Thursday, June 25, 2020

Our Five Biggest Takeaways From Our Four Hours With Cyberpunk 2077

Publisher: CD Projekt
Developer: CD Projekt Red
Release: (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PC), TBA (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X)
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Sci-fi action/RPG Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most anticipated games to hit this year, and for good reason. CD Projekt Red has earned a reputation for crafting fantastic story-driven experiences chock full of difficult choices and unpredictable consequences. Cyberpunk 2077 marks a new opportunity for CD Projekt Red to improve and meld these even further with the gameplay.

We went hands-on with the game for four hours to see how it was shaping up and walked away astounded by the ambitious scope and vast gameplay flexibility. While we ended our time feeling like we barely scratched the surface of this massive endeavor, we did get a sense of what to expect. Here are our biggest takeaways from our hands-on demo, which allowed us to experience the prologue, see life paths for player character V, play through a story mission, and check out some of the activities in the world.

Night City Is Gargantuan, With No Shortage Of Things To Do 

CD Projekt Red really stepped up the scope and map size with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and Cyberpunk 2077 looks to top that in many ways. This is a much different backdrop than Geralt’s fantasy world, but it still captures a similar sense of danger and unpredictability. Night City is a fast-paced, technology-obsessed place that embraces excess. People modify and augment their bodies on a whim, enter virtual mindscapes to chase fleeting thrills, and contend with corrupt Megacorps running the show. During your time in the metropolis, you visit six vast and disparate districts in Night City, from the poverty-stricken Watson to the Las-Vegas-and-Kabukicho-inspired Westbrook, and there is never a shortage of things to do.

In addition to the main story quest, CD Projekt offers its own signature side quests that do everything from diving more into the main characters’ back stories to offering insight into the different gangs and corporations at play. Dynamic events also constantly pop up, whether it’s a crime taking place or gang-on-gang violence. You decide if you want to get involved and reap the rewards. V can also participate in fun activities, like car races, fistfights, and the shooting range. But perhaps the most lucrative venture is to take on gigs. Every area has a fixer who will send V jobs, and these are your main source of income. These tasks can be anything from eliminating a target to sabotaging a server. You can also take on bounties or unearth clues that point to secret stashes. 

Remember how in The Witcher 3 the map became littered with points of interest, and it felt like a massive undertaking to do everything each area had to offer? Night City produces a similar feeling of endless opportunities, but it also is much faster-paced and flashy, creating a feeling of sensory overload as you walk through it. The world is fascinating, as it is a portal into a gritty future where our dependence on technology has taken an ugly and excessive turn. 

The Customization Is Deep And Satisfying

If you thought The Witcher 3 didn’t provide enough options for how to build Geralt to suit your playstyle, Cyberpunk 2077 should please you. CD Projekt Red has created a fluid class system, and just opening up the skill trees and seeing all their branching paths is a remarkable sight. The impressive amount of freedom means there’s plenty to tinker with. It may seem overwhelming, but once you grasp the basics, upgrading your character becomes an exciting venture, as it always feels like a new powerful ability is in reach that will help you tailor the experience to your playstyle. 

On the most basic level, as you gain experience, you unlock attribute points and perks. The five core attributes are body (raw physical power, increasing health and stamina), intelligence (memory and intellect, improves hacking abilities), reflexes (coordination and speed, enhancing critical chance and evasiveness), technical (tech aptitude, providing armor bonuses and the additional chance of harvesting craftable loot), and cool (self-control and willpower, improves stealth and speed at which NPCs notice you). 

You invest points in improving the main attributes, but each one also has its own corresponding branching perk tree for unlocking new skills. For instance, in the intelligence attribute path, you can choose to focus on hacking, and from there you can invest in device or target hacking. You can mix and match between the two. Device skills improve your prowess with hacking things such as security systems or turning turrets friendly, while target skills disrupt enemy cyberware, like calling an enemy to another to get them in the same vicinity and making a grenade detonate. You also level up skills the more you use them, which can then open up rewards, such as increasing your memory regen – your resource for hacking – outside of combat. 
You are also never locked into one class or playstyle, so you can create cool combinations, such as a katana-wielding cyber ninja who also hacks their way through life. I experimented with the fluid class system, beginning my playthrough focusing on hacking and improving my intelligence stat to support it. However, I became very fond of the shotgun as my backup to when my stealthy approach didn’t work. This meant investing in my body attribute so I can handle the close-up combat required to use it. Just keep in mind your main attributes do factor into how far you can level up a specific skill. For example, the hacking ability is limited by the intelligence stat, meaning if my intelligence stat is at three, I can’t increase my hacking beyond level three. 

