Night City is a massive Cyberpunk world, taking place in 2077 Southern California, riddled with districts ranging from futuristic corporate downtowns to impoverished malls to culturally themed neighborhoods. It’s a world filled with cyber body modifications, tech guns, impossibly massive buildings, and absurd levels of political corruption. But these are also all part of a game that may have exceeded any level of controversy I have ever seen on an initial release. It was shown to be riddled with bugs, lacked most of the immersion that was promised, looked far below average on certain systems, and felt simply empty. I purchased the game on release day for my PS4 and put in about 30 or so hours (a couple of weeks) before I ended up getting my hands on a PS5. From there, I transferred my data to the PS5 and continued my playthrough. I hope to enlighten the difference in performance and quality of the game between the two systems, and if it is worth getting on either one. Certain sections of this Cyberpunk 2077 review will have spoilers, but I will label the sections accordingly. I apologize for the incredibly long write-up, but there is a lot to say both good and bad about so many different parts of the game. If you’re only interested in certain things, feel free to skip the sections you don’t care about. If you just want to know if it’s worth buying, check out the final two sections.
Here, I want to discuss the main story, the side quests, and the endings. All story sections will have spoilers so please skip to gameplay if you don’t want anything spoiled. Taking about 82 hours of gameplay, I have beaten the main questline along with every ending, all the major side quests, many many minor side quests, and at least fifteen to twenty gigs (if you want a comparison for The Witcher 3, I had 152 hours on that game). I also plan to mostly focus on Act II as that is the large majority of the game.
Main Story (Spoilers):
The story opens with one of three possible prologues depending on the choice you make during character creation. My choice was the Corpo (corporate) route, where I was a high up staff member of the Night City branch of Arasaka, a massive corporation originating in Japan. The prologue provides intrigue and a sense of political corruption which all eventually leads to V’s downfall and rescue by his longtime friend, Jackie. It sets a good tone for what is to come as you eventually learn what V’s main goal in the story will be. Still, while good, the prologue (at least the Corpo route) left a good amount to be desired. The downtown corporate towers aren’t readily accessible later in the game, so I felt some desire to stay behind and explore this style of life as well. But it was a quick 30 minutes and then it was over.
Act I begins shortly after Jackie rescues V, brings V to live with him, and starts him on the lifestyle of well-paid organized crime. As V and Jackie move up in the world, finding better paying but more dangerous jobs, they eventually stumble on something better than they could ever have imagined. A job that will not only pay well, but will leave them with unimaginable fame and glory – to rob Arasaka’s son in his own penthouse. The plot leading up to all of this does a wonderful job of building tension while keeping the mystery high and the outcome unpredictable. There are introductions to amazing characters from Judy to Evelyn, to unique gaming concepts such as BDs. And the grand finale itself succeeds in many aspects, but fails in what should have been an incredibly emotional moment due to the brevity of Act I itself. Its success is in the trek up to the penthouse and the witnessing of Arasaka’s murder. But in the following events leading to Jackie’s death, I felt that we needed far more time talking and working with him to have experienced the emotional moment CD Projekt Red likely intended. Also, based on what happens right at the beginning of Act II, Act I needed to be a good deal longer to actually allow Act II to make sense.
Act II opens with our V’s body now host to the engram of a one-time rock star and rebel against the Corpos, Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves, who does an insanely good job at his role). His engram (what is his consciousness and personality imprinted onto a computer chip) now lives with you day to day as you speak with him and see him – yet no one else knows that he is with you unless you tell them. His engram is also slowly killing you like a sort of infection. The story now revolves around V attempting to remove Johnny from his body without killing either of them. Throughout, Johnny and V become closer and learn about each other while completing missions related and unrelated to the main story. It’s in this act that you meet other amazing characters ranging from Panam to Takamura to Hanako. The story is highly emotional and gives an amazing sense of development in the relationship between V and Johnny, and V and himself. But there are two major issues that I just can’t let go of.
The first is that Johnny’s initial introduction and attitude gives a sense that you should not like him at all. His brash comments and V’s apparent hatred towards him; V popping pills to make him disappear; the fact that V is dying. All this lead to me disliking Johnny as well, and until a certain point in the main story when Johnny says he’d die for you, I didn’t even realize I was supposed to begin giving in and liking him. Before that comment, I needed to feel empathy and a bond with him long ago. Once I did begin to realize this, the rest of the game did play out incredibly well with V and Johnny’s relationship development (especially in Johnny’s main questline and the various endings) but that change in attitude was so abrupt that it really just did not make sense at least for a few quests. His introduction needed to be far less abrasive, or he should have at least not started leading you to your death for a few main/side quests. Speaking of which leads to my second issue.
