CD Projekt RED have cemented their pledge to fix Cyberpunk 2077. Right now, with its 2.0 update and Phantom Liberty expansion in the hands of players, Cyberpunk 2077 is finally the game it was always supposed to be. A dense action RPG set within a vibrant dystopian future, a high-stakes setting of violence, espionage, and sci-fi body augmentation; getting to this stage has taken an immense, prolonged effort from the team left behind to pick up the pieces following 2020’s disastrous launch and it’s fair to say they’ve nailed it; Night City is now open for business.
You’re probably aware Cyberpunk 2077 shipped in an unplayable state. But it’s not just the game that has changed for the better. As a corporation CD Projekt RED appear to have learned from their downfalls too. Perhaps of their own making, never had the concept of overpromising and underdelivering been so evident. Remember, CD Projekt RED had spent years cultivating hype, utilising astronomical marketing budgets as a vehicle to landing 8 million pre-orders. Promising evolutionary gameplay, extensive customisation, and an experience – they said – that would outclass all other video games, hype reached fever pitch at a developer conference in 2019 when, from the spectacle of a smoking stage, Keanu Reeves emerged to introduce his character, Johnny Silverhand. His words, delivered without a hint of trepidation: “the feeling of being there, of walking the streets of the future, is really going to be breath-taking” ring incredibly hollow now. Unless Mr. Reeves possesses a crystal ball, foretelling a future whereby yes, the streets of Night City would indeed become breath-taking, Keanu was simply feeding into the hype.
The developers knew the game wouldn’t be ready, and the boardroom knew it, but Keanu Reeves – hopefully – was duped like the rest of us.
A community led marketing strategy propelled CD Projekt RED beyond the goodwill established following The Witcher 3’s success. Expectant fans felt a familial attachment to the Polish developer, like every marketing message, every social media post, every screenshot and nugget of information was whispered to them by a friend.
The issues at launch were meme-worthy to begin with: strange T-posing NPC’s riding motorbikes with their trousers down or cars inexplicably catapulting into the air like a pea fired from an elastic band. The humour behind these bugs and glitches masked a growing sense of treachery amongst the community, feelings that CD Projekt RED had betrayed the very community they’d been nurturing as family. The absence of expected systems: a responsive police force and deep character customisation, for example, masked even further the problems many had in completing missions before the game broke. If you were playing on a past-generation console like the PS4 and Xbox One, you could forget it. Night City was an inaccessible mess for you. Current generation consoles fared better, but CD Projekt RED knew that the PC version was Cyberpunk 2077 at its most operational hence why PC codes were the only ones sent out for review. In retrospect, yeah… maybe CDPR were a little bit devious in obtaining those 8 million pre-orders.
Class action lawsuits followed citing misrepresentation for financial gain. The players, well, they understandably demanded refunds. Microsoft and Sony both took matters into their own hands, offering money back to any Cyberpunk 2077 player who asked for one, with Sony going one further and de-listing the game from their digital storefront.
CDPR’s stock price plummeted, and the poor developers behind the scenes were forced to freeze their social media accounts or else endure endless death threats. This point is especially tragic if, amongst all the ensuing finger pointing, we bear in mind it was the developers who reportedly shared with management their concerns on the playable state of Cyberpunk 2077 long before the game started suffering a string of delays.
CD Projekt RED always had a culture of ambition, and determination outstripping capability. Even 2015’s The Witcher 3 was almost released as a buggy mess, the ‘test and release’ culture within the organisation a symptom of a dog-headed determination to utilise in-house technology to craft games rather than harness the advantages of more well-established, better suited middleware.
For sure, The Witcher 3 was patched up, but the mistakes CDPR made on the release of it couldn’t be brushed under the carpet with Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a much bigger project than The Witcher 3, denser in scope, more complex in narrative, with a world so vast and detailed that too much focus was placed on making the game look good rather than ensuring the team had the technological prowess to pull it off.
There’s an exceptional documentary recently released by Ard Media which lifts the lid of the development cycle during this time. A select few from Cyberpunk 2077’s core development team are on record stating they needed more time, that they hadn’t polished the technology as much as they needed, and that they could not figure out internally what the game was supposed to be.
Now, all the disparate elements of a lengthy production cycle only aligning towards the end of the road is nothing unusual – just see Todd Howard of Bethesda’s recent remarks on Starfield only making sense as a grand entity in the final few weeks of production – but for the developers within CD Projekt RED’s ranks to be so candid post-Cyberpunk’s release speaks volumes. This is a talented group of individuals who – no matter how low their morale – brought Night City back from the brink together.
Take Lore Designer Patrick Mills, who’s calm, visionary approach evident in the documentary draws parallels between Night City’s newest district Dogtown and the fallacies of the dream, perhaps laying a tangible foundation for the dangers lurking within the previously closed off area. Or, most notably, Quest Director Pawel Sasko who through anger at the state of CDPR’s public relations went live on his own Twitch channel to answer questions for the community. Through honest engagement and accountability, Sasko re-established the essence of community that had been lost in the fallout.
As the wealth of patches rolled out, Sasko remarks that the hostility which once greeted him every time he streamed became increasingly subdued. Improvements were coming, and players began to recognise the efforts the team were putting in. Faith was slowly returning.
And that faith has certainly been rewarded, for update 2.0 and the Phantom Liberty DLC are masterstrokes. A completion of CD Projekt RED’s redemptive arc. It’s interesting that in Ard Media’s documentary Lore Designer Patrick Mills states that shipping a game usually feels like the end of something, like a completion. In this case though, he says it’s more akin to a new beginning.
Play through Cyberpunk 2077 today and you’ll be inclined to agree. Quest Director Pawel Sasko’s advice to start a new save file isn’t another hype generator. There is so much new stuff to absorb in the 2.0 update that it’s a full-blown necessity to start again, to see the splendour of Night City as the development team always intended, to begin anew. And Phantom Liberty… well, this spy-thrilling expansion is the icing on the cake. It’s variety of quests, fresh storylines, and engaging characters might go down as one of the biggest success stories in gaming, when all hope seemed lost in the not-too-distant past. As the saying goes, ‘the night is darkest just before the dawn’, and never has this been truer than the transformation of Night City.
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