Beyond the core statistics, you also have cyberware you can install on your character, which also opens up fun new abilities and perks. Cyberware is a way to improve your body and give it superhuman abilities that can either be passive, active, or triggered. You can upgrade various body parts, from your arms and legs to your nervous and cardiovascular systems. All you need to do is visit a ripperdoc, who can do everything from putting a monowire (a whip-like narrow fiber optic wire that slices through enemies at lightning speed) into your arms, to installing a blood pump in your cardiovascular to improve healing. All cyberware has different tiers: legendary, epic, rare, uncommon, and common. The higher the tier, though, the more slots it will require to install. 

Still want more? All your gear can also have upgrades installed, such as adding silencers to guns so your bullets don’t alert the entire room. For armor, upgrades mostly add stat increases, like upping your chance for a critical hit or getting some extra padding for your armor’s effectiveness. All of these areas allow you to constantly tweak your character to something better, and most importantly, to one that best suits how you want to play. 

The Life Paths Provide Interesting Ways To Define V

Role-playing as V is one of the most exciting parts of Cyberpunk 2077. You ultimately get to decide who they will be, and this goes far beyond customizing their physical appearance (although, those features are extensive and impressive!). One of the interesting ways CD Projekt Red is approaching this is through life paths. When you create your character, you get to choose between three: Nomad, Corpo, or Street Kid, and each adds a different flavor to V. Similar to Dragon Age: Origins, Cyberpunk 2077’s prologue plays out differently depending on which path you pick, setting you off on your journey and teaming up with your partner Jackie in different ways and for different reasons. Throughout the game, certain dialogue options are available based on the life path you select, giving more context on situations as it pertains to that perspective. 

The Game Informer staff tested out all three, and came out with very different versions of V. The Street Kid means you’ve grown up living a tougher life, where you’ve had to work for everything, but it’s also taught you how to navigate tough situations with your street smarts. The Corpo has you living a more privileged life; you’re starting at the top and confident to boot, but staying there is a battle in and of itself. Then there’s the Nomad path, which has a Mad Max vibe to it and sends you to the Badlands, where you take on the role of an experienced smuggler who's a lone wolf in a place where many team up in packs to survive. You never forget your roots, and this certainly can color how you approach situations and role-play V in this world. We don’t know how far-reaching or the number of additional choices that appear based on the initial life-path choice, but it does set a good starting foundation for V’s story. 

Braindances Are A Cool Gameplay Hook

Remember Geralt’s Witcher sense? V has their own cool way to examine people and places for additional information and clues. As Night City’s main entertainment attraction, braindances allow you to dive into the memories of others, experiencing them as if you were the person living through it. You watch them like playing back a recording, and V has the ability to edit this footage. You can rewind, fast forward, and zoom in and out on particular objects for more information.

There are also layers to editing, such as focusing on audio to hear faraway conversations or shifting to the thermal observation layer to detect if an item’s in the freezer. We used this during our playthrough to detect hidden items and get more context on what exactly transpired. For instance, in one case, a guy set up his own man to get the reward all to himself. Scrubbing through footage can take time and dedication, and we aren’t sure how often the tool is used in the game, but it does provide a cool twist on V’s powers.   

The Replayability Is High

Because there is so much freedom in various aspects of the journey, Cyberpunk 2077 is teeming with replayability options. Missions can be approached from multiple ways, whether it’s going guns blazing or stealthily avoiding chaos. There are also branching paths based on dialogue choices and plenty of subplots to discover. For instance, in one of our story missions, you could choose whether to free a man from prison or not, determining if he would show up later in the story. 

Power struggles between corporations and gangs are everywhere, and your decisions could determine who comes out on top. From what we saw, it appears that situations will play out differently in terms of story events and gameplay sequences. Even in the prologue, we all had vastly different experiences, whether it was if we encountered a particular boss, character, or even gameplay area. This doesn’t even account for all the different dynamic events that can appear in the world. We can’t wait to see how far-reaching some of these decisions and consequences go, but if The Witcher 3 is anything to go by, it should be pretty substantial.

Cyberpunk 2077 launches on November 19 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. A PS5 and Xbox Series X version is also set to release, but no official date has been revealed.

For a more detailed account of the events of our demo, check out Matt Miller’s deep dive. Also, be sure to check out this week's podcast where we discuss and breakdown our hands-on experiences.

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