Seven years after it’s initial reveal in 2013, Cyberpunk 2077 has finally arrived on PC, current, and next gen consoles. But I don’t need to tell you this; you either know, or you will be buried under the release weekend crush on Twitch, YouTube, and social media. Not all of this exposure is going to be positive; the game has sparked controversy in the run-up to launch for it’s handling of transgendered people, backed by CDPR’s tone-deafness in this arena. At launch, there’s apparently some fairly hideous issues with performance on PS4 and Xbox One consoles (whether this is ahead or behind the announced day one patch is not known to me).
Personally, I picked up the game on Stadia of all places. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this was a leap of faith borne out of my fast connection and a concern that none of my current systems could handle the game, which is at least partially vindicated if the Polygon article linked above has merit. I played for five hours last night, as PC and Stadia editions unlocked at 7PM EDT, and wanted to thrown down my initial impressions while the iron is hot.
NOTE: nothing in my five hours spent in the game is technically a spoiler. Most screenshots, clips, and walk-throughs that have been released by CDPR over the years happen in the first few hours of the game, but if you’ve been radio-silent on Cyberpunk 2077 then this stuff might be new to you.
Sorry I didn’t get screenshots of character creation. Personally, I never spend much time making characters simply because I don’t really care. We don’t see ourselves in most games, and I have no preference for gender in games I play. The character system, however, seems to be pretty standard for AAA games. There are various choices for colors and shapes and adornments of all kinds. I moved off of the default male V so I wasn’t completely blasé about the process.
I went with the “street kid” origin for no particular reason. Your choice of origin allows you to have certain dialog options later when situations warrant a perspective from that upbringing.
Feet on the Ground in Night City
The opening hour left a good impression. My V started out as a merc of moderate renown who had just returned to Night City from an ill-defined trip to Atlanta. V found himself in a bar, listening to the bartender talk about how his payment has come due to a local loan shark. V offers to talk to said shark as a favor to a friend.
As a professional courtesy, this loan shark, Kirk, offers to clear the debt if V would take on a simple job: steal a high-end sportscar, of which there are only four in the city. He provides V with a device that should nullify the vehicles security system, and so it’s out into the streets to find a way to where the car is stashed. V meets an old associate, a fixer known as the Padre, who gives him a lift while a bit of exposition is thrown down.
You don’t get dropped into Night City in the first fifteen minutes; that would make your head spin. Instead, you’re put on a bit of a leash and are carried about 75% of the time to the places you go. This gives time to marvel at the scale of this world. It’s as big and as confusing as the run-up media indicated.
Of course, nothing goes to plan: just as V gets into the driver’s seat, he finds a gun in his face wielded by Jackie. At this point, Jackie and V only have a passing, professional-level familiarity with one another, but this is irrelevant as the hacking device turns out to be a dud and the NCPD swarms the garage. In a bit of deus ex machina V and Jackie are beaten up and dropped in an alleyway rather than thrown in jail.
Thus begins a rather cool way of handling an intro. For the next few minutes, you’re treated to a montage of V and Jackie hanging out in various places around the city (with Jackie’s mom, who makes a mean chili, we’re told), going to bars, and, of course, taking jobs. We see V’s success reflected in better clothes, weapons, and eventually see him kicking up his feet in a new apartment. This is a great way of passing time and illustrating the friendship between V and Jackie, rather than pulling the “you meet in a tavern”-style handwaving that pretty much all games employ to avoid piling on backstory.
Now the Tutorial
There’s also a third member of this team, T-Bug. In any cyberpunk squad worth its salt, there’s going to be a dedicated netrunner who’s (ideally) sequestered somewhere safe who is tasked with hacking remotely and info-diving; that’ T-Bug, and you meet her out of the blue as Jackie gives you a VR chip that you can use to hone your skills.
