Introduction

Some games are ambitious, with mechanics and systems we haven’t seen before. Some games are massive, offering expansive and dense worlds ripe for exploration. Some games are complex, delving into mature themes involving violence, authority, and sexuality. And then there’s Cyberpunk 2077, which aims to be all of those things. It is one of the most overwhelming and intricate open-world games we’ve played; after multiple Game Informer editors spent hours charting their own course through the urban sprawl of Night City, everyone had different experiences to share. But it was easy to agree on one thing: This game is enormous in every sense of the word.

Inspired by and rooted in the world of a long-established tabletop role-playing game, Cyberpunk 2077 catapults players into a lurid future. People dramatically modify and augment their bodies as a matter of course, and enter virtual mindscapes to chase fleeting thrills. Megacorps hold vast power, scheming and killing with impunity. And in the underbelly of this bleak dystopia, outlaw edgerunners chart their own paths beyond the reach of the grasping corporations, leveraging underground connections, insane tech implants, and earned street cred to shape their own destinies. You are V – one of these enigmatic cyberpunks – and you’ve got a lot of options in front of you.

 

Growing Beyond The Witcher

Growing Beyond The Witcher

CD Projekt Red loves to take risks and improve with every new project. Since the days of the studio’s humble beginnings, the goal has always been to create “big RPGs,” and a core part of that philosophy is going the extra mile. In a world where gamers have so many options, CD Projekt recognizes that people need a compelling reason to buy. The company made it a mission to have open conversations with its fans, and earned respect for its generous approach to post-release content.

Over the years, CD Projekt Red has become a studio known for masterful storytelling, specifically with The Witcher series. Geralt’s adventures present difficult dilemmas with no easy answers, and the unpredictable consequences of his actions have opened new frontiers of player choice. Nowhere is this more evident than 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which raised the bar in terms of scope, narrative, and meaningful decisions. But after spending about 15 years wrapped up in The Witcher, CD Projekt is ready to chart new territory with a new property, leveraging its strengths and challenging its developers in new ways.

Cyberpunk 2077 is so much more than a new setting; it’s about giving players the flexibility and freedom to play the game their way. We each spent four hours hands-on with an early build, and it is shaping up to offer a new level for customization in games, allowing you to influence multiple facets of the gameplay and narrative. “It comes from the desire for us to make sure that it feels different from the Witcher series,” says level designer Max Pears. “You played the role of Geralt; you had the journal, fought the monsters, had the two types of swords – silver and steel. Here it’s more about giving the player freedom. The most exciting part is not only are there so many different ways to play – it’s ways to upgrade yourself, to tell your story with who you are fashion-wise. It’s the weapons you’re going to use, and deciding if you’re going to spend your time crafting special ones or finding mods. I think it’s just about making sure that we represent that freedom, making players well aware that this is different from the Witcher franchise, that it is exciting to be your cyberpunk in this world.”

Pressing Start On Cyberpunk 2077

Pressing Start On Cyberpunk 2077

Our demo allows us to play from the very beginning of the game, giving us the ability to fully define our own experience, from customizing V’s personality to the skillset we want to use. Similar to Dragon Age: Origins, Cyberpunk 2077 has different prologues that explain V’s roots. You choose from three distinct life paths [see sidebar], and you start at different places and meet unique people depending on your origin story. The three of us each played a different path to see how stark these differences are and what they mean for V as a character. After getting a glimpse of how V gets into the mercenary business and befriends their biggest ally, we took on an in-depth story mission that has V teaming up with a legendary fixer that could put them on the map. We saw bits of this mission in previous E3 demos, but there was much more to it in terms of character interactions, gameplay sections, and choices of which characters to align with and the repercussions. CD Projekt Red allowed us to explore the open world and take on side activities with total freedom. Even with hours to explore, everyone who played had the sense that we were only scratching the surface of the game’s breadth.

