The Netflix anime Cyberpunk 2077: Edgerunners has everyone talking about Cyberpunk 2077 again. So let's try and re-review the title.
This review contains minor early game story spoilers
Cyberpunk 2077's launch is one of the most recent examples of how a combination of too much hype with just the right amount of corporate interference can forever tarnish the reputation of a franchise. It was the perfect storm, a studio with an excellent reputation tackling a project far too ambitious for its own sake. An industry willing to enshrine it as the greatest thing ever years before we even saw the gameplay and lousy timing.
Now the console releases were a mess due to Covid-19 restrictions and outsourced playtesting that was way over their head. And when most of a game's budget goes into marketing, you'll know exactly who's to blame for it. And it's even more ironic that Cyberpunk 2077's big themes, ‘Corporate Greed,' claimed it as just another victim of the unending hell that is big-budget game development. But what did we get from the highly anticipated Open-world RPG featuring beloved actor Keanu Reeves? A game with issues. Not just game-breaking bugs on release but a game that also struggled to have a clear identity.
CD Project Red has since done a lot of work to make Cyberpunk 2077 the game it was supposed to be on release. With an expansion on the horizon and with the recently aired phenomenal Cyberpunk 2077: Edgerunners, many might take another look at Night City and what it has to offer. And again, in a twist of irony, the game's themes and gameplay kind of represent the same thing Night City tries to portray.
And even with the reputation that the title has now, after the anime, over a million people have rediscovered what was supposed to be one of the biggest releases of all time. And we generally see positive receptions. So was Cyberpunk 2077 swallowed by the usual storm of internet drama and outrage cycles and didn't get the love it deserved? Or are we giving it some slack now that there are no longer upvotes to milk by having daring hot takes?
Personally, I found some enjoyment in Cyberpunk 2077 on release. It was a big RPG with stuff to do in a setting that video games rarely play with in the way I'd want them to. In its best moments, Cyberpunk 2077 delivered on the fantasy of being a mercenary with flexible morals who's just trying to make a living. And in other moments, it was everything I've grown to loathe in open-world games. Looter shooter elements constantly feed you new and better gear, making quest rewards meaningless or a vast open world filled with a lot of the same busy work just with a new coat of paint.
After watching Edgerunners, I wanted to find the Night City portrayed in the anime. Where you find companionship in the most unlikely places, shouting at the powers in their glass towers while headbanging to some good old rock. With that in mind, let's talk about Cyberpunk 2077 in 2022.
Big in Night City, for What?
What hasn't changed since the release of Cyberpunk 2077 is that CD Project Red's magnum opus struggles to find its own corner. It seems like the kind of game that is the result of someone scribbling ‘Best Game Ever' on a napkin and ordering the development team just to put in every design trend of the past 10 years. This is not supposed to come off as mean-spirited. After all, gamers tend to like big vast open worlds with lots of busy work and a constant flow of upgrades to their equipment. But we've reached the point where open worlds are so large that they become meaningless.
For example, I decided to do all the gigs, the little side side-missions in Westbrook to get some money and experience points. All these missions tend to feature a compound that has you infiltrate and extract someone or something from it. Sometimes it's a rundown apparent building and sometimes, it's an underground casino. These are well designed and give you many ways to tackle your objective. And as impressive as those gigs might seem the first time around, they'll get similar after the 20th one. One or two stood out by having a unique objective but they aren't interesting enough to stick in your mind.
Those could be a lot more interesting if the various factions of Night City had more to them than just being average enemies with a gimmick or two attached to them. You'd think you would interact with them in a more meaningful way than shooting your way through them. What if you'd still have to do these jobs, but you also have to think about your reputation with those gangs? Maybe I'd have to sneak in unnoticed to avoid trouble down the line, or maybe I could play into local rivalries between those gangs. As they are now, they mainly serve as just enemy types with a bit of flavor text.
Less Role than Play
The same goes for most of the RPG elements. While I'm not a fan of how most FPS-RPGs handle their progression Cyberpunk 2077's skill trees feel more like fluff. Sure, you can build yourself into the One Punch Man by picking specific points, but you should never have particular abilities locked behind a particular attribute. The biggest gripe here is crafting, I don't like that I have to dump 18 points into Technical Ability just to unlock legendary crafting. Why isn't this tied to my crafting skill that levels whenever I craft things?
