Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
In 1988, R. Talsorian Games published a tabletop RPG known as Cyberpunk, a dystopian dark future campaign setting with options to play a variety of characters like corporates, street kids, rocker boys, and more. Its inspiration “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick spawned fantastical stories like Bladerunner, Demolition Man, Johnny Mnemonic, and Akira, just to name a few.
In 1990, Cyberpunk 2020 was released, which was arguably more popular in the tabletop community (and it’s likely the system that I played in). The themes of artificial intelligence, hacking, and megacorporations are all explored in this universe. The Cyberpunk world also looks at the impact of drug culture, sexual revolution, and technology as a whole. Considering that technology was still a new concept, drug use was most prevalent during the ’70s, and the advancing of a capitalist society, this game was fascinating to many.
So, when I learned that Cyberpunk was to become a video game, I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, I was expecting CYBERPUNK. And that is exactly what I received.
When it comes to gameplay, I look at the plot, character design, and dialogue choices. I often look at those aforementioned elements analytically and I try to take personal feelings out of the equation. With that in mind, the gameplay in Cyberpunk is fairly smooth, even on a sub-par system (which I will get into). During my gameplay, I had a great time, so much so that I dumped more than 100 hours into it and I still have tons left to do. However, certain elements need to be immediately addressed.
The first thing to talk about is the story. CDProjekt Red brilliantly took a pre-existing world and weaved a wicked narrative that is both interesting and terrifying – keeping with the tabletop themes. Players are thrown into the thick of things. They will have to face death, consequences of actions, evil corporations, penalties of fame, AI considerations, substance abuse, hyper-sexualization, the impact of technology on humanity, and lots of violence. Cyberpunk 2077 presents these themes in a manner that is nothing short of shocking.
I love Cyberpunk because it is littered with moral questions. For example: Do you tell the politician what awful things you discovered? Do you accept the idea that an AI can be ‘human’? What do you do when people are brutally murdered and you are powerless to stop it? These are all questions that show the brilliance of the storytelling. The game doesn’t tell you what to think about these questions, you do.
While the story is wonderful in concept, it has its shortcomings. Most of the main story beats are done in a cinematic form which doesn’t let players take an active role. And for a world that allows players to do anything, linear storytelling is counterintuitive here. I’d much rather have more autonomy throughout.
For example, there were most certainly options regarding the window scene. Roleplayers would attempt to escape through the vents or hide from security. Perhaps they could hack into the system to distract the guards. Who knows? It all boils down to let players try things that may or may not fail spectacularly.
Overall, I wish that Cyberpunk 2077 had a more active story in some ways. It feels too much like players watch the game instead of experience it.
Johnny Silverhand’s dickish role in this story makes a lot of sense. In fact, the situation with Johnny brings up moral questions, hilarious come-backs, and player empathy that made me appreciate the character. Johnny, like your character V, is not a one-dimensional character. He grows as a person, although often that is to serve his own agenda. I love Johnny Silverhand as much as I hate him. He is well written and pulls at your conscience and morals.
Aside from Johnny, there are plenty of other characters that I adore. For example, I absolutely love characters like Panam who struggles to find her place in the world after things go awry. She’s a tough cookie who legitimately cares about her family. In fact, her questline is quite interesting as you navigate her complicated relationships with others.
Another character who fascinates me is Judy. She is incredibly intelligent and has access to way more information than another person should have. Her feelings towards certain characters are strong and unwavering. She’s a tough character in her own right and I appreciate her devotion. While Panam’s questline often made me question her relationships, Judy’s quests showed me what true loyalty means.
While there are many other characters that players encounter, I’m not going to go into detail about each of them. What I will say is that CDProjekt Red created a lot of nuance in their characters. Each side quest allows players to learn about the people in the world, and it is heartwarming since side characters are often throwaways in games. Each character feels real with their biases, flaws, and feelings about the world. Sure, some of these characters are less than ideal but consider some of the people you may know in real life. Not everyone is a model citizen.
Let’s talk about the combat.
I love that every encounter drops loot aplenty. If you want to play a character with two smart pistols and a katana, you can do that. What about a sniper, baseball bat, and shotgun? Check. How about if you want to go full melee with hand-to-hand combat, mantis blades (think like wolverine), and small knives? Cyberpunk has that too!
