I’m on an aimless walking tour of Night City. Somehow I’ve ended up in the Japantown neighborhood’s Arasaka-financed streets, where animated billboards for “Sweet Clean Speed” and pornographic braindances climb the flanks of utilitarian skyscrapers, blotting out the stars with a rainbow of neon. I pass a ramen shop, a hot dog stand, and a man selling spice, piles of garbage tucked beneath the offramp behind him.
A mob of Christians gather at a nearby intersection, waving signs and screaming “Blasphemers!” at the cops. A voice makes booming proclamations in Japanese from loudspeakers overhead, flying cars crisscrossing the invisible roads between buildings. The sky glows with light pollution, but the moon is full and clear. It’s a beautiful night.
I just left Judy Alvarez’s place. My friend’s been through a lot lately. Someone close to her has been victim to a string of horrors including sexual assault, physical trauma, and suicidal tendencies. We had a big heart-to-heart about it, undermined by the presence of elaborate arm-knife crosshairs fixed on her forehead even though I put my arm-knives away earlier (I’m polite like that). There was also the notification from that fancy sniper rifle I picked up 20 minutes ago, still notifying me that I picked up a sniper rifle. Duly noted, notification.
But hey, Judy’s not perfect either. I’ve seen her clip through chairs and float across the room while confessing something deeply personal. And yet, I am duty bound to stick through the bugs for my friend. I genuinely care about her.
She’s on my mind while I continue my walk through Night City. Ahead, a streetlamp floats in the air, its base failing to load. A busker plays an invisible guitar. The facade of a skyscraper flickers briefly. Something ain’t right, so I call my car and it arrives in classic Roach style, driving through a concrete barrier, screeching to a halt. As I approach, a van spawns in the same space and the two vehicles fight to exist before my taxi spurts out and knocks me to the ground. Should I call Judy, see if she’s hanging in there?
It’s just another day in Cyberpunk 2077, a pretty good RPG in an amazing setting absolutely sick with bugs.
There won’t be another open world like this for a long, long time.
I love wandering the mountains of trash on the outskirts of town, cutting pretty silhouettes from a distance. Up close, well, it’s trash. And sometimes the smog gets so thick around the old Arasaka memorial downtown you can’t see the tops of buildings, everything washed in dirty orange light. I watched traffic here for a while, employees of the corporate world hurrying to and fro all around me.
What is it? An open world action RPG set in the near future.
Expect to pay: $60/£50
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Reviewed on: i9-9900k, RTX 2080, 16GB RAM, installed on SSD
Multiplayer? No, planned in far flung future
Release date: Here’s when Cyberpunk 2077 unlocks by timezone
Then there’s the Biotechnica farm: A city of tents stretching into the horizon, swarms of transport vehicles buzzing to and fro tending to their synthetic protein flowers. From here, Night City looks as small as a city in a snow globe. And you can just walk there. The scale and density is mind boggling, every area clearly touched by countless artists and neatly embedded into the history and logistics of Night City.
Take a microscope to it and you’ll see the seams instantly. NPCs are aimless automatons or carefully posed puppets. I’ve seen the same guy, at least his shape, splayed out on a couch playing guitar all over the city. I made the mistake of stopping to inspect a roadside rave in the Badlands, only to realize there were three sets of triplets in attendance. Sometimes far off textures load in a touch too late, or the five o’clock rush hour snaps into existence in front of your eyes. Night City is a stage, not a simulation.
But if you stay moving and keep your eyes trained ahead, every frame is a striking, lively scene. Night City is nearly unparalleled at middle to long distances, joining the best of PC gaming’s open worlds, which include Red Dead Redemption 2’s American west and Grand Theft Auto 5’s Los Santos. Rockstar’s been matched. I’d pay full price just to walk around and take photos forever, my senses perpetually drunk.
It’s an incredible work that the stories within never quite measure up to.
The variety of citizens in Night City is remarkable, with outrageous future fashions, wild hairstyles, and elaborate cyber implants. You’ll see rodeo cowboys with mechanical legs, tattooed yakuza, faces crisscrossed with cyberware, ’80s metalheads sporting wraparound neon visors, and people so heavily augmented you’ll wonder if there’s any human left. There’s a real sense of this being a teeming, vibrant metropolis with layers of history and culture. And everyone just looks cool as hell.
Cyberpunk’s main quest storyline is full of interesting ideas, but marred by inconsistent characterization and focus. Johnny Sliverhand, played by a grumpy Keanu Reeves, and you, a merc for hire and fully-voiced character named V, are centerstage. As V, you’re an accidental witness to a top level corporate assassination and forced to work with Johnny, not only to expose the truth, but to save V’s life. Early on, due to a series of unfortunate events, a backup of Johnny Silverhand’s consciousness ends up in V’s head and begins to slowly take over his mind, effectively overwriting V.
The effect Johnny has on V, and the equal and potentially opposite or compounding effect V has on Johnny is the heart of the RPG decision-making here. Johnny is a repulsive, crude, misogynist. And you can change that, assuming he doesn’t swing you his way first, nevermind all the fixers, friends, and corporations pulling you every other direction.
