Spoiler Warning: Although there are no major plot spoilers for Cyberpunk 2077, minor spoilers may be present for some of the game’s missions.
Thanks to a combination of a sale and a rather generous £10 voucher courtesy of the Epic Games Store, I was able to buy Cyberpunk 2077 for just £15 – that’s about $17 or $18 for my friends in the United States. For that price, it’s actually pretty easy to recommend CD Projekt Red’s role-playing shooter, despite the game’s reputation and its shockingly bad launch two years ago.
By the time I got around to fully playing through Cyberpunk 2077 earlier this year, most of the game’s most egregious bugs, graphical issues, and other glitches had been fixed, at least on PC (which is the platform I played on). So from that point of view, I think I got the best possible Cyberpunk 2077 experience – and certainly a far, far better experience than the poor souls who picked up the game on launch day for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One consoles! Although I did encounter a handful of bugs during my 60-hour playthrough, none were what I’d call game-breaking, and as of late 2022, the PC version of Cyberpunk 2077 is probably comparable with the likes of the launch versions of Skyrim or Fallout 4 in terms of bugs and glitches – a low bar, perhaps, but one the game is finally on the cusp of clearing.
As I’ve said before on more than one occasion: Cyberpunk 2077 was released far too early in an unfinished state. It took well over a year of additional development time to knock the game into shape – and that work is still ongoing at time of writing, especially for the console versions. The “release now, fix later” business model that we’ve talked about at length here on the website really screwed Cyberpunk 2077 – and the fact that CD Projekt Red lied about the game’s condition in the weeks leading up to its launch is not something players will ever forget.
But for me, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t disappoint because of its bugs, glitches, and graphical issues. By the time I got stuck into the campaign, most of those – and certainly the worst and most obvious ones – had been patched. In fact, I’d argue that the bugs and glitches became a distraction that arguably shielded the game from what I consider to be its real flaw: it’s just not that good.
I realise that’s a horribly subjective statement, so let me try to qualify. Cyberpunk 2077 has a genuinely interesting and entertaining story. It has fun characters with some great voice acting, a world that feels dense and lived-in, and an interesting visual style that blends a kind of ’80s retrofuturism with East Asian influences and then sets it all against the backdrop of a dark corporate dystopia. As a narrative experience, Cyberpunk 2077 was genuinely enjoyable for me, and I found myself getting stuck into its story.
But in terms of the mechanics of its gameplay, Cyberpunk 2077 is sorely lacking. Far from being the genre-redefining epic that CD Projekt Red’s out-of-control marketing seemed to be promising, the game is comprised entirely of systems and mechanics that have been done before – and in many cases, done far, far better – by other titles.
Compare Cyberpunk 2077 to Fallout 4 and it comes up short. Heck, compare it to Fallout 3 and, at least in terms of quests and characters, it feels much the lesser title. For a game that seemed to be promising the moon, Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t even make it to the launch pad. On a good day, it’s an above-average role-playing shooter… but that’s it. It’s never going to be anything more than that – because it never tried to be.
Let’s start with the game’s mandatory first-person perspective. Many games are first-person only, and it’s a creative choice that I respect. But in practical terms, what that decision has meant is that Cyberpunk 2077′s character creator – which is one of the game’s better elements – is basically useless. It’s only right at the very end of the game, literally in one of the final missions, where it’s even possible to see the player character for any length of time.
This feels like such a waste because of how good the in-game character creator actually is. There are so many options to customise every aspect of a character’s appearance – but then Cyberpunk 2077 makes it so that even cut-scenes are from a first-person point-of-view, rendering all of that work essentially pointless for the bulk of the game.
Sticking with the player character’s appearance, we have costumes, outfits, and armour. Once again, the first-person perspective is limiting, meaning that players can only really see their outfit in the pause menu, but that’s not the worst of it in this case. Because Cyberpunk 2077 employs a very outdated sliding scale for its items, including clothing and armour, as the player character levels up, there’s a constant need to change clothing to get better armour stats.
Failing to improve your armour – which is basically done by throwing together the most random and mismatched outfits – can lead to being instantly killed in some missions or when facing off against particularly difficult enemies. During my entire playthrough I don’t think I stuck with the same outfit for more than a few minutes; I was constantly searching the bodies of defeated enemies and picking up the pieces with the best armour stats and just throwing them on.
