The infamous launch of Cyberpunk 2077 in 2020 is well-tread territory at this point, one that was met with numerous game-breaking bugs and performance issues across various platforms. Through several updates over the years, critical issues were addressed to get it in a playable and stable state for those who faced the worst problems. But the 2.0 update, launching alongside the release of the Phantom Liberty expansion, is a more fundamental one--a rebuild of Cyberpunk 2077's very gameplay foundation.
If you were in the camp that was underwhelmed by the RPG mechanics of the original version, where progression felt somewhat inconsequential in terms of influencing your playstyle and effectively building your character, this update is a strong and confident answer to that. It completely revamps the skill trees, improves the cyberware system, adds new elements to vehicular combat, changes police behavior, and on top of that, brings several quality-of-life improvements. After starting a new save and spending roughly 20 hours with Cyberpunk 2077's version 2.0, I'm happy to say that, from a gameplay perspective, it is now a stellar RPG.
My newfound enthusiasm for Cyberpunk 2077 starts with the new progression system. While you still have the basic attributes (Body, Reflexes, Technical, Intelligence, and Cool) to pump points into, the overhauled skill tree features branches of perks that genuinely impact the way you play. Many of these are distinct abilities for specific playstyles that you can build around, then mix and match to create hybrid approaches to combat. Instead of picking out incremental stat boosts based on percentages as you'd do in the original version, you're now compelled to create a toolbox of abilities that continually evolves as you get deeper into the game.
For example, I love using blades, so I spent attribute points on Cool and Reflex to unlock deeper tiers of perks in the skill tree that improved my movement and blade-wielding capabilities. These included abilities to deflect bullets back at enemies, perform air-dashes, sprint while crouching, and execute the deadly dash-slash combo. Through these trees, I'm also picking up useful perks for submachine guns and rifles, such as the Focus and Deadeye abilities that grant substantial buffs when aiming down sights. And along the way, I'm able to spec into perks that make stealth and sneak attacks viable options as well.
That only speaks to my experience as someone who gravitates toward nimble, dexterous builds in his RPGs. Looking closer at what perks are offered in the Body, Tech, and Intelligence branches shows just how many wild possibilities there are regardless of your preference. If you want to burn enemies down by overwhelming them with quickhacks using the new Hack Queue mechanic, you can do that. Or if you want to overpower foes with big guns and sheer constitution, you can do that too. Cyberpunk 2077 supports those kinds of builds with 2.0's overhauled progression system, and rewards you with some sweet powers at the highest tier in each attribute category.
I constantly found myself looking forward to spending attribute and perk points to gain that next ability I was eager to use, and planned my build several levels in advance by really inspecting the various tiers in each branch of perks. To me, the sign of a great RPG is when you're excited to level up, and the 2.0 update definitely delivers on that front.
Many of the granular stat advantages that were in the original version's skill tree can be found in the new cyberware system. In tandem with the revamped perks, cyberware is where you can fine-tune your build and truly get the most out of your preferred playstyle. For now, I'm scraping whatever eddies I can get by selling loot so I can pick up cyberware that buffs sneak attacks and headshots to make sure if I go with stealth, I'm as deadly as possible. And because I sprinkled some Intelligence into my character, I'm experimenting with quickhacks, and it's in the cyberware where I can equip various hacks, further shorten cooldown timers, and expand RAM slots.
There's a good deal of depth here, and while I haven't found it entirely necessary to heavily invest in cyberware to get through the game's challenges, visiting a Ripperdoc to see what they offer and paying good money for noticeable tweaks to your build sweetens the deal. It's also a relatively small but impactful change in the 2.0 update to have armor and various styles of damage mitigation relegated to cyberware rather than the clothes my character is wearing. In a world where everyone is cybernetically modified with things like subdermal armor or hardened skin, it's a much better thematic fit--which means I can wear whatever I want without gameplay consequences, too.
