Cyberpunk 2077 Review: Never Fade Away?

Cyberpunk 2077 came out a while ago, and I’ve had time to play through something like 90% of the game’s content. It’s an interesting game to review because it wears a bunch of hats.

My initial impression of 2077 was that it was stuck between two worlds; the current generation of video games and the next generation. Running on my PC, the graphics are excellent, and I’m running on a GTX 1080-sporting rig that’s inferior to the next-gen consoles and sometimes competes unfavorably with even the PS4 and Xbox of previous generations.

Stability and Bugs

Cyberpunk 2077 is not polished.

Stability was a major issue, though a patch a couple days after release saw major improvements. Despite having a dozen crashes to desktop, and a couple times I had to reload a save because of glitches, the patched experience was tolerable.

Cyberpunk seems to attempt to autosave right before a crash, so the interruption was usually minimal. I’d say this happened for about 85% of my crashes, and after the patch I was never afraid that I’d crash or encounter a game-stopping bug and lose progress.

To be fair, part of this is that the branching stories meant that some small losses of progress were opportunities to try different approaches, something critical when the game locks you out of saving during dialogue (which is frequent).

With that said, there are plenty of bugs. For a game that feels like I wanted the recent Deus Ex titles to feel in terms of verticality, the physics are seriously questionable. At one point, V got tripped by a drone while walking down some stairs and literally died. Getting stuck in place while trying to navigate tight spaces was a repeat offender and the number one non-death reason for me to load a save.

It’s something I’d tolerate without comment in Skyrim, where I’d use the console commands to toggle collision and go about my day.

Vehicles are similar victims of physics. Though I never had a save-loading incident with vehicle physics, it’s clear the engine doesn’t like fast-moving objects colliding with each other.

And the cosmetic issues are pretty common, though some of this seems to be a function of FOV and my anemic system. When I was playing on GeForce Now, the game seemed to have far fewer issues, suggesting that lower end hardware may be partly to blame.

With that said, I feel compelled to mention the technical difficulties because I otherwise love Cyberpunk. They were not major issues for me as a player, but I know I have a high tolerance for stuff. I never had a moment ruined by bugs; they occurred mostly in the open world sequences and rarely went beyond a momentary frustration.

World and Story

CDPR has a reputation for building living worlds and great stories.

2077 largely succeeds on this point. I’ve seen complaints about how living the world feels, and it’s definitely true that in a gameplay sense there are definite issues with how NPC crowds work. NCPD officers teleport in when V looks away. Only a handful of buildings have interiors, usually ones with some story role.

But I don’t think these are major issues.

Why?

Every part of Night City has its own flavor. You feel different in the different parts of the game world, even if the changes are subtle. Different cars on the street, different fashion, different radio stations. Even going between built-up urban centers and the sprawling outskirts of Night City feels like a major change.

The story, likewise, has its own flavor. There are dozens of memorable quest-lines, though I won’t spoil anything here. The romance partners all offer major quests, even if they’re not interested in the player’s customized V, and I found them all highly engaging.

Further, the side-quests are great. They’re divided into gigs, which often have a surprising level of depth, and more story-oriented side jobs.

Gigs can basically be excuses for gunplay, but the side jobs all feature interesting characters. I’d be interested in seeing just how many different ways the stories can unfold.

The main storyline is good, though I feel like I need to put an asterisk in there.

All the emotional beats of the main thread of the story land strong. There are a couple places where individual lines of dialogue felt like they were referencing things or taking a tone that didn’t fit what had happened, but the actual story itself progressed logically.

The endings are where the problems come. While the unsatisfying endings are clearly foreshadowed, they definitely feel like a lot of decisions are unfolding outside your control. Sometimes the storytelling elements (e.g. camera cuts, in one case) feel overwrought and ham-fisted. Other times V just does things that I as a player wouldn’t do. Previous decisions theoretically lead in that direction, but things that are supposed to feel hardcore and cool feel like the last thing I would’ve done.

Or, in short: V doesn’t get the same connection to the world you do, and the post-finale actions they take aren’t really up to you, though the finale itself is. As a result, the game seems scripted to distance V from everyone not directly involved in the path the player chooses, even if the player wouldn’t.

Gameplay

Barring a little open world fatigue, I have zero complaints about the gameplay in 2077.

In fact, I’d actually say that the gameplay is one of the best parts of a game that has some real shining gems in other areas.

While it’s not really dedicated to letting you play a nonlethal and stealth approach to everything, Cyberpunk gives lots of options. Attribute and perk points make your chosen path much superior to the alternatives, so specialization definitely gets locked in at a certain point.

However, the organically leveling skills and honestly superb gunplay feel like innovations. Almost every major RPG or FPS seems to have played a positive role in the development of Cyberpunk’s gameplay.

Movement is fluid to where I’d often parkour instead of driving. Gunplay feels smooth. The guns themselves seem to be arbitrarily anemic for the first bit of the game, but by the second hour of gameplay I didn’t notice any issues with pulling the trigger and waiting for bars to deplete versus feeling like I was in a gunfight.

