[Cyberpunk 2077] Terrible Design
Cyberpunk 2077 has undergone a ton of changes since its disastrous launch. I was not keeping track of everything they fixed and tweaked, but suffice it to say, there was a lot. Some of which was immediately indicative of… well, idiot designers. That may sound harsh but let me give you an example: there is an early talent (Dagger Dealer) that allows you to throw your equipped knives. What was missing from the launch of the game until literally February of this year was any way to retrieve your thrown knives. Some designer thought this talent up and some programmer put it into a game where there are legendary knives, and no one thought that maybe losing them forever was a bad idea? Again, this was fixed in version 1.5 which I am currently playing. But the fact that it was even a thing outside of alpha is mind-boggling.
What I am coming to understand is that Dagger Dealer is a symptom of deeper issues.
The overall leveling system is just a mess. You gain XP and gain character levels, which grant you Perk points and occasionally Attribute points. The latter are very important because they determine the maximum level of perk you can select within that Attribute. Additionally, each Attribute has multiple Skill Trees associated with it. So for example, the Reflexes Attribute contains the Assault, Blades, and Handguns trees, each of which contain 17-20 Perks that can have multiple tiers.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Each Skill tree has its own XP meter that increases by utilizing that specific Skill in various ways. The more you use Handguns, the more Handgun XP you generate, and eventually you work your way down the reward track up to the limit of the Attribute. The rewards are usually little enhancements (Recoil reduction on Handguns, etc) but sometimes they are Perk points which you can actually assign anywhere. While that could lead to some interesting decisions wherein you start farming Blade XP to generate extra Perk points to put into Handguns or whatever, the emphasis should not deviate from the word “farm.” Because that is what it takes.
All of that may sound complicated, but none of it is particularly interesting.
I could live with all the overcomplicated shenanigans, but what I cannot stand is a Talent/Perk/Skill system with so few synergies. It is like the designers didn’t even try. I scoured the various trees and the closest thing to interesting that popped up was a Reflexes 8 Perk in the Blades tree called Stuck Pig that increases Bleed duration by 3/6/9 seconds. That is notable not because it’s actually any good, but because there is no “inflicted by a Blade” qualifier to it. Some things other than Blades inflict Bleed, so that would be an interesting choice and/or build to work towards if Bleeds were your thing. If instead you put any Perk points into Handguns, well, all of them turn off the moment you equip anything else.
And, Jesus Christ, don’t get me started on the crafting system. Because I’m going to anyway.
Crafting is governed by the Technical Ability Attribute and subsequent perks in the Crafting Skill tree. The most important ones are those Perks that unlock the crafting of Rare (5), Epic (12), and Legendary (18) items. In many games, there is always a tension between player crafting and found loot: A) if crafting is better, why search for loot, vs B) if loot is better, why engage with crafting at all. Cyberpunk kicks this up a notch with Iconic gear – these are weapons/armor with unique effects that you can continually upgrade… provided you dump a bunch of Attribute points into Technical Ability. If you don’t, those Iconic items might be good for a mission or two before trash drops start dealing more damage.
Aside from that, crafting largely sucks. You need to purchase weapon/armor “specs” from vendors to unlock the ability to craft that item in that specific tier. Just because you can craft a Rare sniper rifle does not mean you can craft the Epic version of the same sniper rifle, even if you unlocked Epic crafting via Perks. Also, the spec for that Sniper Rifle costs 75,000 credits which is just about what it costs to just purchase the Legendary version of that Sniper Rifle from the same vendor. At a certain point you can farm practically infinite amounts of credits via crafting anyway (purchase components, craft X gun, sell to vendor, cycle vendors), but the point is that the system as a whole makes no fucking sense. What was the harm with a more reasonable weapon spec cost? Woohoo, I get a “cheap” Epic Sniper Rifle by dumping Attribute and Perk Points into a tree that does not otherwise enhance my ability to deal damage with said Sniper Rifle. Christ, I bet that I would deal more damage with a trash-tier Sniper Rifle and those points spent in Reflexes instead.
By the way, Cyberpunk does feature a Respec button. The hilarious thing – in a comedy of errors sort of way – is that it only refunds Perk points, not Attribute points. Thus even though I am 40 hours deep into the game and realize how terrible Crafting has been for me, none of it matters because I can’t shuffle many of those points elsewhere because I’m limited based on Attributes, not Perks. I guess there is an argument that people would game the system by switching to a full Crafting build, upgrade all their shit, get infinite money, and then swap back to a weapon-specific build, but come on.
