Examining the deeply troubled launch of CDPR’s newest open world RPG.
Until not that long ago, CD Projekt RED were on top of the world. They had a massive legion of fans that pledged blind faith and loyalty, fans who believed that that they were a developer who could do no wrong, and a rare example of a company that put the wants of their players ahead of their own corporate needs. That reputation was, to be fair, well-earned, considering the incredible success of The Witcher 3– but their reputation has taken a massive hit over the last week, ending 2020 on a fittingly sour note.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Cyberpunk 2077 has been, for years on end, one of the most highly anticipated and hyped video game releases in recent memory, and it’s also fair to say that that hype was cultivated largely by CD Projekt RED themselves. What they promised was a game that would be unlike anything we had ever played before, a game that could put even the greatest, most immersive open world RPGs to shame, a game that would build on the greatest strengths of the studio’s previous works and take them to new heights. What we got fell severely short of those expectations.
The messy launch of Cyberpunk 2077 has several layers of issues. The first and most blatantly obvious one is the poor technical state the game has launched in. Though Cyberpunk 2077’s PC release isn’t crippled by any such problems (or at least not the biggest ones), the the game has launched in shockingly poor condition on the PS4 and Xbox One. Significant frame rate drops, textures that take ages to load in, shockingly bad audio and visual glitches, broken and immersion-breaking artificial intelligence and physics, long load times, constant crashes- Cyberpunk 2077 launched with a laundry list of technical issues, many of which have persisted even with post-launch patchwork.
Many have said that Cyberpunk 2077’s technical deficiencies on the PS4 and Xbox One should not come as a surprise, seeing as it’s an extremely ambitious game running on seven year old hardware. But you know? CD Projekt RED have been developing the game for this exact hardware for years now, and they were obviously aware that they were falling way short the acceptable level of quality assurance on not only base PS4 and Xbox One consoles, but even PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Hell, even on the PS5, the game faces several technical issues, with constant crashes being its most egregious error.
If CDPR have known through all the years of this game’s development that current-gen hardware would not be able to run the game satisfactorily, why did they remain completely silent about it? Why did they write checks they clearly couldn’t cash? CD Projekt RED says that they felt no external or internal pressure to not delay the game once again- so why didn’t they, when clearly they needed to? They say they underestimated the complexity of getting the game running on current-gen systems? But how could they possibly have continued to make that mistake continuously over the course of the game’s multi-year development cycle? To say nothing of the completely fallacious nature of the notion that the base PS4 and Xbox One cannot run an ambitious, technically impressive open world game. Red Dead Redemption 2 came out on both consoles in 2018, and is perhaps the single most technically impressive open world game made to date, and it ran on that aged hardware like an absolute dream.
And that brings us to the second layer of Cyberpunk 2077’s problematic launch- the one that has been the most shocking to witness. And that is the blatantly deceptive and intentionally misleading pre-launch marketing push for this game that CD Projekt RED formulated. Again, CD Projekt RED knew how terrible of a state Cyberpunk 2077 was launching on the PS4 and Xbox One in, and in spite of being fully aware of that fact, not once did they show the game running on base consoles prior to its launch.
While they were raking in the money from millions and millions of pre-orders of the game from PS4 and Xbox One owners, they were intentionally hiding what condition the game was in. Barely days before the game came out, we saw it running on the Xbox One X and Xbox Series X, followed shortly afterward by footage on the PS4 Pro and PS5, and in retrospect, it’s easy to tell that even that footage was very carefully touched up to make it look a lot better than the final product does (though it’s worth noting that at least on the Xbox Series X, the game comes close to being in an acceptable condition).
On top of that, we have a shockingly audacious attempt by the developer to ensure that pre-launch reviews for the game were not affected by very real issues. CDPR have gone on record as stating that releasing a game with a Metacritic score of 90 or higher was very important to them (until very recently, their internal bonus payouts were, in fact, dependent on the game getting a Metacritic score in that range). And in the lead-up to the game’s launch, they did everything they could to ensure that it did hit that Metacritic score.
The chosen few outlets that did get a review build of the game in time for a pre-launch review were only given PC codes. On top of that, CDPR also stipulated that these outlets could not use their own recorded footage in their reviews, and would instead have to show b-roll.
Given the fact that even the PC version of the game was riddled with numerous bugs and technical issues prior to the day one patch in the build that these reviewers played, the reasons for those stipulations are painfully clear. No matter what way you cut it, CDPR’s actions cannot be described as anything but intentionally deceptive- which is something that review aggregating site OpenCritic has also made a note of as well in an unprecedented but frankly necessary move.
And then we come to the third layer of Cyberpunk 2077’s problematic launch, one in which we look back on the game that was promised to us, and how different it is from the one that we got. Even outside of the technical issues – which will, according to CDPR, hopefully be fixed sooner rather than later – Cyberpunk 2077 fails to live up to many promises made by its developer in the years leading up to its launch.
Lifepaths was a system was a focal point of the game’s pre-release hype, but having played the game now, it’s clear to see that its execution is disappointing. Each Lifepath has a unique 30-40 minute-long prologue, but after that, the rest of the game goes exactly the way it would regardless of whatever initial choice you made. You do get some one-off missions unique to each Lifepath, but none of them stand out. You get the occasional exclusive dialogue choices here and there depending on V’s backstory, but they are, for the most part, entirely cosmetic, with little to no meaningful impact on the story or how it progresses. CD Projekt RED also very explicitly promised that Lifepaths would lead to non-linear quests and plenty of divergent progression, but none of that is in the game.
Something else we were promised was an immersive Wanted system, in which the law enforcement authorities of Night City would pursue players who committed crimes with dogged persistence in high-octane chases. Well, those chases are nowhere to be found, and the broken Wanted system of Cyberpunk 2077 may as well not even exist. CD Projekt RED also promised complex AI and daily routines for thousands of NPCs in Night City– none of those promises came to fruition either.
The gameplay that was shown off for hacking in the game’s 48 minute demo from 2018 was vastly more complex and interesting than the simplified minigame in the final product. Character creation and customization were promised to be significantly deeper than what they’re actually like in the game itself. The immersive open world environment that was hyped to hell and back actually suffers from a shocking lack of interactivity and depth.
CD Projekt RED have promised that they’re going to fix the game as much as they possibly can on base consoles, and once that happens, we will, at the very least, be left with a decent game- if one that falls short of all the promises that its developer continuously made for two years. But in spite of that, the developer needs to be called out for its practices. CD Projekt RED earned a strong reputation after The Witcher 3 and became the darling of the industry at large, but with Cyberpunk 2077, they seem to have forgotten how they got that reputation. With Cyberpunk 2077, they have been the opposite of honest and forthcoming. With Cyberpunk 2077, they have lost the trust of the masses.
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