This renders the in-game clothing shops pretty impotent, and while it’s possible, I suppose, to keep going back to the same shop and buying better versions of the same pieces of clothing if you were really attached to a specific look, doing so is pretty pointless when you consider that you hardly see the outfit anyway. With outfits and costumes being so random, a pretty big part of the role-playing side of the game felt like it disappeared, at least for me.
I love being able to customise my character and choose how they look, but the way Cyberpunk 2077 handles this feels like it’s straight out of a role-playing game from 2000, not 2020, leading to much less of an immersive experience. Throwing together a random, mismatched outfit just to get the best stats feels very video-gamey and breaks the immersion of the role-playing experience.
Sticking with the theme of outdated game mechanics, Cyberpunk 2077 was a surprisingly linear experience for a game that bills itself as “open-world.” In my 60+ hours with the game, I completed 90% of the available missions and side-quests, as well as the main story – and most of the missions and questlines don’t offer much by way of replayability. There are no factions to join, as there are in other open-world games like Skyrim, for instance, and once the player character is sufficiently leveled up, all the game’s missions are available to play.
Although there are different basic play styles – utilising stealth, hacking and tech powers, and weapons in different combinations and to different extents – the missions themselves are linear, with one beginning and one end point. The final act of the game offers a branching storyline, leading to four potential final missions and four different epilogues. But again, each of these missions are pretty linear once they get going, and any player who’s paid attention to more than a handful of side-missions will be able to experience all of them; Cyberpunk 2077 even has a mandatory save point before kicking off the final act, making it easy to go back and try out each of the different endings.
Story missions in Cyberpunk 2077 are fun and engrossing, and the characters feel real and well-rounded, with their own lives and motivations. This gives the game a boost, and even while playing through some bog-standard gameplay, the story was decent enough to elevate Cyberpunk 2077 to something a tad more entertaining. But the same can’t be said for all of the side-missions.
Practically all of Cyberpunk 2077′s side-quests follow the exact same formula: go to a location marked on the map, defeat either one overpowered enemy or a handful of normal ones, and receive a check mark on the quest list. The stories that set up some of these missions feel like they have the potential to be interesting on the surface, but when the way that’s communicated to the player is through in-game text messages that are easy to skim or just skip altogether, it makes a mission structure that’s already pretty flimsy feel downright disappointing.
These missions are your typical open-world busywork; padding to give Cyberpunk 2077 a boost to what would otherwise be a pretty meagre runtime for a game of this type. There are a few side-missions that, thanks to some creative voice acting or a particularly interesting premise, manage to feel a little more exciting or entertaining, but even these are pretty basic in terms of what there is to do. If the quest isn’t to kill a specific enemy or clear out an area, it’s basically “go to location, press button to interact with an item, the end.”
Because enemies don’t level up with the player character, many of these missions – despite being nominally “available” to play as soon as the prologue is complete – result in immediate death, even on the lowest difficulty setting. It was incredibly frustrating to stumble upon a side-mission – which in-game text seemed to suggest was urgent – only to die over and over again in a single hit.
Cyberpunk 2077′s open world feels lived-in, so the fact that these scripted missions could be ignored for weeks and weeks’ worth of in-game time sticks out like a sore thumb and further damages the sense of immersion. If I’m told that a dangerous killer is on the rampage right now, my first thought shouldn’t be “oh well, I’ll leave them to it for a fortnight while I do other things and level up; they’ll still be here when I get back.” That’s just so… video-gamey.
One of Cyberpunk 2077′s selling points before its launch was the different “life paths” that players could start from. Three options were available, with players able to choose what amounted to their character’s “origin story.” However, having toyed with all three, the impact they had on the game itself was minimal. A short prologue was different for each life path, but once that was over, the main game played out in identical fashion. There were a handful of different dialogue options, and one unique “mission” – which, as above, was something incredibly basic. But that was it.
In a role-playing game, I can’t excuse that. The point of offering a choice like this is to give players a fundamentally different experience; a reason to return to Cyberpunk 2077 and do things differently next time. But as with other aspects of the game, this was incredibly short and incredibly linear, offering the appearance of a choice while providing what amounts to the bare minimum.
One other point where a false choice was presented really came to bug me. At the start of the game (after the prologue, at least) V has their own apartment. And this apartment had very limited customisation options, but there were a couple of aesthetic choices that players can make to mix it up. But throughout the game’s open world, other apartments are available to purchase, and V can then use them to rest, store weapons and items, and so on.
