CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077 has been on one hell of a journey. Prior to launching in December 2020, it was hailed by many as gaming's Second Coming; the RPG to end all RPGs. The future of gaming. The launch was an abysmal failure on multiple levels. There's no question that the game didn't live up to CD Projekt Red's own hype. But even if folks were prepared to accept that - and many are, given that Cyberpunk 2077 now has a "mostly positive" rating on Steam - the technical condition of the launch game was unacceptably poor, especially for console owners. You might remember that Sony took the extraordinary decision to pull the game from PSN due to its fundamentally broken state. Has that ever happened to a triple-A game before? 🤔
At the time of writing, the controversies surrounding the launch have largely faded away. Cyberpunk 2077 has been patched to within an inch of its life; this is both the least and most CD Projekt Red could do, given the game's birth defects. But what the sum of these updates actually means to you is going to vary based on when you first played the game and your platform of choice.
Cyberpunk 2077 patch history
Since launching in December 2020, Cyberpunk 2077 has been patched a whopping 21 times. Four of these were classified as major updates. The most recent major patch - 1.5 - contained the 'next-gen update', which enabled Cyberpunk 2077 to take advantage of Xbox Series and PlayStation 5 hardware features.
Some things for some people some of the time
I first jumped into the game in early 2021, right after the first major patch landed (the 1.1 update). Playing Cyberpunk 2077 on an RTX-enabled PC with ultra settings meant that I was experiencing the game in its best possible light. At the time, the game seemed stable enough for the most part; I wasn't experiencing any crashes or truly game-breaking bugs on patch 1.1. But the game certainly wasn't bug-free, and it was clear that CD Projekt Red still had a lot of work ahead of it to iron out many of the rough spots. Still, the overall experience was technically sound enough to be able to play from beginning to end and experience most of what the game has to offer.
I came away from my first playthrough with mixed feelings. Cyberpunk 2077 feels like a game that was designed by committee. As its name perhaps suggests, it pulls at the many threads present within the broad cyberpunk genre. Some threads are pulled forcefully, with clarity of direction and cohesion of experience. Others - actually, most - are tentatively plucked, in ways that feel like non-committal box-ticking. Put another way, Cyberpunk 2077 asks many questions but regularly fails to explore the rich spaces where satisfying answers might be found. So much of the experience is a veneer; like viewing a series of stylish movie posters that hint at movies which don't actually exist. There's no mysterious man behind the curtain here; the curtain hangs in front of a solid wall.
It seems necessary to accept this truth about Cyberpunk 2077 in the first instance for two reasons. The first is that you may be tempted to think of the game's launch problems as being solely about its technical performance - that really, underneath, there's a revolutionary RPG being held back by a laundry list of fixable bugs. This notion has to be disabused if only to fend off utter, abject disappointment. My advice is to go into this pretending you never saw the pre-launch hype. The second reason is that, once expectations are appropriately re-calibrated and levelled, it is possible to genuinely enjoy the things Cyberpunk 2077 really gets right; those threads it selectively plucks with extraordinary skill.
My time with Cyberpunk 2077 on PC wasn't wasted. Although it falls well short of CD Projekt Red's own lofty goals, Cyberpunk 2077 is powerful when it's firing on all cylinders. These exhilarating moments happened just enough to keep me invested in exploring the breadth of Night City; a city that is both mechanically and narratively shallow in general terms, but which occasionally surfaces deep vertical slices of mechnical and narrative cohesion.
Whether or not you enjoy Cyberpunk 2077 will come down to which aspect of the game is most important to you. If you're looking for a rich world full of intrigue, complex branching dialogue with consequential decisions, and abundant role-playing opportunity...you simply won't find it here. Yes, your decisions will impact which ending you receive, but games like Skyrim and CDPR's own The Witcher III feel light years ahead of Cyberpunk 2077 in the role-playing department. As the titular V, you are more of a witness to events than a shaper of them (and not remotely in a "wow, Night City feels like it would exist without me because it's so alive" sense).
This criticism doesn't mean that the game's lore isn't interesting, though. I feel like that's a crucial point, because like other big-budget RPGs, Night City is full to the brim with datashards. Like books in Skyrim or items in Dark Souls, datashards are ubiquitous in the game world and typically contain interesting, well-written information about Night City and its denizens. If you're a lore hunter - if you enjoy reading books and holotapes in games - then you're likely to enjoy the fact that Night City contains thousands of these tidbits, even in the most out-of-the-way places. Many of the game's "gigs" (small side-quests; usually denoted as points of interest in the map) will include some new piece of lore via one or more datashards. When you track down "cyberpsychos" (people who have gone mad as a result of cybernetic implants), the datashards often make up for the fact that the actual encounters are mechanically very samey most of the time. More often than not, you'll learn something about the cyberpsycho and their circumstances; these stories are often tragic, and expose the often-terrible social consequences of the cybernetic economy.
