Cyberpunk 2077 review: An enjoyable RPG despite some technical issues

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Email Twitter: @LaurentGiret Dec 24th, 2020 inFeature Stories | Review

Cyberpunk 2077 review: An enjoyable RPG despite some technical issues

Cyberpunk 2077 released earlier this month in a buggy state, but it’s a great game if you can ignore the technical hiccups. Even though it doesn’t offer the same level of freedom as games like Fallout 3 or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Cyberpunk 2077 really shines with its storytelling and immersive setting, with some truly unforgettable quests and supporting characters you’ll really care about. That’s enough for me to make it a really good game, and one I’d easily recommend next to the relatively uninspired Watch Dogs Legion.

Cyberpunk, one of the most-anticipated games of the year finally launched on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation consoles two weeks ago on December 10. While the initial PC reviews were generally very good despite some technical issues, developer CD Projekt has been facing some intense backlash since console players got their hands on the game.

Despite multiple delays, there’s no doubt that Cyberpunk 2077 shouldn’t have been released in that state on old-gen consoles. It’s easy to make fun of the game’s various glitches, but performance on the base Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles is so bad that Sony went as far as removing the game from its PlayStation Store.

CD Projekt has previously apologized for the game’s poor performance on 8th gen consoles and the developers already released a couple of patches, the latest one being released yesterday. It’s too bad to see a developer shoot itself in the foot by releasing an unfinished game, though CD Projekt Red can hopefully turn things around next year. The developer’s critically-acclaimed game The Witcher 3 was also not great at launch, but it went to become one of the best open-world RPGs following months of patches and the release of two excellent DLCs.

Reviewing Cyberpunk 2077 hasn’t been an easy task, though I did my best to ignore all the bad buzz to judge the game for what it really is today. I’ve been playing the game on Xbox Series X and Series S exclusively, and so far I’ve had a good experience with very few bugs. My colleague Arif has been playing it on PC with an Nvidia RTX GPU with ray-tracing on, and this is currently the best way to play the game until Cyberpunk 2077 is fully optimized for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S consoles next year.

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Why you should play Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox Series X|S consoles

As of this writing, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to play Cyberpunk 2077 on the base Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles. The game really struggles to reach 30FPS on these now seven years old machines, and even the more powerful PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X can’t run the game very well. It’s a different story on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S consoles, and Cyberpunk 2077 actually isn’t running like the rest of backwards-compatible games on next-gen hardware.

Usually, Xbox Series X owners get to run the Xbox One X version of backwards-compatible games, while Xbox Series S users get to play the Xbox One S version of games without 4K textures and other enhancements. However, a technical analysis from Digital Foundry revealed that Cyberpunk 2077 does things differently, and the game’s code seems to be aware that it’s running on next-gen console.

On Xbox Series X, Cyberpunk 2077 uses a 1080p/60FPS Performance mode by default that isn’t available on Xbox One X consoles. Players on Xbox Series X can also choose a Quality mode in Settings that applies a 30FPS cap, but with a dynamic resolution that can go up to 1800p. The Xbox Series S apparently uses a tweaked version of this Xbox Series X Quality Mode, with a 30FPS cap and a dynamic resolution that can go up to 1296p.

Again, CD Projekt Red is working on true next-gen versions of Cyberpunk 2077 that should be available next year on Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 consoles, and this will be a free upgrade for those who already own the game. While CD Projekt Red has yet to share details about what to expect from these next-gen updates, I hope that a 4K/60FPS Performance mode and a Quality mode with ray-tracing at 30FPS is feasible on Xbox Series X.

Overall, Cyberpunk 2077 is a good-looking game on Microsoft’s next-gen consoles, and I’d say that it looks and better than Watch Dogs Legion, a game that’s already optimized for Xbox Series X|S with support for ray-tracing on both consoles. Watch Dogs Legion is locked to 30FPS even on the Series X, but Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t and it makes a big difference.

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Night City is a fascinating setting

Cyberpunk 2077 is set in Night City, a dystopian megacity that makes you feel like you’re in Blade Runner when it’s raining during night time, or in a futuristic version of Los Angeles or other sunny cities from the US West Coast during the day. Night City is pretty big, and I still have a lot to discover beyond the Japanese district, the business center, the not so shiny suburbs, and the surrounding Badlands.

You play the game as V, a cybernetically enhanced mercenary taking various jobs that will often have a violent outcome. Cyberpunk 2077 starts with a very detailed character creator where you’ll also get to choose between three life paths: Corporate, Nomad, and Street Kid. These life paths will determine your background, providing different dialogue options throughout the game. I opted for the Street Kid life path for my first playthrough, and each life path also has its own prologue mission.

