After seven years, CD Projekt Red’s highly-anticipated action RPG Cyberpunk 2077 is here, and it’s a cybermess.
And I’m not just talking about the apparent lack of polish or abundance of bugs. Cyberpunk 2077 is foundationally flawed: a bizarre Frankenstein monster cobbled together from elements of other, better, games. Many of its gameplay systems are underwhelming and disjointed. Its open-world content is dull and unfulfilling. It’s an ingratiating title that tries to be many things to many people and fails spectacularly because of it.
Like its in-game citizens, Cyberpunk 2077 attempts to mask its shortcomings with technological enhancements. Dazzling visuals and a slick presentation help dull the realities of its underwhelming gameplay elements. But as its narrative suggests, an overreliance on technological augmentation is a path to devolution, not evolution. And in that sense, Cyberpunk 2077 is guilty as sin.
The RPG Illusion
Cyberpunk 2077 begins by asking who you want to be in its futuristic megatropolis. All the usual character customization fixings are there, as well as some novel ones: you can craft your character’s appearance right down to their genitals. Then, you chose from one of three character backgrounds. Once you’re in-game, you can start fine-tuning your character’s abilities through many comprehensive skill trees.
These are the kinds of menus that get the roleplaying gears turning in my head. I start wondering about how my character will think and behave. What their intolerances or weaknesses might be. It’s all very exciting.
But beyond its robust character customization options and skill trees, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t seem to care who you are. The character background options don’t appear to affect gameplay other than providing occasional dialogue options. The game regularly forces you into combat, essentially invalidating the choice to build stealth-oriented characters. And dialogue options are sparse (seemingly even more so than Fallout 4), sidelining any roleplay efforts for the sake of the story Cyberpunk wants to tell.
Image from Reddit user anoneemoosh
So if Cyberpunk 2077 is a roleplaying game, it’s a shallow one. Its setup feels akin to Fallout 4, where your character’s path is largely predetermined. There’s some amount of player agency in minute-to-minute dialogue and mission completion. But Cyberpunk 2077 often gives you the illusion of choice rather than measurable, consequential choice.
Here’s an example: an early side-quest tasked me with retrieving a bootlegged band tape from a shopkeeper. Oddly, it’s the same mission represented in the screenshot up above. But here’s the in-game problem: the shopkeeper won’t give you the tape.
At this point, given that Cyberpunk 2077 is an RPG, you’d think that you’d have multiple gameplay solutions. Maybe you could steal the records, or intimidate the shopkeeper, or kill him outright. These are the kinds of engaging gameplay choices that Fallout: New Vegas, a 10-year-old open-world RPG, might’ve supported here.
But nope, not in Cyberpunk 2077. There’s only one choice, and it’s to answer the record shopkeeper’s trivia question correctly. But even that sole choice manages to be unengaging because another NPC chimes in with the answer. You relay the answer to the shopkeeper, and he gives you the tapes. There’s no choice. No consequence. No challenge. No purpose. And quite frankly, no respect for the player.
No choices in this mission! (Source: Game8)
Filler Open World Content & Bad Stealth Gameplay
Aside from frequently being a mediocre RPG, Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t a great open-world game, either. Sure, Night City is richly detailed and vividly crafted. But the second I stopped sight-seeing and actually dug into the open-world content, I was sorely disappointed.
Cyberpunk 2077’s in-game map is littered with dozens of dull side missions. Most of the ones I’ve completed are called “Assaults in Progress.” Each tasks you with dispatching a group of gang members within a predetermined area for in-game cash and experience.
These “Assault in Progress” missions are reminiscent of Far Cry’s outpost missions. But while Far Cry 3’s outpost missions provided an enjoyable challenge, Cyberpunk 2077’s equivalent is little more than open-world filler. They’re not enjoyable or inventive, and there’s hardly a reason to clear them beyond the desire for completionism.
I’m playing a stealth-based character, so I usually try to sneak around and eliminate each NPC in these side missions without being detected. At the very least — and unlike other content in Cyberpunk 2077 — these “Assault” missions seem to respect my playstyle choice. I can enter the mission areas from any angle, and the enemies won’t immediately attack until they detect me.
But due to a lack of challenge, the stealth gameplay on offer here is just laughably bad. Enemies rarely move around or turn unexpectedly, making it easy to sneak up behind and take them out. Most of the time, they seem content to stand around with their feet practically glued to the floor, awaiting their imminent demise.
Those strangely compelled to defend Cyberpunk 2077 might refute this criticism by saying that CP 2077 isn’t a stealth-first game, and it never forces you to play that way. But neither did Far Cry 3, and its enemy AI serviced similar, albeit enjoyable first-person stealth gameplay eight years ago. There’s just no excuse.
A Game for All, and In the End, No One
Even if CD Projekt Red thoroughly polished Cyberpunk 2077 and ironed out the major bugs, I still wouldn’t know who this game is for. The RPG elements are shallow. The combat is dull and uninventive. The open-world content is unfulfilling. Beneath its dazzling veneer, Cyberpunk 2077 is a half-baked amalgamation of older, better games.
And if it wasn’t already clear that Cyberpunk 2077 has a serious identity crisis, consider this: the developers plan to add multiplayer in 2021. Rather than refining what’s already there, they want to widen their margin of error by tacking on another game mode. What?
It’s a shame, because as other players have said, there’s a lot of intriguing content here. Cyberpunk 2077 succeeds at introducing provocative concepts (digitally-assisted anonymized prostitution and life-like VR experiences) and tying them into gameplay. There’s also a consistent and respectable sprinkling of clever world-building. But this is a game first and foremost, and these supplemental injections of creativity can’t possibly elevate how Cyberpunk 2077 plays.
For now, I’m going to stick with Cyberpunk 2077 and at least try to finish the main quest. But when I’m not in awe of its visual splendour, I’ll probably be in awe of how disappointing the underlying gameplay is.