Quickhacks feel like the best part of EA’s failed Syndicate reboot, where you can do nasty things to your adversaries in lieu of or as a complement to gunfire and melee attacks.

I didn’t use melee combat much, but I enjoyed it when I did. Combined with the smooth movement and stealth mechanics, bonking enemies with a gold-plated baseball bat is an actual strategy.

Plus, picking up an HMG or special weapon feels like a real power trip. At one point I gained an anti-tank rifle with exploding rounds. Disassembling enemies from a city block away, even without investing many perk points into the rifle tree, was a marvelous experience.

Also, that V’s phone lets you call fixers and contacts without going to them directly is a welcome break from the usual side-quest backtrack. I think this can be a source of some frustration when you don’t get to have the personal face-to-face like Geralt would in The Witcher, but overall it’s a plus.

Graphics

I mentioned GeForce Now earlier, because on a high-end system 2077 is absolutely beautiful. I played just a couple segments on Nvidia’s streaming service, but what I played was a phenomenal experience.

https://media.discordapp.net/attachments/308297635763191808/787866212973543434/unknown.png?width=1246&height=701
GeForce Now brings the Cyberpunk experience to life.

I’d roughly sum up my experience with the graphics by saying that on a moderate system the graphics are at average or above average quality. The fidelity is something that you’d expect from the coming generation if you leave out emerging technologies like ray-tracing and accelerated up-scaling that permit some neat tricks.

https://media.discordapp.net/attachments/700401516795658370/786420385209253928/unknown.png?width=1246&height=701
But even on a system with a GTX 1080 the game is still tremendous.

The one caveat that I’d add is that sometimes Cyberpunk pops and sometimes it doesn’t.

There are definite distinctions between the best and worst looking parts of Night City, and I’m not just talking about aesthetics.

Only technical issues might cause a noticeable quality decrease on the textures and models side, but the aesthetics and views just differ greatly.

The badlands outside Night City are an example of this, as is the night/day cycle. Daytime Cyberpunk can be beautiful, but there are times and places where it stands out better than others.

Some of this is just a natural consequence, sure. There’s something about rain at dusk that is perfect on-brand cyberpunk. It’s not the same as driving through the city on a clear day. I felt like all the story missions looked better than the open world gameplay, and this wasn’t because of any technical wizardry. It was just that they scripted the times and places to give the right feel.

With that said, the graphics for action are tremendous. Gunfire and smoke feel right. Dark places shine in particular, making stealth sections feel great.

And there’s perfect aesthetics almost everywhere. The outskirts of Night City could stand something of an overhaul (Mad Max proved this is possible!), but even there the scripted sequences shine. Arasaka corporate buildings, high-end clothing shops, urban sprawl, and even underwater areas feel right, though there isn’t much submerged action in the game to show them off.

Sound

The soundtrack for Cyberpunk 2077 is astonishing. I started listening to the excerpts of the soundtrack that released before the game, and since then I’ve been listening to the OST both in and out of game.

I don’t care as much for the radio, but that’s a matter of taste. It seems odd that a cyberpunk game wouldn’t embrace at least one synthwave station, but I preferred the radios as ambience through the world rather than accompaniment to driving around Night City.

And the sound really makes Night City come alive. It’s got the tailored feeling of a game, not real sound of a city with all the cacophony you might expect, but it’s got the right cues to place you in the scene.

Combat feels good, too. Vehicles sound right. It’s not something I’m usually particularly aware of unless it goes wrong, so I’ll cut this section short.

UI

The technical issues didn’t bother me as I played through 2077.

The UI did.

There are lots of little nit-picky things. While aesthetically pleasing, the UI is often not particularly functional.

The inventory has some notable issues. I had issues previewing weapon stats, which would require me to open up the crafting menu to get full details on items. Sometimes deconstructing items wouldn’t result in a UI update. Weapon and armor mod effects were often not clear.

With that said, the basic functionality was intuitive, if limited in terms of usability as one plays through the game a lot.

Crafting is the biggest pain. Both making things (welcome to rare upgrade module crafting) and disassembling things suck. The lack of a batch function for crafting is notable, while the disassembly of lots of single items takes longer than it should, especially with the UI not being fully responsive all the time.

The UI sounds are tolerable, though by 50-60 hours they outstay their welcome.

Overall

Cyberpunk 2077 gets a solid 9/10 and change from me, and the remaining progress to a 10/10 is a fairly easy grab if future patches and free DLC deliver.

My number one complaint was that it was often over without closure. Once you complete a side-quest line, there’s no change in the world, no lasting relationship. By the end of the game I felt like V was alone in the world; calls went to voice-mail, I could walk through NPCs’ houses and apartments without seeing them, and the world became a ghost town stripped of places to interact.

Some of that was because I put every hostile NPC in Night City in early retirement, but it was still an eerie feeling. I rarely feel like random encounters improve an experience, but I would’ve given money to get jumped by scavs or stopped by a pleading NPC as the exclamation mark map points disappeared.

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