This Militech training program puts V in a stereotypical grey-box environment with moveable walls and floors. Here, T-Bug walks you through four different areas of concern: stealth, ranged combat, melee combat, and hacking (if I remember correctly).
Stealth is straightforward. Crouch, and stay out of sight. NPCs have LOS cones visible on the minimap, and you can tag them to follow them around the room. There are also cameras in the game which emit rays that are either orange (bad for you) or green (good for you) so you can see where you should and should not be. There’s a bit of a lag between being seen and being outed, so if you can get behind cover quickly, NPCs will assume you’re a ghost and will go back to their routines.
Ranged combat is also pretty standard. Melee, however, took me longer to learn. There’s heavy power attacks and quick light attacks. You can block, and you can break an enemy’s block with a power attack — and they can break yours. There’s a stamina meter which depletes as you fight and when you block, and when that’s done you’re pretty much out in the open. Melee combat works this way for both fists and weapons like swords. You get to play with both in the tutorial.
Hacking is kind of fun, though its something I’m still working to find the balance in. You start out with a simple cyberdeck, a small, USB-dongle-sized device supposedly plugged in somewhere on your person. This has a limit on the number of mods (programs) you can install, and a limit on the amount of RAM installed. RAM is used to execute “quickhacks”, which is the hacking you’ll do during combat.
Reboot optics in the image above will shut down a target’s optical cyberwear, rendering them blind for a duration. This takes 4 RAM to execute, so this is basically all that can be done with the stock cyberdeck. RAM frees up outside of combat, but there’s perks that can be had to regenerate it during combat. You begin the game with some basic mods, like distract enemies by taking over lights and audio, hacking security cameras to shut them down, or an overload to temporarily paralyze enemies.
Hacking is done by hitting TAB (on the PC) and moving the mouse around to highlighted items. Hovering over the item will list the mods than can be used. If your hacking skill isn’t high enough, you won’t be able to do anything to or with that device or NPC.
On occasion you’ll find laptops and terminals that can be used to control items without the need to use the cyberdeck. There are also minigames here and there (explained in the tutorial) which require you to replicate a hex-code-like sequence in a kind of Sudoku-esque pattern. I have yet to run into this in the actual game.
Real World Combat
The tutorial is slipped into the game narrative: Jackie gives V the shard while they’re both in a car in the garage of an apartment building on a job. If you’ve kept up with reveals, then this is the “TraumaTeam job” that was shown several years ago. Here, V and Jackie have to find a woman whose biomonitor has gone offline. As the team enters the apartment block, it’s apparent that this is a black-market cybernetic chop-shop. Fearing the worst, V and Jackie move through the apartments, eventually encountering the scavenger gang behind the operation. Here you get to test out your combat lessons.
For me, combat is a bit of a chore, with an asterisk. Headshots, oddly enough, seem to happen more often than intended. I don’t have any advanced assistance turned on (still set for the defaults), but I manage to get the “headshot” message pop up with interesting frequency. Still, it’s hard to take down enemies in this game. The starter pistol is basically useless — and I upgraded it early. There were situations where both V and Jackie — who is duel-wielding pistols himself — were attacking the same target, but took a while to take it down.
Frag grenades are beyond useless. Aside from being difficult to see exactly where you’re throwing them (some closed doors are semi-opaque, and SURPRISE! do not allow grenades to pass through, FYI), explosions are mediocre and unless an enemy is standing right on top of it, barely does damage.
Now, of course this is cyberpunk, not The Division. The goal is not to plow through an endless supply of enemies ad nauseum. Combat should be brutal, and the game wants you to know that shooting is not always the best option. Quickhacking is useful in every situation to some extent. Using stealth, V can sneak up behind a target and either snap a neck or use a non-lethal takedown. After looting the target, the body can be picked up and moved somewhere out of the way, as other NPCs will be alerted by corpses strewn about the room.
Looting feels a bit off. A lot of the environments are full of lootable objects ranging from ammo and stims to complete garbage.
