Cyberpunk 2077 is in several places the best and worst CD Projekt Red game. When you drive through the gigantic city of Night City and have a drink in a colorful nightclub and chat with one of the many fascinating characters, it feels downright magical. The setting design is an absolute triumph, while the story is an engaging, complex, and surprisingly human story.
But underneath Night City's dazzling appearance is a game with major issues, and we are not just talking about the many bugs and glitches that have prevented the game from launching on virtually every platform. Cyberpunk is a quagmire of systems and ideas that, despite their strengths in other areas, never quite come together, from an open-world design that feels confusing and outdated to a character development system that just doesn't inspire.
Inspired by Mike Pondsmith's tabletop role-playing game, Cyberpunk 2077 puts you in the role of V, who exists on the fringes of society and has been hired by a network to carry out work of various legality for clients who prefer to stay in the background. Unlike the Witcher games on CD Projekt, V is a character that you create yourself, including one of several "paths of life" that affect both your introduction to the game and V's overall world outlook.
Night City Life
Night City is often a beautiful place, but it is also a place where you literally drive through the rubbish heap of decline. On the outskirts of the city, you will find piles of trash and garbage that stretch to the horizon. Like Witcher 3, cyberpunk not only has an eye for the picturesque, but also for misery and decadence. In the Northside, hordes of smoking factories rust the sky as Pacifica's hedonistic malls and resorts have been abandoned by wealthy benefactors and ravaged by gangs in a scene reminiscent of the underrated shooter Bulletstorm.
At this point, we are tempted to say something hackneyed like "The best character in the game is the world." However, as with the Witcher 3, this is not necessarily the case. In the opening act of Cyberpunk, V chases the score of his life as they attempt to steal cutting-edge technology from one of the most powerful corporations in Night City. Of course, things don't go as planned and for the rest of the game, V tries to break free from the chaos he ended up in.
Not the best finished product
In the end, Cyberpunk is a proficient shooter and a proper stealth game. In any case, however, it doesn't offer anything you haven't seen before. The core of cyberpunk also suffers from two main problems. First, the character development is terribly designed. Few of the available skill upgrades are exciting in any way. Most will allow you to do a little better or a little faster on important skills. The stealth skill tree is particularly bad. The most exciting unlockable item is the ability to throw a knife. In fact, cyberpunk tends to improve the skills that are standard in any open world game. One of the quick tricks you can unlock is the ability to "whistle" to distract an enemy.
The problems with the skill system don't end there. You won't be able to unlock skills on any relevant skill until you've increased that skill, which you do using that skill (for example, increasing stealth by performing stealth takedowns). This may sound interesting in theory, but in practice it hampers your ability to adapt your character.
It can get a bit confusing
The cyberware menu is equally confusing and unconvincing. It works similar to the Deus Ex expansion system, but again, the vast majority of available upgrades come down to minor stat boosts. There are some exciting ones, like the ability to build a rocket launcher on the arm, but compared to the excellent abilities seen in the Deus Ex and Dishonored games, Cyberpunk's mechanical take on human enhancement is comparatively pedestrian.
If present, the story and characters make up for this, although it's worth noting that the main story often doesn't make much use of these systems. Sometimes it's more like a Call of Duty campaign with high-profile footage. They're strong enough that it doesn't matter much (We could happily let the game's NPCs carry me around Night City all day). But it also suggests that CDPR is not so sure what game mechanics they developed.
Lacks a proper story line
Without this narrative backbone, it doesn't take long for side concerts to be painfully repeated. Since the creative play is limited and the story threads are much weaker, there are few prefab houses and industrial complexes to attack before they blur. Even the most tangible rewards from these missions are overwhelming. The environments are filled with so many lootable items that it is difficult to determine exactly what is truly valuable, while the financial rewards for completing missions are small compared to the cost of cyberware upgrades and technology. If you want to buy new upgrades or vehicles, you really need to complete these missions.
In fact, the balance of the open world is incompatible with the main story, which you can easily complete using most of the map and most of your unexplored skill trees. You will travel fifteen to twenty hours without seeing an interesting side quest. Then suddenly they appear almost simultaneously at the end of the second act. Vehicles are particularly underused. With the exception of the introduction of Nomad, there are few moments in history where vehicles are used for more than one mobile location for conversation.
At the end you wonder if it was worth it. The evolution of cyberpunk has been controversial, from relentless crunchy stories to get the game out on time, to accusations of transphobia and a widespread insensitivity towards certain groups and topics. The launch phase was even worse, as the game contained no major warnings about epilepsy triggers and CDPR was downright dishonest about the status of the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game. All the goodwill the company has built up on. Between Witcher and Witcher 3, the lovable outsider who competes with the more established major publishers has skyrocketed in recent years.
It's a game that has a lot to say about the nature of identity and family, and the efforts people must make to survive in a cruel, neglectful, and brutally hyper-capitalist world. However, that voice is drowned out by the myriad of glitches, deeper mechanical inconsistencies, and the conditions under which the game was created. It is a game about the suffocating systems of hard capitalism that are themselves suffocated by those systems. Perhaps CDPR should listen more to its own voice, because the game truly suffocates on all the PC as well as the console it is currently available on.