Know what else is disappointing? The cyberware parts of Cyberpunk. The game is predicated on body enhancements and everyone certainly looks the part. But the thing you find out after browsing a few Ripperdocs is that all the enhancements are… just random buffs locked behind Attribute gates. Sometimes you will find a common-tier upgrade not locked behind such a gate, but the vast majority are tied to your character’s Body or Reflexes Attribute, which means a Technical Ability/Intelligence character (cough) doesn’t have much to gain by cyberware. Which is really fucking bizarre, right? Compare that to how Deus Ex handles things – augments grant gameplay-changing abilities and are otherwise a big deal. In Cyberpunk, they are non-choices.
Ultimately, that is the biggest disappointment of all: everything in Cyberpunk (outside of dialog) feels like a non-choice. Can you “choose” to build your character around using Shotguns and Katanas for roleplaying purposes? Sure. Place your Attribute and Perk points in the corresponding slots. But none of that is interesting. And to me, there is no such thing as an uninteresting choice – there are choices and mere decisions. You decide to use Shotguns, and everything else follows. Notwithstanding the banality of having to decide on a specific weapon to use in the first place, there is no room for synergy choices within Skill trees or trying different strategies once Attribute points have been committed.
I am not certain this part of Cyberpunk 2077 is fixable. Being able to Respec Attribute points would help, or perhaps granting more Attribute points overall. Perks would have be radically reworked to introduce synergies though, and I’m not certain designers who had to wait a year and half to noodle on how to fix throwing knives is up to the task.
Are Gamers the Biggest Karens?
Posted by Azuriel
Browsing Reddit when I came across this post:
The comments are full of masturbatory glee and gamer “trolling,” as if none of those posters play games themselves and/or have had complaints about them. Taken on face value though, the comic is probably correct. With an asterisk. Because the thing about the term Karen is one near and dear to my heart: entitlement.
Karen is used as a pejorative because regular people do not ask to speak with a manager over a perceived slight. It’s an over-the-top escalation that presumes the individual is someone whom the manager needs to hear from. But… if you ordered a medium-rare steak and the server brings out one that’s well-done, nobody bats an eye when you have them send it back or ask for a refund. That is a reasonable escalation – if the manager comes out of their own volition to apologize, then that’s fine.
Here’s the thing though with games: anyone you can talk to is basically “the manager.”
And the other thing? The managers, e.g. the developers, want you to talk to them. Developers have fostered this transactional relationship industry-wide and monetized it. “Games as a Service” is the new “RPG-elements”: everybody has it. Which makes sense, as games are uniquely positioned to be interactive and adaptable. Books, music, and movies are created and finished. For all the millions of voices crying out to George R.R. Martin to change something about Game of Thrones – or to just finish his goddamn books for Christ’s sake – no one presumes that it is possible to actually accomplish anything. Meanwhile, an errant forum post can get a developer to shift the entire competitive metagame. Or more likely, a forum post that rouses enough rabble.
Keeping silent and voting with just your wallet is pointless – you need to vote with other peoples’ wallets if you hope to get a word past the whales. And that typically means getting vocal, getting specific, and I guess appearing entitled to have opinions of the transactional relationship taking place. Do the developers have to listen? No. They don’t have to have a forum, do any communication or outreach, and just build games. Presumably they looked at the numbers and (begrudgingly?) realized that the playerbase could be leveraged to push more product. And now they have the tiger by the tail.
Are some gamers over the top? Yes, of course. That went without saying… until I just did. But I am always leery of the predilection in these circlejerks to land on the thought-terminating cliche of entitlement. At its most pernicious root, using entitlement as a pejorative fosters an authoritarian environment in which you are made to feel lucky that you got any service at all, much less the wrong service, even if you paid for it. Meekness is not a virtue.
…okay, maybe it is.
However! Developers are not gods, they are just people building a collaborative, commercial product/service to sell to you. It’s okay to send back tacos when you ordered meatloaf. It’s okay to leave a bad review when your steak is cooked wrong. It’s okay to express passion in a hobby that you spend literal years of your life playing. Maybe don’t send death threats; send cupcakes instead. Advocate for yourself and your desires, especially if no one is making games you like anymore. No one has to listen, of course, or agree that its a good idea or implement what are clearly brilliant changes that will improve the franchise for decades to come. That’s going to be a on the devs and their conscience.
How some of them sleep at night, I’ll never know.
Posted in Commentary, Philosophy
Tags: Armchair Game Development, Entitlement, Games As Services, Karen, Reddit