I had no clue whether to take my special pills to suppress the maniac in my head or to try and change him, the ambiguous and agonizing choice I want in an RPG. The blinders are on the whole time and nearly every decision is a leap of faith that hangs on your ideals, or at least the ideas of the character you’re roleplaying.
I just wish Johnny’s characterization were more consistent. While I’d make major progressions in our relationship in the main quest, he’d regularly revert to the same old dickhead Johnny in a sidequest or the odd commentary impressively scattered throughout the entirety of Night City.
Too often what he has to say in these optional interactions is one note: Rockerboy trash talk, ego and narcissistic idealism personified, like an anarchy tag on an interstate Starbucks come to life. Keanu’s mad, monotone performance doesn’t help highlight the nuance either. While I loved where our relationship eventually ended up, I felt like Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t really show me the work it took to get there.
As a basic, adaptable foil for V, Johnny is a nice engine for introspection. Capitalism is bad, for sure, but Cyberpunk isn’t interested in solving that problem. Cyberpunk instead asks why we choose to live within such a monstrous system, and I deeply appreciate the spotlight on V, the people in his life, and how they persist (or don’t) in the muck.
Yeah, the story is wrapped up in espionage, sabotage, and conspiracy at the highest order with a heaping side of corporate satire. But it’s driven by V’s basic human motivations. He doesn’t want to die (I played as a man), he doesn’t want to lose his consciousness to Johnny, and he wants to make something of himself. Those are the stakes V begins with, and depending on who you meet, what you learn about Johnny’s past as a rockstar terrorist, and who you want to roleplay, the stakes change in major ways.
Cyberpunk 2077 lifepaths: Which to choose
Cyberpunk 2077 map: What you need to know
Cyberpunk 2077 romance options
Cyberpunk 2077 builds: Best so far
Cyberpunk 2077 Braindance: How it works
Cyberpunk 2077 cars: Race around Night City
Cyberpunk 2077 hacking: How to do it
Me? I fell in love with a nomad and took on the personal mission to become a reformed Corpo dorko, dreams of getting out of the city and living a simpler life. Permaculture is easy when your arms are knives. And, to my surprise, Cyberpunk supported an eerily appropriate arc for me, not one-to-one, but a testament to the sprawling narrative choices laid out under the skin.
I know there are at least three endings (I chose mine after 10 minutes of staring at the screen, frozen), and that there are definitely more depending on who you befriend and/or romance. These aren’t poorly compressed slideshow epilogues either, but hour-long endeavors, the kind of resplendent, explosive, dramatic stuff most big studios struggle to make one of.
And I wouldn’t have seen any of it if I’d skipped out on the side missions, a few of which are still left unfinished at the end of my 50-hour playthrough. While entirely optional, seeing through every side character’s story to the end can fundamentally change how the larger story wraps. I spent a long time with Panam, a perky, stubborn nomad vying for respect among her peers. She deserved a chance. I also spent days deeply investigating Johnny’s tragic past. I befriended a beat cop trying to stick to his morals in a clearly fixed game, hunting down a serial killer using surreal, invasive means in what might be my favorite quest of them all. Through a delightful series of misadventures I became friends with a sentient, autonomous taxicab operation—like, a whole-ass business.
The deeper sidequests are infrequent, too difficult to separate from the endless warehouse infiltration Gigs, but they’re all good to great, and some are up there with CD Projekt’s best, even if there’s no clear Bloody Baron standout.
Too bad almost every serious dramatic beat was undercut by some kind of bug, ranging from a UI crowded by notifications and crosshairs failing to disappear, to full-on scripting errors halting otherwise rad action scenes. What should’ve been my favorite main quest venture, a thrilling infiltration mission set in a crowded public event, was ruined by two broken elevators. I had to reload a few times to get them working.
The most absurd bug might’ve been when some children spawned in front of a timed shooting contest I entered with a friendly nomad. I couldn’t shoot anywhere near the children because my weapon automatically raised, so I just sat there and let the timer run out as my buddy talked shit.
More often the bugs are audiovisual tics, like the sound of a car loudly peeling out wailing on during a long drive as passenger with an NPC, a character passing through solid elevator doors, or a copy of Johnny’s cigarette hanging in the air in front of me while he smokes another and goes on about what a coward I am. They’re the kind of thing I can squint through here and there, but there wasn’t a single quest in which something wacky didn’t happen.
Even the final scene in the closing moments of my ending featured cars spawning in the direct path of an NPC-driven vehicle. A nice, poignant drive and conversation seasoned with a head-on collision visible only to me. Even after installing the Day 0 patch, Night City still feels like it’s barely holding together at times. The good news is that all this stuff can be fixed, but it also means the ideal Cyberpunk 2077 is delayed again, in spirit.
Fallout: New Vegas was a mess at launch too, and smoothed out over time. Red Dead Redemption 2 was plagued by unforeseen issues with certain GPU and CPU combinations at the start. All good now. Bugs are a guarantee in games this big, but after 8 years in development and multiple delays, I hoped Cyberpunk 2077 would go down much smoother than this.
