CD Projekt Red's next major title, Cyberpunk 2077, might still be an RPG where choice is paramount, but it's nonetheless a massive departure from the developer's previous efforts on The Witcher series. Instead of lush forests, picturesque fields, and towering mountains, the devs are creating a world set in the concrete jungle of Northern California in the distant future. Unlike a lot of fiction focusing on a darker future, Cyberpunk 2077 aspires to move away from grimdark and towards a more exuberant but equally cynical vision for a future where capitalism and technology has run amok.
Inspired and influenced by the original Cyberpunk 2020 pen and paper RPG, 2077 extrapolates many of the themes and iconography while capitalizing on the developer's skillset for crafting dense and visually rich environments. We saw a near hour-long gameplay demo behind closed doors at E3 2018, showcasing many of the game's systems and locales, and came out impressed by the scope of CD Projekt Red's ambitious project. But now, gameplay has just been revealed during CD Projekt Red's livestream, allowing everyone to see just what all the fuss was about during E3 and Gamescom.
Set in an alternate universe 2077, you'll take on the role of V, a vagabond and hustler living in the bustling Night City located between SF and LA. You undertake sketchy gigs to fund cybernetic enhancements and pay off debts from society's most unsavory characters, and dive further into the seedy underbelly of the technopolis and its surrounding areas--all which are run by factions and mega corporations vying for power. Unlike CD Projekt Red's previous games, your protagonist, V, is entirely who you want them to be. At the beginning of the game, you'll be able to create a custom character--choosing their gender, characteristics, and picking backstories--along with tweaking particular stats.
The open world of Night City is a massive urban environment encompassing several regions with different warring factions . With no load times (according to the devs), you'll be able to freely explore the city both on foot and in your vehicle, even engaging in high-speed shootouts on freeways, tightly packed streets, and alleys--leading to some of the more unsavory parts of town.
During the demo, V traveled to a gang hideout with their close associate Jackie--an imposing but ever jovial ally--to find a missing cyborg. Things quickly went south as the player engaged in a shootout with a gang of scavengers running a black market harvesting operation. Action looked punchy and impactful, with V sliding in and out of cover--with bits of the environment, including walls, tearing apart from all the gunfire--to get the jump on the bandits. Sticking to its RPG roots, attack damage numbers pop up in real-time when attacking enemies, which takes into account the statistics of your current loadout. After taking out the gang, V and Jackie bring their target outside to await pickup from the Trauma Team, a crew of heavily armed EMTs assigned to the super-wealthy of Night City.
Experiencing all these aspects of Cyberpunk lore took some getting used to, as key terms and locations were referenced quite often. However, the core concepts behind them are familiar enough to get a handle of. The heavy sci-fi aesthetic, where advanced technology gives people some extraordinary abilities, gives it a very familiar vibe akin to CD Projekt's past fantasy games. Seeing the setting in action showcased the game's superb visual style and aesthetic, which feels like a heavy contrast to other dark and gloomy cyberpunk fiction like Blade Runner, Altered Carbon, or Johnny Mnemonic. In Cyberpunk 2077, there's a lot more variety on display, which plays with many of the sub-genre's familiar tropes.
Cyberpunk is deeply entrenched in its PC RPG roots, and The Witcher devs wanted to lean in harder on the more adaptive and varied styles of storytelling from their past games, with many of your decisions altering the course of your character's journey in strange ways. 2077 features an involved dialog system, where you'll be able to make choices that can determine your path towards a number of different outcome. In the dialogue system, you can show off different facets of V's personality as you appear imposing, curious, or outright lie to other characters in order to get what you want. However, certain characters are able to turn the tables and use some similar tricks against you.
During a character interaction--which can be avoided entirely if you choose--V is taken captive by a Milicorp agent who has one of her bodyguards hack into the main character. This invasive hack made certain dialog choices more difficult, with the bodyguards being able to tell when the main character was telling the truth or not. After cutting a deal with the corporate agent with some non-confrontational options, V headed into an engagement with the Maelstrom gang, a group so heavily upgraded that they have the appearance of neon-lit ghouls.
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The theme of transhumanism is one of the core pillars of the game, and you're constantly seeing the impact of technology on society, which also plays a role in V's development. Cyberpunk 2077 features many familiar RPG systems and mechanics, such as leveling up, skill-checks, and loot--including some nasty high-tech weapons like the assault rifle with homing bullets--but it has a mostly loose approach to character growth. You don't pick classes--such as Cyberpunk 2020's Fixer, Techie, and Nomad archetypes--but instead outfit your character with new tech enhancements they'll need at any given time. You can give your character a set of outfits that offer Street Cred bonuses--reputation experience points that open up places in the city--along with visiting the local RipperDoc to outfit yourself with new parts.
Dropping by Doctor Victor's spot in a back alley near V's apartment, we saw a few of the enhancements you can get. After choosing a new cybernetic eye, which added a zoom function and a target analyzer that allows you to see the level and stats of other characters, the ensuing upgrade sequence was gruesome, as the RipperDoc pulls out V's old eye with its vision still engaged--showing a full-view of the protagonist laying on the operating seat. This upgrade can come in handy as you'll occasionally wander into high-level characters that can pummel your character easily. While exploring the Maelstrom hideout, V utilized a number of bizarre, but powerful enhancements and tools--such as a hacking skill that allowed them to hijack an enemy's internal memory to steal precious info, along with a set of combat drugs that activated a bullet-time effect. During one moment, V hacked into an enemy's weapon to disable it remotely, and followed up with a set of advanced acrobatics to land an attack on the unsuspecting foes using with a set of arm blades, like the ones shown during the game's original teaser trailer.
While this section led to the demo's most action-packed moments--such as a boss fight that showcased feats of cybernetic skill-chaining and some of the game's most powerful weapons, like the double-barreled shotgun that fired through walls--there are apparently many different approaches to take. The developers stressed throughout the demo that many of the events and sequences shown were optional, and while the shootout in the Maelstrom hideout or making deals with the mega corporations can happen, they'll play out much differently based on their choices.
The E3 2018 demo for Cyberpunk 2077 was overwhelming with all its detail, but it did give us the impression that there was a large world with all sorts of systems to explore and mess with. The setting and some gameplay ideas are certainly a big departure for CD Projekt Red, but it also has a number of cool and visually stunning details that show off an incredibly rich world to jump head-first into. The game has been a long time coming, and we're excited to see more of it soon, and hopefully not too much later.
For more info on CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk 2077, along with our full interview with the creator of the original Cyberpunk RPG Mike Pondsmith, and all other games we saw during E3 2018, be sure to visit GameSpot's E3 Hub page.