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In the last article, we discussed a little about the events leading up to the launch of Cyberpunk 2077. With that out of the way, it’s time for the main event: what did I think of it? As of the time in writing this series (a rewrite if you’ve read my previous views on my own blog), I have clocked in 117 hours of Cyberpunk 2077 during my first playthrough. That’s…a lot. More than I’ve played any single game in the past year with the exception of Rimworld. That should tell you something right there. For a game that’s shorter than many rival games in its genre, that should tell you something.

While the launch of Cyberpunk is a mess, I can’t lump this in with the likes of Anthem, Fallout 76 and Mass Effect Andromeda, because I believe Cyberpunk 2077 is a genuinely good game. However, I’ll be dissecting the game in bigger details, because there is a lot to uncover. There’s a lot of good, a lot of inconsistency and a lot of bad.

I played Cyberpunk in two major chunks: 65 hours in my first stage before putting it aside for a month. I returned to the game during March where I ended up finishing the main story as well as a host of side content. During this time, I began to appreciate the game a lot more. It still has problems, but I hope during this review I can show off some of its best and worst moments.

I review games based on these categories:

Performance and Technical State: How the game performs in terms of stability, bugs, all that lovely stuff. Is it well optimized? Can I finish the game without it breaking?
Visuals: How the game looks and feels.
Story, Writing and Characters: How I find the game’s main story, how the characters feel, how the writing works, and voice acting.
Quest Design: How the main and side quests work.
Combat: Fighting, there’s a lot of it.
Worldbuilding, Lore and World Design: How the world feels, discussing immersion, level design and the lore of the game.
Game Mechanics: How everything ties together.
Sound, Music and Voice: Pretty much explains it in the title, huh?

Performance and Technical State

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 with optimization issues across the board. You need a pretty powerful system to get this working well. I can only speak for the PC version.


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 was rough, and I do not recommend it on a laptop. Despite these issues, I never got a crash in this configuration, 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. It’s one of the games biggest strengths, at least here. Again, you need the best hardware to play this properly, and stay the hell away from older-gen consoles. I cannot really recommend playing this on the PS4/XboxOne.


When my laptop began to suffer because of the incredibly demanding aspects of the game, 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 how it went.

Moving on from general performance to the technical issues. Oh lord, buggy. Sure, it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but I think everyone expected better. Most of my issues weren’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. I was lucky in terms of crashes, but I’m one of the lucky ones. The pop-in of cars and people with the poor draw distance was also disappointing, even on the highest settings. That, coupled with broken lip sync and occasional sounds not firing when they should made me have to reload a save now and then. Patches have improved this lately, and I’ll cover the big 1.2 patch in the final part of this series.

We have to discuss water physics, because my lord, it’s one of the worst things I’ve seen in a big game. Sure, 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 had to go scuba diving, and I had no problems with the water then. It turned out to be one of my favourite quests in the entire game.

We have to discuss the AI. The civilian AI is shit, no way about it, bobbing about like a dead fish and cowering for the slightest reasons. And let’s not even get into the infamous teleporting police AI. The 1.2 Patch made small improvements to this, and I really hope they fix it further, but this was a big disappointment. A far cry from their marketing with the NPCS having thousands of daily routines. They aren’t completely lifeless, but it’s one of my biggest criticisms of the game.

Combat AI is another 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, and it still needs work.


Visuals


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.

If you can get it working? Welcome to one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. 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.

Story, Writing and Characters

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. Your starting relationship with Jackie is mostly told through a montage; it would’ve been very nice if we got to play some of those moments, huh? I adore Jackie as a character and he’s done well regardless, but the intro is a bit messy, and the lifestyle adjustment is one of the biggest omissions from what CDPR promoted. The opening montage really could have been lengthened, and it would go a long way into improving the beginning.


Well, you’re incorporated into pulling off a massive heist in the brutal world of Night City. When that goes horribly wrong and your heart is broken, you struggle to survive with the Soulkiller chip, an immortality technology which has the engram of Johnny Silverhand imprinted on it. That chip saved your life, and is now the thing killing you. V goes on a journey to try and unfuck themselves while dealing with the dead rockband terrorist.

I found V’s character interesting. I know many who dislike his ‘over the top badass character’, but V grew on me the longer I spent time with him. (I played as male V in my first playthrough, but I’ll be playing as female V in my next one) While I think V makes a solid main protagonist, it was Johnny Silverhand who stole the show for me.