But there’s no way to make these properties V’s home. None of them can be customised at all, which is bad enough, but at several points in the game, V will be forced to return to their default, beginning-of-the-game apartment in order to do things in the story or side-missions. It’s as if the game is incapable of recognising that players might want V to move to a nicer part of town (or a more central location). There’s really no reason why it shouldn’t be possible to choose which apartment to make V’s primary residence. Again, this just feels like a break in the immersion and a let-down.
So to me, that’s where Cyberpunk 2077 falls short. It fails to live up to the hype in a massive way, and players who were initially disappointed by the game’s awful condition at launch have found, when the dust has settled, a game that simply doesn’t do what they had been expecting. The bugs, glitches, and other problems that Cyberpunk 2077 had may have actually covered up some of these problems, drawing flak away from the real disappointment – the gameplay itself.
I’ve played far better open-world games, far better shooters, and far better role-playing games than Cyberpunk 2077. Games from literally twenty years ago, like Morrowind, or almost a decade ago, like Grand Theft Auto V, brought to the table many of the same elements that Cyberpunk 2077 tries to use – and despite being so late to the party and having seen what other titles in the same space can do, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t improve on them in any meaningful way. In some ways, some of Cyberpunk 2077′s in-game mechanics are actually worse than other titles in these genres.
Where Cyberpunk 2077 finds a redeeming feature is its main story. The stories of V, Johnny Silverhand, Jackie, and the intrigue at the Arasaka Corporation are genuinely fantastic, and the scripting and voice acting that brought it all to life were fabulous. But even here, Cyberpunk 2077 falls short – literally, because the main quest itself is a relatively short affair. I reckon the main quest might’ve taken me about 18 hours, all told, spread across a prologue and two main “acts.” Distracting myself with side-missions took up the rest of my time.
The main quest also has a rather abrupt feel at points. Without getting into spoiler territory, there are a couple of points toward the middle and end of the game where it feels as if something has been cut out – or more likely, something should have been added – to give a bit more detail to the events that were unfolding. The story itself was fantastic – but on these occasions, the way in which it unfolded just felt rather brief.
As I said before Cyberpunk 2077 was even launched: this was a game that was massively and catastrophically over-hyped. By promising what seemed to be a once-in-a-lifetime, genre-busting experience, CD Projekt Red spectacularly – and stupidly – overplayed their hand. Had expectations been reined in and kept in check through 2018, 2019, and into 2020, players would have had a more reasonable and realistic picture in their minds of what to expect from the game. The bugs at launch, the overall appalling state that the game was in, and CD Projekt Red’s outright lies would still have harmed the game immeasurably – but at least when the dust had settled, players would have known what they were getting into.
There are some games I’m happy to go back and replay over and over, and some open-world games from years past that are so overstuffed with content, missions, and characters, that even years after their release I still haven’t been able to see and do everything. Cyberpunk 2077 is in neither category. I’m glad to have played it, and in terms of story it’s certainly one of the better games I’ve played in recent years. But its story is a one-and-done, surprisingly linear affair – and when the side-missions that comprise the rest of the game are so incredibly basic, going back and replaying them all feels more like a chore than anything I would actually enjoy.
We’re into December at time of writing, and Cyberpunk 2077 may well go on sale at a pretty steep discount in the days or weeks ahead. If you can pick it up at a low price, as I did, it’s definitely worth playing now that CD Projekt Red has actually had more time to finish developing it and bashing it into a playable state. For full price though, I think it’s a much harder sell – but if you buy a physical copy, I suppose it’s possible to trade it in or sell it on once you’ve beaten it, so that option could be a good one.
Despite the controversy that will forever define Cyberpunk 2077, I didn’t hate it. There was some great storytelling, some wonderfully realistic characters, one of the best character creators in any modern game, and an immersive world that could be fun to just drive around in, soaking up some of the scenery and checking out this dystopian vision of the future. But considering the way the game actually plays, Cyberpunk 2077 was pretty average.
And for a game that had promised so much and been hyped to oblivion for close to a decade, “average” isn’t good enough.
Cyberpunk 2077 is out now for PC, Playstation 4 & 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. Cyberpunk 2077 is the copyright of CD Project Red. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.