Usable items are usable, and garbage can be deconstructed and used in crafting. The best way to find items to pick up is to go into scanning mode (TAB on PC). Some items are only visible this way, which makes every room an exercise in checklists: kill enemies, loot bodies, move bodies, scan the room, collect the junk. V does have a limit on how much stuff he can carry, but it’s fairly high and can be expanded through perks.
Still, Cyberpunk 2077 follows the Hollywood edict that no hero should ever pick up and use a better weapon dropped by a fallen enemy. You can pick up enemy weapons, sure, but then you have to jump into inventory and sort through them to find one worth using, often while being shot at. There are three weapon slots available (ideally pistol, long-gun, and melee, I suppose) and two gadget slots (one for the healing hypo and one for grenade, but these might be flexible).
I ran into a few weird glitches during combat (the worst time to run into them). The first one was when my weapon straight up vanished. When in combat and with no weapon equipped, V will raise his fists. This did not happen. My rifle was equipped and active, but it was simply not present, would not aim down the sights, and would not fire. I had to switch to a different slot…at which point I learned my secondary weapon was actually missing. I had a shotgun in my second slot, but rolling to another slot only raised fists. Moving back to the SMG, however, made the gun reappear, but later I found that my shotgun was AWOL. I also had an issue where aiming down the sights wasn’t working. I blame my mouse for this, as the RMB is dying quickly. Finally, on two occasions my gun went into fully-automatic autonomous mode, which sounds cyberpunk-ish, but, in fact, is not. My gun just spontaneously unloaded a complete clip without my having triggered any kind of attack. This might be a bug or it might be the only lag issue I had playing the game via Stadia.
A World Within a World
I have no idea how many words I’ve already written, but I could go on and write a lot more. Five hours isn’t enough to warrant a definitive judgement on a game as large as Cyberpunk 2077, but in five hours I have encountered a lot of systems including (but certainly not limited to): combat, looting, conversation trees, hacking, character upgrades, mission systems, cybernetics, driving (horrible experience), and braindance editing (which is an astoundingly cool feature). Most of these had their own tutorials, and most of these take time to work with. None of them can be summarized in a paragraph or an on-screen popup box.
In all honesty, I’m a bit overwhelmed. The vibe of the game is that something is always happening, and it’s happening quickly. There doesn’t feel like there’s time to take time to do anything except when it’s obvious that nothing is about to happen which, in this game, is never a guarantee. I got hit by a car last night because I was too slow to cross the street — I got knocked down and took damage. Night City is no joke, folks.
Because of this, I have only had time to pay cursory attention to everything I just wrote about. I have no idea if anything I wrote is accurate, but it’s accurate as I understand it, and while I died a few times, I managed to scrape through well enough in the end, so I am at least learning as I go.
So far, though, Cyberpunk 2077 lives up to the legacy of it’s TTRPG forbearer. Night City has more character than many other games, and it’s huge.
This map represents only one district, Watson, where the game starts. There’s maybe five or six districts in the game as far as I can tell. Since this is an open world game, there’s going to be a lot of side-quests, all of which are optional. The journal indicates the relative difficulty of a found mission, so decisions can be made when and if to tackle it. There’s shops and kiosks all over the place, and safehouses and new vehicles to be had. Driving around the city is tough, since vehicles behave like spastic children.
I’m now at the point where I can decide if I want to plow through the story or take the time to sidetrack myself in the city. I’m leaning towards the former, as I did with Skyrim and The Outer Worlds, and which allowed me to complete the main story of both even if I didn’t get around to all of the extraneous stuff. Cyberpunk 2077 should be a game I’d return to at another time with a different approach, but we’ll see if it’s possible for me to get through it a first time. I’m banking on the setting to help carry me along, but some of the systems are throwing shade on my attempts, like bullet-sponginess, the break-neck atmosphere, and my knowing the sheer volume of activities being present.