Review : Cyberpunk 2077 : Neon Playground

For complete transparency, this is now our final review of Cyberpunk 2077. As noted previously, this has only been completed after very extensive playtime, and with focusing on the game as it’s presented in its best state. We recognize the poor optimization and bugs on some platforms, and we will continue to discuss those through other SG publications such as our Bitcast. But this review will solely focus on the game itself.

Game Foundation and Setting

If you’ve followed any of the pre-launch press, then you know you assume the role of “V” and that upon starting your playthrough, you will be presented with a character creation suite of tools. While not the most extensive creator we’ve seen, it provides you with ample opportunity to create the protagonist of your choosing. From there, you’ll choose from one of three life paths (Nomad, Street Kid, or Corpo) which will determine your starting map location and your initial status in Night City. I’ve played through all three beginnings and I was surprised at the depth that’s presented in their openings. It’s not a simple location and conversation, but rather a full mission that can take up to an hour or two depending on your playstyle. Your life path will also stay with you through the entire game as you will be offered unique conversational choices throughout.

All three paths lead to one of the stars of Cyberpunk 2077, Night City. It’s a significant challenge for developers to create an open-world environment that truly feels as if it could exist in real-life. While open-world games are common in the industry today, few truly give players the capability to immerse themselves into the environment and the lives of the characters. Rockstar have generally held that mantle high over the past several years with Grand Theft Auto 5 and arguably the greatest game world ever developed in Red Dead Redemption 2. CD Projekt Red also gained notoriety for the brilliance displayed with The Witcher 3’s world and characters. While Cyberpunk doesn’t necessarily move the bar forward yet again, it absolutely stands alongside the aforementioned classics.

Night City is mesmerizing. It’s a sprawling, glowing, futurescape that at times feels as though it was pulled directly from classic sci-fi movies like Blade Runner and Robocop. This is for good reason as if you were unaware, Cyberpunk 2077 is based on the tabletop game that was introduced in 1988 when dystopian, futuristic sci-fi was all the rage. Mega-corporations sit high above general society while their towers darken the landscape for miles. Below, vivid colors glimmer across the trash-filled streets, where the majority of society has been relegated to fighting for the table scraps left behind by an unrestrained capitalistic system. And as you would imagine, crime runs rampant.

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Night City is broken into regions where specific gangs rule, and you will be introduced to the “Fixer” within each of them who will provide you with Side Jobs and Gigs. These side missions are story-driven, and can range from a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on how you approach them. In this vein, CD Projekt Red does an excellent job of tackling multiple game design aspects at once. It gives players plenty of “side content” to consume, however as its story-driven and you’re completing it for different fixers, in different regions, and against different gangs, it continues to feel fresh. And of course you’re continually earning Street Cred and experience towards whatever your focus is.

Perhaps most enjoyable however, is that the world and mission design results in a truly addicting gameplay loop. Countless times I’ve woken up tired over the past few weeks because I said to myself “I’ll just finish this one thing” repeatedly late into the night. With so many major, open-world games having a wealth of side content that feels equivalent to doing chores at times, it’s truly refreshing to play a game that makes it enjoyable. Not only is the core gameplay fun, but everything you do aids your character progression in one way or another as well.

Design and Gameplay Systems

Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 is how many gameplay systems overlap. CDPR made sure that players knew this was an RPG at heart, not merely an open-world action game. And they certainly weren’t kidding. On top of the excellent story and writing, which I will come back to, there is crafting and modding, randomized loot with rarity roll threshholds, a core attribute leveling system with an extensive perk tree layered on top, and full-body cybernetic enhancements. The capability to build your V to fit your playstyle is immense.

Further accompanying that concept is skill experience gain that is separated from player level. While you will gain experience and level your character via attributes like many other games, you will also earn experience in the twelve individual skills based on your playstyle. This adds some very welcome nuance to how you approach situations and is also an avenue of focus for those who love to min/max. There are dedicated skill trees for individual weapon types, stealth, hacking, crafting, and more, and they provide you with a wide array of choices in how you optimize your build. What’s truly enjoyable is that nearly any avenue you choose is viable, even when playing on Very Hard difficulty. For what it’s worth, I highly recommend the Tech tree for nearly any build as it comes in handy for many situations, and crafting is priceless in the late game.

One note to be aware of – perks can be reset later in the game via a pricey consumable. But attribute points are permanent. So be sure to map out your build ahead of time!

