Expectation is a powerful word, and it can make or break you.
The jury is still out on Cyberpunk, and it may be some time before we uncover it all. It’s certainly grabbed the world’s attention. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a delight towards the end of a brutal 2020 became something like a nightmare for many.
Before I begin, I’d like to say something. I haven’t played a game like this in a long time. Something so enthralling, impressive and enjoyable, frustrating and disappointing as Cyberpunk 2077. It’s an infamous game, for all the right and wrong reasons. Strap in. This is going to be quite the long read. I hope to bring an unbiased view to the table, or as unbiased as one can make it. I’ll cover as much as possible.
I’ve been fighting for weeks working my feelings with this game, because I’m still conflicted. I decided to hold off on writing a review until now. Even now, I feel confused by my feelings towards it.
Eight years of development, hype and controversy have created a perfect storm, as Cyberpunk became one of the biggest and most notorious launches in video game history. Once one of the most beloved companies in the industry, CD Projekt Red now has a giant target on its back, and has much work to do in order to repair that once glowing reputation. I’ll touch upon some things while I can in this review, because ignoring these issues is impossible. However, I’m going to touch upon my experiences with Cyberpunk 2077 best I can, because there is a lot to digest.
The Story So Far
Well. CDPR had a lot riding on this, didn’t they? What started as a smaller company really blew them into the limelight in 2015 with the excellent The Witcher 3, which has been lauded by critics and fans as one of the best video games of all time. It transformed them from a smaller studio capable of good games into a massive, AAA behemoth. The Witcher 2 was pretty good as well, perhaps held back from its rough opening which turned away a lot of players, me included.
What helped was their excellent post-launch support and approach to DLC. CDPR have marketed themselves as ‘not like other AAA companies’ for a long time. When Cyberpunk finally launched, this claim has come full circle. Oops. Anyway, You know the issue. Season Passes, Games as a service, micro transactions, DLC not being worth the price, intrusive DRM, all the things consumers hate. (Yet we still keep buying them, continuing the circle of shit…But that’s a fight for another day).
Witcher 3 had none of this. Sixteen free DLC, loads of patches, strong expansion packs that felt like real expansions, and DRM-free. CDPR have fielded the excellent DRM-free and consumer friendly market Good Old Games for years. So you can imagine, the consumer reputation for CDPR has been fairly high for a while. When Cyberpunk got announced, and with all the marketing shenanigans, hope was high, and I mean high. I don’t think I’ve seen a game as hyped as this in the industry for years.
Hype is a very dangerous game. How many games have fallen into the hype circle only to end up not as expected? Spore, No Man’s Sky, Destiny? The list goes on. When a game is hyped so much, they will always be disappointing compared to the idealistic (and foolish) vision we seem to get, and it’s a circle we cannot seem to break. In Cyberpunk’s case however, I’m willing to discuss this further. You’ll see what I mean later.
The marketing push for Cyberpunk was insane, and barely a day went by where I didn’t see something about it. The more something is hyped and built up, the more goes wrong, the more emotional attachment people have to it. Cyberpunk was delayed frequently, with concerns flaring up especially about the extensive crunch the developers have been put under. The Covid-19 pandemic has only made things worse on that regard. The release was delayed, first from April 2020 to September, than pushed back again to November. Finally, a set release date of December 10th was ready. No more delays, the big-ups at CDPR declared. Perhaps they should have waited…
Then came real problems. Firstly, CDPR provided review copies to major outlets with strict embargos, forcing NDAS and only allowing footage provided by themselves to be shown in reviews. Furthermore, PC was the main target of reviews, excluding consoles completely. Seeing how bad the state of the game was on consoles, especially PS4 and Xbox One, this was seen by many, me included, as a deliberate attempt to mask how the game really was. This is not how you treat your consumers.
The second issue was a medical concern, and far more serious. Game Informer Liana Ruppert, who has epilepsy, suffered a seizure during a brain-dance sequence (something which comes up frequently in the course of the game). This came without ANY warnings. While CDPR was quick to fix this, how the hell did that sneak past quality control? It’s one thing for bugs, but to have scenes in game that induce seizures without any warnings of it? Oof. What disappointed me most was the personal attacks on those who exposed these issues. Really guys, there’s enough hatred and anger in the world right now. We’re better than this.
While the PC version was buggy, nothing compared to how bad things were on last-gen consoles. Considering CDPR said outright the performance was ‘surprisingly good’, it sounds like a lie to many people. When Sony ended up pulling Cyberpunk 2077 completely from their stores on the PS4 a week after release, you know you fucked up.