Creating V

Creating V

The customization starts before you step foot in Night City with the character creator, which offers extensive options for hair styles, skin tones, scars, facial hair, and makeup. You embody and define V, and here’s where you choose a lifepath to give the character. What’s impressive about the character creator and its myriad options is these choices speak to the fluidity of this world and the nature of a person’s body in the future. People are not defined by the bodies they’re born into; they can easily alter their appearance and add cybernetics, and the character creator showcases this well by not limiting the type of character you create or forcing you to adhere to traditional gender identities.

This is also the place where you pick where to invest your first attribute points. The five areas you can invest in are body (raw physical power, increasing health and stamina), intelligence (memory and intellect, improves hacking abilities), reflexes (coordination and speed, enhancing critical chance and evasion), technical (tech aptitude, providing armor bonuses and additional chance of harvesting craftable loot), and cool (self-control and willpower, improves stealth and speed at which NPCs notice you).

As a staff, we went for different playstyles. For hacking, we invested heavily in intelligence and cool, but could still brute force our way through situations with our fists and guns thanks to points spent on body and reflexes. You are never locked into one playstyle, leaving you free to experiment. “The system is built in the way that you can pick and choose,” explains quest director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz. “You don’t have to specialize in one skill. You can be a hacker and you can also use the katana, or you can use heavy guns but also be a techie.”

In one play session, we had planned to focus on hacking. While we did a fair share of hacking TVs and pushing boxes over to distract guards, we came across a new toy that changed everything: the shotgun. This powerful weapon forces you to get close to enemies, but can annihilate them with one shot. It makes quick work of the baddies, and you feel powerful as hell doing it. We quickly turned our character concept into an intelligent hacker with a penchant for popping off their shotgun if things got too frustrating.

Beyond just getting V’s look and skills right, a huge part of the experience is about role-playing the character through dialogue options. You can make V more cautious or silent in shaky situations, trash talk with reckless abandon, or decide to let your weapons speak for you. Having the lifepath options certainly help you fit a mold. For instance, if you play the corporate path, expect V to act untouchable and to see their privilege show. If you pick the street kid, life has hardened you a bit; you’re street smart, and can hold your own in any situation. We were impressed by how realistic and varied the dialogue options felt, allowing us to inhabit our V rather than just going through the motions.

Melee combat uses a mix of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and timed counters

Diving Deep Into Progression

CD Projekt Red has discussed skill trees and customization in the past, but we were not prepared for the full breadth of options available. Every time we leveled up, exciting new perks beckoned, and finding new gear and weapons of various rarities made us want to search every corner of the world. One of the strongest aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 is how every system has multiple layers. It can be overwhelming at first, but once you get a handle on the way those systems interact, tinkering with them is exhilarating and rewarding.

Cars may be driven around the city in both first and third-person perspectives

As you level up, you unlock attribute points and perks. You invest points in improving the main attributes, but each one also has its own branching perk tree for unlocking new skills. For instance, in the intelligence attribute path, there are two hacking paths: device or target. You can mix and match skills from both. Device skills improve your prowess with hacking things like security systems and turrets, while target skills disrupt enemy cyberware, like calling an enemy to another to get them both in range for a grenade detonation. Prefer the subtle approach? A high cool attribute provides options for stealth, like adding aerial takedowns, or a Cold Blood tree that buffs movement, damage, and other effects when your health drops.

How far you go down any given path is determined by the corresponding attribute level, and the more you do something like hack or use a specific gun, the more your proficiency grows. “Basically if you want to level up a skill and a specific weapon … you basically level it up as you use that specific tool,” Tomaszkiewicz explains. “However, the maximum amount to which you can level up that skill is limited by a specific stat. For example, your hacking ability cannot exceed your intelligence stat. So if your intelligence is four, you cannot level up hacking higher than four.”