I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but the story of Cyberpunk 2077 really gets interesting once you encounter Johnny Silverhand, a character played by A-list actor Keanu Reeves. In the game, Silverhand is a former rock star and terrorist who died while trying to take down the corrupt Arasaka corporation. During an infiltration mission where V attempts to steal a mysterious biochip from the same Asaraka company, the chip’s protective case is damaged and you’ll have no choice but to insert it in your brain to keep it working, without knowing that the chip hides the digital ghost of Silverhand.

Cyberpunk 2077 Johnny Silverhand

Silverhand first appears as a seemingly evil character trying to take over your body, and you’ll soon learn that the damaged chip inserted in your brain will ultimately kill you. This death sentence will ultimately force V and Silverhand to cooperate, and Keanu Reeves’s character, who can only be seen and heard by you, will interact with you during missions and your various interactions with secondary characters.

Overall, Keanu Reeves does a great job at playing the cynical and nihilistic Silverhand, a character you’ll never really know for sure if you can trust him or not. Besides Silverhand, Cyberpunk 2077 also has a great cast of secondary characters including Judy, the braindance editor you meet early on in the gaùe. Braindances in Cyberpunk 2077 are a form of VR experience used mostly for entertainment, but you’ll often use these 3D recordings in the game to investigate crime scenes.

CD Projekt Red is known for crafting immersive worlds with well-written quests and characters, and Cyberpunk 2077 shouldn’t disappoint fans of The Witcher 3. There are some truly memorable quests in the game, and in some of them, you’ll get to make important choices that can put the life of secondary characters in danger. Cyberpunk 2077 also includes multiple romance options throughout the game, and the game also has multiple endings.

Just like The Witcher 3, the game deals with adult themes and you can expect a good deal of violence, sex, drugs, and other themes inspired by the original material, a dystopian tabletop game originally released in 1988. CD Projekt Red probably went a bit over the top with the amount of dildos that can be seen in the game and which serve no real purpose, though the developer has already promised to fix it.

Cyberpunk 2077 Judy The Braindance Editor

A good mix of the best open-world RPGs

Cyberpunk 2077 was originally announced back in 2012, and expectations went pretty much through the roof after years of teasing and the release of the critically-acclaimed The Witcher 3 in 2015. What I was personally expecting is a more open version of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, a game that also deals with cyberpunk themes but didn’t get the same AAA production quality as CD Projekt Red’s take on the genre.

Overall, Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t really pushing many boundaries, but it takes a lot of inspiration from other open-world games and adds CD Projekt Red unique’s storytelling expertise to offer something really unique. The gunfights, driving, and hacking aren’t that great in the game, but exploring Night City is never boring and you’ll always have lots of things to do. If you found the world of The Witcher 3 overwhelming, Night City seems just as intimidating at first with lots of optional quests to discover by visiting the various “?” symbols on the map.

The game’s missions are pretty varied, and most of them will allow you to try different approaches. I had the most fun playing games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Dishonored 2 without killing anyone, though I believe it’s not possible to do that in Cyberpunk 2077. In some situations, enemies will start shooting at you or hold you at gunpoint, and avoiding combat just doesn’t seem possible. However, the game does encourage stealth, and you can use hacking to deactivate security cameras, distract enemies, or even blind them temporarily.

Gunfights are pretty good in Cyberpunk 2077, and with the right implants, you can use special weapons with homing ammo, bullets that can ricochet off walls, and more. Blades and other blunt weapons can also be quite powerful, allowing you to kill unaware enemies in just one blow.

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The more you’ll use a certain type of weapons, the more you’ll get deadly with them, but Cyberpunk also comes with a pretty complex skill tree with lots of specialization options. Every three levels, you earn an attribute point that you can use to improve one of your core attributes (Body, Reflexes, Cool, Technical Ability, intelligence), but you also gain a Perk point with every level that you can use on the Skill tree to get passive bonuses.

In addition to the classic level system, Cyberpunk 2077 also has Street Cred, which is a measure of your reputation in Night City. You’ll gain Street Cred by completing missions, and reaching higher levels will grant you access to new vendors, items, and side missions.

While implants are optional and will cost you money, they can really make a difference, giving you passive bonuses or allowing you to use new hacks and weapons. One of the most expensive implants I purchased allows V to perform a double jump midair, which really helps to apprehend the verticality of Night City. You can also do street fights in Cyberpunk 2077, and the Gorilla Arms implant that deals bonus damage can make your character really deadly.

There’s a lot of loot in Cyberpunk 2077 as well, and there’s also a crafting system for creating new objects and upgrading your existing equipment. Overall, it certainly takes some time to understand how to optimize your character, though it’s possible to ignore crafting, hacking, and implants and play the game like a regular loot shooter. However, some of the best missions are probably those where there’s no action at all. I particularly liked the few missions where you get to act as a detective looking for clues on a crime scene or in a virtual “braindance” VR experience.