In my core playthrough, I’ve tended to lean towards stealth while using pistols for critical hits when stealth fails. However, if you prefer to be a strongman that runs in with melee weapons, you have that option. Prefer to never enter combat and instead hack everything in sight thus using the world around you? Go for it. In Cyberpunk 2077 each of these options is viable and fun in its own right. Decades ago many of us were fascinated by Deus Ex and dreamed about what games could be like in the future with similar gameplay elements. It feels like we’ve reached the modern culmination of those dreams with Cyberpunk 2077.

Combat was an area of concern for me going-in. After sitting through the closed doors demo at E3 2019, many of us felt the shooting and first-person combat looked rough and needed a lot of work. Fortunately, those concerns evaporated rather quickly once I had the controller in my hand. Gun mechanics, while not a top-tier FPS, are very solid, and firing the wealth of weapons can be strangely satisfying. There is a wide range of weaponry at your disposal including basic shotguns and assault rifles, to snipers that can fire through walls, and smart weapons that will aim for you. Cover is handled well and your character will automatically lean over or around cover when firing (you can even make that part of your build with specific perks). Melee combat can be chaotic but hilarious – with blood and limbs flying everywhere amidst the chaos. Meanwhile, the hacking is fluid and able to be utilized quickly and efficiently once you have a handle on the controls. Again, as you can approach situations in countless ways with many different playstyles, it was imperative that the controls felt intuitive. Fortunately, CD Projekt Red did just that.

One additional note : open-world titles like Cyberpunk 2077 typically struggle with level-scaling. Either you run through the main story and it’s too much of a challenge as you aren’t strong enough yet, or like me, you consume all the side content, which then makes the main missions far too easy. In this vein, CD Projekt Red has employed a nuanced level-scaling for enemies and missions. While it’s still possible to eventually become overpowered if spend a large amount of time on side content, the game does a better job than most at matching content to the player.

Your playstyle and build is further enhanced by Cyberware. Yet again, there’s a wealth of options for players here. At the core is your operating system which contains your hacking skills and capabilities. Hacking can be the primary way you approach combat and infiltration should you so choose, and it can be brilliant fun. You can hack cameras, turrets, mines, and drones to aid you. You can set enemies ablaze, completely shut-down their operating systems, place them in a state of psychosis which forces them to attack each other, and more. There’s a load to play with here and is just another area where Cyberpunk 2077 provides the player freedom of choice.

But Cyberware also encompasses physical enhancements like armor, health, and attack speed along with many stat-based and situational bonuses. The infamous Mantis Blades from the original trailer can be equipped here, as can arm-loaded missile launchers, cybernetic legs allowing you to jump higher, or full on “special” modes such as going “Berserk” which allows you to jump high into the air, and then land with the impact of a superhero, thus damaging everything around you. Yes, you read that correctly.

I could spend the next few pages writing about all the ways you can outfit your character including weapon and cyberware combinations, supplemental skills and perks, and how to mod them all. But one of the most fun aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 is experimentation and discovering your preferred playstyle. In many open-world RPGs, gameplay systems can feel as though they are tacked on and relatively useless, thus forcing you down a narrow path of optimization. But in Cyberpunk 2077, each skillset, from crafting to hacking, has notable capabilities that are worth exploring. And thankfully you can do so with the comfort of knowing that many different playstyles are viable.

Soundtrack and Audio Design

Another star of the show here is Cyberpunk 2077’s incredible soundtrack. The game features the now familiar capability to pick a radio station while driving, but few games, if any, are as extensive. And not since GTA Vice City have I enjoyed one as much. There are ten radio stations to choose from while driving, in addition to another that plays in clubs, and many more tracks that play in ambient situations. In total, there are 157 tracks in Cyberpunk 2077 with some being written by well known artists such as Grimes and Run the Jewels. And that’s not all. In the case of Grimes, she actually voices a character in the game who you will see advertised around Night City, sings her own music, and has a few missions you can work with her on.

Not only is the soundtrack incredible, but the audio design team deserves to take a bow as well. I’m a huge fan of audio design in games and I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve heard from Cyberpunk 2077. Directional audio is excellent and amidst the chaos of combat, you’ll be able to hear the bullets whizzing by you, environmental sounds in all directions, and even specific aspects like a tech sniper shot grazing by you. Each weapon type, and even specific unique weapons, sound distinct, with heavy weapons like double barrel shotguns or LMGs truly shaking the room. Meanwhile heavy tech weapons like snipers or precision rifles can often sound as though you just fired a railgun. I enjoy the audio design so much, that I’ve developed a habit of turning my home theater up higher than usual every time I turn the game on to play.

