How hard it is to resist Cyberpunk 2077! But this game is simply enchanting! I have not seen such crowds of people pouring into the hype-train for a long time – and in fact I am not surprised at all. I myself have an overwhelming desire to jump on board, make a pre-order, and then hang a clock on the wall with a countdown timer set to April 16, 2020. But the (still) skeptical part of my character takes over.
I recently arrived at the CD Projekt RED station to take part in another presentation of a Cyberpunk 2077 – it was the same presentation that the chosen ones had seen in Los Angeles a month ago. Then why write about it again? Because now I'm going to offer you a different look at Cyberpunk 2077. I am not going to repeat or discuss what CDPR have demonstrated to journalist during E3 in June, this year. Instead, I would like to summarize everything that has been shown and said over the last 12 months in a broader context and glance at the overall picture of the game. The only problem is that... no big picture has emerged from the available content so far.
In fact, so far we have only seen two – well, maybe three, main story missions and a few minutes of exploration (actually, it's just moving from point A to point B and looking at the sides). We have seen carefully directed shows – CD Projekt RED brought out the most interesting scenarios, the best designed locations, the most impressive game sequences and the most beautiful animations, etc. What does the rest look like?
Dynamic city full of life? I haven't seen that yet
WHEN YOU WILL SEE THIS NEW GAMEPLAY WITH YOUR OWN EYES?
In a recent hidden message, contained in a trailer shown at Microsoft's E3 2019 conference, CD Projekt RED revealed with disarming honesty that it didn't want to show the game publicly yet, so as not to lose the momentum of its marketing campaign too soon. However, the company has announced an approximate release date of the gameplay, so the whole world may witness this experience. This will take place during the PAX West 2019, which will be held from 29 August to 2 September.
Since the action of the game takes place in an urban "sandbox" that can be traversed by vehicles, the question has to be asked: how much of GTA will be in Cyberpunk? Such question seems all the more justified because "living" is a word that is often used by developers in the context of the world they are building, and in addition, CDPR plays in the same league as Rockstar when it comes to the scale of projects and attention to detail.
But for now, it's hard to say whether CDP RED will create a city simulation as advanced and reliable as the one from Grand Theft Auto V. In 2018, we saw crowds of people strolling around the downtown district of Watson, so we can assume that Night City at least doesn't seem to be deserted.... Of course, apart from the areas that are depopulated due to others reasons (like most parts of Pacifica from this year's show). Apart from the wandering NPC's, players will witness some convincing random scenes from the lives of various groups of residents, accompanied by interesting dialogues and eye-pleasing animations.
Night City presented in this way makes a very positive first impression. However, I have some doubts concerning the game world as a real simulation of life, where each character performs various daily activities and has an artificial intelligence (like Kingdom Come: Deliverance). Many gamers may ask to what extent we are dealing only with puppets fixated on one action – with a break for the night, when there is a switch for the puppets in the night version. Having in mind the Witcher 3 with his looped dialogues between the nameless NPCs, I rather bet on the latter. Therefore, I do not expect it to be possible to take out a gun and start a slaughter of innocent residents in the middle of the street, just as many of us, home-grown psychopaths, did in GTA to play cat and mouse with the police.
I am convinced of such "non-interactivity" of Night City residents by, for example, how they behave when a player accidentally knocks them down on the sidewalk. In fact, virtual people make the impression of icebergs in such random events. They don't lose their balance or even throw insults at the hero – they simply move V as a cube of physics, walking further in their own direction. Maybe it's just a feature that's still waiting to be implemented? Or maybe it is also not a coincidence that such NPCs from the crowd never have a given level by their nameplates, unlike any gangsters, corporate soldiers or other characters who could potentially want to snoop out V's eyes?
Although we have only seen a fragment of two districts, Night City promises to be one of the most atmospheric worlds in the history of computer RPG. The only thing I'm missing to my full happiness is the view of the crazy rock men and caravans of nomads sowing panic on the highways.
On the other hand, the developer has announced that the game will include a "search system". This would suggest that there is, however, the possibility of committing crimes and attracting the attention of law enforcement. It sounds promising, but in fact it does not have to be a more complex mechanism than the one from Witcher 3, in which guards simply threw themselves with bare swords at Geralt, if he stole a sweet roll in front of their eyes. This is likely to be the case if CDPR have ruled out the option of surrendering to law enforcement and going to prison (or to a cyber-psychiatric institution for braindance therapy). In short, for the time being we are not able to say how much of the living world Cyberpunk 2077 we will actually see.
NEVER FADE AWAY
You already know that Johnny Silverhand is the key character in Cyberpunk 2077. Few people participating in the E3 show pointed out that the story will also contain the last girl of the famous rocker – Alt. I will not summarize the history of their romance in this article (in short: it was dense). Instead, I can point to a mandatory reading for all those who want to prepare themselves before they jump into the game – the story Never Fade Away, which is contained in the Cyberpunk 2020 handbook. If you don't want to buy this book now (I remind you that it will be added to CP2077), you can always reach for the summary. Silverhand's history is still in the second part of the Firestorm expansion to the Cyberpunk 2020 handbook.