The gunplay is smooth and feels quite satisfying. Nothing is more epic than firing a revolver that packs a mean punch. Tech weapons require a charge time before firing but are lethal. Even the melee weapons have a decent feel to them as you slice and dice through enemies, often falling in hilarious ways. Sometimes headless enemies will try to fight back before they collapse.
After playing Cyberpunk 2077, I feel as though stealth is a bit of an afterthought. Most missions had two entrances making them predictable. Players often needed to sneak past the front door with guards and traps, or they used an alternate entrance requiring high amounts of body or technical ability. This frustrated me not because it limited options, but because the guards would always know. For example, after taking out an enemy, I hid the body in a corner where it couldn’t be found. Unfortunately, the game would always treat them like they were discoverable. Thus, I stopped trying to be as stealthy because there was no point. If you didn’t use a crate to hide a body, the guards would be alerted. My strategy became ‘I might as well get some gear…’
Cyberpunk 2077 has an in-depth skill tree that reminds me of a couple of tabletop systems. The easiest way to explain how skills work in Cyberpunk 2077 is to say that there is a main stat with skills underneath. The total amount of points you have in a stat is the highest a skill can become. And in those skills are perks that allow players to customize their builds. As an example, skills under Intelligence are quick hacking and breach protocol. If you have an Intelligence of 5, quick hacking and breach protocol can only go up to 5 until your stat is increased. When players look at a skill, there are a number of perks that unlock as you level up. This will allow you to do more damage or get more components or even move faster, depending on what sort of build you go for.
Most skills are only increased when players use them. So, a character’s stamina will increase when players use the run function to travel and unarmed combat will only increase if you punch a lot of people. You get the idea here.
Crafting is a skill that players can use, although it isn’t necessary. Most weapons will drop at higher levels, mods are purchasable, and ammo is found everywhere. However, if one chooses to use crafting, they can upgrade their weapons, add damage to them, or craft ammunition and heals as required. Much like any other skill, players can assign perks to augment their gear or add damage. The point here is that players can truly customize their characters, just not in the way that they expected prior to launch.
The best thing about the crafting system is that you’re never really going to be short on parts because there are plenty of items for dismantling! Traveling around Night City reveals all sorts of loot without needing to enter combat. As an example, legendary items can be found in a box that was located inside an unattended open shipping crate. The choice to craft items is yours.
Hacking in video games is always interesting because often what people know of hacking is what script kiddies do. These are people who use programs like web shells to attack and exploit computers or websites. Often, these people are unskilled and still learning how to program. But to show hacking in media form is challenging. Mass media often creates abstract visual representations of what hacking looks like, without much realism. In fact, I once stumbled on a YouTube video where a hacker explains movie scenes (which can be found here) and he said something similar.
Anyways, I began with that because Cyberpunk 2077 does have a hacking component. Players can access and disable video cameras. They can also disable enemies by activating hacks through their cyberdeck. Depending on what level the cyberdeck is will allow players to initiate bigger hacks.
There is another form of hacking found in Cyberpunk 2077 that is found through certain terminals. Here, players need to match hash codes to brute force their way into the system. They do this by entering the first variable on the top row, the second value must be in the column of the first, and the third must be found in the row of the second. In essence, a code is inputted horizontally then vertically then horizontally again.
CDProjekt Red did well to use a system that wasn’t extremely visual like other media. It’s an interesting addition to the game, but I feel that there could have been more variety. That said, it is a great way to get some free money, thus, I’m all for it.
Graphics and UI
Graphics on PC
Earlier, I alluded to the fact that I played most of Cyberpunk on a sub-par system. This is for all you who seem to think that it requires a beastly system to run. I laugh at you with my low graphics settings on an i5 3570k processor with a whopping 12 gigs of DDR3 Kingston RAM and a Radeon RX580 GPU. Sure, I ran the game like a sloth in the downtown core, but it ran! I didn’t even crash out of the game. What I DID need to do was restart the computer in between play sessions. My system could only do so much, but it was a small price to pay. Take that!