V is dying and has a few weeks at best. Yet, almost the entire game along with dozens and dozens of side quests is ahead of you once Act II begins. First of all, this leads to the feeling that the main questline needs to be rushed. It makes virtually no sense for V to spend days and days trying to romance different parties, completing gigs and boxing matches to make some cash, seeking out cars, and helping various other people from the Aldecaldos to Delemain. Now, all of those are some of my favorite parts of the game, but I always felt weird doing them when death was apparently so immanent. I believe that the glitches in V’s system and the revelation that Johnny’s engram was involuntarily killing him needed to wait for another Act or so. It would have given time for their relationship to develop without hatred, time for the player to complete side missions unrushed, and would have made for a heart-wrenching plot twist since you would have already come to love both characters.
This all sounds like I dislike the story, but I don’t. It still is a really amazing story that focuses on the various characters to an incredibly creative degree. There is an excellent development in the player’s mindset which allows one to come to terms with what identity means in a world that is so void of the simple idea of individuality. The commentary on the fault of greedy capitalism and corporatism is done well and highlights those same themes of identity, now on a grander scale. But, my issues led to the story not being as emotionally impactful as it could have been for me – something that CD Projekt Red said would be apparent to even a higher degree than The Witcher 3 (plot twist: it wasn’t). And that’s not to say there is no emotion, because there are many teary-eyed moments; it is to say that CD Projekt Red gave in to those few people who complained that The Witcher 3 was too long, and then cut important moments from a story that could have truly made it great. I do hope that is a lesson for them to never let the audience get in the way of artistic creativity. It never improves anything.
The Side Quests (Spoilers):
I did really love the main story, but the side quests were my favorite part of the game. Beginning with what was my favorite side quest will be my major complaint in this section. The Peralez questline may have been one of the most intriguing and exciting quests I’ve recently played in any RPG. The mystery surrounding what is happening to the family and its slow revelation that they are literally being mind-controlled by some powerful entity, led me to blow through their quests excited to get to the end. Then the call from the possibly alien or AI creature was another plot twist that I wanted to explore as quickly as possible. But that occasion never came – the quest was cut short. So that was a disappointment. Maybe there’ll be a DLC, and I hope there is, but to leave things like that with no explanation was pretty unforgivable.
The other major side quests were all done very well in my opinion. Panam’s quests were amazing and ranged from sneak missions to all-out warfare to flirtations. Her romance was also nicely done and felt like a natural development I could believe. Judy’s questline was heartbreaking, and our last mission with her was a unique, slow-paced conclusion that I absolutely loved. River’s story was a nightmarish journey into human trafficking but also gave the development of a new, wonderful friendship (although cut a bit short). And even though many people disliked Kerry’s questline, I still found it to be a nice departure from the typical mission style of the rest of the game. Plus, his romance questline didn’t feel as bad as other people seem to make it out to be, although definitely not as well done as Panam’s. Finally, Johnny’s questline near the end of the main story was a fun trek into Johnny’s mindset and a nice look at Rogue (who was previously shadowed by mystery). But its placement felt odd due to V being right on the verge of death, right about to go to Arasaka tower to save his apparently brief life, and now stopping to do another 5-10 days of questing.
The Endings (Spoilers):
The endings, independent of the fact that the game simply needed more time to develop emotion, were mostly successful. I achieved all of them and by far the best (in terms of actual quality) were Panam’s and Arasaka’s. Whether you romanced Panam or not, the Aldecaldo’s standing by your side to the end is a perfect sacrifice for all you’ve done for them. The epilogue gives a glimmer of hope that V’s life could be saved, but not so much that it gives a cliche happy ending. The Arasaka ending is a great depiction of the flight from death. V goes against all his morals, siding with the evil corporation because he believes they have the best chance of helping him. This ending is especially great if you decide to have your consciousness transplanted into the net, as it further solidifies V’s true fear, and makes for one of the darkest but most real endings of the game. The other endings were all good, in my opinion, simply not to the same degree. Luckily I had no major complaints with the endings other than the people you were helping in the Arasaka questline could have appeared a little eviler to merit the animosity nearly everyone felt towards you for choosing their path. But nonetheless, despite my seemingly many complaints about the story overall, I cannot deny that I really did love it.
