Poor performance on previous-gen platforms, unfulfilled promises and more plague CD Projekt RED’s latest blockbuster.
When Cyberpunk 2077 was announced eight years ago, many were understandably excited. CD Projekt RED released a teaser trailer in 2013 but it was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s launch in 2015 that really drove home what the developer was capable of. When the latter’s second expansion, Blood and Wine, was released in 2016, Cyberpunk 2077 went into pre-production. So while it hasn’t had eight years of development per say, there were still some very high expectations from it. And depending on who you are, those expectations were either met or severely missed with its release.
Cyberpunk 2077 finally launched on December 10th, following numerous leaks and questionable review policies that included no console review codes or allowing reviewers to use their own captured footage. Right away, several players encountered numerous bugs and issues – some quests wouldn’t start or trigger properly. AI, both for NPCs and police officers, is shoddy at best, horrendous at worst. But this isn’t a review of Cyberpunk 2077. Instead, this is a look at some of the big things that CD Projekt RED promised and failed to deliver while asking just what the hell happened.
Let’s start with performance on previous-gen consoles. At launch, it was horrendous especially compared to other open world titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 or even Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. But CD Projekt RED hyped it up as being pretty good on numerous occasions. UI coordinator Alvin Liu said at E3 2019 to WCCFTech that, “We’re targeting consoles as first class platforms and it looks amazing there.” He further noted that the graphics are “quite amazing for what you’re going to get from Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles and low-end PCs.” This was in response to concerns over how the game would run on older hardware.
More recently, while speaking to investors, CD Projekt CEO Adam Kicisnki said that while the PS5 version ran great, the PS4 is “still very good”. “I mean, we had those extra three weeks and we achieved a lot by…within this final stretch. So, we believe that the game is performing great on every platform.”
Even when footage of previous-gen versions began to leak, exposing the various bugs and performance issues, CD Projekt RED’s Fabian Mario Döhla stated on Twitter before launch that it was a “different game with the console update.” Which it wasn’t but the most recent update has reportedly improved performance on the PS4 on Xbox One, however marginally. Sure, one could argue that the game on older consoles was never going to look as good as the PC version.
But it’s CD Projekt RED that got people’s hopes up, even through multiple delays, assuring them that the base console versions do run well. It could have opted to release the game only for Xbox Series X/S, PS5 and PC but it ultimately didn’t. It has since acknowledged flaws with the PS4 and Xbox One versions and promised two big updates for the coming months. Refunds are also available, though players must contact the company for “up to a week up till December 21st.”
Design-wise, there’s quite a bit to sift through. Police were touted as hunting players down if they committed crimes and CD Projekt RED’s Alvin Liu even indicated that the law could “take bribes from corporations”. This could have potentially led to megacorporations putting a hit out on players using the police. There is a Wanted system (which builds up through the player’s own actions and seemingly has no ties to whatever you do to a megacorp) but the overall logic for the police’s behavior is flawed.
Killing someone, even in a remote area, will result in NCPD showing up immediately. They can also spawn right next to you and immediately start shooting, even in more remote areas. Hiding from them sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Furthermore, reports from players indicate that the police are never really patrolling Night City, either on foot or cars. You’ll see them in scripted instances, sometimes just standing around, but that’s it. Actual car chases are apparently limited to missions and don’t actually occur in the open world.
In terms of RPG mechanics, there are three separate Life Paths to shift through – Nomad, Street Kid and Corpo – and they do offer different origin stories before you eventually get to the main quest. In terms of dialogue choices though, fans are reporting that there doesn’t appear to be much choice at all. It’s still too early to say just how different each Life Path playthrough can be or how one’s choices really impact their story. But for now, beyond offering a different prologue leading up to the usual montage and job with Dexter DeShawn along with some dialogue choices, they don’t seem to impact much.
It’s also crazy to be in an RPG that has very few merchants and stores to actually interact with (there are plenty of shops and other establishments that you can enter and observe, at least). You can’t really influence or change V’s personality. You also can’t change their appearance after the initial start-up screen, much less change their hair-style at the barber. There’s no transmog feature which means you have to choose clothes based on their stats as opposed to having an actual style (and styles were, again, a major focus of the game’s marketing, even having a dedicated trailer). There is a fair amount of customization with perks and cyberware at least, though approaches like stealth are still rife with bugs and glitches.
Then we come to the NPCs. The company touted the density of Night City and how alive it felt. Yet reports are emerging about just how barren the city feels, especially when driving along the roads and seeing very few other vehicles. In a podcast with GameStar (which was translated by Reddit user Moraez in June 2020), CD Projekt RED’s Miles Tost and Philipp Weber said there were plans to have over one thousand NPCs with “handmade routines.” While there are definitely people doing various things like shopping at vending machines and some crime scenes, a large number of them are simply walking around with a throwaway line of dialogue before eventually disappearing into thin air. A good chunk of interactivity with the NPCs seems limited to the actual missions.
There is plenty more by way of complaints – especially when it comes to quality of life features and accessibility options – but it’s fairly obvious by now that CD Projekt RED promised a lot with Cyberpunk 2077 and couldn’t deliver. Perhaps one could blame the studio for not properly managing its resources and instead crunching its employees, some for several months and others “on-and-off” for years according to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier on Twitter. CEO Adam Kicinski acknowledged as far back as January 2020 that the studio was crunching to get the game done on time, which would eventually become mandatory six-day work weeks in September.
At the end, when it comes to over-promising features that it was not possible to deliver in any realistic time frame, management is ultimately to blame. It’s marred the actual good work done by its employees, like the writing, quest design, aesthetics and sheer volume of content available. If nothing else, Cyberpunk 2077’s development cycle proves that crunch is not a good solution for long-term development and that delays mean little if the entire process is flawed from the start.
It’s a shame when you consider how various development team members were aware of these issues for so long while working overtime, against all odds, to get them fixed. Your mileage may vary when it comes to glitches and bugs. You could still be having fun playing the game – heck, there’s definitely a lot of enjoyable things about it. Updates will come through, like the most recent one that fixes quest issues, reduces the pop-in of vehicles and improves stability.
However, there’s no denying that the Cyberpunk 2077 that CD Projekt RED actually released isn’t the game that it spent so long hyping up, one that was promised to have a “much, much deeper role-playing experience” than The Witcher 3 while also serving as a “benchmark” for the industry. Maybe someday we’ll get the full story on what happened or even a massive overhaul to the game that adds all of the most-requested features and then some. Time will ultimately tell but for now, the developer’s woes are only just beginning.
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