Cyberpunk 2077 is a work of impressive ambition that shines with its enormous size and creative vision. The world of Night City is a metropolis of futuristic art that steals your eye with stunning neon-lit architecture and streets full of citizens of flesh and metal. Night City is an open world that instantly casts a spell over you and keeps you busy with its dark narrative, meaningful player selection and overwhelming amount of side content.
Your lens into this technology-obsessed society is the protagonist named V, a cyberpunk that you completely design, including his voice, backstory (which subtly changes the narrative), and even her genitals. I spent far too much time creating my look, even though I rarely saw it during the game due to the largely first-person perspective. V is fun to control, thanks to the immense amount of cybertech, but it’s an unlikely head-start that belies profanity and incites one-liners and generally shows a “dregs of earth” personality.
While V has a mess of conversations, he has an interesting story to tell. It goes to places I didn’t expect and gets wild towards the end. The narrative gets to the point when V meets Johnny Silverhand, a former terrorist who is now a digital construct living in V’s head. Silverhand’s thoughts and dark ambitions are twisted and dangerous, resulting in great conversational choices and decisions that allow players to shape the story and plot. Silverhand’s greatest appeal is how it is brought to life by actor Keanu Reeves, who looks and sounds just as great in the role as he does in any movie on screen. Given how wonderful some of the other characters are (with their own long and fantastic arcs), Reeves isn’t stealing the show – but Silverhand is a constant throughout most of the game, helping to keep V from being overly presumptuous .
Silverhand will put a smile on your face, but Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t have many joyful bones in its body and is often difficult to deliver its dark contents. Night City may be alive, but it is mostly angry people who do terrible things. Some of the content made me uncomfortable, including the moments when it was about abuse and sexual assault. Even the average viewer would give me a break sometimes, like a drugged woman held in place by a man, a facility that can be seen all over town. Developers should be free to explore any topic, but in Cyberpunk 2077 it feels careless at times – more like nervous set dressing than a meaningful comment.
Much like V’s inability to think clearly when Silverhand is clouding the mind, the tale of Cyberpunk 2077 is often different and ubiquitous from mission to mission. In a side story, V may seem likable and mature. In the next, V suddenly sounds like a frightened teenager again (the sound you hear the most). It’s a hit or miss, but most of the quests deliver great moments, especially when new NPCs are introduced. Almost every missionary or notable character comes alive in voice, animation, and through the crazy details on their body. The same goes for many of the places they live in. An outstanding level of detail in the world makes every single area an unforgettable sight. I cannot stress this enough; Exploring Night City is a huge catch that CD Projekt Red throws out of the park.
Some of the more memorable characters and storylines are hidden to the side, and you may never see them unless you stray from the critical path (which can be completed in around 15 to 20 hours). I don’t know how many dozen (or hundreds) hours of side content there are, but the mission log just keeps growing as you play. While the main sequences of the story often end with cliffhangers that require a solution and the thought that you should continue down this path, the best way to experience Cyberpunk 2077 is to see what the city has to offer. Step into a crowded market, explore a mysterious question mark on your map, and take on the side missions that residents offer – just indulge in moment-to-moment discovery.
CD Projekt Red wants you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the world, but it also requires you to spend a lot of time on menus assigning new skills, tinkering, and sorting through tons of loot. This is not a blow to the game. It’s all handled pretty well. In every room you enter, you can pick up numerous objects and read world-forming text. The amount of levels that you can complete is immense. This is reflected in extensive skill charts that take a long time to fill out. If you only focus on the critical path, you are barely scratching the surface of skills that provide significant combat, stealth, hacking, and dialogue advantages. It is amazing how much you can improve and expand upon the standard attributes of V. I also like how different things help improve V in these areas.
Using cyberware and skills to compete against enemies is great fun, like cooking a grenade in an enemy’s pocket. Hacking cameras and activating devices remotely to distract enemies is what makes stealth satisfying. I enjoyed sneaking around environments hacking the cameras and towers in the process. I relied more on stealth than expected, partly because I didn’t find the gun game exciting. The guns you get feel great (and give a good reason to track down the legendary and iconic versions), but the enemy AI isn’t great, which results in headshots being fired like they’re going out of style . Some enemies think they are hidden behind thin railings, others stupidly storm you and then stop around them without cover. More difficult missions (which are well indicated in the log) are a bit more intense given the difficulty level, but the opponents are still easy to manipulate unless they are an aggressive boss or cyber ninja who can quickly overcrowd you.
Johnny Silverhand is unfortunately not the only glitch in Cyberpunk 2077. Since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim I haven’t played a game that is littered with so many graphical errors at startup. The danger of walking into a shabby bar loses its bite when one of its guests stands motionless in a T-pose. A high-speed motorcycle chase on a freeway is far less intense than it should be with an NPC biker shaking so badly that he looks like a blur. Small visual issues in the environment and in the characters are common and annoying, but I’ve rarely come across anything that affects the gameplay. The only major problems I had was being unable to look down on my weapons during a mission – reloading my rescue fixes the problem. I also had a digitized visual effect after a cutscene. Again, I had to reload a sequence and play it back to get the right result. Regardless, the frequency of the weird visual moments hurts the immersion and can completely ruin an exciting moment.
Cyberpunk 2077 is dark and at times disturbing (terrifying), but most of its content is intriguing and full of depth through the various RPG systems and lore. I really enjoyed my time in Night City and Johnny Silverhand is a great partner for seeing the sights. Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t top its welcome with its critical path story and invites players to get involved and spend hundreds of hours on unique content, should they so choose. It didn’t blow my mind like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but it’s still a hell of a good opening for a hopefully new series.