Storytelling and Character Development

If I sound as though I’ve been complimentary so far, well you would be correct. But I haven’t even gotten to what I consider the best aspect of Cyberpunk 2077 yet. That is, the story and characters with whom you develop relationships with along the way. Night City is filled with memorable characters and during your journey from lonely mercenary to Night City legend, you’ll develop relationships with several of them. The core characters are extremely well developed and it’s very easy to become attached to them as you would characters in a novel or movie.

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In particular, you have the option of romancing four different characters and each of them has their own string of missions that are simply fantastic. As with the rest of the game, variety in these missions is vast and ranges all the way from heartfelt to horrifying. Mark my words, it won’t be long before “Sinnerman” is remembered among the gaming community in a similar fashion to “The Bloody Baron” from The Witcher 3. It’s that unforgettable.

Mission variety is further aided by player choice and branching paths. As you would imagine, some choices you make during your journey are small and result in merely a different conversation. However, some are extensive. In looking through the guide, the choices you make can impact who you interact with, mission goals, follow-up missions, world activities, and more. There are many missions that players will never experience on their first playthrough as they are fully choice dependent. To give you an example, one of the initial missions you play during the prologue has three core ways you can begin it. That leads to one of four possible outcomes which result in up to five core changes to future interactions, including one extra mission (which I didn’t see in my first playthrough). What I enjoy the most however, is that the results will often be represented in the world around you. Characters will reference decisions you make and the outcomes, events will be reported on the news which you can overhear, and you can even find characters and items afterwards throughout Night City. The attention to detail put forth by CD Projekt Red in this regard is incredible. As Cyberpunk 2077 is character-driven and offers an intriguing narrative, the fact that it provides the player this level of freedom in parallel is to be applauded.

All of the fixers and notable NPCs maintain communication with you throughout the game via what equates to your mobile phone. While at times it can be almost overwhelming given the amount there is to do, I really enjoyed the feeling of having an on-going connection with the characters. You’ll be given missions, information, and briefings through this channel and even just have chats with some of the main characters (including your romances). It’s not new or revolutionary by any stretch, but its implemented well and adds to the depth of the characters.

Capping it off is Johnny Silverhand, the brash Night City icon played by Keanu Reeves, who was well known even prior to launch. CD Projekt Red told fans early on that Keanu had a very significant role in the game and wasn’t merely a “sidekick”, but rather, crucial to the main story and character. Once you complete the game it will all become clear. The character arc of Johnny is one of my favorite in recent times and by the end, I truly felt attached to him.

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 however, is Johnny’s role in the game even outside of his story arc. Due to the way he’s implemented it allows him to be “with you” at all times and thus, being the brash and vocal character he is, he makes sure to comment on many things you do. His appearance during side missions, at key decision points, and even at comical times, is truly a unique experience which I enjoy thoroughly.

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Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t the first game to introduce systems such as randomized loot, crafting, melee and ranged combat, meaningful mission decision points, etc. But what is truly impressive about Cyberpunk 2077 is how it does all of those things in unison. After nearly 150 hours, I look back on my journeys and continue to be amazed at what’s been put forth by CD Projekt Red. It’s not perfect, and as I noted at the start, it continues to have bugs and has been troublesome to play for many. But underneath those issues, and often in-spite of them, it is a true masterpiece of a game.

The final question for me as the reviewer for this outlet then, is whether I believe Cyberpunk 2077 is “Historic”. Our criteria specifically calls for 10s to be “Awarded only to titles that represent a truly generational level achievement by the developer. These titles have a significant and notable impact on future game development and/or the industry as a whole.” I firmly believe that with continued updates, optimization, and eventual expansions, that Cyberpunk 2077 will hold that mantle just like The Witcher 3 before it. At this point in time however, it’s not quite there. But that doesn’t stop it from still being my favorite game of 2020 by a long shot.

If you’d like to understand our criteria for scoring and discussing games, please read our review policy.

If you’re just starting out in Night City, I wrote a small guide with some tips for new citizens of Night City that may help you!

By Ains

Founder and Editor-In-Chief: Seasoned Gaming. Avid gamer and collector. Plays a lot of Halo and Diablo. Find me on Twitter @Porshapwr.


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