Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the best games -- of 2021
Commentary: Cyberpunk 2077 is an exceptional game -- or at least, it will be once all the bugs are cleared.
Daniel Van BoomSenior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
ExpertiseCryptocurrency, Culture, International News
It sounds crazy to say, but when I first finished Cyberpunk 2077 I was surprised at how not buggy the game was. I wrote in my original review that people concerned the game may be too big for its own good shouldn't fret, that Cyberpunk 2077 is imperfect but still a resounding success.
Obviously, things have changed.
Just like every other publication, CNET was given review codes for the PC version. Running on a rig with an Nvidia GTX 3080, Cyberpunk is an acutely beautiful game. I experienced some glitches in my playthrough of the main story, but they were mostly benign: My character's hair wouldn't appear in cutscenes, sometimes I'd see cars stuck together in the open world. Only twice in about 30 hours did I have to reset my game, and both times were several hours into a session.
But then two things happened. First, after I published the review, I finally had time to play through sidequests and meander through Night City. I found bugs far more frequently here -- mission prompts not loading, the inability to use my scanner, characters from a failed mission following me around the city -- than I did in main quests.
It's a real shame, because Cyberpunk 2077 is a fantastic game. It tells a surprisingly focused and compelling story, and is set in a giant city that you're constantly rewarded for exploring. Were it not for the bug-riddled state of the console versions, the game would most assuredly live up to the massive hype that's been amassed since its 2013 reveal.
All of this means that whether or not you should buy Cyberpunk 2077 depends on what you're planning to play it on. If you've got a solid PC setup, the game's mild bugs will rankle but not ruin the otherwise outstanding experience. If you're planning on playing Cyberpunk 2077 on a console -- PS4, PS5, Xbox One or Series X|S -- you're better off waiting.
Cyberpunk 2077 will be one of 2021's best games but, for console gamers at least, it's one of 2020's big disappointments.
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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 inhabit 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 -- both narratively and gameplay wise, since it's mostly filled with text-heavy tutorials -- but the story 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, and especially since there are so many moving parts. The choices you make in conversations matter here, as different answers can radically alter how quests play out: You'd have to play through the game at least a few times to see how different paths affect different missions and the overall plot.
That's great for role-playing enthusiasts who love to see scenarios play out differently based on input, but this typically poses a problem for developers. It's difficult to write interesting plots and complex characters around a user-created protagonist, like V. In giving you flexibility to alter your character's attitudes and actions, developers give up the ability to control the main character and tailor relationships around them. As a result, surrounding characters in games like Cyberpunk end up being one-dimensional by default, since they need to be able to fit around whatever personality you choose for your character.
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, and dialogue often feels labored. 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.
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
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 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, and a deep combat system with heavy role-playing elements.
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. I've played 60 hours so far and certainly feel like I'm far from seeing it all.
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 side hustles are varied. They're split into two categories: Side Jobs and Gigs. The former are side quests, in which you'll do stuff for various characters you meet during the main story. The latter is more mercantile: "Fixers" will call you up requesting some kind of service -- rig a car, kill someone, make sure someone doesn't die, so on -- and will pay you handsomely for doing so.
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.
Sadly, at present, the same can't be said for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game.
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
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. I sometimes went out of my way to be stealthy and use hacks to circumvent enemies, which proved fun. But 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. (At lest, not on regular difficulty setting.)
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.
Too much too soon
It feels weird to say that Cyberpunk 2077 came out "too soon," since it fell prey to numerous delays throughout its development cycle. But the sad truth is that Cyberpunk did come out too soon. The game itself is what fans hoped it would be, but that fact is obscured by myriad technical issues on the console builds.
Cyberpunk 2077 provides an immensely compelling dystopian playground, one you could play in until actual 2077 and still not see all of its secrets. But it's impossible to recommend a trip to Night City right now, since it's just too infested with bugs -- at least on consoles.
Fans of CD Projekt Red will get the experience they hoped for from Cyberpunk 2077, but to do so they'll have to do the one thing they dread doing by now: Wait a few more months.
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