Cyberpunk 2077 Spoiler-Free Review
Ok, this is a long one…
Man, CD Projekt Red really screwed this one up, huh? From deceptive marketing, bordering on bait and switch, that eliminated informed choice for console gamers on day one, to a buggy PC launch. When added to a list of missing features that could rival No Man’s Sky’s launch, CDPR’s reputation has tanked like no other developer before them. Given the coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking this game has no redeeming features. Even if only on PC, Night City does have some sights worth seeing. Let’s take a look.
The story kicks off after a botched mission leaves protagonist V with an experimental biochip embedded in their skull. While the mission is a bit claustrophobic, with no real player agency, it sets the tone for the story well. After barely escaping, V visits a ripper doc, who finds that the biochip houses a personality engram that is re-writing V’s cerebral connections to accommodate the new personality. Soon, V will be overwritten by this new construct, a long-dead figure known as Johnny Silverhand, and will cease to exist. The story is set with V trying to uncover the origin of this tech, and someone who can help save them. As the story progresses, you learn more about the tech, the world and whether it’s possible to save V.
Throughout the story, you meet so many characters, all of whom have unique relationships with V. They all have great interactions, especially Johnny. As the story progresses, V and Johnny develop a begrudging understanding. Interactions between them, while often amusing, offer some nice moments that help contextualise the world. This is important, because CDPR struggle to convey V’s story amongst the backdrop of the corporate giants’ influences. Because of this, the story doesn’t always feel coherent. That said, I think those are fairly minor criticisms in a story overflowing with great moments and incredible acting.
Where the story really shines is in the ‘main’ side quest chains. These add more to the experience than the main story, which at times feels rather skeletal. It’s though these that Cyberpunk explores pivotal characters and their struggles, often adding a sense of sympathy completely absent from the main questline. The Panam questline, in particular, is standout. From meeting her as an alienated Nomad, you journey with her as she begins to embrace her family, struggles and all. The relationships you build with these characters feel very real. Every character comes off as grounded in reality, which helps create a connection to their struggles. It’s helped, in large, by great acting performances.
The voice acting and cutscenes in Cyberpunk are arguably the best I have seen from a game. It has some of the most touching, wholesome and intimate moments I’ve experienced as well. Dialogue delivery was almost perfect in these moments, with motion capture movements adding to the appropriate inflection, tone and volume. Scene direction and clever use of the first-person view adds to this in a way that, frankly, I didn’t know was possible. This is not even to mention just how impressive the character models are.
The use of silence, subtle micro-expressions, body language and movement all add a level of authenticity to these performances that I don’t think I have seen in gaming before. Seemingly small details really add to this. Moments like Judy walking around setting up the braindance while talking presented like a normal interaction, or sitting next to funeral attendees while they reminisce and solemnly pause to take a sip of Whisky. Cyberpunk really did feel like a massive leap forward for scenes shot in from this perspective, which often suffer from unnatural rigidity exacerbated by fixed cameras.
However, as immersive and captivating as these scenes are, they do end. When they do, you have to return to Night City with its litany of bugs and AI quirks that combine to smash immersion with a force that had me wondering what the fuck just happened.
Customisation and Character Progression
Progression in Cyberpunk 2077 is fairly standard for an action adventure game with RPG elements. As you level up through missions and combat, you gain attribute points, which you put into your core stats. At each level, you also gain Perk Points, which you use to unlock various skills. There is significant variation in the skill trees leading you to believe that there is great scope for customisation. However, with the way the game is currently balanced, only a few of these skills matter.
I ended the game with 15 unspent perk points because there was no real benefit to spending them. I actually went back to an earlier save to replay missions with those skills spent and found they made no difference to my experience. The system is woefully underutilised and it’s resulted in homogeneity between builds that should play differently. I don’t think this has been rigorously tested. It’s bordering on early access.
The other route of progression is more dynamic. The more you use a weapon, the more proficient V becomes in its use. This is reflected in cool animations. At first, you will see slow reloads. After experience using each weapon, attacks become more varied and reload animations are almost cocky. The one downside to this, is that I primarily used handguns, hacking and sneak kills. I cleared most places doing this and didn’t max out any of them. After completing most of the content, I think the XP curve needs to be changed.
Similarly, cybergear was an exciting premise that should have resulted in some amazing innovation. To convey how ordinary and underwhelming this is, I need only tell you that the best upgrade you can buy is a fucking double-jump. However, other than one that adds 200 defence, it feels pretty damn superfluous. The mantis blades should have been the most interesting. I mean, they are effective, but they’re currently extremely unsatisfying.
Cutting Air / Gameplay
I really want to love the mantis blades. They look great, and zipping around slicing corpos to pieces is so cathartic. That feeling is fleeting, however, because it feels like you’re cutting through air. This is true of all melee attacks, but it’s particularly disappointing here. There’s basically no sense of feedback, visual or otherwise. The easiest way to describe it is like the Interceptor Javelin in Anthem – it’s all style and no substance. This experience kind of extends to every weapon in Cyberpunk.
Shooting is serviceable, but it’s not even close to the visual and auditory satisfaction found in games like Destiny or DOOM. This is exacerbated by a lack of enemy response to wounds. I don’t want enemies stun locked, because there needs to be a challenge, but even headshots are often passed off as ‘’tis but a scratch’.