While the story is not quite as solid as Witcher 3, the narrative is still quite compelling and does better than most games out there on the market. The characters are overall fantastic across the board. Johnny Silverhand is an abrasive asshole and proud of it, but his connection with V was one of the strongest parts of the game, and the character development was brilliant. I loved Judy, Jackie and Panam the most, but you’ll get to play with many characters in the long run. The endings are plentiful, bittersweet and brutal, but they felt like a high note for the game.

Despite this category being a strength of Cyberpunk, I have to say some quests and characters feel unfinished, never appearing again after incredibly strong showings. You can tell that things feel this way as you play, despite how much I enjoyed 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 similar games on the market. I expect the main quest to take 20-30 hours if you do nothing else, but there’s a lot of side content available which I highly recommend. I expect average game time to be 50-60 hours easily, even more. I saw a lot of people saying the game is short. No way that is the case! It is shorter than the Witcher 3 for certain, but many games are. Personally, I liked this. Too many games disrespect the player’s time (Looking at you, Assassins Creed) and Cyberpunk gives you the option to play it how you wish. Seeing as I put in 117 hours in my first playthrough tells you something about that.

Quest Design


There’s a lot to discuss here, but I think Cyberpunk did quite strongly in this category. There are a ton of quests in Cyberpunk 2077, nearly 200 in total, alongside several branching side questlines. They come in a few categories.

1) Little bands of gang activity where you kill and find evidence for small cash rewards from law enforcement. Nothing to be said about this one. They’re just little grindy things, but enjoyable enough. While static for my liking, they really do build up some nice lore about the grisly setting of Night City, though you need to take care to hunt for them in shards and computers to uncover it all. There are a few well written ones, but many are there for flavour. I wish they had some kind of emergent or radiant content with these, but there’s more than enough to get into.

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. You can also complete them all non-lethally (the main targets can be incapacitated and put into a car to end the mission instead of killing if you wish)

The gigs are a mixed bag and can be quite repetitive, 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 of these gigs are 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 I still think it’s fairly well made. It’s just well hidden and its sometimes hard to find the good quests. 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.

There are several major questlines that tie in with the main quest, and some of my favourite moments in video gaming are in these. With Judy, my heart broke in some of the quests which explored some really messed up things (No spoilers but it was a gut punch), leading up to a wonderful mission where you explore Judy’s lost home in a scuba diving date. With River, you help out with his police cases and end things with a lovely hangout at his house, help him cook and take part in an amazing VR game with his sister’s kids. They are wonderful moments, and I’m only talking about a few. Seriously, try out the side questlines. Some turn up in a very subtle way. One of my favourite questlines in the game covers Johnny Silverhand and exploring his past, but it’s only available depending on your relationship with him in the home stretch. (This can be easy to miss seeing how much of an abrasive wankpuffin he is for most of the game)

I do have some criticisms to make. 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, especially River and Panam. 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, especially when I romanced Panam.

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 dissonance from the dangers in-game isn’t very realistic. Regardless, I think this was the right move. Too many timers really throw a wrench in on enjoyment, and it’s a tough balance. Here, Cyberpunk succeeded in this regard.

I would say that the gigs and smaller content struggle with presentation. The police incidents shouldn’t have been shown on the map until you approach the area, and I really disliked the way the gigs just call you when you approach the location (with the terrible phone mechanics which you can’t reject). It’s a rough way of presentation, but the core content is fairly fun. It just feels a little inconsistent.

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, and some extra content will never hurt. CDPR, that’s a hint. Please? We have an amazing setting, give me more things to do!


Combat


I’m not sure what to think about this category. 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.

Combat it’s weakest in the beginning, when enemies are bullet spongy and shooting/stealth is at its least refined. Despite the gunplay struggling at times, it’s competent, and I love the feeling of the different guns. There’s some incredible attention to detail with them as well.

Melee is mostly just hacking and slashing, and the upgrades and perks are a mixed bag. Hacking should be more interesting, and completely overpowered when maxed. Insanely fun, but very easy. 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 goes from too difficult to too easy far too quickly). It may be fun, but it needs to be balanced 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. I had a hell of a lot of fun with it, and it really helped the gameplay as a whole. I enjoyed Cyberpunk’s combat more than most AAA games.


Lore, Worldbuilding and World Design


Oh, boy. This is the controversial side, and one of the biggest issues with the game…depending on which side you look at. Despite everything however, I finished my playthrough on Cyberpunk 2077 feeling a lot better about this category, even if some aspects are still disappointing.

