I have a very dim view of the designers behind Cyberpunk, but as Nogamara pointed out, I do have 40 hours and counting in the game thus far. So, what gives?
As it turns out, Cyberpunk 2077 is a lot of fun in the moment-to-moment gameplay.
My prebuilt beast of a PC is running Cyberpunk pretty much on max settings (1440p) with 60-80 fps, and… damn. Night City looks incredible. Aside from the absurd number of loading screens when booting up the game, I notice nary a slowdown or hiccup as I speed around the streets looking for trouble to get into. In this regard, it is pretty much like GTA 5 mixed with Skyrim: a pleasure to just get around and get into trouble.
In the beginning, I was playing the game like I always default to with first-person games: sneaky archer. Cyberpunk does support this to a point, but only just so – Dishonored this is not. To clarify, you can indeed stealth through pretty much all the missions, taking special care to perform silent takedowns, pick up Quickhacks that will blind or distract enemies, hide bodies from patrols, add silencers to your weapons, and so on. There’s just… no particular reason to. Stealth is not extrinsically rewarded, locations are huge with dozens and dozens of mooks to plow through, and pretty much every other aspect of the game leads you towards more direct confrontations. Indeed, if you end up picking fights with higher-level “skull” enemies, you are no longer able to perform takedowns on them.
Having said that, the game gets a bit weird once you stop pulling punches and start pulling grenades. As it turns out, grenades are rather good at solving a lot of problems, like gang assaults in progress, enemies hiding behind cover, and basically anything you toss them at. While these have been my preferred method problem-solving, bullets work just as well. By the midgame, there aren’t a lot of things that are especially difficult. Granted, I am playing on Normal difficulty, but I’m not certain whether increasing the number of headshots necessary to defeat foes would do much to make things more engaging.
From a story perspective, Cyberpunk has been serviceable to good. There are a lot of weird side gigs and cross-references that sort of make the setting feel more Outer Worlds goofy than Deus Ex. For example, there are direct Office references, Portal cake jokes, and so on. The main story segments are more reserved and philosophical… ish. While I’m not done with the game yet, the whole Keanu Reeves rock star terrorist angle feels bizarre. Is he supposed to seem cool? Was he a rock star turned partisan, or was he always a commando and did concerts as a front? I’m not sure the answer even matters.
Indeed, I was presented with a few “choices” between unlikeable major factions and I just chose to destroy the one that insulted/betrayed me more recently. I’m fine with games introducing decision-points that have no bearing on anything other than roleplaying, but guys, would it kill you to offer a bit more context? What’s my motivation here? Hard to hate The Man if none of your interactions up to this point have dealt with The Man in a meaningful way. For all the implied Corpo oppression, it doesn’t affect the player in any way. Yeah, there’s poverty and gangs everywhere, but that’s window dressing and content, respectively. I would have liked to have seen a variation of the Wanted meter where instead of cops, you start getting hunted by Corpo mercs depending on the side jobs you take.
In any case, those are my positive impressions. It’s fun to run around and shoot people in the face. The commitment to first-person perspective – including little things like being able to see your feet, seeing when you get cyberware installed on your hands, etc. – is refreshing and welcome. I seek out opportunities to fight and infiltrate buildings and cause mayhem. I love cyberpunk as a genre.
However. I am currently sitting on 1 unspent Attribute and 7 unspent Skill points. Nothing in the talent trees get my juices flowing, and I have nothing to look forward to, nothing to build towards. Shit, I just found out one of the capstone Technical Ability Skills I had within reach – the one that makes Tech weapons ignore all enemy armor – doesn’t actually work. As in, enemies don’t have armor to ignore. What kind of literal fucking clown show is this? Apparently I was also supposed to be getting free Quickhacks for my hacking efforts (and spent Attribute points) but some bug that’s been around since 1.0 prevents it. Neat. This game would arguably be better off with zero Attributes or Skills systems at all. Not even “everyone has everything all the time,” but literally no one having any enhancements.
After all, there are always grenades.
Having said all that… there is a greater than zero chance I segue right into a second playthrough with a male V focused on “studying the blade” at max difficulty. Quickhacks have been cute, but I’ve been eyeing time dilation katana shenanigans ever since I saw the requisite cyberware on vendors. Viable? Probably not. But it is just crazy enough to possibly be fun.
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.
When we last left our intrepid Steam competitor, Epic was having one of those crazy sales with the $10 coupon added on top. And they had finally added Wishlists! In a gaming storefront! In 2021!
Well, buckle up, buttercup, because Epic is having another seasonal sale with the $10 coupon and now they have… shopping carts! In 2021! Will wonders never cease?
Facetiousness aside, I was actually looking forward to Epic’s sale, for basically the pictured reasons. Let’s go ahead and put it in some bullet points though:
- Cyberpunk 2077 – $19.99
- Red Dead Redemption 2 – $19.99
- Disco Elysium – $7.99
- Roguebook – $6.24
- Inscryption – $5.99
I think the bottom three are a lock this time around. Well, Inscryption and Roguebook are both the sort of games I would expect to randomly pop up on Game Pass, so maybe not. Meanwhile, Disco Elysium is a full $12 cheaper during this sale compared to the summer one. As long as I commit to playing it right away, I think I could live with “losing” $8 in that specific scenario with that specific game.
Cyberpunk and Red Dead Redemption 2 are another story. On the one hand, $20 is very reasonable for a AAA title that is unlikely to get bundled/become free. In the case of Cyberpunk, they specifically said “there are no plans” but also hedged their bets for some indeterminable time in the future. RDR2 actually was on the service for consoles specifically, then left after a few months last year. So, unlikely to hit Game Pass again anytime soon.
At the same time… I just don’t know. Both are very large, graphically intensive games. While I am not one of those people scouring eBay for scalped video cards, I am running on some fairly old hardware. I’m currently running a GTX 1060 from four years ago, which isn’t that bad. But the rest of the guts are from 2011. Which… wow, I hadn’t bothered to look that up until just now. I haven’t felt (graphically) deprived in any particular game up to this point, so this isn’t something I should be concerned about. It’s just one of those scenarios where I know these games would be better experiences with better hardware. And I have been keeping an eye on /r/buildapcsales/ whenever a prebuilt comes up – it’s a strange world we live in when prebuilds end up being cheaper than the video cards they contain.
So, basically, I’d like to play those two games, but I’m not in a hurry. Maybe next sale then?
In any case, there you go. It’s probably a bit silly talking about buying new games when I just committed to playing things I already own, but nobody said life made sense. Least of all me.