Even with all the Cyberpunk 2077 post-release blowback (which includes reactions to the game’s bugs, the title’s nearly unplayable PS4 and Xbox One versions, and Sony’s decision to delist the game from the PlayStation Store), my mind keeps wandering to this 2019 interview with lead Cyberpunk 2077 quest designer, Pawel Sasko.
While the part of that interview where Sasko says the developers obviously aren’t overworking themselves rings loud following CD Projekt Red’s decision to implement crunch scheduling, the bit that stands out most is the implication that at that time, Cyberpunk 2077 was nearly content complete. According to Sasko, the “year of work” that was left on the game (spoilers: it was longer than that) would largely be spent “iterating [it], polishing it, playing it, making sure it looks and feels the way we want.”
There’s obviously a lot to be said about how “polished” Cyberpunk 2077 is, but the thing I can’t get over is the idea that Cyberpunk 2077‘s content was essentially complete at that time. It’s a claim that we’ve heard the company repeat in different ways throughout 2020 as they insisted that most of their work was primarily focused on optimizing the game’s performance across multiple platforms.
Cyberpunk 2077‘s bugs across those multiple platforms may rightfully be making headlines, but a larger conversation that’s starting to emerge concerns the potentially worrying implication that the bugs are hiding a game that may indeed represent its creators’ final vision.
Shortly before Cyberpunk 2077‘s release, I wrote a piece about managing your expectations for the game. While that story mentioned the almost inevitable bugs, it largely focused on this growing idea that Cyberpunk 2077 was going to be a fast-paced action game set in a thriving open-world that would rival what was seen in titles like GTA V and Red Dead Redemption 2. At that time, my feeling was that Cyberpunk 2077 would likely be much closer to a Deus Ex game with expanded RPG conventions and a slightly larger world.
Is that what we got? Kind of, but even if you view Cyberpunk through a more realistic lens, there are certain things about the game that just feel…off.
I didn’t suspect that Cyberpunk 2077 would have the most elaborate open-world, but whenever you walk around it for a while, you get the feeling that so much of it is little more than window dressing that is a generation behind in terms of basic design concepts. Citizens walk around in limited patterns, reactions are largely limited to cowering and scrambling whenever a weapon is fired within a certain range, and it’s fairly common to see character models repeated even if elements of them suggest they belong in a very specific area.
Your inability to interact with those areas is equally troubling. There are tons of arcade machines and references to other technological pleasures throughout Cyberpunk 2077, but you’re not allowed to use any of them unless they’re part of a quest. Doesn’t that feel a bit odd considering that this game was made by the same people whose previous minigame (Gwent) was so popular that it got a spinoff?
Even driving around the city feels wrong. Yes, that statement certainly touches on the game’s uneven driving controls, but you’re sometimes left with the feeling that CD Projekt Red either didn’t understand the fundamentals of video game driving or otherwise lost interest in the process somewhere along the way. When you can jump out of a car going almost 200 miles-per-hour and watch both your character and the car come to an almost dead stop, you start to suspect that whatever went wrong isn’t just related to bugs.
Let’s say you accept that Cyberpunk 2077 was going to be a more linear RPG with gameplay influenced by the Deus Ex series and that you should measure it based on those qualities. Even then, there’s that lingering feeling that something isn’t quite right here.
The most notable example in that respect has to be the lack of meaningful ways to alter your character’s appearance. We knew that the ability to customize your Cyberpunk 2077 character’s car had been removed from the game at some point, but why can’t you change their hair and other parts of their physical form? For that matter, why is the initial character creator so limited? Why can I choose the size and shape of my character’s genitals if I never see them outside of a prevalent (and hilarious) bug? Maybe that’s not as important in a first-person game, but don’t you just find that it feels like these options are simply missing?
While we’re on this subject, what’s up with Cyberpunk 2077‘s inventory system? Why am I constantly encouraged to change my character’s equipment for the statistical advantages individual pieces offer but I’m not allowed to create a pre-set look? What’s really strange is that there are certain items in the game that allow you to wear an outfit while retaining the stats offered by individual clothing pieces, but they’re incredibly rare and largely limited to specific scenarios.
That’s the point here. If Cyberpunk 2077 was an awful game across the board, then this whole thing would almost make more “sense.” Instead, the game is riddled with those bizarre design contradictions that throw the good and bad into constant chaos.
For instance, Cyberpunk 2077‘s dialog system can greatly impact the outcome of certain events, but you’d never know it based on how rarely dialog options based on your chosen lifepath appear after the prologue sequence. There are multiple rival gangs in Cyberpunk 2077 with elaborate backstories, but your ability to interact with them beyond killing them or see them interact with each other in the open-world is virtually non-existent. The game’s much-hyped braindance sequences are cool, but they’re rarely utilized during the main story and only appear in a few sidequests.
All of this leads us to a very important question. When Cyberpunk 2077 is patched like a quilt and all the bugs have been fixed, will we really be playing CD Projekt Red’s vision for this game?
My gut says the answer is “no.” Despite claims that Cyberpunk 2077 has essentially been finished from a content perspective for quite some time, there are enough examples of missing or partially implemented features in the game to lead you to believe that Cyberpunk 2077‘s turbulent development didn’t just impact the developer’s abilities to work out all the bugs; it may have impacted their ability to craft the game they set out to make.
Understand that I say this as someone who generally has a good time with Cyberpunk 2077 each time I play it. I love its customization options, its sidequests are simply incredible, and I’m even starting to warm up to the game’s action sequences and how it really does offer you options that may not be immediately apparent.
However, when all of those things I like are closely tied to some element of the game that feels half-baked or simply missing, then it’s hard not to wonder whether we’re playing a rushed version of the project or what essentially amounts to the final vision of the game that is just underperforming at the moment.
I hope it’s the former and that the Cyberpunk 2077 team takes the time to eventually add in what appear to be missing features (or even just features that they now realize would greatly enhance the game). For the first time in a long-time, I hope that Cyberpunk 2077‘s developers were stretching the truth and that Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t so much “finished” as it was “as good as it’s going to get before the studio seemingly realized they had a massive technical problem on their hands.”
What I fear is the other scenario. There’s a world in which Cyberpunk 2077 is the game that CD Projekt Red wanted to release but with too many bugs and performance issues. If that is the case, then the debate over this game has only just begun.