Beyond core statistics, it wouldn’t truly be a cyberpunk game if you couldn’t install cyberware to improve your body. Here’s where you get your superhuman passive, active, and triggered abilities. All you need to do is visit a Ripperdoc, who can do everything from installing a Mantis Blade in your arm to putting the Kerenzikov reflex device in the nervous system to provide slow motion after dodging an attack. All cyberware has different tiers: legendary, epic, rare, common, and uncommon. The higher the tier, the more slots it requires to install.

And this doesn’t even touch on the fact that all your armor and weapons can also have upgrades installed. For instance, you can put a silencer on your gun to keep your blast from alerting others as you sneak into areas. These can also improve stats, like providing additional armor or increasing your chance for a critical. Even when you go to pick a gun (you can have three equipped at once), you have a plethora of options. In addition to basic pistols and rifles, you also have smart guns, which have self-guided missiles (no aiming required!). You can also equip powerful tech weapons that launch projectiles at lightning-fast speeds and pierce armor. From what we played, the gunplay felt comparable to shooting in other first-​person RPGs, though the early weapons from the beginning of the game don’t offer a complete picture. Even so, landing headshots felt great, especially as you could see the damage numbers each bullet produces on an enemy to know which areas to target.

 

Stepping Into Night City

Stepping Into Night City

The best way to describe our first moments in Night City is sensory overload. This is a high-tech, fast-paced world, and everything is vying for your attention. Pay attention to the people around you, and you can unlock cool scenes, like when we stopped to listen to a man preaching about the harm of technology, only to see a group of girls comment on his weird antics and take a selfie in front of him like he was a zoo attraction. Turn the wrong corner and you could come face-to-face with a gang waiting to jump you. Ads plaster the world, showcasing everything from sex toys to water supplements. Excess consumerism is alive and well.

It’s not all grim, though. Looking up, you can marvel at the high structures and fantastic architecture. The world’s verticality is a nice touch, making you feel like the buildings are pressing down on you. This is a strange universe to step into, and that’s part of what makes it so fun to explore. It is a portal into a gritty future that raises questions about our dependence on technology in our own world.

One way this is illustrated is through “braindances,” which CD Projekt Red has cleverly implemented into the gameplay. The predominant entertainment format for citizens of Night City in 2077, braindance tech lets individuals dive into the memories of others, experiencing life firsthand from another person’s perspective. V gains the additional capability to edit a braindance, which becomes a core path to uncover new information. “It’s a tool to find hidden details that most viewers would not find,” Tomaszkiewicz says. “For the player, it’s actually a gathering of clues that can push investigations forward.” Rewind and fast forward through a memory, zooming in and out – perhaps onto important names displayed on a screen – or shift the audio focus to hear a conversation happening across the room. Swap to a thermal observation layer and find a hidden freezer in a concealed floor plan. Each new memory offers a new puzzle to solve, details to uncover, and a disturbing but voyeuristic thrill.

You visit six vast and disparate districts in Night City, from the poverty-stricken Watson to the Vegas-like Westbrook, and you never have a shortage of things to do in the open world. Veer off the main quest path, and you’re sure to stumble upon side quests, something CD Projekt Red has earned a reputation for doing extremely well. “Our side content can vary,” says quest designer Philipp Weber. “We have those bigger side quests that might be connected to some main characters from the main story, or we also have these small requests that you can find just out in the open world, but of course can turn into something bigger.”

Dynamic events also constantly pop up around you, like crimes in progress or gang-on-gang violence. As V, you decide if you want to get involved and reap the rewards. V can also participate in fun activities, like car races, fist fights, and the shooting range. But perhaps the most lucrative venture is to take on gigs. Every area has a fixer who sends V jobs, and these are your main source of income. They can be anything from eliminating a target to sabotaging a server. You can also take on bounties or unearth clues that point to secret stashes.

Several competing gangs each have their own distinct fashion style and philosophy

Driving around the city, this feels like a denser setting than anything CD Projekt Red has previously attempted. It’s labyrinthine, so much so you will often be navigating it by car. The driving takes a little getting used to, because there are a lot of tight spaces, and taking wide turns can feel punishing. You can eventually steal different cars, and if you engage in too much crime, your wanted level will rise, meaning you need to lay low for a bit.