That goes for many of the other trees as well, kudos. However that some skills unlock unique dialogue options or alternative routes on some levels but overall, they just affect the numbers. I don't know how much that counts on higher difficulty levels. But since everything will scale with you somehow, doing more damage shouldn't be the solution. Cyberpunk 2077 strikes me as the type of game that wants you to have it your way at any time. But it would benefit if certain abilities like many of the quick hacking abilities would actually be locked behind those perks instead of buyable upgrades.
I assume that balancing a game around all of this while still having enemies with health bars and levels. The Witcher 3 suffered from a similar problem in that regard as well, your choices only affect the numbers instead of the tools you have at your disposal. Especially in a shooter, why not take that RPG element away completely? Because you want to keep the tabletop roots? You can still do meaningful progression by starting out your character as weak and nimble and depending on how you spend your points, you end up as a Cybergod killing everyone by just looking at them funny.
My biggest gripe with Cyberpunk 2077 hasn't changed since its release. It's not something that you can just fix with a mod or a couple of patches. When it was announced, everyone wanted Cyberpunk 2077 to be something different. Some just wanted a big open world with lots of stuff to do, others wanted the tabletop RPG to be brought to life with stories that examine the genre and a few of us just wanted to live a second life in the retro-future of Night City. We ended up getting all of it, but none of it was taken to the next level.
Instead, you get a game that makes compromises, a big open world that needs to give you the liberty to have at it however you please. While also having to juggle meaningful progression and a hard-hitting story. And an open world that wants you to just soak it all in but fears you might get bored within two minutes, so here is another shoot-out, just in case you need to blow off some steam. All of this would be fine to some degree or another if taken individually but Cyberpunk 2077 does this weird split where it ticks off all the boxes but satisfies non of them.
Seriously, I know it is unreasonable to ask this of a game of this size and magnitude but why can't it just sit down in one of the many bars and call up one of the characters to have a drink with? Night City is massive and looks fantastic when you just walk through it, but it doesn't change the fact that it's mostly comprised of big gray boxes that are in the way of your next quest marker. And the open world is so vast that there are very specific spots on the map in which you get to have fun and shoot your guns.
It kind of gives off the vibe of older MMORPGs with clusters of enemies standing around in their designated area and quests that mostly want you to traverse the map. The issue is not that these elements are bad; there is just no commitment to any of them. I have a few ideas why that might be the case. Probably to appeal to a broader audience or to deal with one design issue or the other. Crafting feels kinda meaningless when you're constantly showered with new equipment the world is enormous and insanely detailed but it feels underutilized if there isn't a quest taking part in that area.
If you just want an open world with boxes to tick off while playing a funny build, then you'll probably enjoy your stay in Night City. The more I think about the game, the more I grow to dislike it. Wondering why I just dumped 30 hours into it over the past few days to write this. And this is gonna be weird, as I have weird tastes in video games but I ask you to indulge in this for just a bit.
Here in Night City
While I don't exactly like playing Cyberpunk 2077 for the reasons I listed above, I like being in Cyberpunk 2077. The gameplay just feels like every design trend of the past 10 years thrown into a blender but it's the world and the people that make the experience. One day, I decided to ditch my stylish motorcycle and walk to the next objective without holding down the sprint key and then it kind of hit me.
What I loved about Edgerunners wasn't the high octane energy of it, it's a Trigger anime, after all, and once you've seen more of them, you grow kind of numb to it. It wasn't the melodrama of the anime, either. It was the vibe of the middle of the story, just being there in Night city and soaking in the noise and the people. And for a while, this wasn't a video game. I strolled through the streets and could almost smell the stench of gasoline and piled trash. The noise of advertisements was trying to grab my attention while I passed all kinds of weird-looking characters.
At some point, I just wanted to sit down on one of the many benches and let my thoughts fly within the game. And I think that's when Cyberpunk 2077 really works when you put the game aspect of it aside and just let it impress upon you. Believe it or not, just casually driving through town with no intention of causing trouble while listening to the radio broadcast can be pretty relaxing. And I understand that it's definitely not for everyone but it's what I really enjoy about it.
And it's a shame that the multiplayer aspect was completely canned because, in an alternative universe, this could've been a tremendous online roleplaying game in the same vein as popular GTA Online RP servers. Hopefully, while CD Project is reading this, they might consider it down the line. But there is also another aspect that I'd like to praise while I spend most of this piece bemoaning missed opportunities.