More Borderlands than Deus Ex?
The construction of the virtual world is combined with the issue I had a problem with in The Wild Hunt – the rigid assignment of levels to opponents, locations and tasks. Will the same solution be used in Cyberpunk 2077? Well, a lot indicates that – yes. In 2018, we saw Maelstrom's opponents at levels 2 to 4. This time, the more advanced character was shown (and even the characters – two "builds" of V have been demonstrated), who fought against the Animals at level 18. So, first we saw the game from the beginning of the adventure, and now we have moved somewhere near – if I guess right – half of the story. And how does this difference in levels manifest itself in what each adversary represent? It's actually nothing.
I did not notice that members of Maelstrom from the first show gave up their equipment or skills to the Animals, theoretically much more advanced than them. What does that mean? The uniformity of levels within a given mission or location suggests that CD Projekt RED will reach for the same solutions that have proven themselves in The Witcher 3. Remember when you walked into distant lands, because you wanted to visit borders of Velen or Skellige, and you came across a mongrel at level 30, who tore Geralt to pieces before you could say: "Oh, boy, I think I have to load my game"? I suspect that in the six districts that make up Night City we will experience similar phenomena.
Don't get me wrong, rigidly assigning and marking levels everywhere is not a criminal mistake – but there are better solutions that are less immersive. Deus Ex doesn't use any numerical values, encouraging player to optically assess the threat – if something is great and shines from head to toe, it is certainly a serious challenge. Even the sandbox Fallout 4 does not bend over with numbers, describing verbally e.g. more powerful varieties of feral ghouls. And Cyberpunk? Here, all is being ruled by numbers that practically flood the screen. The levels captions above your opponent head may stab your eyes, and the number fountains popping up when dealing damage (especially when using a fast fire automatic weapon) do not seem to look any better.
Of course the interface is configurable, but it doesn't change the fact that we will most probably experience similar shooting mechanics as the one used in the Borderlands series. This means that shootouts will run smoothly as long as the hero (or heroine), his (or her) guns and enemies maintain an appropriate, matching level. Otherwise, you have to take into account that some fights will end in some serious bloodbath. Fortunately, knowing the art values of CD Projekt Red, we don't have to worry that gaining experience while performing side tasks will turn out to be some unpleasant duty – even if we haven't seen any such activity yet. Or maybe I'm completely wrong and the math governing the game won't be as rough as I paint it here? Well, we're not going to find out about that until the game's release.
Less Deus Ex than Deus Ex?
Since the words 'deus' and 'ex' have already been mentioned in this text, I can finally address the issue that interests me most. During E3, developers from the CD Projekt RED announced with pride that it is possible to complete the whole game without killing anyone. I applaud this idea with all my heart (even if pacifism fits the realities of Cyberpunk more or less like a pig to a saddle) – but I'd like to take a closer look at how it works.
"Reds" show two versions of V in the new gameplay just to impress gamers with the rich sneaking and hacking capabilities of Cyberpunk 2077. I don't deny it, it looks pretty impressive. The interactivity of the environment and the multitude of skills (especially netrunners' skills) that can be used make it possible to complete missions in various ways. However, I have one objection: there is no option for level complexity like in the last two installments of Deus Ex series.
Design of locations through which we will travel seems to be much simpler than in the case of places visited by Adam Jensen. We can rather forget about multi-level complexes, abundantly equipped with entrances and passageways, as well as vigilant guards patrolling the area and sophisticated security systems. What I saw makes me look for a point of reference rather in the Metro series – the levels have a more linear, shooter-like structure. So, if I decide to use stealth mode I will have to plan an optimal infiltration path of the specific map. And that's really good news.
By giving up tactical flavors, developer can get better results in scripting different effects in quest design – and that's what I'd like to see in a game set in the wild, action-packed world of Cyberpunk. Also, be aware of the scale of this project. Deus Ex didn't even stand close to the sandbox, so Eidos Montreal could afford to be much more meticulous in designing quests and locations. Six-district Night City is a much more difficult area to develop than a piece of Prague presented in Mankind Divided.
I JACK-IN AND CONNECT
While watching the new gameplay a question has arisen in my mind – How will CD Projekt RED manage the network and cyberspace in Cyberpunk 2077? In the paper prototype, it is a three-dimensional space in which the netrunners and their actions ( programs) have visualization in the form of stunning icons such as metal samurai with glowing katanas that send cybernetic manticores to attack monumental gates guarded by hounds with burning eyes. It works on the imagination, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, it seems that in CP2077 we will only be able to wander through cyberspace network "in person" and quite rarely. This is indicated by the finale of the E3 presentation, in which the Voodoo Boys gang invites V to their data fortress. During this scene the heroine behaves as if she had never seen anything like it before. This is all astonishing as ports and connection interfaces are used widely in the game and practically everything might be plugged into the network (but usually it is accompanied only by an animation imitating the opening of different files by cyberdeck). However, it should be remembered that 57 years have passed and the technology from 2077 does not have to coincide with the one described in the Cyberpunk 2020 handbook.
