Cyberpunk 2077's badlands with a black Caliburn car on the road

What Cyberpunk 2077 Does Well

At first, I found Cyberpunk 2077 massively disappointing.

It emphasizes player choice but offers little. Its open-world is pretty but mostly populated with filler content. And it frequently sidelines role-playing efforts so it can tell its own story.

But fifty hours later, and having surrendered my expectations, I’m enjoying the game for what it is: a mostly linear open-world game with light RPG elements.

Don’t get me wrong: CD Projekt Red’s deception left a caustic hole in my heart, which still stings. The sheer scale of their unfulfilled development promises is staggering.

But truthfully, I’ve been enjoying my time with Cyberpunk 2077 as of late. And since my last post about the game was overwhelmingly disapproving, I thought I’d share what I think it does well.

The World

I’ve had many moments in Night City where the game’s shortcomings seem to fade away completely. And they happen not because Cyberpunk 2077 is eye candy but because its world is so richly crafted.

I’d be speeding down city streets in a Batman-esque supercar as the in-game radio blasted futuristic frequencies and eclectic neon lights bounced off the car’s svelte hood. I’d be scaling the rooftops of an unsightly, impoverished neighbourhood under an overcast sky as local gang members lurked below. When moments like these aren’t marred by technical oddities, Cyberpunk 2077‘s various textures successfully coalesce to create a convincing and immersive game world.

Cyberpunk 2077's Night City at day

From a distance, Night City stands tall and proud, a testament to human achievement. But nearly every nook and cranny also reeks of impropriety. Most of its citizens live in cramped, labyrinthine urban spaces and lead impersonal, digitally-driven lives. City blocks overlap and intersect with one another like an interlocking madman’s puzzle. Towering megabuildings block out the sun, with the only integrations of nature seemingly reserved for the city’s elite. A wealth of environmental details communicate these realities effortlessly, and the resulting game world is bleak but joyous to behold.

Cyberpunk 2077's badlands

Cyberpunk 2077’s game world is also surprisingly diverse. Night City itself is split into various districts, and each is visually and thematically distinctive. Just to name a few: there’s an aging, neglected industrial area, the gang-infested, lawless playland of Pacifica, and the dusty suburbs of Rancho Coronado. If you need a change of scenery, you can also leave Night City’s sprawling megapolis for the arid California hills that surround it. I mostly abstained from learning about Cyberpunk 2077’s game world before release, so being able to explore the rural outskirts of Night City was a pleasant surprise.

The Characters

Cyberpunk 2077’s vivid presentation is also aided by its well-realized characters. And while the game’s linearity limits player interactions with them, they undoubtedly strengthen the overall experience.

In my mind, the game’s characters succeed at being memorable on two fronts. For starters, nearly all of Cyberpunk 2077’s characters are visually intriguing. CD Projekt Red’s art department fully leveraged the game’s eclectic, multi-cultural setting here: There’s Jackie, your bulky partner-in-crime who sports a painted leather jacket, gold bangles, and a detached hairstyle reminiscent of feudal Japan; Judy, a slender, tattooed Hispanic woman who edits the game world’s VR experiences for a living; And Dum Dum, a Terminator-esque gang member whose abundance of cybernetic implants seems to make him more machine than man.

Cyberpunk 2077's Jackie, Judy, and Dum Dum

But beyond appearance, Cyberpunk 2077 also takes the time to make many of its core characters feel dimensional. I almost always had a strong sense of each character’s backstory and motivation through a wealth of conversational and environmental subtext. My favourite example of the latter is when CD Projekt Red allows you to visit a character’s apartment. Instead of being empty, sterile spaces, most are layered with journal entries, personal effects, and scannable items that help convey what these characters are about. Scattering these kinds of supplementary, interactable details throughout the game world in this manner feels like a masterful utilization of the video game medium.

But all the comforts of home aside, Night City is a dire place, and CD Projekt Red puts many of its characters through hell. I won’t go into spoilers, but the character-driven content provides a roller-coaster of emotions as a result, which includes some of the darkest moments I’ve ever seen depicted in a video game. But Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t overpoweringly bitter: for every bleak story beat, there’s a hum of optimism, humour, or flirtation to balance out the experience. And having mentioned flirtation, I’ll make a point of saying that some of Cyberpunk 2077’s romance scenes are the least awkward and most convincing that I’ve encountered in a video game.

Main Missions

Cyberpunk 2077 is one of those games where the overall experience feels frustratingly imbalanced as if the dev budget was allocated unevenly. Or maybe CD Projekt Red just needed more time.

Whatever the reason, the game’s missions vary in quality. Some are unremarkable (go here, kill this), and some are downright bad (the janky on-rails segments come to mind). But thankfully, the main story missions were almost always engaging and thrilling.

I’m partly satisfied with Cyberpunk 2077’s main mission content simply because it delivers nearly every gameplay scenario I’d expect from a game of this setting: nail-biting corporate thievery and espionage, lawless alleyway scrapping, and tense gang negotiations. But CD Projekt Red’s mission designers widened the content scope even further, infusing the game world with an extra helping of missions that are totally left-field and much-appreciated.

The Arasaka parade in Cyberpunk 2077

Source: NotCoelho on Reddit

I often found myself marvelling at the game’s mission structures and scenery. These are the exact digital thrills I craved as a kid after poring over the lavish prose of sci-fi books — the very same that the video game medium couldn’t offer at the time due to technical constraints. In that sense, Cyberpunk 2077’s mission content might please fans of the sci-fi/cyberpunk genre. But it’s 2021, and many of Cyberpunk 2077’s mechanics already feel outdated, making the game hardly compulsory for everyone else.

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