Anyways, despite the fact that I was playing on the aforementioned system, Cyberpunk 2077 ran quite well. I certainly wasn’t expecting top-quality graphics or anything of the sort, but being able to play without crashing or too much blur was definitely a high mark for the developers. Player’s don’t *need* the latest and greatest to enjoy this title, they just need a PC. (Sorry console peeps.)
I will also mention the fact that I experienced very little lag in between city districts. For example, I spent a good amount of time in the badlands area which is open plains as far as the eye can see. Anytime I drove back to my apartment in Watson, I would have to re-enter civilization. In other games, transferring between zones would cause a loading screen or a brief hang, yet in Cyberpunk I experienced little. Games like Destiny 2 STILL have loading periods between areas on a map, so for those of you crabbing about the graphics, I laugh.
And don’t worry, I will address the graphics issues and bugs soon(tm).
Music and Sound
I chose not to stream my playthrough of Cyberpunk 2077 for a multitude of reasons including the fact that my computer could barely run the game in the first place. Secondly, I was in a low state and I wanted to play it without distractions or influence from others. Thirdly, I wanted to immerse myself in the world without the hatred the gaming industry already had. Doing this meant that I didn’t have to censor any of the content including nudity and copyrighted music.
I want to talk about the music in Cyberpunk 2077 because the expectation was to have one music genre. That’s false. When players walk into The Afterlife, a bar in the game, they will hear the sounds of metal. At times when players steal cars, they will end up listening to a wide variety of stations like rock, electronic, or even Spanish music. Some of the music took me by surprise and I quite enjoyed the variety. This detail makes the Cyberpunk universe feel real. Unfortunately, many streamers had to listen to the copyright-friendly version which took out some of the mainstream artists like A$ap Rocky.
In fact, there is so much attention paid to the music in this game. It would be a shame not to show a behind the scenes video released in late November 2020:
Issues, Bugs, and Hot Topic Points
As I mentioned above, I played Cyberpunk 2077 on a subpar PC with an older graphics card and a system that barely reached the minimum specifications of the game. That said, aside from the notable lag in high rendered areas (like the downtown core), I had surprisingly few graphics issues. Below are a couple of the issues I encountered:
- Seeing items on the ground that weren’t interactable
- Cars glitching in and out of existence
- Cars partly embedded in the ground
- Failure to render people’s faces and features in small instances
- NPCs sitting inside a set of stairs
- Ability to interact with a console through a wall
- Game crashing on systems with NVIDIA GPUs (like my significant other’s PC.)
- Cars will often stop for no reason, even on highways!
- Cars crashing into cement barriers like they weren’t there
- Sometimes V lost her apparel when switching gear pieces
Since my gameplay was delayed, I did not have the egregious issues that others had. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but even on a shitty computer, it was still pretty good on the whole.
Other issues that I’ve learned about from watching several YouTube videos and tons of articles about various issues that I DID NOT experience are issues like:
- NPCs T-posing
- PC Crashing
- Police appearing behind you, sometimes in the air.
- Game stuttering, FPS issues, Poor performance, etc…
- Low quality texturing
- Enemies seeing you through walls
- Corrupted save files
- Cars driving in circles
- NPC rendering problems
- and many other issues…
This list is not exhaustive, by the way. None of these are particularly off-putting for me.
So, while the game is not free of graphical issues, many of these problems have been somewhat fixed on PC. But, if graphics quality is something that is key to your gaming purchases, then by all means wait for other patches before buying it. Also, I can’t speak to the console version but I know that Sony took it off their store and has not put it back up. Take that information as you will.
“The Pickup” quest is the only main story bug I found. I was unable to play for a couple of days because of it. I did the entire quest to the very end where I had the option to stealth past the big bad. (I’ve heard that others don’t get this option.) Unfortunately, the NPC does not leave the mission! I tried everything from looking for other entrances to restarting from an earlier save to ‘forcing it’ by phoning the character. Nothing I found online fixed it. I had my significant other work his magic by ‘counter bugging’ the bugged quest. He fixed it by running through the door before it closed. (I watched him do it. Trust me, I was shocked that that worked!)