The gameplay is where the game begins to falter a bit, but it is overall still very fun. This is all based on the PS5 playthrough, and I’ll touch on the PS4 at the end. I’ll start with the combat and sneaking system. When it comes to shooting, it takes a number of hours to get used to, but once it clicks it becomes addicting. Using assault rifles and handguns was my go-to, which all felt incredibly powerful and accurate. Taking cover was a little iffy and could have used some work, but it was still well done enough to make it worth practicing. When switching to other weapons that I didn’t care for as much, such as snipers and shotguns, I still was experiencing plenty of enjoyment. The main issue with combat was when it came to fist-fighting (I rarely, if ever, used melee weapons so I can’t comment on that). The parry and block mechanics felt pointless in easy fights and non-effective in difficult fights. The dodge mechanic was decent but left way too much to be desired. And the fighting itself was all around poorly done. Enemies were able to pull incredible combos and move at the speed of light while V stumbled around trying to occasionally get in a punch or two to take 2-3% of the enemy’s total health. Finally, sneaking was sometimes useful, but was largely overlooked and ended up being almost entirely un-innovative other than the use of RAM to distract enemies or turn off cameras.
The leveling mechanics were mediocre at best. Putting stats into one of the five levels did not immediately show their importance and I found it hard to decipher which one would be most helpful (there is also an empty sixth perk slot that felt like it was cut content. Kind of a let down). The perks were mostly good, but many of them felt almost entirely useless. The ability to re-spec would have been nice, especially due to early game leveling where the player is mostly unaware of what type of gameplay they would want to try out but being able to put by far the highest number of levels into a skill.
There are a few other aspects I want to briefly touch on. The driving was actually really fun through the city streets, but the physics needed to be vastly improved for crashing and drifting. As for the crafting mechanic, I literally never once used it. I saw no purpose but that may have been my biased disinterest in it because I do have a friend who said they loved the crafting. Weapon and armor accumulation was interesting, but it led to me wearing a bunch of really dumb looking items because they were more powerful. I wish I could have more easily found or matched things that still provided some shielding (is this where crafting would have come in? Maybe I was dumb to ignore that).
And now for the differences between the PS4 and PS5. On the PS4, the driving was atrocious. Random objects popped up out of nowhere when you were going anything over 30 MPH, the radio and phone calls forced the game to slow down immensely while they loaded, all the textures and people were nearly non-existent at that same speed threshold, and the game always seemed to crash if I was driving fast for more than a minute. All of these factors were nearly entirely fixed when switching to the PS5. The game still did crash quite a number of times when driving, but not the extent of the PS4. Combat on the PS4 always ended up significantly dropping the frame rate to a level that felt close to unplayable, but on the PS5 things almost always were moving as smooth as I could hope for on any console (again, some crashes here or there, but nothing more than I experienced on The Witcher 3 for PS4).
PS5 Gameplay: 3.75/5.00
PS4 Gameplay: 2.50/5.00
Worldbuilding and Immersion:
The world of Night City is incredible if we are just looking at the city itself. The different districts are so beautifully diverse and there are many different streets you can take through them, that while walking or driving it is almost guaranteed you will come across something you haven’t seen before. The downtown area is a gorgeous take on a neon New York financial district, Japantown feels like the exact mockery I would imagine an American cyberpunk world would make of Japan, the poorer areas are still filled with Cyberpunk remnants but feel broken down in a true-to-life way, and the middle-class areas feel equally futuristic and ignored from an economic perspective. Driving these streets is one of the greatest joys of the game, and I found myself doing this for hours to no real purpose but exploration. I never used the fast travel mechanic other than one or two times because of how enjoyable simply looking at things was.
The issues with this is that this is all simply the exterior map. When it comes to exploring buildings, there is almost no content excluding the buildings you need to enter for story purposes. Of course, there’s still a great deal to explore because the story is so large, but given the immersion that was promised, I really wanted to be able to just go into a random corporate office building or an apartment just to walk around and see things. Interactions with people and objects around the city were almost non-existent. For example, I was excited to play pachinko or poker in certain parlors, to play random arcade games, to sit down and eat at food stalls or in restaurants, to check into hotels and motels around the different districts, to ride the subways as a way for fast travel, to get haircuts or add body-mods or modify my car. And I could go on and on about things I wanted to do from a basic RPG standpoint, but unfortunately, they were pretty much non-existent on the initial release and still are non-existent to this day.
As for the PS4, well, everything I said about the city goes out the window. When I first walked out of my apartment building and started looking around, I was so unimpressed with how bad everything looked that I almost refused to believe it. I didn’t even have nearly the bad luck that many people did have, but it still looked so mediocre. The skybox and tall buildings were fuzzy (even after changing settings), the people looked awful, the textures were poor, and the world simply looked like I was playing on a PS3. If I walked around slowly and let everything load, things finally started to look at least decent, but once you get moving the frames drop to below 20 and the textures just disappear. This factor alone almost made me quit playing the game on the PS4.
