Expectations can always be seen in two distinguishable contexts. First, when a piece of pop culture entertainment achieves the lofty goals that match your personal expectations, there is no greater feeling of joy than getting to experience this art. But on the reverse side, expectations can often ruin a personal experience. Sometimes, a movie is good (Avatar) but because the expectations surrounding the film were escalated due to it becoming the highest grossing film of all time during its release, you can leave the theater feeling like the underlying culture misled or misguided you. I have felt this way about other cultural iconic experiences like Black Panther or the play Hamilton. Cyberpunk 2077 is 2020’s best example of this type of entertainment. No game was more eagerly anticipated by the video gaming community than CD Projekt Red’s follow-up to the Witcher franchise. So even though I played the game to completion, why does it feel like Cyberpunk 2077 was missing something?
Entertainment is always objective. My opinion on Cyberpunk 2077 will likely not match the majority of video gamers who likely enjoyed the experience. But when compared to some of its modern-day contemporaries and thinking about the game and its use of the open world, Cyberpunk 2077 is a letdown. The game begins with you choosing one of three paths (Corporate, Nomad & Street Kid) that will lead the main character “V” to one of five possible endings. This idea of multiple pathways has become popular since the Mass Effect franchise helped push the idea of personal choice into the forefront of video gaming experiences. The problem is that like Mass Effect, these personal choices still feel like pre-selected destinies that do not lead to much diversification in the gameplay other than certain conversation choices and slightly modified ‘solutions’ to some of the side stories. No matter what you do, only five choices await you at the end.
Second, being a fan of open-world games like the Red Dead franchise, the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and the Fallout franchise, Cyberpunk 2077 tries to create a vivid lively world that feels alive. The best open world games exist as a sandbox that your player has influence on. But even without your character roaming the irradiated hills of Washington D.C. or the beautiful landscapes surrounding the town of Strawberry, these worlds feel like they have been lived in. Have you ever watched one character in Red Dead Redemption 2 just go about his day as a blacksmith? Even if you are there observing him, the character has a routine that they follow. Accidents can happen between NPCs even if your character is not around. The police arrest criminals even if you were not involved in the crime. In a game like Fallout, random attacks can occur between people living inside settlements and mutants looking to survive. The world has randomly generated events (Just like real life) that can impact how a mission is completed. This type of world is not what you will get when playing Cyberpunk 2077. While the graphics maybe some of the most stunning in any video game I have every played, the world feels like a digitally created sandbox that only reacts to the “choices” that you make. There are random events around the city, but they usually fall into a set category of missions that become repetitive very quickly. You can talk to any character. But follow that character and watch their actions. It looks like they are on a pre-destined routine and if you talk to them a couple of times, they quickly start to repeat. This is the biggest failure of Cyberpunk 2077. The world just does not feel real. It feels like a simulation created for your character. The tragedy of this is that The Witcher franchise engaged with the open world experience in a fundamentally more realistic way.
Despite these two main complaints, the game has its positive aspects. The gameplay is fun once you figure out its various complications. Many of the side quests which often involve deep dives into a character that you associate with are the highlights of the game. Despite the tediously slow start, the relationship between ‘V’ and Johnny Silverhands (Played by Keanu Reeves) actually evolves into the heart of the main story which allows the ending to have a respectable payoff. The game was savaged upon release for its various technical flaws which has led to loss of faith in CD Projekt Red and various class action lawsuits that have led to millions of dollars of payouts. But upon my playing experience, the technical flaws were mostly ironed out after I waited five months for the company to repair them. There were still some characters that walked through cars, or disappeared after I talked to them, or walked into the street only to have another car drive right through them. But in terms of the main story, I only had one instance where the game caused a technical issue, and it was resolved upon resetting my Xbox Series X.
My completion time of the game took 66 hours. After playing many of the gigs and random open world missions, I quickly grew bored of them. Once you reach the Street Cred Level of 50, there is really no reason to continue with them unless your completionist tendencies overwhelm you. I found it quite acceptable to finish the main side quests and the primary story without diving into the deepest corners of the map to find a random mission that needs completion. Unlike other open world games, Cyberpunk 2077 is just not enjoyable enough for exploration despite the superior graphics. In fact, there is a moment during one of the endings where you can contemplate your time in the city at a scenic overlook before you ride off into the future. I spent absolutely no time contemplating the city. Because the city just did not do enough for me to be emotionally invested in it. I quickly jumped in the car and ended the game.
If I had to recommend Cyberpunk 2077 to another video gaming aficionado, I would recommend it but with caveats. If they asked me to give them one open world game to play so they could experience what these type of games is like, I don’t think Cyberpunk 2077 would even crack my Top 10 of recommendations. But there are some good ideas here even if the recent real-world events involving the tech industry seem to be moving us into the dark dystopian future that this game represents. Keanu Reeves’ story is not nearly as cringe inducing as some other journalists mentioned and the game does have an underlying heart mixed in with all the dehumanizing technology. But my opinion is only that, one person who found his most anticipated game of 2020 as his biggest disappointment of the past year. But if this type of science fiction future dystopian world is interesting to you, then feel free to buy Cyberpunk 2077. But count me out on any future replays. I just have no interest in committing another 70 hours of time to this video game.
EXPERT OF SOME