So yeah. The launch of Cyberpunk has been quite the pickle. I wasn’t too surprised, because most of their launches have been rough. Even so, with this much hype built around it, the last thing you want to do is fuck up the launch, which they achieved in spades.
Many have compared it to other terrible game launches, such as No Man’s Sky, Anthem, Marvel Avengers, Fallout 76, Final Fantasy XIV, Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Mass Effect Andromeda. For a company who constantly tells everyone they’re not like other AAA studios, they fell right into the same pitfalls, and it’s come with quite the drop in reputation. It’s led to attempted lawsuits, a grilling by the industry. The devs of Cyberpunk grilled the management over the unrealistic expectations. It’s clear the game was released too early. Time will tell whether post-launch can fix these problems. They have made several public apologies about it, but as people say in A Song of Ice and Fire, words are wind. I put more trust in deeds, and after how terrible the launch was, a lot of people will believe it when they see it. They want to fix it? They need to prove themselves. The management over Cyberpunk has been a disaster.
So, there’s this out of the way. What did I think of the game? Is Cyberpunk really as overhyped as some people claim? Is there hope for this giant after all?
The Game Itself
While the launch of Cyberpunk is a mess, and in spite of everything, I find it difficult to lump this in with the likes of Anthem, Fallout 76 and others, because I genuinely think this is a good game. To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to go into the story in much detail. You play as V, mercenary who comes from one of three backgrounds: Nomad out in the clans outside Night City, Street Kid, or Corp lifestyle. What was promoted as something far more significant turned into a joke, because these life paths mean very little. You get maybe half an hour max, then everything converges into the same story with little difference. Apart from some dialogue choices, there is little change from each lifestyle, which was a big shame. You experience the lights and flashy life of Night City, pull off big jobs, and struggle to survive with a piece of tech that tries to kill you, helped by the simulated echo of Johnny Silverhand, terrorist and rockband dude. That’s all I’m willing to spoil, but I quite enjoyed the story so far. I’m 60 hours in as of writing this review, so I don’t know yet how it all ends, but I’ve been liking the ride so far.
I’m going to split this into separate categories and go from there. Grab some snacks and drinks, this is still going to be a long read!
Let’s kick things off with performance. I played this on PC, and while it’s in a much better state on here than on consoles, it’s one hell of a demanding game, and a real optimization hog.
I originally played on a ‘Gaming laptop’, with GTX 1060 Max-Q 6GB, Intel i7 8750H and 32gb ram, with the game installed on a SSD. I just managed to keep around 30 FPS on high settings with the laptop, but heat management is rough, and I do not recommend it on a laptop. Despite these, I never got a crash, and loading times in this game are a beauty. From clicking play, you’re in the game in a matter of seconds, and loading saves etc remain incredibly quick. One of the areas where it’s solid. Again, you need the best hardware to play this properly, and stay the fuck away from older-gen consoles. What were they thinking…
When my laptop began to suffer because of the demanding way this game is, I looked to other options. This is something where the cloud gaming is a blessing. I went with GeForce Now around the 40 hour mark, and it proved to be a godsend. I can now run everything on Ultra without a hitch, and even get Raytracing with a Founders membership. If you want to try Cyberpunk but struggle with hardware, and your connection is stable, give either Stadia or GeForce now a go. I haven’t looked back, but I was pleased to at least try it on a mid-tier system so I could report.
Yeah… About that.
Moving on from general performance to the technical issues. Buggy. Oh lord, buggy. Sure, it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but I think everyone expected better. Most of this wasn’t game-breaking, but I had stuff like dodgy animations, the odd broken textures like looking into a building and seeing the ghost-vision of cars in the distance, occasionally doors closed and unable to open so had to reload saves. Not a single crash for me, but I am lucky. The pop-in of cars and people, draw distance was also disappointing, even on the highest settings. That with broken lip sync and ocasional sounds not firing when they should made me have to reload a save now and then.
The water physics is also one of the worst things I have ever seen for a game, let alone AAA. There’s almost no need to go into the water, but it is atrocious how bad it feels. Still, there was one side quest where I did have to go scuba diving, and I had no problems with the water then. It turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the game period. If only all the water was like this.
I’m lumping in AI with this as well. The civilian AI is shit, bobbing about like a dead fish and cowering for the slightest reasons. May I say teleporting police AI? Please, fix this. A lot of my gripes will go with this alone!
Combat AI is a mixed bag. In one corner, they do quite well. They can flank you, hack you, use grenades and cover, so in this side it’s solid, and on other times they just don’t respond properly. It’s very easy to cheese. Something that can use polish (like a lot of things in this game) but it’s a nice foundation to work on.
