Cyberpunk 2077: An enormous game that lives up to enormous hype
It takes seconds to get a sense of how big Cyberpunk 2077 is. After you click New Game, you’re given an extensive character builder that lets you customize V, the game’s main character, in innumerable ways. You’ll decide everything from eye shape to fingernail length and, as you’ve likely heard by now, penis size and pubic hair style.
The deep customization options foreshadow what’s to come: a huge world to explore, extensive role-playing mechanics that let you choose how you navigate combat, and endless opportunities to shape how the story plays out. Cyberpunk 2077 is a beast — one that’s sometimes ungainly, but clearly crafted with mastery (and an unfathomable amount of man-hours).
First revealed in 2013 by CD Projekt Red, the studio behind The Witcher series, Cyberpunk 2077 brings a launch fueled by an tremendous amount of hype. But the past few months have seen the game beset by delays and reports of crunch, leading some to worry that the game is too big and ambitious for CD Projekt Red to handle.
Those concerns can largely be forgotten. Cyberpunk 2077 real and, despite some pacing issues and mostly-benign glitches, it’s exactly what fans hoped it would be.
Just like no two players are likely to design the same V, no two will get the exact same Cyberpunk 2077 experience. Decisions you make will change how missions operate, how characters treat you and how the game ends.
But while the particulars may differ, the millions who pick up the long-awaited game on Thursday all will get the same meticulously realized playground in Night City, one so expansive you could play until actual 2077 and still probably not see everything.
Note: I’ve played about 45 hours of the game at the time of writing this review. I’ll be sinking more time into side quests — and to just hanging out in Night City — over the next few days, and will update this article as I see more of the game.
If there is one aspect of Cyberpunk 2077 that’s better than what I expected, it’s the story.
You play as V, a human mercenary augmented with robotic cyberware. The game’s opening mission has you heisting a prototype immortality chip from one of the megacorporations that inhabits Night City. You end up keeping the chip safe by inserting it into your cyberware, only to discover it’s loaded with the personality of Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves), a rebellious mercenary who died in a blaze of glory 50 years ago. Oh, you also find out the chip has meshed with your nervous system, so you can’t take it out, and that Silverhand’s consciousness will eventually overtake yours, meaning your body will live on but not your mind, soul or spirit.
The main quest is all about finding a way to survive and rid yourself of Silverhand while simultaneously interacting with him and learning about his past. The opening hours drag, but the narrative picks up once Silverhand is introduced about five hours in. V and Silverhand are essentially dual protagonists here, their relationship underpinning much of what you see and do in Night City. This is one of the story’s biggest strengths: Silverhand helps keep the narrative focused.
That’s a big deal for such a colossal game. A problem typical of massive open world games like Cyberpunk is that it’s difficult for developers to write interesting plots and complex characters around a user-created protagonist. Surrounding characters end up being one-dimensional by default since they need to fit around whatever personality you choose for your character, and writers don’t have the luxury of controlling your personality and tailoring relationships to it.
Some of the downsides of “choose your own adventure” storytelling remain here — many of the people you interact with have the depth of a cardboard cutout. But V’s relationship with the captivating Silverhand is a consistent highlight, and one that shines brighter the closer you get to the game’s finale.
Which brings me to a major twist: I first saw the credits of Cyberpunk 2077 roll after about 26 hours of gameplay. I spent around 85% of my time to that point on the main quest line, so you could probably see an ending in 20 hours if you rush it. After early reports about the game’s length, this was surprise.
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But I say “an” ending because Cyberpunk 2077 has many of them. I clearly got a “bad” ending, one that couldn’t have screamed “play more side quests and redo the last mission” any louder if it tried.
It’s clearly a strategic decision. One of the game’s designers noted that Cyberpunk’s main quest was made shorter than the Witcher 3’s because many of that game’s players never actually hung in there long enough to finish it. Many of the side quests in Cyberpunk feel just as consequential as “main” quests as a result, but the upside is that the key story never gets too unwieldy.
Heart of the City
While you can technically finish the game in just over 20 hours, don’t let that make you think Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t gigantic. I suspect you could spend well over 100 quality hours exploring Night City and dealing with the people that inhabit it. (It was widely reported recently that a CD Projekt developer had spent over 175 hours in one game without finishing the story.)
The game regularly encourages you to diverge from the main story, inviting you to pursue side quests or partake in undefined adventures. It’s good advice, since some of the most fun I’ve had thus far is in doing side quests: One favorite involves chasing down seven AI-powered cabs gone rogue, a quest that involves creative gameplay but also legitimately funny writing.
V’s gigs on the side are varied. Some feel like lite versions of main quests, others, like those focused on street racing or boxing, become mini games themselves.
The game is brimming with things to do — sometimes to a fault. You’ll get texts from characters offering you jobs while you’re in the middle of important conversations. Sometimes you’ll want to treat Night City as a sandbox and have a play, but you’ll be badgered by phone calls from people seeking your help or offering you a new car to buy. At times Cyberpunk smothers you.
