Cyberpunk 2077 will go down as being one of the worst video game launches of all time. A game that had an army of gamers desperately waiting to play, launched unfinished. A plague of bugs disrupted almost every aspect of the game to the point where the game was pulled from the PlayStation Store and as of today, is still unavailable to purchase.
Many believe that the game simply launched too early and that if given some more time to fix the bugs, the game would have been a crown jewel of open-world games and solidify CD Projekt as one of the game industry titans next to Rockstar Games.
If Cyberpunk 2077 had another 6 months to fix bugs and optimise the game performance, it wouldn’t have made the game that much better. It wouldn’t have made up for all the other glaring flaws the game has. We focused so much on the bugs that there was not nearly enough analysis on the actual substance of the game. Even if there were no bugs, Cyberpunk was not going to be the next Witcher because it simply isn’t good enough.
Night City is Not Living or Breathing, It’s On Life Support
A quick drive around Night City sure is easy on the eyes, but what is there to do? Sure, there are some side quests and activities here but the people feel so robotic and animated. It feels like Vice City on the PS2 with shit hot visuals.
You could argue that with more development time, there would have been the opportunity to fine-tune the game and add more content, but time is not the only ingredient required for a good game. If it were the case, a “little more time” would be enough to make any game as detailed and immersive as Red Dead Redemption. So why doesn’t every studio output games like this?
Time and money play a huge part in how good a game will be but we have seen plenty of games with huge budgets and talented dev teams completely flop. Anthem being the most recent example of a game with a big budget backed by a dev team with a proven track record and big publisher money. No amount of time and money could fix Anthem as the core game just wasn’t up to scratch. As far as open-world RPGs go, Cyberpunk 2077 is just not up to scratch for the standards we expect from a game in this genre.
Development Standards Were Set Too Low
Attention to detail is critical for a big open-world game. For a world to be living and breathing, there needs to be a lot of small details that a lot of gamers may never appreciate. Remember the fuss about how horse testicles would react to the cold in Red Dead Redemption 2? This sets the standard for minute details and all of these add up to create a world that feels alive. It is more than just a shooter where you run around and kill stuff, it is an immersive experience. It only takes the smallest eyesore to remind you that this is just a video game.
When you scratch below the surface of the main story and any side activities you should feel like there are stories and secrets around every corner. Your imagination should fill in the details of what this yard or house was used for but it should show signs of life left behind. This was blatantly absent in Cyberpunk. NPCs on the street were often spread few and far between, as are vehicles on the roads. Cars turning into ugly 2d sprites at a distance. NPCs all react with the same animations to your actions and repetitive dialogue lines. There just wasn’t enough effort put into making the world react to you in a natural way. Everything felt so scripted and predictable.
Maybe bugs were to blame for some of this. Maybe there were endless lines of dialogue and various animations to randomise NPCs but they weren’t working correctly but it feels rather unlikely. When you scratch below the surface of Night City, it is a hollow chasm of emptiness. The more you explore the back alleys and areas the story does not bring you to, the more you start to feel like the world is just a stage prop that only looks good from certain angles. Without an active mission to shine the spotlight, Night City has nothing of interest. Driving around is boring and lacks the excitement of “maybe I’ll find something cool down here”.
More dev time is not going to fix the fact that the standards were far too low for this game. Bugs can be fixed but they can’t fix the fact that there was nobody in upper management who felt the small details were important. The standard of what made an open-world game “living and breathing” was just too low. They might have the money to fix this now, but it does not change that the ship has sailed.
It is easy to do the right thing in hindsight. After public backlash, mass refunds and a rather severe cyberattack on the studio, CD Projekt Red would be foolish to think they did not make a mistake. The buggy mess that was released was one problem but the underlying game just did not have enough to stand up there with the competition. The bar for the immersive open-world is Red Dead Redemption 2 and Cyberpunk didn’t come close. Cyberpunk 2077 was a linear shooter set in an open world that it did not belong.
The Story Is Far Too Short For an RPG
It took me just over 20 hours to complete the main story in Cyberpunk 2077. Games in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, which are very similar to Cyberpunk in many ways, have stories that span 50-60 hours. These stories are fun and are pumped out on a regular schedule. Somehow, from several years of development, all we get is a 20-hour story that encourages you to rush to complete the story only for you to discover that it ends rather quickly.
There are side quests of course but (spoiler alert) since there is a ticking time bomb in your head that you need to sort out quickly, the idea of running off around the city and doing random side jobs seems to completely contradict the main narrative. It almost makes you feel the need to rush as your character is going to die if you do not get the job done before the chip in your head causes your demise.
This sense of urgency combined with (another spoiler) the fact that you can’t play on after the final mission ends, means you will always have your impending doom looming over your head as you explore Night City. Even after completing the story, being teleported back to the event prior to the final mission means you will constantly have your impending death hanging over your adventure.
Cyberpunk 2077 Should Not Have Been An RPG
The short story here is that Cyberpunk 2077 is a linear shooter that has been jammed into an open-world game where it does not belong. The story does not fit an open-world RPG both in terms of its length and its substance. The story encourages you to progress as quickly as possible as you are “running out of time” while at the same time, offering you side jobs and random events to keep you busy. The story has already reinforced the fact that your character has very little time.
When you cut out the time spent driving from A to B, the length of the story is more in line with the likes of an Uncharted game. Uncharted manages to blend large open areas with a linear story and this is what we should have had with Cyberpunk. Exploring Night City offers nothing but basic filler, minimal mystery and nothing to encourage natural curiosity.
The last game I played like Cyberpunk 2077 was Saints Row The Third. A funny game that was a bit like GTA but it was pretty much a wacky sandbox where you just blew things up and got involved with random chaos. There were no gear menus and talent trees. There was no incentive to explore as there was no reason to. The open-world existed for you to cause chaos, not to be immersed in a world.
Cyberpunk did not go down that road. Cyberpunk wanted to be an RPG with character decisions that matter, builds, backstories and talent trees. Various factors allow the gamer to control the road their character takes. We already know the decisions and backstories all lead to the same ending and in some cases, merely change a single line of dialogue that will result in the same outcome for everything. Cyberpunk tried to fool us all into thinking the game was bigger and better than it could be.
Even without the bugs, Cyberpunk is not equipped to be the game the developer wanted it to be. Cyberpunk does not have the substance or attention to detail to be an open-world RPG. The city does not have enough life in it to really make it feel like a dark dystopian future, it feels like someone took the bones of an open-world PS2 game and made it look pretty. Time and money may bring this game closer to its original vision but it will never be the game it should have been.