Overall, it’s a bit of a jumbled mess in terms of stability. It seems to be their priority to fix, so we’ll see how things go!
Absolutely gorgeous, but you need a really powerful rig to make full use of it. The game can run on weaker hardware, but you are sacrificing a lot to get it to work properly. I’d recommend holding off on this until you have something more powerful for the best results. GeForce Now with a Founders membership unlocks Raytracing, which any computer can use. It’s an option for people like me to get the best results. Now, at max? Jesus it’s one of the nicest games visually you’ll ever see. It’s rare to have games inside one city. Only a few do it, and Cyberpunk’s city, despite problems which I’ll touch on soon, is one of the coolest settings I have ever played.
I’ve got a collection of photos I took from in-game, so check it out yourself.
Overall? Quest design was a strong point, something I expected coming from the Witcher 3. There’s quite a lot to unpack here. They’re divided into several chunks:
1) Little bands of police gang fights, kill and find evidence for small cash rewards. Nothing to be said about this one. They’re just little grindy things.
2) Gigs, which have several types. Each area usually has 2-3 ways to do it, and there are several options to enter the areas and complete the missions. The gigs are a mixed bag and some are very simple, but there are examples of great worldbuilding, and even these little quests can tug on your emotions. Read up the shards to find the lore. Some is very well written and I’ve had a lot of fun with them. The gameplay is addicting enough to make even little grinds fun, which is something few AAA games did for me. Well done to them for that I guess, even if it feels rough at times.
3) Side quests, which connect and weave into the main story as well as open up over time. Overall these are very strong, and there’s a lot of them throughout the game. This is where the Witcher 3 quality most shines.
Don’t come expecting overall Witcher 3 quality, but there is some gold. It’s just well hidden and its sometimes hard to find the good quests. There is a lot of other ‘quests’ like little police/gang encounters which aren’t really anything, which is the most obvious on the map. The UI could use a polish to show off more of these better quests. I cannot complain about the game’s quest design overall though. It’s still better than most games I’ve played in game design, especially for a AAA level. It struggles with some of the same issues from Witcher 3 and open world syndrome.
I have two big criticisms. Sometimes quests kinda…vanish. By that, I mean the dangling threads remain there, like a juicy pear out of reach. This was seen most with some of the biggest characters. After a long and memorable series of side questlines, both characters in question just kinda…stop, with little interaction afterwards. They stop. Which is frustrating.
While I enjoy the quests, they suffer from Elder Scrolls Syndrome: the time scale doesn’t work with the threat. You’re supposed to be dying, but there is no time pressure for anything. You can ignore the main quests and keep doing missions. There are a few timers in some cases, but they are few and far between. This is good for exploration and to avoid stress of missing important events, but the dissoance from the dangers in-game isn’t very realistic.
I would love to see some dynamic quests. The city is big enough to go for it. Just some more things to do, you know? There’s amazing potential in this hub.
I’m not sure how to put this. Combat is messy and unbalanced, with some stuff which plain doesn’t work. It’s very easy to break, but is also a lot of fun. Guns, melee and hacking. Enemies get bullet spongy, and weapons aren’t very interesting ala guns. Gunplay can work well in a pinch, but it feels stiff. Melee is mostly just hacking and slashing, upgrades and perks are a mixed bag. Hacking should be more interesting, and overpowered when maxed. Insanely fun, but very easy. Fallout vibes, though the loot is not good. I wish the hacking had more quirks, and they could use some more content. Overall, combat needs work, but I got into it much faster than I did with Witcher 3. It still feels like a potential weakness, and it’s unpolished, but I’m glad to see improvements from it. Once again, stuff like UI and controls need fixing, and I would like to see fewer weapons with more diverse attachments.
Overall, the game is just too easy no matter the difficulty, and stealth is broken. It may be fun, but it needs to be strengthened significantly. Even so, sword and gunplay is solid, especially for an RPG. Needs tweaks and fixes like many things in Cyberpunk, but they have a nice little foundation. Same goes for hacking, even in its rough state it does a good job, the best I’ve seen hacking in a while, actually. Just…it could be better.
Lore, Worldbuilding and Design
Again, this feels mixed. (See a theme, here?) On one side, the city is gorgeous, and there’s a fair amount of gold to it, but at the same time, it feels very railroaded in design. I would’ve liked to see more options and assets, as there are signs of them. Some areas of the game look incredible and there is variance, just not enough.
