Although there are still two substantial DLC expansions on the horizon for The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, the highly acclaimed third (and final) entry in the swords-and-sorcery based RPG that has made Polish developers CD Projekt RED one of the gaming industry’s hottest properties, focus is already beginning to shift towards their next project.
As Wild Hunt sits proudly atop the 2015 triple-A release pile, resplendent in its majesty and a sure-fire certainty for Game of the Year, let’s take a look at what the studio have lined up for the future…
Appropriately enough, the company’s future is the future – Cyberpunk 2077 is next on their slate and promises to be something very special indeed. Based on Cyberpunk 2020, the popular pen-and-paper role-playing game, the developers are set to take us into a bleak, dystopian vision of a futuristic society where puppet governments are run by warring mega-corporations and a dark reign of violence falls on the just and the unjust alike. Ceaseless conflicts spill onto the seedy, neon-splashed streets and run rampant – even atop the glittering corporate spires that reach vainly for the heavens.
Amid this carnage, the relationship between man and machine has progressed to a trans-humanist state: cybernetic enhancements, both functional and aesthetic, are all the rage, and as the lines between technology and organic become increasingly blurred, man’s empathetic connection to those around him becomes less and less solvent. If you somehow haven’t got around to seeing the frankly amazing announcement trailer that CD Projekt RED launched back in 2013, get yourself up to speed by checking it out below:
Some of you may be thinking that this vision of the future isn’t particularly new and to some degree you’d be right: titles such as Deus Ex and the Shadowrun series have been mining this particular dark-future scenario for years – even as far back as 1993 ‘s Syndicate, an isometric, squad-based shooter that combined many of the above elements to create a stone-cold cyberpunk classic (and worthy contender for a future Games That Nobody Talks About Anymore feature).
That said, with the wildly successful Witcher franchise, CD Projekt RED has already proved the value of adapting their games from existing literature, and with Cyberpunk 2077, they’ve threaded that needle once more. While it’s certainly true that developing your own game world can be hugely successful (as BioWare have repeatedly proved with their Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles), there’s much to be said for adaptations of existing properties too. With a fully-realized world pre-built and ready to go, developers are free to devote all of their resources to the creation of the game itself without having to worry about diverting precious effort to the onerous task of universe building.
For a smaller developer such as CD Projekt RED, who doesn’t possess endless resources, this is doubly true. Although game creators may have to make some creative concessions to stay within the confines of a fictional world’s “rules,” this potential drawback is more than offset by the huge potential of having a pre-built audience who are already aware of (and presumably enthusiastic about) your product. Besides, the title’s senior designer, Marcin Janiszewski, has already said (with tongue presumably in cheek) that because he and his team are “only” demi-gods and sadly tainted by that “speck of human blood,” it won’t be possible to get every feature of the tabletop game into the video game adaptation. And if we’re honest, nor should they try.
CPR have proven to be experts thus far at adapting source material into high-quality games, and with Cyberpunk 2077, that trend looks set to continue. Besides, it’s not like they’re planning to shirk on the size. The Polish developers have already promised that the game will be ‘far, far larger’ than The Witcher III.
One person who certainly trusts their judgement is Mike Pondsmith, creator of the original Cyberpunk tabletop game. Before the game was even announced in 2012, Pondsmith regularly flew to Poland to help design a game that is true to the series’ roots. But what does that mean exactly? Here’s the man himself to tell us:
Borrowing liberally from the works of William Gibson and other ‘mirrorshades’ writers, the world of Cyberpunk 2020 is distinctly 80s in tone. Its tagline, Attitude is Everything, is emblematic of the era’s fascination with style, status, and power. In the world of Cyberpunk 2020, acting and looking like the real deal are as important as being the real deal – “Cool” is a vital mechanic in the rule system that defines your character’s ability to navigate their way around an inherently deadly environment.
And how. The combat system in Cyberpunk 2077 (entitled Friday Night Firefight) is unforgivably lethal. There are no magical means to dodge bullets if you get shot (when you get shot), you usually wind up dead – or find yourself paying out a king’s ransom in Eurobucks for some serious life-saving cybernetic enhancements. You can, of course, choose to preemptively shield yourself against the ever-present threat of the streets by investing heavily in technological augmentations, but the trade-off is equally severe: your empathy wanes with each passing upgrade. Slowly, the emotional connection with your fellow man dims until you’re nothing but a cold-blooded machine, stalking the rain-slicked city streets of Night City – your humanity washed clean away, to rot in the gutter along with any hopes of salvation.
It’s both the intangibility and the importance given to these traits that make them particularly interesting. In role-playing terms, “Empathy” and “Cool” are not as easy to quantify through a series of dice rolls (or computerized algorithms) as say, “Strength” or “Fortitude.” They come largely instead from role-playing the character, in speech or in deed.
With their final installment in the Witcher series, CD Projekt RED have already shown that they are capable of producing moments of real role-playing gravitas (equal to, or perhaps even greater than BioWare in their pomp) and it will be interesting to see the mechanics that they create to allow for such factors. As individual attitude is so important to the game’s tone, it’s almost certain that we’ll see incredibly high levels of customization.
What does remain to be seen, however, is whether CPR will opt for a pre-selected protagonist in the style of Geralt of Rivia or allow the player to create their own character from a range of classes. The latter has been indicated as the initial choice for CPR, but with such a long development cycle, things could yet change. In this sense, the original pen-and-paper game offered a range of character archetypes to choose from: amongst others you could be a Corp, a corporate mega-yuppie, networked to the hilt with endless resources; a cybered-up Solo, a gun-for-hire living off your nerve and the speed of your draw, or perhaps even a Cop in Night City’s Psycho Squad, charged with taking down the cybernetic monsters that have lost touch with reality.
While this wealth of choice would be awe-inspiring and add untold replayability to the game, there’s a chance it could detract from the tightly-wound narrative the game’s developers are no doubt building. Last year’s Dragon Age: Inquisition suffered for possessing a less defined protagonist than say, Geralt from the Witcher games. Beginning with the “old amnesia” trick does not always a good story make (except for you, dear old Knights of the Old Rebublic) although luckily for Inquisition, the colourful cast of supporting characters did much to make up for its underdeveloped lead.
While very little is known as to how the game mechanics will be adapted for the medium of video games, it is at least certain that the world that the player inhabits will undoubtedly be recognizable as that of Cyberpunk. The time period may be 50 years in the future, but Pondsmith has assured fans that the video game will continue to spin out the ongoing plot threads of the Cyberpunk universe, and that players will be able to experience familiar locations and events from the tabletop series.
The announcement trailer is packed with tantalizing nods to the game’s lore, from the Psycho Squad cop armed with Militech weaponry to the image of Alt Cunningham, the legendary netrunner who invented the Soulkiller program, it’s clear that CPR are huge fans of the source material and are striving to reference it wherever they can.
So when will we see it? Sadly, it seems as if The Wild Hunt‘s delay from 2014 into this year also significantly slowed down the progress of Cyberpunk 2077. At the time of the delay, representatives for the development team confirmed that significant resources were being pulled from Cyberpunk to get The Witcher III up to speed.
Chief Executive Adam Kicinski has confirmed that this year and next “will be the years of The Witcher” which indicates that we’re looking at 2017 before CPR are even willing to talk about the game. All is not lost, though. When Bethesda shocked the industry back in June by announcing not only the existence of Fallout 4, but that it would be launching only five short months later, CD Projekt RED were impressed. Joint CEO Marcin Iwinski has promised that his team will be following suit and not talking about Cyberpunk 2077 until they have something very meaningful to show – hopefully, a complete game.
Just don’t keep us waiting until 2077, eh?