Cyberpunk 2077 promises the world, but delivers a flawed yet enjoyable RPG.
NOTE: Given the major differences in the PC and console builds of Cyberpunk 2077 and the experiences they offer, we thought it would be best to go live with two reviews, one for each version. Each of our reviews is separate, written by different authors, and with a different perspective on the game, so opinions on some things may vary. Click here to read our PC review.
How does a game live up to the kind of impossible hype and expectations that Cyberpunk 2077 has generated over the years? The answer to that question is very simple. It doesn’t. For some time now, many have been looking forward to seeing how Cyberpunk 2077 would change the industry, how it would represent the future of video games, how it would do what no game had ever done before- and sure enough, a lot of those expectations were fostered very directly by CD Projekt RED themselves. It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that Cyberpunk 2077 falls short of those expectations. Only in the rarest of the rare cases would a game be able to live up to that sort of hype. Cyberpunk 2077 is not one of those rare cases- but it’s still a fun game, flaws and all.
One of the primary reasons there has been so much hype for Cyberpunk 2077 is, of course, just how good 2015’s The Witcher 3 was, and how CD Projekt RED cemented themselves as masters of choice-based storytelling. This is a studio that has a knack for world-building, for weaving player choice into their stories in very organic and unexpected ways, and they display those talents constantly in their newest RPG as well.
"It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that Cyberpunk 2077 falls short of expectations. Only in the rarest of the rare cases would a game be able to live up to this kind of hype. Cyberpunk 2077 is not one of those rare cases- but it’s still a fun game, flaws and all."
Cyberpunk 2077 crafts a complex web of choices and consequences. It regularly asks you to make tough decisions on both, small and large scales, and those decisions can come back to change the course of the story – again, in small and big ways – at unexpected moments. As such, navigating the beautiful yet dangerous Night City is always an exciting endeavour, because you never truly know what dilemma you might run into next, and how the way you react to it could shape your future and the future of those around you in the stories still to come. The game’s strictly first person perspective also works out very well, adding a sense of dynamism to conversations and dialogue choices that contributes significantly to the game’s storytelling strengths.
As far as choice and consequence mechanics are concerned, then, Cyberpunk 2077 is as good as you’d expect. It does, however, falter to varying degrees in other areas where, by all accounts – given the pedigree of the studio responsible for it – it shouldn’t have. For starters, side content in general can be quite inconsistent. The Witcher 3 was a game that was built on the strengths of its optional content, and it had no shortage of excellent side missions and questlines that could stand toe-to-toe with its main story. Some, in fact, were even better.
Cyberpunk 2077 definitely has a few such cases, and the quality of side quests is generally still better than what you’d find in most open world games, but those gems are far less prominent and fewer and further in between than they were in The Witcher 3. The design of the side quests can be wildly inconsistent, and even some of the main side questlines tend to resort to generic tropes. Find these twenty collectibles scattered throughout the map, win these races or fistfights throughout the city, kill X number of targets as you chance across them in the open world- that sort of stuff. Meanwhile, there are other side quests that end up feeling too short, and often don’t have much of an impact on the main story either, which, in turn, means that they end up feeling sort of meaningless. Again, not all side quests are like that, and there are a few that I’ve played that genuinely remind of the high standards CD Projekt RED claims to have for optional content- they’re just harder to come by here.
Main quests fare much better, especially in terms of design, and consistently deliver memorable content that manages to tell captivating stories and is consistently fun to play as well. The story told across Cyberpunk 2077’s main arc is also one that keeps you constantly engaged. Fans of CD Projekt RED’s earlier works might be disappointed to learn that neither the story nor the characters populating it are as memorable as they were in The Witcher 3. However, taken on its own merits, Cyberpunk 2077 still manages to tell a good story with at least some characters that are well-written and easy to root for- though V, the protagonist, is sadly not one of them, and ends up coming across as a rather dry and uninteresting lead. Then there is Johnny Silverhand. Keanu Reeves turns in a very Keanu Reeves performance, which you will either love or hate. I tend to like Keanu Reeves’ wooden performances, so I liked his portrayal of Johnny.
"As far as choice and consequence mechanics are concerned, then, Cyberpunk 2077 is as good as you’d expect. It does, however, falter to varying degrees in other areas where, by all accounts – given the pedigree of the studio responsible for it – it shouldn’t have."
Cyberpunk 2077 is a far more resounding success in terms of its mechanics and gameplay. Combat is a real highlight- melee combat, not so much, but the gunplay is excellent. Issues with bullet sponge enemies notwithstanding, every gun feels great to shoot, thanks to punchy feedback and solid audio design, while there’s also a large variety of guns to choose from. Stealth is also always a reliable option, and combining it with your arsenal of hacking skills can be really empowering. In fact, presenting players with choices that make all-out combat, stealth, hacking, or any sort of combination of the three equally viable and enjoyable alternatives is perhaps one of Cyberpunk 2077’s biggest strengths.
The level design itself doesn’t encourage all three of these options like in, say, something like Deus Ex, but Cyberpunk’s layered and intricate progression mechanics always ensure that you have a solid amount of options at your disposal in gameplay, and not just story. Progression in Cyberpunk 2077 has multiple layers, beginning with five main attributes that govern your core stats, moving down to multiple individual skill trees where you can unlock perks across those attributes, then extending out into customizing your own body with enhancements that can give you passive bonuses (such as regenerating health) or active ones (such as being able to double jump, or having blades embedded into your arms). Whether it’s through upgrading your body with cyberware at ripperdocs, investing points in one of your five main attributes, or unlocking unique perks that might give you an edge in specific ways, Cyberpunk 2077 ensures that you always feel in control of how your V is progressing, and what sort of cyber soldier they’re turning into.