The more time I spent in Night City, the more it began to fall apart as far as immersion goes. There isn’t that much to do in the city. This in itself isn’t a bad thing because the last thing a game needs is bloat, something open world AAA games fail at, but I expected more. More races perhaps, being able to play on the game machines in little minigames. I think people went in expecting GTA which isn’t what CDPR do. Witcher 3 did a lot like this, but they had Gwent. Rockstar’s worlds do a much better job in immersion which is why the disappointment is there. I expected better, though there are some examples of stunning worldbuilding. It’s just hard to find. Look in shards and computers for information on the world, and a lot of it ties together surprisingly well. Even misc NPC conversations reveal a lot. I think this needs a lot of work, but it’s on the right track. The next few patches are critical for it. The problems with the gangs as well are noticeable: there isn’t really much in terms of interaction. I would have liked to see more.
Overall, with what CDPR promoted about the game, I feel frustrated and disappointed with the whole immersion thing. It does work on a surface level, however it really begins to pick at you the longer you spend in the open world. More customization. The character customization is a joke. In fact, customization across the board is a joke, and one of the things they promised, we did not get.
Little things like playing on the arcade machines is an example. It doesn’t need to be much, but the lack of ways to interact with the environment was a turn-off.
World economy is also a bit broken. Vendors share an inventory, so this needs to be looked at. Loot is piss easy to find and not much of it is interesting. There’s some fun items in-game, they’re usually the most expensive. It takes a bit too long to grab the most exciting ways to play. Another thing that needs balancing.
Writing and Voice Acting
It’s good in places, great in others. Main character V is controversial, I know many who dislike his ‘over the top badass character’, but he grew on me the longer I spent time with him. Like Witcher 3, it’s not quite as strong across the board, but I think it does a good enough job. It’s not amazing, but it does better than most AAA out there. I don’t know if that’s a sickness of the industry, though. I can’t find much to fault in the voice acting of the main cast, but misc NPC is a bit of a mess. There are some brilliant characters in this game, some of the best I’ve seen in any. I loved Jackie, Judy, Panam and River most, but there are good examples throughout. Even a lot of minors were memorable, and this is a strong point of the game.
Despite this, I have to say some quests and characters feel unfinished, never appearing again. You can tell that things feel this way as you play, despite how much I enjoy playing it. I’d like to see patches which can fix this in the future, or some free content patches that expand it. I don’t know how much was cut pre-launch.
The main story is relatively small in comparison to others, 20-30 hours if you do nothing else, but there’s a lot of side content, and like Witcher 3, this is where the game begins to shine. Still, I enjoy both, so I expect average game time to be 50-60 hours easily, even more. I see people saying the game is short. No way that is the case!
The Future of Cyberpunk 2077
It’s no secret, Cyberpunk 2077’s launch was a mess. I don’t know if it’s broken promises on a level of Spore or No Man’s Sky, but it’s difficult to compare them. Speaking of No Man’s Sky, a lot of people have it wrong about that. NMS was an indie game given a AAA publisher, AAA marketing and unfortunately a AAA price tag. This, not helped by Sean Murray’s complete lack of PR ability created a deadly storm, but Hello Games’s excellent post-launch support has redeemed it mostly in my eyes.
CDPR have no such excuses. Usually I blame the consumer base for unrealistic expectations and giving in to ridiculous hype, but with that insane marketing promising more than the sum of its parts, it is much harder to place blame on anyone but the marketing. Cyberpunk 2077 was released too soon, to the frustration of the devs. I blame the upper management more for the failures, knowing the pain of game development. Seeing the death threats and abuse of the devs is frustrating.
Regardless, the storm that has followed this release is justified. There is light at the end of the tunnel: CDPR has a good record of post-launch support, with plenty of good content for their games. I still think there is hope for Cyberpunk. It’s just a shame the launch was in such a state, and it will be some time before we see the flower blossom.
Every big game dev meets a huge challenge that makes or breaks them. Bethesda, once one of the most beloved, is now in the shitbin of big companies.
This is CDPR’s big challenge. Only time will tell which way they go. Honestly? The fall from grace, if anything, is a positive. No company should have that much power, and no game studio deserves eternal loyalty. It needs to be earned, and perhaps they rode the Witcher 3 swansong for too long, and got complacent? I don’t know. Either way, they have a lot of work to do to restore confidence. Let’s see if they can back up their words with their promises, because fewer people are going to believe their word now.
Now, the fun part. Let’s tally up everything and give some scores!
Visuals: Stunning, but you need a top rig to get the feel for everything. One of the most gorgeous games out there on the market.
