager of a club in the main mission, but he showed up for me to kill again in a side mission I completed way later on. Seeing moments like this happen made the experience feel like it was on a rigid script instead of being more free-flowing like an RPG should, and having some of my choices invalidated made me wonder which ones the game actually cared to remember.
Speaking of scripts, I think something needs to be said about the game design of Cyberpunk. Despite trying to sell a next-gen game, there are a surprising amount of elements to this game that look and feel last-gen. If you stop your car in the middle of the road, other cars won’t try to drive around it. Dialogue would often have pauses between lines that are just long enough to feel unnatural, which is something I feel games have gotten a lot better at over the past few years. If you want to start or continue a mission that involves talking to an NPC, you will often have to wait for them to slowly walk on their designated path to their exact standing spot, wait for their animation to visibly reset, and then you can talk to them. There are many of these micro mechanics seen throughout the world that on their own aren’t too egregious, but put together feel out-of-place for a game released in past ten years.
The only time I was ever attacked while in a vehicle or had to shake off enemies while driving was scripted.
Another nit-picky issue that also culminates into something more serious is how overwhelming certain parts of the game can be and some of the ways the game poorly communicates what content is meaningful. There is a lot going on at a given time in this game, and some of it doesn’t come across well. Quests and calls are constantly thrown at you, and it soon became too difficult to keep track of everyone calling me and every quest entering my log. What also didn’t help with this are the terrible quest descriptions that at best would vaguely describe the mission. There are a wide variety of side missions ranging from quest-lines with important characters to simply just buying a car, but what content I should really care about doesn’t come across in the map. The map instead is crowded with a ton of markers and waypoints, making the whole thing difficult to navigate. Also in the realm of too much are the constant shards to pick up. I’m all for a collectible pickups that flesh out the world even more, but you find these things like candy in a candy store, so trying to keep up with all of them became futile pretty early on. There is so much information being thrown around at one given time, and trying to keep track of it when it’s at its worst distracted me a bit from truly enjoying the game’s world.
Whether it be in a mission or the open world, an RPG like this game would be remiss without combat. One thing I liked about this game is how abundant the options are around dealing with enemies. Guns blazing, stealth, hacking that works with both loud and stealth play, melee play, and more can all be accommodated for in this game, but not all of it is perfect. The controls are a bit clunky, the combat is a bit spongy, the game shows enemy difficulty on a vague color scale instead of a level scale, and cop chases are nonexistent (at least for me). Of course, a lot of this can be avoided if you, say, play a hacking build, but my biggest issue with the combat is how little I cared to try something different or unique when none of it mattered. Outside of my own personal interest, why should I try to create a unique build when there is no consequences to whoever I shoot? While I think the hacking is cool and the stealth is fine, I find myself asking why I should do those things when I could just shoot everyone considering it’s the simplest way to go. I never bothered trying to create a cool combat build because that would require a lot of time to make, and the game gives you a gun and a lot of health packs early on. Hell, two of the guns I picked up pretty early on are still super powerful in the late game, so it isn’t even a case of trying to grind for good weapons. Weapons eventually became somewhat useless to me, though, because at some point in the game I just started running through combat encounters if I didn’t have to fight enemies. Not only did I lose less health and resources doing this than actually fighting them, but I would also sometimes get a glitch where all the enemies would simultaneously die when I reached the objective I was supposed to fight enemies to get to. This game presents a lot of really cool abilities and unique builds on taking down enemies, but the path of least resistance got rid of any compelling reason to try out any of these builds because of how easy it is to not care.
I could spend time trying to create a cool hacking build, try to find all of the right abilities I want to use, and hack every enemy I come across…or I could just shoot them.
By extension of not caring about combat, I also didn’t really care about about upgrades. Like combat, there are a ton of abilities, and I bet there are a lot of really cool ways to build up a character, but why should I try to create a build when shooting guys is so easy? I did buy a lot of general upgrades like increase health, increase stamina, faster reloads, and so on, but it wasn’t long before I was earning upgrade points faster than I was spending them. Towards the end, the only upgrades I was buying were general attributes upgrades like body, intellect, and so on, and I was only buying those to get through dialogue and door checks. Like an art teacher asking you to paint something beautiful but accepting a blank canvas as good enough, the upgrades and combat in this game work well if untouched, and any work you put into them are purely out of self-interest more than a need to handle larger threats.