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So many things can break the immersion

If CD Projekt Red succeeded in creating a fantasy world with some very detailed urban areas in The Witcher 3, GTA V’s Los Santos really raised the bar for urban open worlds. There’s no denying that Night City really shows CD Projekt Red’s attention to details, but car traffic, pedestrian AI, and so many other things can break the immersion when exploring Night City.

In general, driving vehicles doesn’t feel great in Cyberpunk 2077, though motorcycles are a bit easier to handle. For some reason, you can’t shoot guns while driving like in GTA, which is a really weird omission. While you can purchase many cars in the game, you can’t customize any of them, not even give them a fresh coat of paint, and that’s quite frustrating.

Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person game, and you’ll only see your character while looking in the mirror or driving vehicles. Once you’re done creating your character at the beginning of the game, you won’t be able to change your haircut, or get some tattoos or jewelry. Equipment and some implants will change your appearance, but that’s pretty much it.

Cyberpunk 2077 inventory

When you think that The Witcher 3 was one of the first RPGs where your character could grow a beard and go to the barber, the absence of hair salons, tattoo parlors, and other places where you can change your appearance is really weird. I should add that most equipment in the game looks pretty bad, though that doesn’t really matter for a game using a first-person camera.

A lot of reviews have already pointed out the game’s lackluster AI, and I sadly have to agree with them. Enemy AI is pretty dumb in general, and it’s the same thing for pedestrians or cars who will struggle to go around you when you’re blocking the passage. Cars and pedestrians can also disappear or be replaced with others when you look the other way, and we really shouldn’t see such things in a game with such a big budget.

Just like in GTA V, your character in Cyberpunk 2077 has a phone that can be a great source of distraction. Your Phone is how you’ll get most of your missions, and you’ll usually get alerts when you visit a new area in Night City. A new character will call you or send you a message to ask for your services, and new missions and activities will be added to the world map, which can get intimidating really quickly. You’re free to ignore side missions to focus on the main quests, but it’s hard not to get overwhelmed every time you look at the world map.

Cyberpunk 2077 Map

Should you buy Cyberpunk 2077?

Cyberpunk 2077 has been released at a very busy time of the year for the video games industry, and there are many other blockbuster games to check out this holiday. Ubisoft just released three blockbuster games in a row with Watch Dog Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Immortal Fenyx Rising, while established open world games like Destiny 2 and Borderlands 3 just received new content. There are also new J-RPGs on the market such as like Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age, the latter being free to play with Xbox Game Pass.

I wish CD Projekt Red had delayed Cyberpunk 2077 to next year to fix all the bugs and the performance issues on base Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, though the game is already a best-seller with 13 million copies sold as of December 20. The developer announced two big patches coming in January and February, and Cyberpunk 2077 will also get new DLCs as well as a multiplayer mode in the near future.

I’m usually fine with waiting a couple of years for games to get patched and receive more additional content before playing them, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with Cyberpunk 2077 so far. I really couldn’t put it down during the first 10 hours of gameplay, and if you’re playing on next-gen consoles like me, you probably won’t immediately notice the game’s lack of polish. Cyberpunk 2077 makes a very good first impression, and I find this world much more interesting than the dystopian London from Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs Legion.

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I’m looking forward to seeing how CD Projekt can fix the game in the coming months, but I’m confident Cyberpunk 2077 will end up just as good as The Witcher 3 did in the past decade. Actually, I think Cyberpunk 2077 is probably CD Projekt Red’s most accessible game ever, even more so than The Witcher 3 which I found pretty hard to get into. Creating successful and impactful new IPs is a very difficult thing to do, but I think CD Projekt Red pulled it off and we’ll probably continue to talk about Cyberpunk 2077 for many years to come.

If you expect to find the same level of freedom as in games like Fallout 3 or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, you’re likely going to disappointed: Where Cyberpunk 2077 really shines is in its storytelling, immersive setting, with some truly unforgettable quests and supporting characters you’ll really care about. That’s enough for me to make it a really good game, and one I’d easily recommend next to the relatively uninspired Watch Dogs Legion. Cyberpunk 2077 also offers lots of replay value if you’re willing to choose another life path at the beginning of the game, and make different decisions during the few missions where your choices can make a real difference.

Cyberpunk 2077 is currently priced at $69.99 on the Xbox Store, and Microsoft recently announced an extension of its refund policy for all Xbox players dissatisfied with the game. The company also added a warning message to the store listing for players on base Xbox One consoles, though the hotfix 1.06 released yesterday should bring “improved memory management and stability” resulting in fewer crashes on all consoles.

If you got the opportunity to play Cyberpunk 2077 on console or PC since launch, feel free to share your thoughts about the game in the comments. Do you think it’s still one of the best games of the year despite all the bad buzz? Let us know below.

Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077
Developer: ‪CD PROJEKT RED‬
Price: $59.99

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