Night City is dense and packed with life.
Even if you weren’t following Cyberpunk 2077 since its announcement back in 2012, it’s been a long wait for the title. Originally slated to release in April 2020, the FPS/RPG was delayed to September and then November. It’s finally out on December 10th for Xbox One, PS4, PC and Google Stadia. Barring any kind of unfortunate circumstances, at least.
The world design is one of the many things that CD Projekt RED has been hyping about the game. But perhaps the most interesting part about the world map is that it’s inherently smaller than that of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Back in Gamescom 2019, producer Richard Borzymowski told GamesRadar that Night City covers slightly less square kilometers than the vast regions of The Witcher 3. However, it’s a lot denser in content as a result.
As Borzymowski explains, “Obviously […] in The Witcher we were an open world with vast lanes and forests in between smaller cities and larger cities like Novigrad, but in Cyberpunk 2077 we’re set in Night City. It’s an integral part of the setting; it’s essentially a protagonist if you want to call it that, so it has to be denser. It wouldn’t give us the end effect we wanted to achieve if the city wouldn’t be believable […] so we packed it full of life.”
For many years, it’s often been the case that the bigger a game’s world is, the better. With the rise of open world games and the sky-rocketing of their budgets, not to mention the sheer amount of time needed to fully “complete” them, it’s no surprise that developers often tout the size of their worlds. Players, whether consciously or unconsciously, seek out titles with larger feature sets, more content and tons of things to do. “Fun factor” is still a thing but value is also important.
Look no further than the success of titles like Watch Dogs: Legion, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Red Dead Redemption 2, Grand Theft Auto 5, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and so on. You could even trace this trend back to MMOs where the wide open continents of World of Warcraft offered way more to see and do than any other offline title back in 2004. This isn’t to say that any of them are bad games – in fact, they are some of the best examples of executing the formula well.
But it’s even more fascinating to see some games buck the trend of massive open world titles in favor of something more compact, while still retaining a large amount of content. The Yakuza series is exemplary in this regard, as is Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided. Cyberpunk 2077 also looks to be joining in this trend on its own terms and that can only be good news. But why?
While cities in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had their own unique politics and ongoing affairs, they weren’t the key focus or setting. It was more about Geralt’s journey through the world – and others – to find Ciri and stop the Wild Hunt. Night City is different – it’s the focal point of Cyberpunk 2077‘s rundown, dystopian future in almost every aspect. Each district, from the lush City Center to the dangerous Pacifica, is rich with lore, formed by hundreds of unique events in the series. It feels properly lived in despite looking so unlivable because, like the post-corporate metropolises it seeks to satirize, hundreds of thousands of bodies have been through Night City and left their mark, for better or worse.
This leads to the formation of a certain “character” of the city but it’s a multi-faceted identity that’s as much about the mega-corporations like Arasaka as it is about gangs like the Moxes, Animals and Voodoo Boys. There is no one single characteristic that can define it – the sheer crime rate can be viewed as an opportunity for many individuals in the future. The culture, viewed as hostile to outsiders like the Nomads, could be viewed as homely to the Street Kid. It can be as much about the glitzy advertisements, high profile celebrities and fashions for an individual as the illicit activities.
It’s not all that different from, say, Yakuza’s Kamurocho in that regard. From a gameplay perspective, a smaller map has other benefits. Taking Yakuza as an example, the size of the area means you’re spending less time navigating to different places and more time actually indulging in the various mini-games, substories and battles that have been laid out. Sure, there might be less scenery to admire overall but this means other aspects like the writing and combat are excellent. Furthermore, with less land mass to traverse, you start to become more familiar with the place and identify with its various quirks all the more.
Having a smaller world also allows for the branching style of Cyberpunk 2077‘s main story and side quests to feel more natural. Your actions have a consequence on your immediate surroundings and the people in them, leaving a lasting impact on the area. The appeal here is in trying out different paths and seeing how wildly the story can branch out from them, whether you’re a V who’s kind and compassionate or simply on the war path. It’s inherently similar to the classic computer RPGs of yore, which is understandable given Cyberpunk’s tabletop role-playing game origins.
Being smaller in size doesn’t mean the game’s scale will suffer. Even if the main quest ends up shorter than The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, there are still plenty of companions to meet, Street Stories to experience, activities like Scanner Hustles and Gigs, random events to indulge in and weapons to collect. And with three different Life Paths, you can be assured of a significantly different perspective on Night City’s affairs with each playthrough.
Besides, some may appreciate that Cyberpunk 2077‘s story doesn’t take as long to finish as The Witcher 3. Others may enjoy experiencing all the different side content and simply getting lost in Night City, learning more about its quirky denizens in the process. And then there are those who, while appreciating wide expanses to explore, may also be happy to play in a space where something is happening around every corner. Where all the little nooks and crannies of each skyscraper could be hiding interesting stories and characters that aren’t immediately obvious on the street level…just like in the tabletop universe.
At the end of the day, it’s not about the sheer size of the world or how much content it contains but how the game utilizes it to form a connection with the player. The jury is still out on how well Cyberpunk 2077 achieves this and there could be a number of issues cropping up, like bugs, performance issues or some mechanics that require more polish. But if CD Projekt RED can convey the soul of Night City, warts and all, then there may end up being no better place to play.
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.