It’s OK, though, because all the activity serves to animate Night City. Johnny Silverhand may be breathtaking, but Night City is the true star here. It’s made up of seven districts, each with a distinct design and backstory. Roaming the streets are several different gangs. Exerting pressure from above are several different megacorporations with their own private armies.
There’s a great deal of lore surrounding Night City (on how the US government crumbled, and how megacorporations picked up the pieces) but most of it is communicated unimaginatively through text files you pickup as loot. The history that precedes 2077 is fascinating, but you’ll have to go out of your way, and have a high tolerance for reading long in-game text files, to learn about it.
Instead, it’s the artistic design of the city itself that makes Night City irresistible: The imposing skyscrapers that populate the City Center, the rust of the abandoned resort town Pacifica, the blue and pink neon that illuminates Japantown, the polluted plains of the Badlands. Drugs and violence mar all but the most affluent corners of Night City, but there’s plenty to wonder over in this dystopia.
It’s an exceptionally beautiful game. Running the PC game in 4K on a high-end ROG Strix monitor, I often found myself stopping to take in a vista (often while driving, imperiling my fellow motorists), to admire the detail on a character model or how nearby neon light reflects off pavement and people. Combat is filled with gruesome detail, as when limbs fly and blood gushes following a grenade explosion or katana slice.
Cyberpunk 2077 is not glitch free, but most of the issues are benign, like your hair occasionally disappearing in cutscenes, a floating cigarette appearing in front of a speaking character, or seeing two cars stuck together on a Night City street. Only rarely did glitches cause a real problem. There were two cases I had to restart the game because a mission wouldn’t progress, and one time I reloaded Cyberpunk after my health bar disappeared.
This is made less of an issue by the game’s frequent auto-saving, as even if you do have to restart the game, you won’t reload more than a couple of minutes behind. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s a hassle — one that CD Projekt Red will hopefully fix in an upcoming patch, as it did with The Witcher 3’s quirks.
Play your role
Your preferences will dictate how Cyberpunk’s story unfolds, and at what pace, but perhaps more significant is how the game lets you tailor combat to your style of play. Not only can you choose to be a brute or a sleuth, you can choose which specific type of brute or sleuth you want to be.
Let’s say you want to bring the noise. You can choose to specialize in guns, melee items like swords or plain-old fisticuffs. If you’re more about stealth, you can dispatch foes with silent takedowns, poison, throwing knives and gadgets you can hack to distract and harm enemies with.
This is achieved through the game’s deep roleplaying roots. Trailers for Cyberpunk may make it out to be a high-octane action thriller, and in some ways it is. But it’s also a menu-heavy RPG.
Players distribute points to six different attributes: Body, Intelligence, Reflex, Technical Ability and Cool. Each attribute affects how your character navigates the world. Get enough Body points, and you’ll be able to break through certain locked doors, for instance.
Leveling up gives the ability to boost these particular attributes, and also lets you unlock perks within each attribute. Not only that, but perks are divided into classes, like how Body perks are split between Athletics, Annihilation and Street Brawler. You’ll also be able to customize weapons according to play style, as well as your body itself via cyberware modifications.
As with everything in Cyberpunk, it’s obvious that an enormous amount of thought, time and effort went into this role-specializing system. But like many things in such a big game, it’s not obvious how players will take advantage of it. Specializing in a role isn’t necessary if you’re playing on regular difficulty, as I did. I spent the bulk of the game focusing on sniping and using katanas as a backup, and with minimal thought put into which attributes I leveled up and which perks I unlocked. The result was a game that’s not easy, but rarely difficult.
All of which means that, for many players, utilizing particular roles will be entirely voluntary, since basic running and gunning will be successful enough. But it does give you room for flexibility and experimentation. I suspect that polling 10 Cyberpunk 2077 players will yield seven or eight different combat play styles, and that your friends will dispatch foes in ways you never even thought of.
Believe the hype
Plenty of gamers will find Cyberpunk too much. It has a slow start — you’ll play for about four hours before even seeing the “Cyberpunk 2077” title screen — and sometimes the main story moves at too slow a pace. Additionally, the roleplaying elements allow for varied combat, but some may find them needlessly complex, or simply overwhelming. (The features I’ve noted above are truly just the beginning.)
A lot of people don’t want to spend 50 hours playing one game, much less 200 hours to 100% it, and would rather a more linear, streamlined experience. Even with its shorter main quest, Cyberpunk is unlikely to sustain this type of player from start to end.
But Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t designed for that type of player. Anyone who’s followed the game knows what they’re in for. Players keen for a world to get lost in, a game to sink untold hours into, will be satiated by Cyberpunk 2077.
“We want Cyberpunk 2077 to be our crowning achievement for this generation,” said CD Projekt Red bosses when they delayed the game from April 10 to Sept. 17. The studio failed to reach the Sept. 17 deadline, but Cyberpunk as its crowning achievement? Mission accomplished.