TL:DR should be at the front of a post, not the end. Nutshell is Cyberpunk is not nearly as bad as it’s been made out to be, at least in the right hardware environment with patches as of October 2021.
So, due to the Tim Rogers Cyberpunk review, specifically the intro as I am following his advice to not watch the rest of it (or more specifically the 2 most interesting segments to me) before playing the main story, I decided to go ahead and just bite the bullet and play it.
Back at launch I played it for about 10 hours and got a ways into act 2 I was mainlining the core storyline with just a bit of exploring the open world, but hit a few too many moments of levitating pantsless above my motorcycle for me to keep it up. I was lucky enough to have an RTX 3080 that I got at MSRP through sheer luck last year (I just went on Best Buy's website and it was there so I bought it, 1 in a million luck) so it ran well enough outside of the quirky bugs, but those quirks were a little too much too often and I think I psychologically joined the dogpile zeitgeist of just stopping after a while, despite not having an awful time. My thought at the time was that I would wait for it to hit a proper 1.0 as the bugs did seems rather Alpha-build.
Anyway, I finally decided to play it again this past week due to the Tim Rogers review intro and I’m now about where I was before. Still not done but I have to say, I’m actually enjoying my time with it quite a bit. It’s not perfect and nothing could ever match the hype that the out of control marketing created and the criticism is got was and still is absolutely legitimate. Let me repeat, THE CRITICISM IS LEGITIMATE. But, this is really not a bad game. In fact, I gotta say, it’s actually pretty good.
So, three aspects that I want to talk about: the level/open world design, the story, and the lore.
First, the design: I have to say, this is one of the best cities I’ve ever explored. The twisty walkways, highways and cityscapes is really impressive. There is a bit of reused modular design to the interiors but the outdoors and amount of otherwise bespoke areas is actually quite impressive. I’m really having a great time Deus Exing my way through individual missions, and also just walking around the environments. A thing I hate about it, however, is the fake ads. This is beyond crass, these would be rejected jokes from the Idiocrasy script. The trans jokes on billboards, the raw grotesque gore and shit and body fluids on display are not actually in line with the world it is presenting. Billboards with a trans man proposing marriage to a female coded partner while leaking menstruation blood like they shit their pants as a tampon ad is a specifically disgusting example to me, along with the others like the Watson Whore ads, the dog food tittyfuck ads or the antidepressant ads graphically depicting a suicide. These show how far from the mark this game can be from the world it's actually trying to show with its characters and it's not successful in it being a contrast if that is what they were going for. These are the sorts of things a particularly stupid 12-year-old edgelord trying to shock his grandma would come up with. The characters in the game are intelligent and as such the world it’s presenting though it’s fake advertising just doesn’t line up right. It’s not satire, it’s just dumb and sort of betrays a basic misunderstanding of what a post-gender and/or post-race world where human body parts are swappable with hardware would actually represent. In a nutshell, the ads seem to be completely detached from the actually quite good design otherwise shown in almost all the rest of the game. And because advertising is everywhere (and ads being everywhere does make sense in this setting, the irony of that not being lost on me considering the hype train this game had) it is distracting and unseemly. In a world that can replace someone’s whole nervous system along with traditionally gendered body parts, companies would not be making up stupid biological fluid jokes in their marketing writers rooms.
The story is the second aspect, and it’s the shortest. This is a good future noire story. Is it the best, or even great? No, not at all. It’s retelling stories already retold a hundred times before. I don’t know the end of the main story but I think I see where the ending is heading and it’s not something I haven’t seen before. But it’s being told well so far. Characters are shown to have humanity and depth beyond their archetypes, at least in the quiet moments of exposition. The game is willing to have those scenes of contemplation and empathy with each other and those are some the best moments where you see a characters place in this setting more than their place in the general plot line. The bad guys are real bad, the good guys are also kinda bad guys, it’s people living within a highly compromised system of evil that took over the planet. It works, I like these characters and am invested in what happens, even if I see it coming.
Finally, the lore: it was a bit pre-built due to it being an established setting, albeit 50 years later from Mike Pondsmiths original setting (which was LAST YEAR, HA!). I enjoy little background things like the US government dissolving in 1996 and them committing to that inaccurate alternate timeline. There is a whole lot of legitimate criticism about the inevitable conclusions of capitalism. Honestly, I sadly think that a lot of what is presented as far as climate is likely in the real world within the game settings timeline. Radio hosts talking about terminator crops and books referring to cryptocurrency being a lead in to corporations replacing the financial viability of democratic governments sound like CNN right now and not like a futurist 'What If' novel. Its seems sadly all too likely in my opinion (I hope to fuck I’m just stupid and wrong, but I also predicted trump would be president as soon as he announced candidacy, so I hate my predictions.) That said, as sad as it is, it is really well done, both what Pondsmith original created and how CDPR expanded on it.
One small thing in the lore/world building that CDPR has done since the first Witcher game is that they have every shopkeeper have a chat line. Meaning you can just ask some item shop guy how his kids are or call out someone talking in haiku despite being tenth generation Japanese-american so they can sell robot factory-made clothes. It’s incidental and meaningless, but it adds character to the game. They do it the worst in cyberpunk, it was done better in the Witcher series where it was more about being the one Nilfgardian merchant in the north or how a shopkeeper is an elf so even though they have the best swords, no on in town will buy them, but it is still there and it still adds a depth to the world that most RPGs don’t bother with. Same for the side missions, there is always a little bit of drama to the quest giver talking about how his wife divorced him because he lost a leg in the war and can’t fuck good no more, even if the mission itself is just to essentially kill ten boars or hack a laptop. It is a trick they did better in the Witcher 3, but it remains an ok trick here.
In conclusion, Cyberpunk 2077 is pretty good. It’s a lot better now if you have the hardware to run it and the patches to keep your pants on, which I know most don’t have due to global shortages (another real life Cyberpunk problem.) In its ideal hardware environment, it’s now runs fairly smoothly and the bugs that I am running into are mostly acceptable and reloading a save from minute or two before solves like 99% of issues. If they delayed until right now, I think it would have been considered a good game universally, though nothing could have matched the hype.
It’s not the best game ever. It is a decent RPG in a decent setting with a decent story. It borrows the wrong things from GTA and the right things from The Witcher.
Side observation: Run The Jewels and Grimes being on the same soundtrack seems like a conflict of interest, considering one votes for Bernie and the other was married to Satan Musk.