Getting into Character
Playing V in Cyberpunk 2077 is a weird experience; you feel like you have ultimate control over the person you're playing but at the same time, you have to play a role in this roleplaying game. And while V's dialogue options never reflected how I wanted to go about situations, it made a lot more sense once I settled into the character. It's a little tricky since you don't really know who V is as a person and just have to figure them out as you go, even if you pick the life path that led you to your current situation.
I started out as a Corpo. Being made the fall guy for someone else and left to your devices seemed like a nice starting point come to think of it. The V I portrayed is a man who harbors a lot of anger against the system but knows how to play it for his own benefit and he slowly learns that while you should always look out for yourself, it's the people around you who'll eventually remember you. All of this carried into the way I carried myself in dialogue choices and even in combat.
This is probably a spoiler, so.. keep that in mind as you continue reading; as you progress through the opening section, you'll have one Johnny Silverhand live rent-free in your mind. Slowly killing you and you'll get to hear him wax about the stuff that's going on. And I thought playing out how my V slowly started to sympathize with Johnny while also not falling into the same trappings as he did would be an acceptable way to go about it. The fact that I played through the entire game probably helped with that decision.
And this actually creates some interesting moments between the two, the moment both my V and Johnny started to realize that they're not so different from one another and they'll have to make their arrangement work one way or another. The more I made my way through some of the main quests, the more I found myself agreeing with Johnny's way of thinking and my choices started to be more outgoing because of that.
I played combat situations more aggressively, I stopped caring about playing efficiently, no. V started to throw caution to the wind and acted selfishly with no care for the repercussions of his actions. After all, chances are that he would not be around to suffer them anyways, right? And then I stopped caring about all the gameplay gripes I had when I thought the story was somewhat unsatisfying with some of its resolutions.
And I found what I looking for after watching Edgerunners. I played someone who had hit rock bottom in a city that didn't care about him, but I had the options and the means to make the city give me all I wanted and more. And that's quite the fantasy to live out and it is surprising and shows the strength of the writing that it still keeps you grounded when you interact with some of these characters. So I hope that the planned expansion focuses on that aspect instead of just giving you more places to shoot bad guys in.
So…Should You Play Cyberpunk 2077 in 2022?
That is a very loaded question. If you can accept that the Cyberpunk 2077 that was marketed to you for the better part of the last ten years never existed, then.. maybe? Maybe you are one of the lucky souls that weren't shifting through the piles of broken gamer dreams that the game left behind. Good for you, then; if you like a game in the style of a Bethesda RPG with lots of boxes to tick off a huge map, then this one is definitely worth a try.
If you're looking for some deep-cut story set in an alien Cyberpunk dystopia… I'm not quite so sure about that one. Don't get me wrong Cyberpunk 2077's story is more of the sum of its parts in.. some parts. The questlines are really hit or miss and highly dependent on how much you like the characters involved. Wish I could say about the majority of side quests as well, but a good chunk of them end up being forgettable if they don't include another character to take you on a bit of a ride.
Gameplay-wise, there is also not much special about it.. if you played any of the more recent Far Cry games, just think that but set in a large city. The hacking definitely can spice things up but most of the abilities you get boil down to ‘stun enemy and or do damage'. It primarily replaces your ability to distract enemies or lets you interact with a few hazards scattered around, but if you hack a turret and decide to go ham remotely, keep in mind that everyone will now rush your position.
So… it is tough to sell this game to someone who might not be enchanted by the idea of hanging out in GTA but with a retro-future aesthetic with fewer sandbox elements than you might hope for. Suppose you can deal with that to get some really stellar writing, then more power to you. It can't hurt to give the title a second chance, look at it with fewer expectations and you might even grow to like it. Personally, I stick with that Cyberpunk 2077 is an 8th gen open-world triple-A game that tries to do everything at once and can't seem to excel at even one of the things it sets out to do.
But that makes Cyberpunk 2077 so interesting, right? It is the first in a franchise and aimed way higher than it should've had and somehow, all the comics and books that spawned from its rich, developed world seem to imply that there is still more to this. So.. maybe Phantom Liberty will fix some of my gripes or will just add more stuff to a game that is in dire need of some direction. But you'll read all about it here on ESTNN