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Cyberpunk 2077's Smaller Stories Have The Potential To Hit Harder Than The Main One

We spent four hours in Night City and, although much of it was familiar, we got to take control of V and get a feel for what life as an up-and-coming merc is like.

It should come as no surprise that the team behind The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is making another rich and detailed world, but there's a huge difference between watching blades of grass dance in the wind as the warm glow of the sun emerges over distant trees, and being in the middle of a city bathed in blinding neon lights that's also screaming thumping bass and ear-piercing guitar riffs at you at every turn. In Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red trades natural serenity for the overwhelming, furious progression of technology. We're not in Kansas anymore: This is Tokyo turned up to 20.

For the sake of transparency it must be noted that my hands-on with the game was conducted remotely. I was playing over the cloud and, although latency was not discernible, visual fidelity was not the same as what it would be on a machine running the game locally.

Nevertheless, Night City was impressive to behold. It has a raw, grimy kind of majesty, and the sensory overload hits the moment you walk out into its bustling streets. It's a cacophony of chattering citizens, a barrage of lights, a constant hum of music, invasive advertising, distant sounds of gunfire, strange cars whizzing by, unsavory characters just looking for a reason to start trouble, and helpless people calling out for aid. It's a place that makes you feel completely out of sorts and instills an odd sense of discomfort, but also beckons you to unlock the potential it holds. From the very outset, as an up-and-coming merc named V, you're told that it's a city of dreams where legends are born, and that's exactly what you hope to become.

Much of my play time involved retreading familiar ground. If you've seen any of the gameplay demonstrations from the past couple of E3s, you'll have a good idea of the events that transpired: the chaotic, guns-blazing battle through an apartment filled with scavengers; pulling a high-value target out of an ice bath after she'd been kidnapped and prepped for harvesting; V and their partner Jackie meeting Dexter Deshawn and being put on the path to fame and fortune when they're asked to recover a powerful weapon from a gang called Maelstrom; visiting a Ripper doctor to install new implants; meeting a Corpo agent to cut a deal. The broad strokes are the same as what we've already been shown, even if some of the finer details of how these quests unfold have been changed.

Of course, this is the first time we've actually taken control and executed the plan ourselves and, unlike the E3 walkthroughs, I opted to take the more aggressive approach. Instead of meeting with the Corpo agent and getting the money needed to buy the tech, I chose to ignore her entirely. I took my broke self into the heart of Maelstrom territory and kicked in the door--the perfect setup to put Cyberpunk 2077's combat through its paces.

The weaponry at my disposal was fairly basic--a handgun, assault rifle, and shotgun--but each one felt rewarding to use. Unloading bullets into enemies felt weighty at the trigger pull and satisfying at the point of impact. This might not sound too exciting, but in RPG-focused shooters where numbers fly off enemies and you're chipping away at health or shields, it's not a guarantee that shooting enemies feels good. Borderlands, for example, doesn't work for me, while Destiny does. Cyberpunk 2077 is more of the latter than the former, with guns that feel empowering and feedback that proves they are.

Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077
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At a distance, the assault rifle felt like a graceful way to quickly cut through enemy forces and pick off targets. The handgun was more of a hand cannon, stopping enemies in their tracks if they tried to approach. Together, these two let me duck behind cover, pop out when the hail of shrapnel paused briefly, and take down a few enemies. I also liberally employed the evasive dash, which quickly let me reposition and get the jump on people. Combined with the shotgun, it was incredibly satisfying to close the gap and fill an unsuspecting enemy with pellets.

My cavalier approach started with a showstopper as I took the local Maelstrom gang's leader hostage and immediately killed him. The consequence of this was that, unlike in E3 demos, he never reappeared armed with a powerful exoskeleton later on. Instead, the bay leading to the exit was manned by a few random soldiers, whom I decided to take out using stealth, sneaking up behind them and rendering them unconscious--my V isn't all bad, after all.

There were a few additional things that I had not seen before. For example, I got to pick a unique Life Path for my V. Life Paths are essentially an origin story, and my choices were between the Corporate, which comes from a life of privilege and is afforded high-tech cyberware as a result; Nomad, which is a clan member and begins the story on the outskirts of the city; and Street Kid, a wily, street-smart opportunist that has a few connections and is looking to make a bunch more. I picked the Street Kid and, as a result, my story began in a dive bar called El Coyote Cojo. Like most of the bars in Night City, it's a place full of seedy ne'er-do-wells tucked away in dark corners.

The bartender asks me to help him out by talking to a Fixer named Kirk and convincing him to let a debt go. During this discussion, I can choose to manifest my Street Kid background by pointing out that Kirk should show some leniency to local citizens, especially since he's an out-of-towner and the kind of person that shouldn't be throwing his weight around at the expense of Night City-ers. One thing leads to another, and I'm on my way to steal a top-of-the-line sports car to settle the debt. Of course, the gadget Kirk gives me to bypass the car's security fails and before I know it I've got someone pulling me out of the car and about to beat my ass. Thankfully, the cops show up and arrest us both. Turns out that lad that pulled me out of the car was Jackie, and that's how our beautiful friendship began.

According to CD Projekt Red, each of the Life Paths will have their own unique start. Unfortunately, due to time constraints we weren't able to try more than one, but I am intrigued to see how each of these paths bring V and Jackie together.

The other major mechanic I got to check out was the Braindance. In the world of Cyberpunk 2077, the Braindance is a form of entertainment that leverages recorded memories and emotions, which can be edited together and then experienced by anyone who cares to use a special headset. Naturally, it gets used mostly for porn, but there are more subversive ways to use it. In my demo, for example, I meet with a character called Evelyn Parker, who it turns out contracted Dex to steal something called the "Relic." Long story short, this effectively grants technology-enabled immortality. In order to get the Relic, however, V must infiltrate the home of Yorinobu Arasaka, son of Saburo Arasaka, CEO of a megacorporation that basically runs the city.

The Braindance mechanic is an unexpected wrinkle to Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay and immediately got my mind racing about future mystery adventures the game could hold in store for us

Instead of waltzing in there and trying to steal the Relic but probably getting shot, Evelyn brings in a friend called Judy Alverez, who takes a memory recording of Yorinobu's apartment and creates a unique Braindance for V to experience, allowing them to be in the apartment and relive everything that happened. The twist, however, is that Judy has included a Braindance editing suite, which means that V can not only watch back what happened in Evelyn's memory of the apartment (she bumped uglies with our mark), but detach and move around the environment, using implants and databases to hack key pieces of information, use thermal imaging to find key items of importance, break out an audio layer and listen in on specific conversations happening in the environment, and conduct a thorough investigation before starting the heist in real life. To draw a comparison to another, similar style mechanic, it's a lot like the investigation gameplay in Batman: Arkham Origins, but with a great deal more freedom and options at the player's disposal.

The Braindance mechanic is an unexpected wrinkle to Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay and immediately got my mind racing about future mystery adventures the game could hold in store for us. The narrative opportunities are exciting, as are the implications it could have on V as a character. Braindances are designed to replicate emotion too, so in Evelyn's memory, V would have felt fear when a terrifying giant robot man threatened her, and other sequences mention the lingering emotions from experiencing these memories. Who knows what could happen to V after repeated Braindances.

As I said previously, a lot of what I experienced in Cyberpunk 2077 was overwhelming. I haven't even mentioned the many skill trees that are available to players as they create and develop their V. Players will be able to improve their character's proficiency in certain areas simply by engaging in that activity. So if you want to be good at shooting a certain kind of gun, shoot it loads and you will; if you want to be better at sneaking, get to crouch-walking and you'll be on your way to becoming a ghost. But on top of that, there are attributes that points can be spent on. These include body, reflex, intelligence, technical ability, and cool. Within each of these categories, however, are numerous skill trees that get into the nitty gritty of what V can do and how well they can do it. There's an extreme level of minutia, giving players the opportunity to improve performance with specific gun types and melee weapons, or improve physical performance by tweaking athleticism or raw power. Some unlock passive improvements, while others afford new abilities. Frankly, there were too many available to really dig into, especially at the expense of actually playing the main game.

Through it all, however, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that something was missing. Sure, the bright city lights, gleaming monolithic structures, and intricately detailed streets were all dazzling, and the combat was thrilling, but it all felt a little... cold. Amidst the bewildering back and forths of futuristic jargon, heady sci-fi concepts, corporate scheming, and opportunistic power grabs, I was grasping for some humanity to anchor myself to. That is, after all, what CD Projekt Red is known for. In a sprawling fantasy epic about silver-haired monster hunters, spectres riding undead horses, and a magic-wielding teenager on the run, it was the smaller, human stories in The Witcher 3 that really struck a chord.

In my final few minutes I left the main quest behind and ventured further out of the city to a side-quest marker. Stepping out of my car, I heard the shouts of a distraught man saying his limbs were not his own. Approaching, I found that the man was a monk who, he explained, had been attacked and had implants forced on him by a gang. Unlike many of the others I met during my playthrough, the monk believed the implants desecrated the sanctity of his body. He recounted how he was mocked, told he would be upgraded like a tool, and defiled.

The gang had also taken his brother, and the monk pleaded with me to save him from suffering the same fate. "What's in it for me?" I asked, to which he only had his gratitude and the hope that the universe would repay me to offer in return. I told him that it could get bloody, but I'd do my best to save his brother.

Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077
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I found the Maelstrom thugs holed up a couple of blocks away, along with their hostage. With my guns drawn, I entered the building and carved a bloody path through them, leaving only the monk's brother alive. As I approached, he recoiled in fear, assuming I would also harm him. When I told him that I had been sent to save him, he replied not with gratitude but with a defeated sense of disappointment. In his eyes, another person had committed the purest form of evil to save him, and he would have sooner died than have this happen. This one good deed could not wipe away the atrocity I committed in service of it. Sometimes, inaction is the right thing to do, he said. And in sending V to help him knowing people would die, his brother had also erred.

In a game about body hacking, corporate espionage, and the ills of a society corrupted by the promise of fame, power, riches, and even immortality, I needed a sign that CD Projekt Red still wanted to tell intimate, impactful stories; something that gives players a reason to take pause and think on a smaller but still profound scale. The side-quest, titled Losing My Religion, was exactly that, and it was one of the many side-missions available on the map at the time. As exciting as the prospect of working my way up through gangs and megacorps to become a Night City legend is, it's those little stories that I'm most looking forward to seeing more of.

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Tamoor Hussain

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Fud_Sang

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My moneys on this game gets delayed again...for like the 8th time. That said I'm still super hyped for this game.

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DivisionCAlpha

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Edited By DivisionCAlpha

I haven't been this excited about a video game since Mario Bros. 3 on NES. I can't sleep because I'm still thinking about this game. I'm actually up at 4 A.M. drinking coffee also. lol Thnx CDPR.

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Cappy

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@divisioncalpha: I’m with you. 2:52 a.m. excited about this game!

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asnakeneverdies

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Edited By asnakeneverdies

Displaying numbers over mobs doesn't make an RPG focused shooter. It makes a compulsion focused one. This game is out to please crowds at the expense of itself. Are people truly this naïve?

CDProjektRED have developed themselves into a corner after their decision to homogenize the Witcher series. Their continued existence now depends on their ability to push presentational boundaries, a labor intensive task, and little else. These aren't living breathing worlds they're striving for, but dopamine driven rollercoasters.

Also, I cannot believe that they've decided to keep on regurgitating on the detective mode feature. A hideously digital dumbscape of player bondage. It boggles the serpentiferous mind. 🧠👈🐍

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Cappy

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@asnakeneverdies: perhaps, but I’m not sure how you can say this so surely when you have not even played it.

From what I’ve heard so far from this and two other hands-on experiences, the quest and narrative structures, with real choices baked in, is still the heart of their games. Thematically, sensory overload elements of lights, sounds and chaos can be artistically valid.

What do you mean when you say they “homogenized” the Witcher series?

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asnakeneverdies

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@cappy: You cannot trust the press, Cappy. There's only what you know empirically. I'm not a newcomer to the medium myself. I've been exposed to many games, some of which were developed by this developer. I'm extrapolating from personal experience and available information. So, I'm not merely judging a book by its cover. Such rhetoric is misguided.

Now, choice is inherent to the medium and virtually universal. However, it cannot be baked. Real choice happens without, and the game's job is to support expression through system driven simulations. These baked narratives are all about developer expression and player subjugation. You're just spewing marketing speak.

The Witcher series started as an action oriented role playing game full of mechanical idiosyncrasies. Its developer then decided to pursue a bigger market and homogenized into the ARPG canon. An opportunistic misnomer that leverages the pedigree of the CRPG to market action games that feature highly exploitative cores.

Exploitative in terms of classical and operant conditioning. Not only lootboxes should be compared to slot machines. The very cores and high level gameplay systems of our single player video games have become evermore increasingly predatory in the past two decades. It's a function of time, Cappy. 📈🐍

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Cappy

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@asnakeneverdies: @asnakeneverdies: First, let me say I always enjoy dialoging with you. Thanks for your thoughtful and stylish responses!

And I get what you are saying, but still, the caveat is that these are your predictions.

“Choice baked in” Your dead on and it was lazy of me to use that shorthand for something a bit different than real choice. What I am referring to is more a “feeling of choice” in the narrative akin to what you get from a great D and D tabletop session. Example: great dungeon masters who improvise well often employ “tricks” and “slight of hand” to make it appear the player has more choice than they really do. And while this may be“subjugating player choice,” it’s necessary for a certain level of story depth and detail and I welcome it when it is done subtlety enough that I can suspend disbelief. I am a.o.k. with RPG video games doing similar. With strong writing, I can sink deep into such a World. ]The Witcher 3 has been my favorite experience of this type so far, and it seems Cyberpunk has built on those roots. But rather than say all that I said, “choice seems to be baked in.” Lol!

Re: predatory dopamine reward systems, I think this is especially where you are jumping the gun. I agree that, in general, there is a huge increase by many publishers to exploit these responses. But I’ve not seen that at all from CD Projekt Red. The Witcher 3 had very little of this, so I’m not sure what your basing your assumption on. There is a lot of overload in the trailer, but it is thematically valid. The questions are, 1. Is it gratuitous and most importantly 2. Intentionally there to provide cheap thrills over deeper experiences. We need to play it first to know.

Be well.

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asnakeneverdies

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@cappy: I don't think the Witcher games handle choice subtly at all, Cappy, and certainly not in such a way that would permit suspension of disbelief. Their handling of narrative permutation is at the level of a David Cage or Telltale Games game.

I do agree, however, that this kind of handling allows for higher presentational quality, as the developer has absolute control. However, if that's what one values in their games then perhaps one should not be making games at all. There are better mediums for that, where one need not deal with some critters potentially compromising some grand vision by the exercise of their own free will.

Now, Wild Hunt is brimming with examples of systematic predation. It goes to great lengths, as contemporaries do, to discourage critical thinking. It even displays active quests in the way of the MMO. The fact that the presentation is state of the art is categorically meaningless when it comes to its redeemability as a video game.

It's your prerogative to construe choice in Wild Hunt as non gratuitous and superfluously cheap, Cappy. However, I would have to disagree wholeheartedly. I'm specifically denouncing Cyberpunk 2077 on account of its similarities. That doesn't mean that I would not play it myself, mind you. 📺🕹🐍

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Revl8n

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Thank God there are still a few game developers that value creativity and quality instead of releasing “minimal viable products”. And none, NONE, of them in the U.S. Just another badge of shame for our country.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@Revl8n: Gears V offers a lot considering it's on Gamepass but i agree CDPR offers tons of value with their products.

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illegal_peanut

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This article honestly sold me on this game. And, I was already going to get it.

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joalopes

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Watching and reading the previews for Cyberpunk 2077 I think we might have another classic in our hands by Christmas. These guys have one hell of a passionate team that really knows how to build immersive worlds with great stories.

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lonesamurai00

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Edited By lonesamurai00

RTX 3 series cards are going to cradle this game with love.

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Thelostscribe

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Edited By Thelostscribe

This game looks insane, I can't believe it's running on current gen hardware. I would assume these screen caps are from PC. I'm curious to see how it looks on console in comparison.

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joey2010

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Edited By joey2010

Oh CDPR.

I. Love. You.

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xantufrog  Moderator

This game has shaped up so nicely. Very excited

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Berserk8989

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As with The Witcher 3, then. The main story was very generic, with cardboard cutouts as main characters (especially the villains). Didn't even bother with it until I *had* to.

Some of the side stories and characters were among the best in the genre, though.

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tidus_ff

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No doubt this will be a very good game for many reasons, but everytime I see the game it screams Grand Theft Auto more than RPG. Also the first-person shooter angle still has me feeling hesitant. I just can't seem to get excited about the game the way I do with other RPGs.

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@tidus_ff: has anyone taken a look at the original pencil and paper role playing game that this game is based on? Michael Pondsmith the developer of R. Talsorian Games is working with the designers to bring this game to the video market. I’m looking forward to seeing how it crosses over.

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Edited By Zaryia

@tidus_ff: Reminds me of Deus Ex. So very RPG. Seems like there will be tons of character builds and gear, something not existent in GTA.

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kutraz

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@tidus_ff: I wish we had the option for 3rd person

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Keivz_basic

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@kutraz:

Yeah. For me, no third person option, no buy. It could be the highest rated game of all time—I just detest the first person perspective in games.

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Edited By DataMeister

@Keivz_basic: I'm willing to buy it, but I agree, third person is much more immersive for a game. It's harder to imagine strolling, running hard, or dodging bullets or whatever when I'm sitting in a chair and can only see my own body instead of the movements of the avatar's body.

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

@Keivz_basic: Why? Some of the very best games ever are first person. It's most likely they just don't have time to implement it anyway or it would take another year on top before it is released.

I am still doubtful we will see this released this year based on the current state of the trailer. The game looked significantly downgraded when they weren't showing ''Not representative of final game'' footage from before.

Way less Polygons on screen in the trailer. It is understandable though as this looked like current gen console graphics but all the incredible detail shown a year ago is all gone really.

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