The one aspect of progression and character growth that has room for improvement – and a lot of it – is the loot. Cyberpunk almost feels like a looter shooter thanks to just how many weapons and gear it constantly bombards you with. You’re constantly getting new weapons and armour and mods to deck yourself out with, and the unique perks and advantages they offer ultimately feel too granular, with a few exceptions. DPS seems to be the only stat that makes any kind of a visible difference, and that means that the only reason you want new loot is to make the numbers go up.
Loot, as such, feels meaningless, and ends up feeling like busywork rather than a meaningful part of the otherwise complex progression systems. This adversely impacts the crafting system too. On paper, there’s a deep crafting system to dive into in Cyberpunk 2077 – there’s a whole skill tree dedicated to it, in fact – but given how disposable any and all new loot feels, and how frequently the game keeps handing you better stuff to equip anyway, it just never makes much sense to invest any time or attribute and perk points into crafting. As such, crafting and looting make a great first impression that suggests they have a lot of depth and intricacy- but both ultimately come across as useless appendages.
"Whether it’s through upgrading your body with cyberware at ripperdocs, investing points in one of your five main attributes, or unlocking unique perks that might give you an edge in specific ways, Cyberpunk 2077 ensures that you always feel in control of how your V is progressing, and what sort of cyber soldier they’re turning into."
This issue is endemic to Cyberpunk 2077 as an open world game as well. Night City, at first glance and on the surface, is a gorgeous, vibrant setting, with a promise and certainly the potential of absolute immersion and systemic depth. This does not, however, hold up to scrutiny. Night City is not a systemic environment, with CD Projekt RED instead opting to make a much more scripted experience. Of course, not every game needs to be systemic- but if you have an open word with as much potential for emergent storytelling and gameplay as Night City seems to have at first glance, and if that world ends up acting as mere set dressing with very little actual mechanical depth to it, you can’t help but be disappointed in all the wasted potential.
Just as an example, the driving mechanics here are so good. There’s a variety of vehicles on offer, each meaningfully different from the others, and each enjoyable to drive- but Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t build a structure on top of that foundation. The police and law enforcement in Night City are so incompetent that the game might as well not even have a Wanted system (it effectively doesn’t, honestly), and even the traffic doesn’t ever react to you in even the most fundamental ways. Another perfect example is the crowds, of which there are many in quite a few areas of Night City, milling about to make environments look packed and busy, but shallow on the inside and offering little to no interactivity. Night City’s beauty is skin deep. It’s a flashy, dazzling environment, but it’s vapid, with a lot to show, but little to say.
Another area where Cyberpunk 2077 deserves unreserved criticism is its technical issues, of which there are so many and many of which are so flagrant – even after several sizeable patches – that I’m shocked CD Projekt RED didn’t choose to delay this game even longer than they already did. I played the game on a PS5, so my experience has been much smoother than what base PS4 and Xbox One players are experiencing, but even so I would recommend holding off on playing this game for a few months. There are countless audio and visual bugs, such as assets and characters floating in the air or audio bugging out and specific things (like cars) going suddenly silent. Textures can take a handful of seconds to load, there’s frequent pop-in, and things in the distance tend to look extremely blurry and lacking in detail.
And then there are the technical issues which are far more disruptive, and as such, far harder to ignore. I encountered multiple bugs that blocked progress in quests, forcing me to reboot an older save each time. And worst of all, the crashes- boy, does Cyberpunk 2077 crash a lot. I wish I was exaggerating with what I’m about to say, because that’s certainly what it’s going to sound like- but at best, the game crashes once every two hours, and at worst, it crashes twice every hour. I suppose it says something about its strengths in other areas that I was willing to stick with it in spite of those crashes- but then again, maybe I would not have done that if I weren’t reviewing it. I’ve honestly never played a game that crashes as much and as frequently, and I’ve played more than my fair share of buggy games over the years.
"Night City’s beauty is skin deep. It’s a flashy, dazzling environment, but it’s vapid, with a lot to show, but little to say."
The sad thing about Cyberpunk 2077 is that you can see that there’s the kernel for a legitimately great game here – not an industry changing one like CD Projekt RED had promised, but a great one nonetheless. Those occasional glimpses and flashes of brilliance the game often exhibits is what makes its consistent refusal to follow through and live up to its own promise so much more frustrating than it would otherwise be. It would honestly have been a whole lot easier for everyone involved had Cyberpunk just been an outright bad or even middling game, because then we would just be able to write it off and move on.
But instead, we have a game that seems to veer between coming dangerously close to greatness, and making you wonder how exactly a game that has been eight years in the making can still feel so rushed and unfinished. Maybe one day in the future, CD Projekt RED will put out a follow up that finally realizes the potential of this game – after all, the original Witcher was nowhere near the behemoth that The Witcher 3 ultimately became – but in the here and now, in spite of the expectation, the hype, and the promises, what we have is something that makes a lot of promises, and then ultimately fails to live up to most of them.
The PS4 version of the game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 via backwards compatibility.
A complex web of tough choices and unexpected consequences; Captivating story; A few really good side quests; Shooting, stealth, and hacking all feel great to engage with; Lots of options and build variety thanks to a deep and layered progression system.
Inconsistent side quest design; Night City is a disappointingly shallow open world environment; Excessive loot ends up making the system feel like busywork; Meaningless crafting system; A litany of technical issues, many of which are extremely disruptive.
Contrary to expectations, Cyberpunk 2077 is not going to set the world on fire. It's not the gaming revolution that was promised to us, but it's still a fun RPG- with plenty of room for improvement.