Another notable change that fits into combat is the new stamina system. It is no longer tied to sprinting (so you can sprint forever); stamina is now spent when you shoot a gun, swing or block with a melee weapon, or dash. The different types of health inhalers and injectors are subject to a cooldown timer that refreshes your two charges, so you no longer have to stock up on health items to restore HP (you just equip the one health item you prefer). These may seem odd on paper, but they affect the way you navigate big fights by pushing you to be more thoughtful with your approach, further emphasizing the RPG ethos.
Take the Sasquatch boss fight in the Grand Imperial Mall during the "I Walk The Line" story mission for the Voodoo Boys. She's a tank of an enemy who rushes you with a massive hammer to deal heavy damage and knockbacks, and she doesn't get staggered from your attacks. If I just tried blasting away with a shotgun at close range, I'd run out of stamina and leave myself vulnerable without enough to dash away from her heavy attacks. And if I wasn't skilled enough, I wouldn’t be able to rely on just pumping myself with health stims to survive my mistakes. Thus, managing stamina and health are now things you have to account for in tough battles, even though they recover from cooldown quite fast. It also somewhat prevents you from feeling too overpowered to the point where you could get away with simply brute-forcing your way through combat encounters.
To me, the sign of a great RPG is when you're excited to level up, and the 2.0 update definitely delivers on that front.
Cyberpunk 2077 now has two strong, distinct pillars that elevate its RPG gameplay. Granted, you can still largely shoot your way through each fight as you'd do in the original version, but at the very least, you have to be more thoughtful about it. Having all these new systems in place makes the experience feel personalized and the familiar combat encounters much more satisfying. It's as if my character has a stronger identity, which is an extension of how I built them for my new playthrough.
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Additionally, 2.0 changes how the police respond to your crimes on the streets. I remember testing NCPD in an old playthrough and feeling underwhelmed by how they thoughtlessly piled up on me, then disappeared for moments at a time. There are some truly odd exploits, however, like stepping into a weapons-free safe zone which makes the cops completely forget I exist while remaining in plain sight. From testing their limits a bit in 2.0, they seem smarter and more persistent--and man, it's pretty wild to see the elite MaxTac troops swoop in once you've earned your five-star wanted rating.
The other big ticket item is vehicular combat since you can now whip out a one-handed firearm while driving or pull out a sword when riding a bike. I rarely found these to be viable solutions in combat scenarios, save for a few quests that drove me to engage in shootouts on wheels, but these are sensible changes that I'm hoping shine through in the campaign content offered in Phantom Liberty.
I've been playing on a PC with an Nvidia RTX 3080 and an Intel Core i7-12700k CPU, running 4K resolution with quality DLSS and high settings, and it has performed extremely well. Cyberpunk 2077 also remains one of the best-looking games to date. Bugs and glitches are inevitable for a game of this scope, even after continuous patches, so it's not surprising to see silly things like NPCs clipping into geometry or AI not knowing how to react in certain situations. But thankfully, I haven't had any game-breaking bugs or crashes mar the experience (as was the case when I revisited the game for the 1.5 update).
From front to back, Cyberpunk 2077's 2.0 gameplay changes are stellar, and I really wish it was there at the start because it would have left a lasting impression. Of course, however, it doesn't change the bigger shortcomings I found in my first playthrough--that's not what this rework was intended to do. The original story is intact which has some genuinely powerful moments and thrilling setpiece battles. But the inconsistent tone and character portrayals, along with some of that overly edgy dialogue, are just as prevalent in a second run. And the quests themselves still have their spectacular highs and underwhelming lows, and the latter surfaces a bit more because of how great the core gameplay has become.
Comeback stories are increasingly common in games, but they don't happen overnight and without a ton of work behind the scenes. Games evolve, even ones that aren't in a live-service model, and Cyberpunk 2077 is a remarkable example of post-launch support paying off. Should it have come out in the state it was in three years ago? Probably not. But today, it's in a great state, and in 2023, several aspects of Night City are still impressive as hell. Now with the 2.0 update, it's been rebuilt with a fantastic RPG system that makes it absolutely worth revisiting, or playing for the first time.
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