I know that another major story quest is broken due to a patch. This is reprehensible. See, I can forgive buggy side quests, sluggish gameplay, and weird graphics issues, but if the meat of a game halts progression entirely, I have a problem with it. It’s not like CDProjekt Red is an indie company with a small budget. No. They are huge and have taken risks and paid for them during the launch of The Witcher series. (Remember, The Witcher 3 was just as broken at launch.) As such, releasing Cyberpunk 2077 with major story issues is inexcusable. For those of you that still own the game and play it, my advice is to save scum the crap out of it. You will lose less progress this way. Trust me.
During E3 when Cyberpunk 2077 was initially announced, we were shown an idealized version of the game. As many know, a game cannot always live up to the final vision the devs have. During that presentation, Cyberpunk 2077 looked like a game-changer. It was an ambitious title and was going to have everything. However, upon loading the game, I found character creation painfully light. Sure, one of its selling features is the ability to choose a feminine character with male parts or vice versa. Beyond that, there isn’t a ton of customization. We can customize our parts and their size but strangely CDProjekt Red did not provide non-binary options. This is definitely a point that many of the LGBTQIA+ community has a contention with, and I understand the anger. While I’m on the topic…
Transphobia and Representation:
One of the largest topics about Cyberpunk 2077 outside of the graphics issues, lies regarding crunch time, and a broken release for consoles, is its representation. This is a point that bothers me on a few levels. It began with the famous “Mix it up” posters used to promote the game in real life, and this poster is also displayed throughout Night City. This poster shows a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in a highly sexualized or perhaps even, fetishized way.
I find myself at odds with this specific issue because on one hand, proudly displaying a person in an undervalued group, gives me the impression that CDProjekt Red was trying to celebrate everyone. I see it as people should be proud of who they are. AND YET, I understand that people view this marketing strategy as harmful because it can be construed that the LGBTQIA+ community is put on display as pieces of meat – much like women.
So, what I will say is this: If you choose to pass on this game because there isn’t enough or potentially harmful representation, then feel free to skip it. But, know that Cyberpunk 2077 does have some representation. There is at least one character who is transgender and there are a few characters of different sexual orientations, some of whom can be romanced.
Furthermore, the game allows players to choose different types of sex workers throughout gameplay. As in, the game allows players the freedom to be whomever they choose. Yes, there are only a few diverse persons, but to me, it is a step in the right direction. And I feel like CDProjekt Red did better with its representation, character design, and story than it did with the launching of its game and its graphics.
I believe the overarching theme of Cyberpunk 2077 is not to be a masterpiece game, but to make a specific point. Be who you want to be and take pride in who you are. To me, people are scared of being themselves. We, as a society, have to be more accepting. Our world is not pretty. It’s full of hatred, sexism, racism, corruption, and violence. Cyberpunk 2077 shows how brutal and deadly our world could become if we let it. It is obscene so that people pay attention. Think about it. Our media is hyper-sexualized, our wealthy use unfair advantages for profit, and our technology is used against us. And it is my belief that the reaction to Cyberpunk 2077 shows more about what people don’t want to fix, than what they do.
While I love Cyberpunk 2077 with its depth, there are certain things I cannot forgive. For one, the main storyline bugs are the most egregious of the games’ flaws. If CDProjekt Red cannot be bothered to fix the main story to a playable state, then they should not have released the title. Another glaring issue is the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 can’t run reliably on consoles. While I’m not a console player, I’m upset that a $70 game launched in a shitty state. I’d be angrier if I was one of the many that purchased their consoles for this game! A developer CANNOT be allowed to launch a game with many glaring issues and expect a free pass. By the way, giving players the ability to mod the game with features that were originally promised is a pathetic attempt to cover up your mistakes. Just saying…
Rating and Reasoning
I’m extremely angry at the fact that CDProjekt Red did two other abhorrent things:
1) They told game reviewers not to use their own game footage. In essence, forcing them to unwillingly LIE to gamers about the quality and the state of the game. This is disgusting on its own level. But,
2) They lied about the game being in a playable and finished state, particularly on consoles. Not only did the developer know people would be upset, but they let it happen. I mean, gamers still bought into the lies No Mans Sky sold prior to launch, right? They should get a free pass too… (Not.)