More RPG than Deus Ex?
Based on what I have written so far, you may have had the impression that the purpose of this text is to discredit Cyberpunk and to sow the seeds of doubt. I want to assure you that this is not my intention. If it were otherwise, I'd be dwelling on issues such as poorly-looking driving model, poor optimization, debatable AI of opponents or flawed physics of the ragdoll system – that's what we already pointed out in the previous announcements of the game, and what in all likelihood will be improved until next year.
As a sign of my "goodwill" I will now proceed to the analysis of RPG elements in CP2077. From E3, we know that the hero is described by twelve skills and five attributes (interestingly, a year ago there were six attributes – in the meantime, strength has been deleted of the character's card.) It's worth adding that the number 12 doesn't mean pure and individual abilities but skill trees. If my short observation is not wrong with the actual state of affairs, then all "skills" have five perks available, each of which has a rank of 1 to 5. A lot of options to choose from, don't you think? I only hope that character development will be more interesting than in The Witcher 3, where the effect gained from every level advancement often ended in boring addition of small enhancements (like +2% to rapid attack damage).
However, even if improving V skills proves to be too similar to the Wild Hunt solutions, I can already say that CDPR deserves applause for the number of classic role-playing elements in Cyberpunk. For example – the attributes mentioned above. They may look simple, but it seemed that there was no room for them in high-budget 3D RPG games, judging by the direction taken by such series as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout or even The Witcher. In Cyberpunk you may choose your character past, which has an impact on the game's starting point (did anyone in the room just shout Dragon Age: Origins?). The dialogue options and set of abilities are dependent on this decision (your past). The result of such prologue turns out to be astonishingly similar to the isometric classics of the genre, such as Baldur's Gate or Pillars of Eternity.
Cyberpunk is distinguished from the classic by its perspective, which makes it one of the most immersive phenomena I have ever seen in the RPG genre. I mean, first of all, the presentation of dialogues. There is still no distinction between cut-scenes and actual gameplay as in most games – both are smoothly combined together. The 2018 demo already looked more than tasty in this respect, and the new gameplay confirms that CD Projekt RED intends to present dialogues in this way in the final version of the game.
When you will be watching this gameplay with your own eyes, pay attention to the fragment when Placide, boss of the Voodoo Boys' gang, asks V to sit at the table in order to explain all quest objectives. Just a typical, calm "briefing" – then suddenly Placide grabs hero's hand and we only have two or three seconds to react before the gangster.... However, you will see what happens. Anyway, it is a similar degree of game and cut-scene integration as in Red Dead Redemption 2 – and it is possible that thanks to the FPP view it will look even more impressive than in Rockstar game. I only hope that such suspenseful sequences are not reserved for a few major story missions.
More FPS than Deus Ex?
Also, I would like to comment on the reports coming from some areas of the Internet that the gunplay in Cyberpunk is weak. I do not agree with such opinions. Destruction of the environment like in Max Payne 3, splitting enemies like in Soldier of Fortune, mobility of the hero just as good as in Titanfall 2, weapon recoil and guns upgrades like in any other decent shooter – I don't see any reason to complain more. It's the opposite of that. Yes, I have a few complaints myself, mainly about the artificial intelligence (the opponents lack mobility and self-preservation instinct) and the fact that the character moves on the battlefield quite slowly, when he or she does not sprint – but still, the shooting mechanics turn out to be pretty solid.
Alternatively, I could still express my doubts about hand-to-hand combat and the use of melee weapons. The first ones look pretty shabby so far, and in the case of the second category I have still not seen enough to assess the potential of the melee combat system. I know that there are at least two types of attacks (fast and strong?), but will there be any other combat techniques? Will melee duels turn out to be at least half as refined as in Dying Light – that's still unknown. On the other hand, the diversity of available weapons looks promising. Iconic Mantis Blades, nano-bat and a heavy hammer have already been shown in action, so you can expect CD Projekt RED to take melee battles seriously.
Well, is it breathtaking or not?
As you can see, Cyberpunk 2077 still hides many secrets. Main design concepts of the open world, attractions waiting to be explored, side quests – we know almost nothing about these and many other things. Perhaps it would be different if I had a chance to ask some questions to developers right after the game show, but unfortunately, this did not happen. That's why I keep wandering around the "Red" train station and keep glancing towards the ticket offices – but I'm struggling with myself and I'm not ready to buy a Cyber-hype-train ticket yet.
Oh, it will be a great game – I'm sure about it. On top of that, CD Projekt RED basically fulfills my dreams by combining a classic shooter with no less classic RPG into a combination of mature and intelligent masterpiece. However, I have a little aversion to buying cats in the sack – and CP2077 is still a bit of a cat, hopefully some cute one though. So I'm just going to sit back at the station and quietly wait for things to evolve. I would advise you the same... but I understand you perfectly, if you have already decided to jump on board of the hype-express and pre-ordered the digital edition.
The cost of the trip to the Warsaw Cyberpunk 2077 game show have been financed by our own funds.
Last update: 2019-07-11
Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com