Anticipated for years and delayed multiple times, CD Projekt Red’s move into a dystopian future is finally here. But was Cyberpunk 2077 worth the wait?
When you finally have what’s arguably the most-hyped video game of the past decade on your console’s hard drive, it’s not an easy thing to approach without pre-existing baggage. We’ve heard so much about Cyberpunk 2077 over the past couple of years – to the point where expectations have seemed almost unrealistic. This long, long anticipated new game from the developers of the beloved Witcher 3 and its predecessors was never going to get treated like an ordinary release.
And that’s perhaps a shame, because despite the lengthy development time (actually “only” about four years of actual development, but eight years in the planning) the first thing that’s apparent about Cyberpunk 2077 is a reminder of that first time playing The Witcher 3. This upstart little studio from Poland is shooting for the game-design stars like those SpaceX rockets that do incredible things but occasionally go kerblooie in a ball of dramatic fire. They try and try again and eventually, impossibly, they make it work.
At launch, The Witcher 3 was one of those rockets. A gloriously ambitious, graphically lovely thing that was chock-full of weird quirks and bugs, it eventually got patched into a thing of beauty and cemented developer CD Projekt Red as the new masters of RPG craft. So when they announced, at the end of the Witcher trilogy, that a new game was in the works, people got understandably excited – and remained excited for years, as info and videos arrived to remind them of what was coming.
“…the miracle of modern tech – and Keanu Reeves – save the day…”
Cyberpunk 2077 might seem like a strange choice for a studio that’s gained most of its reputation in the traditional “swords, spells and potions” RPG space, but it marks a bold and refreshing change. The source material this time, though, is a little thinner. While the Witcher games drew from a series of novels rich with lore, Cyberpunk is based on a tabletop game series that’s more about world-building than story. That’s given CD Projekt Red a large amount of room to build the game’s story the way they want (though Mike Pondsmith, the tabletop game’s creator, has been helping guide the game’s development from the start).
As the player (this time in first-person) you play the main character V, choosing to start the game on one of three “life paths” – Nomad, Corpo or Streetkid. Your choice at the game’s start doesn’t have quite the impact you’d hope – despite some path-specific dialogue options, the only meaningful difference your path choice makes is how the first half hour of the game plays out. Perhaps the idea was to do something similar to Dragon Age Origins – and like that game, pulling separate starting stories together into the main game always comes with its compromises.
The story sees you, as V, acting as a mercenary and running through a tale that starts with you being tasked with stealing a valuable piece of tech, then navigating the events that follow. Those events nearly kill V, but the miracle of modern tech – and Keanu Reeves – save the day, and suddenly the clock is ticking (and part of the race is to get Keanu out of your head!)
To say too much about the story would be way too spoilery – and here’s the thing. Just like with The Witcher 3, the story is everything in Cyberpunk 2077. That may not be apparent from the marketing or the promo footage – the game looks very much, from them, like a first-person looter-shooter with RPG elements.
But this isn’t Borderlands. Yes, there’s loot, and plenty of it. Yes, there’s shooting, and plenty of that as well (and it feels pretty good, if not quite up to the calibre of the best in the genre). But the real core of the game is the story and the many, many side-quests. It’s exactly what CD Projekt Red did with The Witcher 3 – building a visually rich world, populating it with strange and wonderful people and things, and riffing off it with quests that are the exact opposite of the old MMO trope of “kill ten of those”. Voice acting is terrific, with Cherami Leigh as the female version of V a wonderfully sardonic highlight.
The game runs on an updated version of the same engine that The Witcher 3 was built in, and it shows – anyone familiar with that game will see the menus, inventory and other systems here and feel right at home. The new mechanics are great fun – “braindancing” with its video-detective concept is unfortunately underused, though – and there’s a lot of loot variety. There’s also gear crafting that, really, isn’t crucial to progress through the 20-hour story (though there are dozens more hours of side quests to delve into).
“On PS4 and Xbox One, you’ll want to be playing on either the Pro or the One X…”
This is a game that’s been delayed multiple times and, it seems, has been retargeted at the new-gen consoles. There will be Xbox Series X and PS5 native version updates arriving sometime in 2021 but, in the meantime, the game runs best on those two new consoles in backwards compatibility mode, with the Xbox Series X version reportedly gaining some extra graphical niceness. On PS4 and Xbox One, you’ll want to be playing on either the Pro or the One X – the base consoles are struggling a bit with the demands of the game, though CD Projekt has fixes on the way (just as they did for the now silky-smooth The Witcher 3). On PC, the beefier your video card, the better – the game scales right up to the very latest ray-tracing hardware if you can afford it (or find it!)
Is Cyberpunk 2077 the game of the generation, then? Absolutely not – well, not yet, anyway. It’s clearly aimed at the new generation, but hasn’t yet gotten there on the consoles. It’s running great on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S if you can find one, and really nicely on PS4 Pro and Xbox One X (we reviewed on the latter). On the older base PS4 and Xbox One consoles, though, it’s got problems. They’ll surely be fixed, but alongside the various often showstopping bugs on all platforms, the game could clearly have done with a little longer in the oven. The truncated “life paths” openings that culminate in a montage (!) then have little effect across the rest of the game are a big disappointment, too.
With visually stunning world design, a great story and a vast amount of stuff to do, Cyberpunk 2077 provides an ambitious and hugely entertaining romp through a retro version of a very weird future. Performance issues across the most popular consoles, and the hefty demands of the PC version, are unfortunately a thing – they’ll surely get fixed, but for the moment your best experience will be on the new-gen consoles and the “pro” versions of last gen.
Cyberpunk 2077 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC.