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Wasted Potential 2077

  • Games

Man oh man, this sure is a videogame, isn’t it?

We all know the story by now. Cyberpunk 2077 became one of, if not the most overhyped of all game releases in history, and The Gamers™ were obviously angry when they didn’t receive the second coming of Christ they expected this game to bring with it. Nearly a decade of development time and three delays later, along with an extra large serving of terrible crunch on the workers, and the game still came out not just as a buggy mess, but straight up unfinished. Developers received death threats for the game failing to meet the impossible expectations, and at the same time, critics also received death threats for daring to criticize the product, to the point of being literally actually assaulted over it. Alongside that is a big ball of gender controversy, with many pointing out ways that the game’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people is, shall we say, less than ideal, and once again on the other side is vitriolic hatred from The Gamers™ who think it’s fine actually. Just another day in the triple-A video game space.

While I do have plenty of thoughts on those matters, I’m not going to focus on them at all here for a few reasons, the biggest of which being that I don’t feel qualified to speak confidently on some of these issues and would rather leave those discussions to those who are closer to and more prepared for them, and that it’s just plain exhausting to keep swirling in the endless whirlpool of political friction.

So lets dive into the pool of negativity of this politically charged game, shall we?

Before I started the game, a friend of mine who had just finished it tried to describe it to me with the hopes of getting me more interested. They compared it to Fallout. I’m sure this was meant as a form of praise, or at the very least, a positive association, but to me it was a major red flag. This was coming from someone who had only played Fallout 4, a game that fails on all levels to be a good RPG and does a major disservice to its own setting. It is a game that falls victim to what I now not-so-lovingly call Fallout syndrome, meaning that the world is cool, the setting is interesting, there’s a lot of rich stories and lore hiding in the details – mostly in the form of text or audio rather than visual, let alone interactive – and there are plenty of interesting side quests to enjoy… but the main story takes the back seat to all of these things, and if anything, holds the overall experience back. As I played, it became abundantly clear that Cyberpunk 2077 suffers deeply from this problem, and its only advantage is that its setting is more appealing to me than a nuclear wasteland.

Oh by the way, spoilers ahead. All of them. I’m spoiling it all, baby, ain’t holding nothin’ back and I won’t warn you again.

I could see that the main story was going to disappoint from the very beginning. Apparently they showed most of this in trailers and such, but I don’t watch those so I was completely blind, and could still see everything coming from a mile away. I picked Nomad, so I found Jackie in the badlands and took him across the border. Cool. Then we get to the city and suddenly we’re best friends, then a montage plays of them having a lot of fun and developing their characters off screen, and I’m expected to just… get it. The game gave me absolutely no reason to form a connection with Jackie, and the fact that he was obviously fated to die meant I wouldn’t have been able to do that anyway even if I wanted to. If anything, it was funny to me, funny to hear V suffering over a character I have no connection to while the talking taxi asks them where to send the body repeatedly. Then the “twist” happens and it was downright aggravating because Dex was a type of character I actually like a lot, and would not expect to pull a betrayal like that, but not only does he do it, he dies too. The only character I actually liked a little in all of act one gets killed off to facilitate a cheap and predictable plot twist that just makes me think I should have played Fallout New Vegas instead for a better experience. That left me with a bad taste in my mouth and made it a lot harder to get invested in the game at all. I hate trailers so I never watch them, and all of this felt like playing an hours-long trailer.

On top of that, the person who saves you is Takemura, the bodyguard of Saburo Arasaka who seems to fully believe you are his killer… and then he just doesn’t. Literally – and this isn’t a figure of speech – V blinks and he’s on your side now. Then we have Johnny Silverhand, the other protagonist of the game, who just suddenly appears and wants to kill you. Sure, fine, that makes sense. But then he just stops. Overnight he goes from wanting to kill you to wanting to save your life, with no explanation, nothing to show for it, and no discernible reason at all. Suddenly appears in an interesting way, then just as suddenly loses everything that made him interesting and becomes just another character on the screen. This game has a huge problem with introductions, clearly, because not a single thing up to this point has been introduced well at all. As a nice little cherry on top to prove the point, you can wander around the world now and as you do, you start constantly getting phone calls from all the different fixers. I don’t know who they are or what they do or why they’re calling at this point, but they call anyway, constantly, intrusively. It wasn’t until many hours later that I figured out all the fixers give jobs for their specific areas of the map, and I had to figure that out for myself. It’s possible that the game may have given me a tutorial popup at some point telling me about fixers, but man, I can’t remember a single one of those things because they are not, never have been, and never will be an effective way to teach the player things. Salting that wound further, these constant, intrusive phone calls never let up… until the near the end of the game. They didn’t even attempt to pace this well.

Right after act one was finished, I was so frustrated with the main story that I decided to do everything except that for a while, and there are a bunch of really good side stories. Panam’s side story for instance is pretty solid, there’s some character development in it and I started to care for her and some of the other Aldecaldos through it. I do think Saul’s change of heart at the end of it was a bit clunky and sudden, but I can let it slide because it seems Panam and the others didn’t expect it either. Judy’s side story was alright for the most part too, if uninspired. Simple revenge and retribution, tried and tested, nothing wrong with it but nothing special either. What makes it shine is Judy herself, because she got what might be the most character development in the whole game through her quests, and I can clearly see a character worth caring about here… I just didn’t personally care for her much, but I will admit that this one is very much just me, not a writing problem. Probably my favorite side story in the game though was Claire’s, because it was short and sweet and I kind of understood her. Claire is a great character that makes me smile, and I’m glad she could finally start to move on. Downside is her quests are all street races, and the driving sucks enough in this game without the huge performance problems I had with these. River’s side story is pretty good too, I felt like I got to know him pretty well through it and I have a soft spot for poor families in fiction. Even Kerry’s side story was pretty decent, because even though I can’t relate to him on any level and find him insufferable, there was still a sense of development through it.

Here we see V making commentary on the game’s extremely flawed writing.

Noticed a commonality between all of these yet? I know these characters and could connect with them because the game showed them to me, it led me through their lives and gave me reasons to care, then showed me a change. Why is this important? Because not a single other character in the story gets this treatment, not even the most vital ones like the protagonists. V is not a silent protagonist, V is not a blank slate, V is not a vehicle for the player, V is a full-fledged character of their own that the player is merely taking the role of (hence, role playing game), and yet I don’t know anything about them even after the game is over. Every time I felt like I was getting to know them, I picked a dialog option that was absolutely not representative of what V was actually going to say and I lost the connection. Johnny meanwhile went from wanting to kill you to wanting to save you literally overnight for no reason, but he was still a dick, and then later in the game he changes and seems to want to be a better man… but when did that happen? Heck if I know, he just was different all of a sudden, with no discernible development, motivation, or anything. How can you mess up so badly that not only do your protagonists not show their development, but they’re inconsistent and unpredictable from start to finish?

Even worse than that though, in my opinion, is what they did to Takemura. I like Takemura, he could have been my favorite character, but not only does he have zero development whatsoever throughout the entire game, he isn’t even utilized. He’s just there, being him, not changing, not being interesting, bringing no value to the table, until the point in the main story where it’s possible to leave him to die. Unless you know to turn around and look for him in that high-stress situation, he will be dead and you will lose your only chance to see his character actually be his character, and to do it you have to pick what is in my opinion the worst ending in the game. Yes, at one point he tells you a little about his childhood, but that only serves to show you why he is the way he is now, not to develop anything. Yes, characters don’t need to have life-changing arcs to be good characters, but they need to have some kind of progression. That leaves every other important character in the story, and they all have the Takemura problem, while also being even less utilized! Who the heck is Rogue and why should I care about her? No idea! Look, cool lady, shut up and like the cool lady!

On the side of all this is the part where there were several things in this game that made me feel genuinely, deeply uncomfortable. It’s rare for any game to do that to me, often it’ll only happen once in several months, but this game made me feel that way three different times in a single session, and then even more still in other sessions. For instance, the whole Sinnerman quest made me feel uncomfortable at every turn, the sex scenes – one of which came out of literally nowhere for me – made me feel very uncomfortable on multiple levels, constantly having a character’s face taking up more than three quarters of the screen was bad enough already but then having a scene where a character slowly whispers at you from that close made me want to leave the room… is this just me? Might be. In fact, that’s most likely. But it’s still something worth bringing up to me, because even though I know some of this is entirely personal, no other game has ever made me feel like this and I don’t know if I should be impressed or appalled.

I was so uncomfortable here that I had a physical response to it.

The only real saving grace to this story in my opinion is the way they committed to playing a dying character. Sometimes it was kind of annoying, seeing the screen suddenly have artifacts and the audio goes funny because the relic is malfunctioning, but this fate isn’t a commonly written one and it’s refreshing to see. No matter what choices the player makes, no matter what the player wants, V dies in the end, and I appreciate that commitment. I’ve seen some people complain at length about that, some even going so far as to “boycott” the game because of it and loudly claim the it will get bad reviews for it, and I think that’s stupid. Not every story needs a happy ending, and especially not in a world known to have no happy endings for anyone. V becomes a legend, in exactly the way you learned it takes in act one.

It feels like the story was written more like a novel than a game, and the writers fundamentally misunderstood how those forms of storytelling differ, then to add insult to injury, they ran out of time and had to cut bits out and chose the worst parts to cut. It’s also entirely possible that some of the things that seem to have been cut genuinely never existed in the first place, and it’s so incredibly frustrating to see because it absolutely would not have been hard to make it better. Judy’s story had the most development and she felt like the deepest character as a result, and in my eyes, what she got in her storyline was the bare minimum. I was not excited for this game, I didn’t follow the news, didn’t watch the trailers, didn’t share the hype, and I had no expectations for it, and yet it still disappointed me.

Nothing is introduced, nothing is learned, nothing gets closure, and all of it was predictable and uninspired. The story of this game is an open book with half the pages missing. It does a major disservice to itself, its world, and its genre.

And I haven’t even touched on the technical side yet.

Here we see Panam doing a foreshadowing.

Everyone knows how much of a buggy mess this game is already, I’m not going to bore you by trying to emphasize that more. Instead let me just tell you some of the things I encountered. Every time I wanted to pick up an item, if there were any other items nearby I would end up picking up everything except the one I was looking at first. Phone calls would overlap with other dialog I was in the middle of. Dialog would overlap with itself and become very hard to follow. The scanner required pixel perfect placement, often in places that weren’t even on the object I wanted to scan, especially in braindances. A lot of characters have arrows over their heads and at no point did the game show or explain what that means, so I had to figure it out myself. Me and my vehicles got stuck in the ground multiple times. My FOV would sometimes get locked to something crazy small and impossible to play with until I reloaded. A ton of sound effects simply never played. Got stuck in a side quest because the braindance told me to advance to the next section, but didn’t tell me how, and it was a button press I hadn’t been asked for before with no prompt anywhere on screen. Died unfairly several times because of bugs, be it fall damage where there shouldn’t be any or my armor seeming to cease functioning, and this combined with a bad checkpoint caused me to replay the same mission four times. Got flung across the map a few times when trying to do what the game told me to do, like climbing through windows. On the bright side, at least the game never crashed on me I suppose.

There’s also plenty of other things to complain about, like dodging being a double tap, despite the fact that double taps on a keyboard are almost universally a bad idea, especially on the core movement keys. There are plenty of options for a dedicated button but instead they chose this, the worst possible solution. They also went with a non-standard layout with F used as your standard action button instead of E like basically every other game out there, and are very inconsistent with what requires a tap and what requires a hold. There’s also the minimap, which is zoomed so far in that anything beyond running speed is too fast for it to be useful for navigation, instead forcing you to always be looking at it and anticipating turns, almost completely defeating the purpose. The brightness and contrast is bafflingly bad too, so dark that most of the time I literally cannot see anything on half of the screen, even with my monitor brightness cranked and the in-game gamma adjustment up, so I can only assume that the player being half blind is a deliberate design decision. In another baffling decision, anti-aliasing isn’t an option in the graphics settings, despite there being a ton of options present that really don’t need to be since they have virtually zero impact on performance, sometimes without even a discernible visual change either, while disabling anti-aliasing is a HUGE performance increase. The only way to do it requires you to either install a mod or use a hex editor.

I tested all the graphics settings here. Many did absolutely nothing. This is the game on low settings.

I alluded earlier that the driving in this game sucks, and here’s why. Traction is unpredictable, cars are slow, heavy, and unresponsive, physics are unpredictable, collisions are unpredictable, navigating is hard, the list goes on. Sometimes you’ll hit a traffic car and stop dead in your tracks while the traffic isn’t even scratched, and other times you’ll literally drive right under them like they’re not even there, the traffic just slides over top of you weightlessly. When your car breaks traction, it becomes almost uncontrollable, even if it’s only one wheel. All of this goes beyond stupid when you’re offroad, because your suspension is either trophy truck soft or F1 rock-hard and nothing in between, and it changes between them randomly. Just driving in a straight line offroad for too long will subject you to so many heavy impacts that your car might end up on fire, but you’ll probably have flipped it over before that happens. Also, this one is just a nitpick and it’s probably only something that bothers me, but every single car gets short shifted except in the final gear change… why? There’s no reason to do it, there’s no benefit to it, you can hear the engine bog down when you do it even though gear changes aren’t even perceptible in the driving itself… they had to specifically decide that they wanted the cars to short shift, but not on the final gear, so I can hear what it sounds like to shift the gears properly but only at top speed. That bothered me to no end. Why wouldn’t you just make all the shifts sound right if you’re willing to do it for one?

Something less nitpicky than a shifting gears sound effect though is my problem with the setting itself. With this being a cyberpunk world quite far into the future, it more than makes sense for there to be a disproportionately high amount of sex shops and clubs, and for advertisements and media to be overwhelmingly sexualized… but in this game, it mostly feels like that’s all there is in the world, and that doesn’t sit right with me. Almost every single piece of advertising was hypersexualized, and I really feel like there should be at least a bit more than that in a setting like this, like things more gratuitously violent or overtly predatory. I also feel like the advertisements weren’t prevalent and intrusive enough for the world, but that’s not nearly as big a problem. Add to this that pretty much everywhere the game takes you in the city during quests is one of three things: Generic compound full of bad guys, penthouse, or mega sex zone. Guess which one happens most often. There is more than that in the world, but I had to look for it in my own exploration, very little of it was actually utilized for the story and it can be missed almost entirely. It makes the game feel less like a cyberpunk world and more like a pervert’s bedroom fantasy. The fact that the game has genital customization that adds absolutely nothing to the game, changes nothing, and has no function, only makes that feeling worse, and then there’s the part where you can just go pick up a sex worker whenever you want and get a sex scene… I probably just sound like I’m being a prude, and to be honest, I kind of am since this type of content makes me uncomfortable – not for any puritanical reasons, it’s just not for me – but I really do believe that this is a heavy handed approach to what could be an important part of the setting that’s ultimately done poorly enough to instead cheapen it as a whole.

This came out of nowhere for me, I didn’t know what caused it until talking to a friend later. Kinda funny though.

Anyway, add on top of the bugs, sucky physics, inconsistencies, missing content, heavy handedness, and lack of any pacing, the game is also mediocre to actually play. It’s not bad, it’s pretty fun, but “pretty fun” is kind of the bare minimum for a video game where the point is to have fun playing it. Problem is that the melee combat, which is usually the most fun in a game like this in my opinion, is an absolute shambles that makes no sense and is so far from fun that it’s frustrating… until you level up a bit and it becomes trivial, just like everything else. See, this game has absolutely no concept of balance whatsoever, to the point that you can get a regular pistol from the start of the game, never upgrade it, and end up doing over a hundred thousand damage per headshot with it just from putting enough perk points into the handgun tree. Every single weapon type is like this. The only way to bring any challenge into the game after a certain point is to raise the difficulty, which also makes things less fun because they handle difficulty in the dumbest way possible by simply raising the damage enemies do and lowering the damage they take… but even on the highest difficulty, not a single enemy in the game can survive a single headshot from the God Handgun, so all you do by raising the difficulty is die more often without actually feeling more challenged. It’s not exactly an engaging loop after you take your first step into being overpowered. So I guess the real way to play the game with a real degree of challenge is to just… never take any perks. Because of that, I’ve just about convinced myself that this is actually 100% intentional, that the developers intended for the player to become absolutely unstoppably overpowered, so they can more accurately roleplay as the legend that V is destined to become… but I can’t quite buy that considering the rest of the game. Because of the boredom from this, when the final mission suddenly popped up, I ended up cheating my XP and money up because I felt like I hadn’t seen what the game really had to offer and boy let me tell you… with enough handgun perks, it becomes impossible to not get critical hits. I did 192K damage with one headshot once, and there was still a lot more that could be done to increase my crit multiplier. I also bought a couple vehicles because I wanted to see if the driving got any better. It didn’t, but I did get something out of it.

The Mizutani Shion is genuinely the best futuristic car design I’ve ever seen, in anything, ever. Nothing is as good as this. No, I’m not exaggerating, and I’m not being sarcastic either. Typically I hate futuristic car designs because they tend to be made by people who don’t appreciate cars, and they end up homogenizing everything, removing any soul the car might have had, and so we get a bunch of things that just look like pods that may or may not be on wheels, always smooth and featureless, but sometimes covered in clutter as a futile attempt to make up for that featurelessness. Other times, we get things that look far too much like the cars of today, but with that clutter again, cheaply touched up with “future-y” parts. That’s the problem with this game too, every single car in the game is very clearly based on an identifiable real car of today, but cheaply future’d up… except for the Shion. I don’t know what it’s based on, and that’s the highest praise I can give. It’s unique enough that it looks new, but it still looks like an actual car unlike so many other futuristic car designs. It has a soul to it. I also love the way the doors work, having such mundane technology as a minivan sliding door, but utilized in such a cool way simply by reversing the direction they open in and incorporating the slider into the design rather than trying to hide it. Though I don’t understand how the door can end up swinging open when it’s damaged like a regular door despite not being on hinges, but that’s a nitpick of the game, not the design. I’m 100% sure that the designers behind this car ended up with something this good either entirely on accident, or by pouring a lot of passion and time into every little detail of it, and nothing in between. If it was the latter, it’s phenomenal work and they achieved what they set out to do, but if it was the former, it’s the epitome of beauty.

While I’m giving praise, the soundtrack for this game is excellent. I don’t enjoy all the music in it, but I do enjoy a lot of it, and more importantly, it all fits the theme of the game and its setting very well. Because of that, I can bear with the songs I don’t particularly like because they still feel appropriate, and that’s such a powerful detail for a soundtrack to have that so, so many other games fail to deliver on that it’s always worthy of high praise. Contrast that to the soundtrack of, say, Need for Speed Heat and how miserable it was, and the importance of a good, appropriate soundtrack is just as abundantly clear as the bugs are in this game. Well done to the music team for sure. Added bonus, the three tracks by Rezodrone are so good that one of them inspired a new song idea for me. I also must admit that the game looks absolutely stunning. Even on low settings, as long as the shadows are on, the graphics are incredible and the art direction even more so, to the point that some areas of this game actually look like concept art. I think the pursuit of more and more detailed realism in game graphics is a huge mistake, but this is an example of how you can take realism and make something truly amazing out of it. I’ve never seen a game that looks like this and may never see one like it again.

It’s tragic that the only things I can truly praise about this game are its music, an element that I believe is one of the least important parts of a game, and a single car design, but that’s really all the praise I have. While there are some fun and interesting side quests I haven’t mentioned, like the kind talking vending machine, the talking gun, or the man with the faulty penis played by Jesse Cox, those are just small diversions along the way that ultimately aren’t enough to salvage the overall experience. Also why are there headless guitars that still have heads on them? Do they tune on both ends? Everything else about the guitars in this game is so well rendered like they put a lot of thought into it so this confuses me. Anyway, that will be my final nitpick.

So in case I haven’t been clear enough, here’s my conclusion on this game: Cyberpunk 2077 is a barely passable product, and an absolutely disgusting, unacceptable display of mismanagement during development, far beyond what we’ve been expected to believe is the new normal. The fact that they can spend almost a decade working on one thing and it still comes out half baked, even after the horrific overworking of the employees, is abhorrent, revolting, and does not deserve an ounce of lenience or forgiveness. The employees who had to endure this display of sheer incompetence deserve so much better, and I hope they get it, but as far as I’m concerned, the upper management of CD Projekt Red deserves none of what they have today. I’m sure the game could have shined almost as brightly as the overhype led people to expect if the management was at even an average level of competence. No amount of patching or DLC can right those wrongs.

Please, play anything other than this if you want a good cyberpunk experience.

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