Oh no, here we go.
It’s been a strange old few months hasn’t it? Never have I seen such a high profile game dogged by so much controversy. We had outrage over the release date being moved, then moved again. We had outrage over crunch conditions. We had outrage over the game’s promotion and depictions therein. Then we had a release, and outrage over some of the lower scores. Then there was the seizure-inducing braindance effects. Then there’s the bugs and performance outrage. Then the outrage about how it’s not really an RPG and that general issue of expectation vs reality and who’s fault those lofty expectations are.
Blimey. What a shit-show.
I’m playing the game on PC, so however terrible the performance is on console and whether or not the game is fundamentally broken there is someone else’s concern. To be honest, I wish this were a PC only game – I can only imagine how much additional content and polish it’d have if so much time had not been spent trying to get the game to work on a platform it was clearly never going to work terribly well on. And with over a million concurrent players on Steam alone, at its peak to date, it’s not as if a PC only market would have been particularly unprofitable. Stupid consoles.
So anyway, let’s dive in. After the initial hour or so of playing, my first thought was what a tremendously good idea the entirely first-person view was. I admit to being a little sceptical of this at first – I’m not a fan of first-person shooters in general and in any game with a customisable character I like to actually see my character, if only in cutscenes. But playing the game, the additional immersion of always looking through V’s eyes really helps – the fact that I love the side characters so much is, in part, because they’re addressing me and not my avatar while I watch from a cinematic perspective.
The world is staggeringly beautiful – some of my most pleasurable experiences in the game have been in missions where I’m a passenger rather than a driver and I’m able to watch the world go by out of the window and soak up vistas which it’s not so easy to take in while hurtling around the city at a hundred miles-per-hour. My least favourite thing, in that regard, is when the game does a time/location jump – when there’s functionality to skip journeys should you wish I can’t see any merit in occasionally forcing that decision on me for the sake of story pacing.
I can’t talk about the world, though, and not mention the bugs and issues. While I’ve found it easy to ignore many of the problems, I can’t deny that it’s not ideal that cars and people clearly teleport around while they’re offscreen. All this stuff is clearly performance-related and I again wonder how much of this would not have been issues had the game not targeted last-generation consoles, or consoles in general. But for the most part, I’ve found it easy to look past these things. The city feels busy, alive, bustling and yeah the whole thing is an illusion (and not a tremendously solid illusion at that) but most of your time is spent moving through the city – it’s citizens are there for you to barge your way through, not analyse whether or not they are in any way believable entities. Traffic is there to make driving more interesting and sell the city as being densely populated, not to engage with in any meaningful way. Yes, general traffic was implemented significantly better in GTA V but then Rockstar have had decades to perfect this stuff. Prior to Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red have Roach teleporting onto the roofs of houses (essence of Roach makes a delightful comeback in CP2077 when you call for your vehicle and watch it drive straight past you and sail off into the distance).
So all the stuff which CD Projekt Red have no prior experience of – all the complexities of making a solidly believable city with as many cars and people moving about coherently as would be necessary, all unscripted and instead dynamically responding to what the player is doing… well, yeah the game’s a bit of a failure in that regard. If this game becomes a trilogy like The Witcher (which I really hope it does), then I expect to see this stuff improved over successive games.
All the stuff which CD Projekt Red have oodles of experience of – storytelling, characters, art and world design, drama… well, they’ve nailed that and it’s this stuff which made me a fan of CDPR to begin with. After all, the first Witcher game was far from a highly-polished bug-free experience too, but what it had going for it was terrific characters, world-design, and storytelling. These are the reasons we ended up with The Witcher 3 and why so many fans of the series exist.
So I just can’t be anything less than extremely happy with Cyberpunk 2077, warts and all as I approach the climax of the game. Everything I love about CDPR games is here, in spades. The game is beautiful. All the characters are interesting and engaging. The story is fantastic and some of the moments therein, epic. I wish it were longer overall – I feel as if CDPR over-compensated in the other direction due to how few people statistically completed TW3. But in terms of the main story missions, it’s been the candle which burns twice as bright. Yes, there are weak aspects I would have preferred were more fleshed-out. Crafting is particularly weak since there’s no customisation – weapons you craft get a random extra effect, rather than an extra effect I choose. Clothing can only be crafted in the single colour scheme they provide, even though that same item is available in multiple colours in shops. Levelling up the crafting skill has been a nightmare given how many components you need to craft or upgrade items and how scarce they are to find. Every item I collected got disassembled and all my money got spent on components and it was still a nightmare, particularly as you can only craft items one at a time which is far from ideal when you want to craft common components into uncommon, and those into rare, etc. One at a time, and I need thousands of the buggers. There’s no vehicle customisation, and neither can you customise your apartment. Much of this feels to me like content cut for time rather than an oversight, though, and it would not surprise me to see some of this stuff appear in expansions just as Blood and Wine brought with it Grandmaster Witcher gear and dyes.
So all in all I adore the game and there’s been no bug I’ve encountered which couldn’t be easily ignored. I think there is a tendency with games of this prominence and aided by prior controversies to beat it with a bigger stick than it deserves. That’s not to say it’s unreasonable to complain, particularly console owners, but on PC where I play it it’s far from a disaster. It’s just that after The Witcher 3, it’s further from a flawless experience than we would have perhaps expected.
More detailed thoughts here.