There was a solid five-year period where CD Projekt RED was at the absolute top of the world, but December 2020 came as a rude wake up call for the studio. Cyberpunk 2077’s launch was an incredibly damaging one for the developer, completely eliminating most of the goodwill it had built up with the masses in the wake of The Witcher 3 and the universal praise it rightly received. So poorly did Cyberpunk fail to deliver on its promises, in fact (and in more ways than one), that the studio was mired in one controversy after another for months after the game’s launch, from refunds being issued for many of Cyberpunk’s purchases to it being entirely delisted from the PlayStation Store due to the poor technical state it was in, to even class action lawsuits being filed against CDPR.
But the games industry loves a good comeback story, and somehow, CD Projekt RED has managed to claw its way back from what was inarguably the most tumultuous period in its history, at least as far as public perception goes. After nearly three years of steady updates and improvements, cemented by the recent one-two punch of Update 2.0 and Phantom Liberty, Cyberpunk 2077 has now definitively joined an ever-growing list of games that have managed to turn things around after a disastrous launch. For about three years, I – like many others – haven’t shied away from calling out CDPR for how horribly it botched Cyberpunk 2077’s release, but just as that criticism was fair, so, too, is it fair to give credit where credit is due- and CD Projekt RED deserves a lot of credit for its remarkable turnaround of Cyberpunk 2077.
For starters, the developer obviously deserves to be recognized for how significantly it has improved the game. Cyberpunk has seen plenty of significant patches and updates since its launch, and the vast majority of them were focused on making granular improvements and ironing out the many, crippling technical issues it launched with back in the day. To be fair, there’s still at least some work to be done on that front, because even now, the game has a few bugs and glitches here and there- but at this point, it is, by and large, a stable game that runs well, looks excellent, and doesn’t drag itself down through any major immersion-breaking errors.
Of course, upon release, Cyberpunk 2077 had just as many issues with its game design as it did on the technical side of things, though even a surprising amount of those have been addressed, with the recent Update 2.0 in particular. From the open world and the enemy AI to progression mechanics and police systems, many of the game’s underlying, core mechanics and systems have either seen radical improvements, or been completely overhauled altogether. What we’re left with is a game that is able to flex its strengths much better and much more often, now that it isn’t not being dragged down by the previously insurmountable weight of technical and game design issues. And then, of course, there’s Phantom Liberty, a truly outstanding chunk of new content that, in all honesty, is far better than anything the base game can offer up even now, even after Update 2.0. With all of that put together, it’s easy to see the massive strides that Cyberpunk 2077 has made, and just how much better it is now than it was when it first came out. It’s a stark difference, to say the very least.
As much credit as CD Projekt RED deserves for that, however, something I feel the studio deserves even more credit for is its sheer persistence. Though it’s become increasingly common to see developers sticking with games after botched releases and continuing to put out consistent updates, you almost never see that level of ongoing support for a purely single player, story-driven experience. Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t a live service game, and it’s not the sort of repeatable experience where you get a consistently engaged player base that logs in everyday en masse. For a single player, narrative-driven game such as this one, it’s rare – hell, rarer than rare – to see a developer continuing to put out consistent updates, especially ones that meaningfully improve the experience to the extent that Cyberpunk’s updates have done.
In a world where some prominent developers have failed to come back from less-than-stellar releases even after prolonged post-launch support – like Crystal Dynamics with Marvel’s Avengers, for instance – and others still have outright dropped games without having put any real effort into fixing them – like BioWare did with Anthem – it’s only fair to praise CD Projekt RED for the amount of work it has put in to ensure that it can bring Cyberpunk 2077 up to scratch. In fact, the studio could have stopped releasing updates for the game a while back and no one would have batted an eye. But rather than choosing to wash its hands clean of the game and move on as soon as it was “technically stable”, the developer instead chose to dive deeper in and make more widespread changes to the entire gameplay experience than most would have expected it would.
Of course, Cyberpunk 2077 is still not the industry-shaking revolution that we were promised it would be before its release. It’s a legitimately good game now, that much is inarguable, but it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that it’s now matched the vision that was sold to audiences in the lead-up to the game’s launch. The disappointment from that will likely persist, while it’s also worth noting that though the game is now great to play on PC and current-gen consoles, on PS4 and Xbox One, it’s always going to be a thoroughly underwhelming experience, if not an outright broken one.
When all is said and done, however, we are, at the very least, at a point where CD Projekt RED has won back a great deal of the trust that it lost immediately in the aftermath of the game’s disastrous launch. Obviously, the studio hasn’t got back to the heights it was scaling in the prolonged afterglow of The Witcher 3, but when the next CD Projekt RED game rolls around, however long that may take, we at least won’t be heading into it with the pessimism that so many of us had thought we would be until not that long ago. Obviously, given the fact that the next major game CDPR puts out is likely going to be The Witcher 4 (or whatever it ends up being called), there’s going to be no shortage of excitement and anticipation surrounding it- but it’ll be significantly less marred by warranted skepticism than it had felt it would be for quite some time after Cyberpunk first came out.
By sticking with Cyberpunk 2077 for so long and improving it as much as it has, CD Projekt RED has shown that it’s accepted and identified the things that went wrong, and more importantly, put in the work to address those issues as best it could. If the studio can take those teachings into the development of its next game – and ensure that it implements the lessons it has learned right from the get go, rather than having to go through a poor release first – there’s going to be plenty of reason to be excited for whatever lies ahead.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.