Even if all of the the gameplay flops, telling an engaging story can make all the difference. I’m not a fan of the gameplay of Red Dead Redemption 2, but that story is one of my favorite in video games, and I love that game as a whole because of it. Does this game nail story? In my opinion, not really. I did like the characters and the ways the endings explore death in an age of digital constructs in the main story, and a lot of the larger side questlines have some enjoyable stories and characters, but I can’t say any of it is memorable. I would split the main plot into two parts: the Takemura solving the framed murder of Arasaka’s leader part, and the Johnny Silverhand part. The first part is rather generic, feeling like a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time plot that didn’t quite grab me. More importantly, the plot didn’t feel unique to the setting, which is something I think some of the side quests also struggle with. It’s to the point where my favorite side questline in the whole game involves finding rogue cab cars and returning them to the shop because it turned a basic world activity into a story-driven experience and it feels unique to the cyberpunk setting. The Silverhand part of the game does play to the cyberpunk setting well, but it feels tacked on purely for the sake of getting Keanu Reeves to show up and berate you about how dumb you are and how cool he is. What also didn’t help was a question lingering in the back of my head throughout the entire story: why didn’t Takemura get a Braindance (essentially a recording of a memory) of V? Takemura spends most of the plot knowing V witnessed the murder and that he can use him or her to deliver justice, but the most damning evidence in the game would be a recording of the death through V’s eyeballs, so why not just take a Braindance recording of the event and go from there? Maybe that part in the plot was already explained, but I didn’t really care much either way because I found it hard to focus on a plot that either didn’t feel unique to the setting or just wanted to give stage time to Johnny Silverhand.
All of these things and more led to my ultimate detachment of the game. By the time I reached the end of my experience, I was about as tuned-out playing this game as I would be hunting down collectibles in an open-world game while listening to podcasts. So, where did it all go wrong for me? I think it’s a simple case of expectation versus reality. I was expecting a Fallout level RPG in a cyberpunk setting, but in reality I got a cyberpunk Grand Theft Auto with a few meaningful choices here-and-there. Being GTA isn’t a bad thing, but it’s like getting a McDonald’s burger from McDonald’s versus a McDonald’s burger from a famous restaurant with a celebrity chef. It’s the same burger, but the chef and the restaurant trying to tell you about its prestige while serving a burger like that just doesn’t fly. Also, I think the quality and level-of-detail of Grand Theft Auto is well above Cyberpunk 2077, so I don’t even know where that leaves my whole burger analogy. And I get that CDPR is a smaller studio than others so making a game like this would be a lot harder for them, but they did themselves no favors with the marketing and the lack of trying to walk any of it back before launch.
At least Mitch gets my burger analogy.
Another question I asked myself is if the marketing alone is to blame. I don’t think this is a case of “if I went in blind, then things would be different,” because the game itself is constantly trying to convince you of something that it’s not. The marketing for the game plays a large role in its expectation versus reality, but there are mechanics in the game that also play into it. Zooming out on the map shows the leading factions in each district like as if that matters. Dialogue choices can be seen throughout, but a lot of the ones I experienced either just gave more context to the conversation, asked whether I wanted to ride with them or just meet them in a certain location, or a few meaningful choices here-and-there that would affect the mission without affecting anything else. A life path choice could’ve led to three very different role-playing experiences, but they all funnel into being a mercenary twenty minutes into playing the game. Even if I didn’t know this game was an RPG going in, I would see these things and expect an RPG, which I don’t think is the case. What’s even worse is that I personally can’t not think of it as an RPG either. I would love to experience this game like a Ubisoft or Grand Theft Auto open world where I go around and try to 100% complete quests, but the game doesn’t really commit to that either. The game lies in this weird middle ground where it doesn’t really nail either thing it is in the middle of, and I think it’s this reason I can’t truly enjoy the game.
When I reached the end of my experience, I asked myself one last question: do I think this is a bad game? The answer is no. I think there are a lot of issues with the game, and the mixture of marketing lies, technical issues, and missing gameplay features puts this game in my mind next to others like Fallout 76 and No Man’s Sky, but I don’t think the game is bad. The side questlines that don’t try to lie about being an RPG and have engaging stories with interesting characters is the best part of the game, and I wish the whole thing was just a collection of side quests without a main story. The open world is dense and lived-in in ways I’ve never experienced before. The combat is fleshed out, and I think there is something for everybody there. The main story does have its upsides, and I think there are parts of the game that play into the setting well. I did enjoy a fair amount of this game, but not as much as I could have, and I think what will help others with enjoying the game would be to role-play in the game while ignoring the actual “role-playing” elements, if that is even possible.
It’s a shame to see a game as hyped up as this one end up the way it is, but that’s video games sometimes. I’m sure at least some of you who’ve actually read all of this are thinking I’m an idiot and every word of this blog is wrong, and I could very well be, but these are the feelings I had while playing even if they are wrong, and I don’t think they are going to get any better with more hours played. If you do think or know I am wrong about some or all of this game, feel free to comment, and I would love to hear what you have to say. I’m not saying everyone else will have an equal experience as I, but I at least wanted to share my thoughts on Cyberpunk and talk about what I think are failures of the game beyond technical issues. Hopefully CDPR invalidates some of my issues with fixes in the future, and I hope others find enjoyment with the game where I didn’t.
P.S. One of my favorite Youtubers named Crowbcat recently posted a video that goes over a lot of the issues I had and then some, and I think it is worth checking out no matter how you feel about this blog or the game. You can find the Youtube video here.