I'd argue that combat is the most centrally-important component of Cyberpunk 2077. It's the load-bearing wall upon which the entire edifice precariously teeters. This game is not like, say, Fallout: New Vegas where you can de-prioritise combat in favour of pacifist role-playing approaches. Many combat encounters are mandatory, for one thing. For another, the role-playing here is almost non-existent, so attempting to play without engaging in combat is akin to ordering a pint that's all froth and no beer. You're cutting out a big part of the experience with no substantial or viable alternative. Cyberpunk 2077 half-heartedly gestures towards pacifist approaches by incorporating rudimentary stealth elements (really just the ability to crouch/sneak) and some explicit non-combat options (there are a range of quickhacks that enable you to, for example, distract enemies, temporarily blind them, etc...). But don't get too excited; these options have limited utility in practice, and feel like they complement - rather than outright replace - combat itself.
Fortunately, combat in Cyberpunk 2077 feels good.
There are a wide range of weapons on offer, which can be upgraded and modified as you go, and they are generally satisfying to use thanks to excellent weapon design, animation, and punchy sound effects. Combat in Cyberpunk 2077 can, at its best, feel like a fast-paced dance; you're encouraged to combine elements together for maximum effect. Chaining multiple tactics together can be thrilling: Kill the first guard from stealth and hide his body, blind the big guy in the corner while you behead his minions with your katana, which you then swap for a shotgun to send the big guy flying backward right as his vision returns. Phew. You enter a kind of bullet-time when you quickhack, which makes it possible to seamlessly fold your quickhacking abilities into moment-to-moment combat encounters.
When I look back on my first playthrough, I think combat was the key ingredient that kept me going more than anything else. That's a good thing too because the vast majority of gigs necessarily involve some sort of combat encounter. And while I wouldn't go so far as to say that Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person shooter with RPG elements...I also feel like that characterisation comes much closer to articulating what kind of game this is, as well as what it isn't. It is explicitly not a Skyrim or The Witcher III, for example.
DualSense adds a cherry on top
I'm now on my second playthrough of Cyberpunk 2077. This time around, I'm playing it on the PlayStation 5. The game has been updated numerous times since my first PC playthrough, and the recent 1.5 patch includes explicit support for next-gen consoles. I like the game enough to want to give it another try from the beginning.
You know what? I'm enjoying Cyberpunk 2077 far more now on my second playthrough. That same shallowness is still there, and my attempt to vary the experience by choosing a different background story made exactly the degree of difference I expected (that is to say, almost none). So why am I enjoying it more the second time around? I have a few theories.
One reason for my enhanced enjoyment is simply that I'm sitting on a couch in front of a big TV. I know that sounds like a copout; doesn't this mean I automatically enjoy console games over PC games regardless? Not necessarily, it depends on the game in question. Although Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person game, it's not really a fast-paced shooter where accuracy is highly important. In other words, the accuracy bonus inherent in mouse controls feels largely irrelevant in this case. There's something about lounging back on the couch in front of the TV that's actually encouraging me to take my time - to really breathe in Night City's intoxicating brand of neon-soaked hyper-capitalist-dystopia.
Another reason is that Cyberpunk 2077 finally feels like it's in the state it should have been at launch. Mind you, I'm saying this based on playing the PlayStation 5 version; I haven't tried the latest version on PS4.
I'm a few hours in on PS5, and the experience has been solid. The visuals look great - they almost match the PC offering - and, at least in performance mode, the frame rate is mostly buttery smooth. There are occasional frame dips, but I think you've really got to look hard to notice them. For the most part, in moment-to-moment gameplay, you shouldn't encounter anything too noticeable. For what it's worth, I highly recommend performance mode on PS5. The ray-tracing mode caps the frame rate at 30fps, but doesn't deliver a full ray-tracing solution; it's a highly limited implementation that's most apparent on shadows (and even then, I think the change is largely imperceptible for most folks; you'd have to stand there and toggle the ray-tracing mode on and off in rapid succession while squinting to notice the difference). If you want full-fat ray-tracing, you'll still need to play on a high-end PC.
But the real icing on the cake here is CD Projekt Red's DualSense implementation. If you own or have played a PS5 - and especially if you've played the absolutely gorgeous Astro's Playroom - then you'll know just how game-changing the DualSense controller can be. When properly implemented, the new technology built into the DualSense controller can genuinely add a new layer of immersion to the experience thanks both to remarkably fine-grain force feedback and the truly wonderful adaptive triggers. CD Projekt Red didn't just make Cyberpunk 2077 look and sound great on the PS5, they went one step further by going all-in on DualSense compatibility.
The end result is an experience that feels both more personal and more thrilling than what I'd played on the PC. You'll feel the impact of nearby explosions (including a sense of their direction relative to your position). Every vehicle features a different level of peddle resistance (when you hop into a beat-up old van, you'll feel its ageing pedals protest as you apply pressure). And of course - most importantly - each weapon feels physically different in your hands, which perfectly complements their differential performance in terms of stats and animation. You're now more motivated to try a wide range of weapons just to see how they feel, which is a big tick in my book.
Drowning in the night
I know many folks who wisely avoided Cyberpunk 2077 immediately after launch. But now I regularly come across people who have patiently waited for the game to improve, and who wonder if it's the right time to jump in. As I said earlier, I don't know how solid the experience is on last-gen consoles. But so much of what makes this game special is its visual design, and it's clear that you're either going to need a PC with appropriate specs or a next-gen console to get the most out of the experience. Although the Xbox Series X should provide a roughly equivalent visual quality to the PS5, the DualSense implementation really does make a difference; so much so that, as of 2022, I think the PS5 provides the best overall Cyberpunk 2077 experience.
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