On one side, the city is an absolute treasure to go through. The city design is fantastic. Many open world cities feel unrealistic, but Night City has a ton of detail to it, and is realistic in how messy the design is. I highly recommend watching this video by Morphologis, an architect who made an excellent insight into some of the deeper aspects of the game’s design. In this regard, CDPR did brilliantly, because the city feels developed, bloated and mega; realistic for what it is.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IklZS20rJoI

The areas are hand crafted to a stunning degree, and while the amount of areas you can access is limited (perhaps another disappointment of expectations), there’s still a lot to explore. This is the biggest city in any video game I can think of, and as a slice of world design, it does a brilliant job of setting a space for your gameplay.

At least on the surface. This is when we come to the deeper parts of the ‘immersion’ aspects, and this is where things begin to slip. The longer I spend in Night City, the more things began to fall apart in terms of immersion. The NPC characterization is poor, and there isn’t too much to do inside Night City. There’s vendors and stuff, and their interiors are great, but the lack of things to do inside this giant city sticks out like a sore thumb. The gangs in Nighty City are cool and all, but lack a feel.

Now, this in itself isn’t directly a bad thing. The last thing an open world game needs is more bloat, which many games of this genre struggle with, but at the same time, I think everyone expected more. Many of the big mega apartments only have a couple of floors to interact with, perhaps a far cry from expectations. I would have liked to see more things to do, more interactions. This is an area Cyberpunk struggles with, and it’s a big oversight in comparison to competitor open world games.

Many people went into this expecting a Rockstar level game of interaction and immersion. Now, this isn’t what CDPR do. Witcher 3’s world design is very similar to Cyberpunk. Rockstar’s worlds do a much better job in immersion which is why the disappointment is there. Red Dead Redemption 2 is perhaps the gold standard on how you can make a realistic and interactive open world.


I feel some of these comparisons are a little unfair. Firstly, Rockstar’s game ethos is completely different to CDPR and this shows in their games: worlds are pretty well designed, but I found their mission railroading horrendous, which made it very difficult to physically want to play in their worlds. Cyberpunk gives a lot more in its bit by bit gameplay for me.

Second, it’s important to note that while CDPR is a massive company, it’s still relatively small for a AAA studio, and is smaller than the likes of Rockstar, Bethesda and Ubisoft. It took Rockstar eight years to make Red Dead Redemption 2 with all their experience of making this genre, while CDPR took less time in a genre that they weren’t as versed with. The change from Witcher 3 to Cyberpunk is massive, so it’s understandable that for their first time, things feel shaky.

Even taking all this in, I want to stress this doesn’t make it an excuse. I think everyone was disappointed with the expectations, and it’s something that feels more like an unfinished alpha than anything else. 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. In spite of these problems, there are some examples of stunning worldbuilding in the world, and the city does a great job of subtle world design. 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.


Overall, with what CDPR promoted about the game, I do feel a little 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. 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. Tiny things like this for some interaction would go a long way. Deus Ex Mankind Divided was a controversial game in 2016 with its bad, unfinished story, but the world design was fantastic. A small, dense open hub with so many ways to explore and learn about the world, combined with its strong interaction and NPC schedules did a lot better than Cyberpunk managed. It would be wonderful being able to sit down and admire more of the architecture close up. Little things like that.

My second half of Cyberpunk was taken at a slower pace, and I really began to appreciate the world design more. Sure, I’m still disappointed with the lack of interaction, but it’s better than people think.

Game Mechanics

A broken economy system with a rough UI brings down the gameplay here. 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 in the badlands. They could improve the handling on most of the cars, though I managed to enjoy them enough. While the game’s driving has been improved with the 1.2 patch, don’t go into this expecting a GTA style of game.

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. At least in the 1.2 patch they allowed us to finally make multiple items at a time, but that should have been in the main game to start.

World economy is also a bit broken. Vendors shared an inventory at launch, 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. I would have liked to see less, more exciting loot to pick up, and the UI is littered with a ton of cars which I tend to not be interested in. The 1.2 patch managed to fix the economy a bit, with each area containing a more diverse range of goods, but there’s still a way to go.

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. Both male and female V do an incredible job in their roles, and I can’t think of a single poor performance for any of the main characters.


While I complain about there not being as much music as I would like, it’s all incredible quality. Even the sounds feel good in-game, with all the nature of a bustling city involved. The guns sound great when you fire them.
Not too much to say about this category. It feels solid, and I can’t think of any real complaints.

Conclusion


That was a chunky section for sure. In the final part, I’ll be making a summary of the game as well as scores in each category. Hopefully this has been eye opening, and it was a lot of fun dissecting the game to its core components. Cyberpunk 2077 is a deep, complex mess of genres, and it tries to do everything. Some things it succeeds in droves, while it stutters and burns out in others.

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Author/Blogger/Cartographer/Streamer/Narrative Game Writer/I play far too many games. twitch.tv/diabound111 | thousandscarsblog.wordpress.com

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