*One note on my rating for this (for the PS5). I am biased because my biggest hope was for a big city to drive around in. I love big cities in games and CD Projekt Red succeeded in creating one of the favorites I’ve ever played in, so my rating will likely be higher than people who were more invested in the RPG aspect of the world.
PS5 Worldbuilding: 4.50/5.00
PS4 Worldbuilding: 2.25/5.00
Overall Immersion (on both systems): 3.25/5.00
Is This Game Worth Buying (as of February 2021):
Perspective 1 – PS4 (or Xbox One):
I’ll keep this short: no. There is no reason to buy this game on a last-gen console. The frame rate is atrocious, it does not look good, it’s riddled with bugs and glitches, it crashes far too often, and at times it lags to the point of unplayability. The story is still the same but the amount of frustration you would experience would make any emotional moments completely disappear. If I hadn’t got my hands on a PS5, it is likely I would have quit the game within the next week until it became playable. I admit that all of my playtime on the PS4 was in December and very early January, but it was in such a poor state that even a massive improvement would still leave it average at best. Wait for the patches or wait until you get a next-gen console.
Perspective 2 and 3 – PS5 (or Xbox Series X or PC):
This is where it really depends. If I am looking from purely my perspective about what I like in a game (and taking into account that I didn’t have high expectations since I had only been anticipating the game for a few months at most) then yes, absolutely. What I want in a game is a good story and an interesting, well-designed world to go with it. Cyberpunk 2077 delivers on both of those. These two points have many faults that go with them, but I still found myself enjoying them to a very high degree while playing on the PS5. To say it again then, if you’re like me and either want to play for the story or for the world, then yes, I would definitely recommend it with no reservations.
But then you might not be like me. For me, gameplay and total immersion are a little more secondary to story and worldbuilding. So if what you’re looking for is a true RPG that allows you to sit down in restaurant bars, game in arcades and go bowling, eat on street corners, or customize nearly everything you come across, then my answer is no. Or if you want completely unique and innovative gameplay design, flawless combat, and an exciting leveling system, then again I would have to say no. Now, it is possible that CD Projekt Red will improve these aspects (and most likely will improve the first one), but as of now, they are both far poorer than they should be.
Perspective 4 – A Moral Perspective
If the answer is already no for you, then there’s probably no point in reading this. But if you own a next-gen console or a PC and are mostly interested in the story and/or worldbuilding of videogames – well, there’s still one more thing to consider. CD Projekt Red not only blatantly lied about what this game would be able to do, but they knowingly manipulated the scores they would be receiving in order to boost the sales when they knew that the game would be unplayable on the release date. It is a game design for the previous generation of consoles and thus was most important to be playable on those. It was pure false advertising to a tee, but the manipulation of everything else took it to another level that I honestly cannot say I have ever seen any gaming company attempt and/or succeed at.
Because of that, I would say that it may be important to vote with your wallet on this one. One day the game will hopefully be playable on the last-gen consoles, and much improved on the next-gens and PCs. But until then, if you don’t already own the game, there are so many other games out there to play where the company did not lie to and manipulate their customers. CD Projekt Red needs to be shown that this type of release is unacceptable, and if they are not then I wouldn’t be surprised if other highly-renowned companies followed their example just to make some quick cash in the pre-orders.
But this one is up to you. If you’ve honestly been looking forward to this game’s story for this long and can play on a system that will suitably run the game, I wouldn’t blame you for buying it despite the moral implication. However, if you just need something new to play, then wait it out so CD Projekt Red and other gaming companies can learn this much-needed lesson.
Cyberpunk 2077 delivered on two major points: an emotional story and an awe-inspiring city. The story does have many faults though which stem from a main story that was much shorter than it should have been. The city also has faults, as while it’s beautiful from the outside, the inner workings are not nearly as impressive. Combat in this game is fun as long as you are using weapons, but when you delve into the hand to hand combat, the sneaking, and the leveling system, it begins to lose its appeal. From an RPG perspective, the game feels more like an open-world sandbox with many side quests rather than a true customize-your-life role-playing game. Finally, the game is nearly unplayable on last-gen consoles, so it is only worth getting on a next-gen console or PC as long as you are both mostly interested in the story and have no moral qualms with how CD Projekt Red lied to their customers. I do love the game, but there is a lot to think about before paying the full price for it.
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