With so many clothes to choose from, fashion (and buying cars) basically becomes the Cyberpunk endgame. Just be prepared to give up some armor and stat bonuses to wear what you like.
The action holds together well enough, an FPS charcuterie board featuring some familiar Deus Ex stealth and hacking systems alongside the snappy ADS gunplay Call of Duty made standard. Weapons and armor have unique stats, though it’s all pretty easily reduced to how much damage you can do and withstand versus the level of the enemies you’re facing—the rest, including fashion, is left to preference. It’s exciting stuff in the early hours, all those stats and weapons laid out before you, but the bottom drops out pretty quickly.
Night City is stuffed with warehouses, armories, and secret labs to sneak into, most often via jobs a neighborhood fixer sets you up with. Infiltrate and kill a guy, rescue a prisoner, steal some data—the objectives bleed together quickly because the means tend to repeat too, at least if you’re locked into a playstyle. I wanted to be a cyber ninja at first, using quickhacks to turn off cameras, destroy turrets, and blind my enemies before moving in with my katana and hacking them to bits.
Things went well for a while, but pouring all my experience and perk points into blades made me nearly unkillable and my enemies as soft as Vienna sausage within a few hours. I like that my armor increases when I sprint, and that perfectly timed dodges initiate a short bout of slow-motion. I just don’t think that beheading 10 men a minute should ever feel so simple and carefree.
Even if I take it slow, and I did for around 10 hours, enemy AI is disappointingly rote. Stealth is a game of vision cones and patrol routes, with nearly no meaningful distinctions between gangs and corporations. I got so bored of sneaking around that I specced into more aggressive quickhacks, including one that set off a poisonous chain reaction between nearby goons, and rolled some pistols into my regimine. Now I slide into the room in slow motion, activating my favorite pistol ability, and headshot a few grunts before I even come to a stop. I clean up those that haven’t choked on gas with my arm knives, snipping limbs off like paper dolls. It’s rad as hell, but I’m just showing off for the sake of it, not because Cyberpunk is encouraging me to use every tool in the box.
Combat and infiltration sadly depend too much on player showmanship, never pressing you to make tactical decisions in the thick of it, and worse, never prodding you to make meaningful decisions about where to pour your points. There’s a ton of variety with potential for creative hybrid builds, from a barefisted gorilla hacker V to a loud gun-toting pacifist that walks and talks like Rambo but installs non-lethal mods on every weapon.
The gunplay feels great too: each gun treated with extravagant viewmodels, and adorned slick firing, idle, and reload animations. Heads pop and limbs dissolve, shotguns knock enemies on their cyberbutts—CD Projekt knows what bullets do, and it shows. For the quieter players looking for some Deus Ex, there’s always a cleverly hidden sewer grate or balcony door to discover. But without any meaningful variations on enemy or level design after the first few hours, Cyberpunk is missing the incentive to experiment with it all.
Luckily, most of my time in Cyberpunk has been at a languid pace, spent chatting with friends and criminals, outlaws and AIs, or going on impromptu walking tours around a neighborhood I somehow missed 40 hours in. It’s so, so nice to look at, and besides the bugs, Cyberpunk 2077 runs pretty well, though I worry about how much I’m leaning on Nvidia’s DLSS feature to keep my framerates high.
With an RTX 2080, i9-9900K, and installed on a SATA SSD, with DLSS enabled on Quality mode on the High graphics preset (no ray-tracing), I maintain a variable 60-80 fps at 2560×1440, dipping lowest when driving through particularly reflection-heavy parts of town. With DLSS off, the frame window drops to 40-50 fps. Ray-tracing options are particularly resource intensive, so I just kept them off. The framerate hit wasn’t worth the fancy lighting, nice as it looks on a rainy day or in a neon-lit club especially. Someday. Either way, a newer card will go a long way in Cyberpunk 2077, though players still hanging in at 1080p should do fine with older hardware.
It’s the kind of game I’d upgrade for though, because Cyberpunk is a technical stunner and seeing your friends in high definition is worth the ask. Sure, The Witcher 3 was funnier, more clever and subversive, with better dialogue on the whole, but I’m taken by how relentlessly hopeful Cyberpunk is. Its exploration of a technocapitalist future relies heavily on genre tropes, with everyone from punks to dirty cops playing the part established way back in William Gibson’s Neuromancer. But Cyberpunk 2077 remains a loving, faithful treatment of the genre, and one that constantly urged me to look for the silver lining in every shit-soaked gutter.
Even if you can nosedive V into a life of crime and greed, the repercussions highlight what’s possible in the relief of what you reject in favor of power and money. Cyberpunk 2077 is a game about close relationships, or if you’re roleplaying a more coldhearted type, seeing what life is like at the top without them.
I found it moving and life-affirming in the final moments, even in the face of near certain death and a relentless onslaught of bugs. I suppose it’s an appropriate thematic throughline though: Cyberpunk 2077 is a game about V coming apart at the seams, in a city coming apart at the seams, in a game coming apart at the seams. Play it in a few months.