One thing I did find fun was the use of hacking combined with stealth kills. The core loop of remotely hacking tech to distract and separate groups of enemies, and picking them off one-by-one never got old. At first, it felt clunky and I wondered if I had picked the wrong skill tree. However, I really did think this was a fun mechanic, until you double tap a direction and reveal your position…. However, where stealth fails, mantis blades succeed.
Night City / Visuals
I have never experienced anything like Night City. I feel like in describing this, I’m going to run out of superlatives. It truly is a spectacle. So, here’s some screenshots instead.
Aesthetically, this game feels unparalleled. From the way the city is lit, to the way that fog both accentuates the light and adds a legitimate sense city atmosphere. The world feels alive in a way no other urban open world has achieved. There’s also some awesome Dredd-like housing, which I loved. I think it will be a long time before it’s matched, let alone surpassed. Unfortunately, it is all superficial.
The impressive verticality is only for show. Sure, it looks great, but you spend very little time exploring the high rises of Night City. When the opportunity arises, it’s mostly indoors. Because of that, exploration often doesn’t feel too distinct from other open worlds I’ve explored. It is an immersive backdrop though, and while I would love to have had access to all you see in Night City, it’s still absolutely stunning.
Lastly navigating the city is a chore. The minimap is too zoomed in, which adds to the problematic driving mechanics. You have already passed a corner before the minimap lets you know you need to turn. It’s rage inducing. Driving feels utterly weightless and devoid of any sense of speed. This is even more pronounced when you enter a battle vehicle during a side quest. The hover vehicle is slow, sluggish, turns like a bus and feels absolutely the same as anything else you drive in the game. It’s been a while since I used fast travel as often as I did in Cyberpunk.
Immersion vs. AI and Bugs
Cars and their drivers are simply rendered immobile should you stand in front of them. There’s no honking of horns, and no attempts made to reverse or drive around you. As you engage further with NPCs, you learn that this level of sophistication is simply beyond their capacity. No wonder there are no off-the-rails car chases. The AI wouldn’t be fit for that purpose.
NPC stupidity doesn’t end there. If you shoot into the air, or assault a random NPC, all in proximity will squat and cover their head. None will run, and they will all remain in that position until you exit the draw distance. If you do shoot an NPC, the police will materialise next to you, as if from nowhere. I’m guessing they can use Goku’s instant transmission – it is the future, after all. However, instant transmission seems to be their only mode of transport and also limited to dramatic entrances. Should you fall foul of the law, you need only run away in a straight line and the police will forget they have legs.
These bugs are not just harmless and comical; they significantly undermine key cinematic moments and ruin the experience of some missions. I had to restart the final boss 6 times due to buttons stopping working. I had to reload conversations countless times, because choices lock up, meaning I was limited to the top of the list. Checkpoints wouldn’t activate properly, leaving me stuck behind a door that should have opened. It was endless.
This was fine at first. It was more or less fairly unobtrusive during the first 10 hours. However, by hour 70 it was absolutely infuriating, and profoundly undermining the experience. In the end, I was happy the game had ended.
Performance and Stability
I’ve had the game running on two configurations thus far. Cyberpunk 2077 runs like an absolute dream at 1440p/Ultra/RTX psycho/DLSS Quality on the 5900x/RTX 3080/32GB DDR4/M.2 NVME. Dropping to 45FPS in only the most demanding areas, the average sat around 65FPS and highs of 100FPS. Generally, the game sat around 65 FPS and seldom dropped below that.
Performance was similar on the 6800K/GTX1070/16GB DD4/M.2 NVME. Following Digital Foundry’s optimal settings, I found a mixture of high and medium settings settled the game to similar frame rates, though did drop to 33 FPS during the initial car chase. This game is absolutely playable on older hardware, so long as you are willing to drop settings.
I experienced two crashes to desktop in the 70+ hrs I played, and that was before patch 1.04. A curious crash that I experienced was just when exiting the game. This happened numerous times, but obviously had no impact on the gameplay experience.
Conclusion: Do Not Recommend
I don’t think I have been this conflicted about a game before. I loved the story and I loved the world. Ultimately though, the game is just not finished. For all that the game does right, it does more to ruin the experience. I can’t recommend buying an unfinished product, just because it might be a better on PC experience than it is on console.
Gameplay-wise, the game feels like it is in a raw state. Cybergear is definitely optional, having no real impact on the game. Perks are underwhelming. Levelling your weapon proficiency is painfully slow. I’m not sure you’ll spend enough time in Night City to max out one weapon, let alone several. I think these systems will look very different in a year. At the moment, however, they are in early access.
I feel like there is a great game buried deep beneath this litany of issues. The problem with this though, is that the AI is just so poor. That can’t be patched out. It’s central to how the city functions, and needs to be reworked from the ground up. It’s reminiscent of No Man’s Sky’s launch issues. If this isn’t fixed, no amount of additional content and bug fixes will improve the core open-world experience. While CDPR do have a positive history of fixing games, Cyberpunk 2077 has been in development for years now, so it can’t be said with certainty that those issues are going to be solved.