Performance: While the loading times are lightning fast, the various glitches and bugs, plus the rough optimization and AI issues really drag Cyberpunk down. Not the worst launch I have ever seen, but it’s not good either. Ironically typical of a AAA launch these days – everything CDPR swore they were not.
Quest Design and Stories: Despite some issues, I’ve had a lot of fun with these. Even the little quests have a few different tricks to play them. It’s not quite what Witcher 3 was, so for a studio which should always be trending upward, people may find this a little disappointing. I found it quite solid and the story has been interesting. Even so, the way some stories and characters just drop away began to irk me at the end. It really shows that the game was unfinished. I’m giving it a higher score for this nonetheless.
Combat: Messy and unbalanced, but might be the most fun I’ve had with AAA combat in a long time. It needs a lot of work, as does the combat AI, but there’s a surprising amount of options, and the hacking is one of the most in-depth I’ve seen in a while. I’ve struggled enjoying combat in many games, but this is one I’ve found enjoyment in. It’s too easy, and I don’t like the bullet spongy enemies.
Lore, Worldbuilding and World Design: Inconsistency with interaction and immersion brings down otherwise strong design, not helped by flaws with the popping in of cars and people. The world has amazing potential for future work. There’s some examples of wonderful worldbuilding, but it’s let down by the issues I already mentioned.
Sound, Music and Voice: The voice acting is stellar across the board, though there isn’t as much music in the game as I expected to be given the genre.
Mechanics and Economy: A broken economy system with a rough UI brings down the score. The systems are deep and complex, though it takes too long to really get into them. You may well finish the game without experiencing the best of what they have to offer. The driving feels rough, especially when outside Night City. They could improve the handling on most of the cars, though I managed to enjoy them. Crafting is nearly pointless, because you get new and better weapons all the fucking time. Overall, there’s big flaws, but I can see potential.
|Story and Quest Design||7.5|
|Lore, Worldbuilding and World Design||7|
|Sound, Music and Voice Acting||7.5|
|Mechanics and Economy||7|
|Overall Enjoyment Factor||8.5|
Conclusion: Inconsistent Brilliance?
That was a lot of words. So, yes, my overall ‘score’ for Cyberpunk 2077 is the highest I’m willing to go right now. The game has serious flaws that go beyond just bugs, and it failed to meet the insane level of expectation desired, a symptom of the hype it created. Even if it didn’t have all the problems, it would never have met the massive expectations given, but the sloppy and unfinished measure of the game left a sour taste at times. It’s been difficult to judge it properly, and I’m conflicted even now. For everything I liked, there was something that annoyed me. The game isn’t revolutionary, and feels like a lot of different game types crammed together, barely held together. The catastrophe of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact as well, though we cannot use that as an excuse for everything. There are few excuses for the state of the release, I have to stress that. With how rough the development process was for Cyberpunk, it’s a miracle it even released in the way it did.
And despite everything, I can’t deny my enjoyment for the game. I’ve liked exploring, the combat has been fun for an AAA game (which I find many lack in this department), and the quest design is stellar. I wasn’t expecting to play so much at this time. When I booted it up on launch day, I intended to play just a few hours, yet here I am, 60 hours later and still going. I’m quite surprised how much fun I’ve had in a game that’s this untuned.
It’s honestly frustrating how games in this rough state can still grab me, which is a symptom of the entire industry. Perhaps Cyberpunk is the catalyst for some change in the games industry, because it sure as hell needs it. I hope so. Perhaps we can finally stop blindly preordering based on PR? I plan to finish the game, and I find it enjoyable enough to replay once more content and fixes are in. Unlike many similar games as well, I don’t think I’ve ever been bored. That takes a lot to do.
Do I recommend the game right now? If you’re willing to wait, I strongly suggest doing so. There’s so many games out right now that there is no pressure in just holding until bigger patches come in. This fear of missing out and the fetish people have for wanting to play something immediately, along with pre-orders is contributing to the mess that’s facing the games industry. If you’re willing to overlook bugs, have a powerful enough PC rig, and are patient with some issues, then give it a good go. I took the plunge, and I’m happy that I did. I’m cautiously optimistic for the future, but for the first time, CDPR cannot rely on people just trusting their word anymore, they lost that immortal flame when they botched this launch. They have to back up their words with fists, and this is something they cannot afford to mess up.
Think of Cyberpunk 2077 like a wedding party, the biggest of the year. Some of your best friends are either lost in traffic, while others couldn’t be bothered to show up. The venue is a little rough around the edges, not the glorious hotel that was promised in the brochure. However, many of your good friends are still there, and the night while messy is a blast. The food is good, and you go home with a smile on your face and a full stomach. That’s the best way I can describe it.