Searching the city, we find our share of components and blueprints, which are used for crafting. You can craft upgrades for your weaponry, including scopes, silencers, grenades, and flashbags. CD Projekt Red says some of the rarer armor, such as tech weapons and various gadgets, are made through finding these blueprints and obtaining the required items. Just like in The Witcher 3, you can disassemble junk and get components to use in crafting recipes.

Pure Ambition And The Power Of Choice

Pure Ambition And The Power Of Choice

CD Projekt Red is a leader in the role-playing genre with its ability to give players choice and freedom. The way the gameplay and story intertwine is what makes Cyberpunk 2077 so fascinating. To see this play out on a grand stage, we take on a story quest called “The Pickup.” You might remember seeing portions of this quest from E3 presentations. This is the job that’s supposed to turn you into a legend, and it’s also a great introduction to this unpredictable world and the various ways to chart your path. “This quest showcases many different story nonlinearities combined with gameplay nonlinearities, which was our goal for quests in Cyberpunk 2077,” Tomaszkiewicz says, pointing to the large number of choices and variations with different outcomes.

Your goal is simple: obtain a high-tech military spider-bot. The Maelstrom gang, whose members abuse illegal cyberware to become more machine than human, stole this from one of the megacorps, a military weapon supplier called Militech. An optional decision here is to meet with Militech agent Meredith Stout. You could try to cut a deal with her if you get the spider-bot back, or you could bypass her altogether; she’s no-nonsense and hard to read. Can you trust someone who works for a corrupt megacorp? If you do meet with Stout, it opens up additional choices and determines if she shows up later when you meet with Maelstrom.

We all ended up seeing what Stout had to say, but used that encounter differently. Stout hands you a credchip telling you to pay Maelstrom with it. If you have the right skillset, you can detect that it’s laced with a virus. It’s up to you if you want to use it or confront her about it, but whatever you do, it opens up different paths in the quest. When you show up for the spider-bot, Maelstrom changes the terms of the deal, asking you to pay double for the bot. One of us got frustrated by this and just pulled our gun out mid-conversation, initiating an immediate combat sequence. This actually causes you to bypass a difficult boss battle later. Another one of us agreed to the demands and handed Maelstrom the virus-infested credchip, which causes Militech to come in and kill off the Maelstrom gang – but it also makes for a harder escape sequence. You can still bypass the difficult boss with stealth, but it won’t be simple. If you take the battle on, you need to find cover and shoot at weak areas, especially targeting his flamethrower-like weapon’s tank so he can’t use it and it blows up.

 

We also could have warned Maelstrom about the virus, which leads to an appreciative “thank you” and walking away with the spider-bot. This also ultimately determines if Stout or another character emerges successful in an internal Militech power struggle. Of course, if we were feeling generous in the name of peace, we could have solved this entire situation without any hostility if we just paid Maelstrom’s doubled fee with our own money, but it’s a pretty large sum. Even during the quest, there are certain side paths that you may not see the ramifications for until later down the line, like if you find Maelstrom’s previous leader in a booby-trapped prison cell, and how you respond. We don’t know how far-reaching these playstyle variations will be in the full game, but we were surprised by how different our playthroughs were in how events unfolded.

The bleak waste of the Badlands surrounds Night City

After our four hours, we feel like we barely saw a sliver of this vast world. The possibilities for what’s in store are endless. Much of the story has remained under lock and key due to spoilers, but we do know that in addition to the six revealed districts, players will make visits to cyberspace, where only the most experienced netrunners go. “For us, cyberspace is a storytelling tool,” says lead quest designer Paweł Sasko. “As a player, you will be going into cyberspace multiple times throughout the storyline, and each time something very specific happens. So it’s not that as a player you can freely explore cyberspace. This is more story-focused. You’re meeting specific beings, and uncovering more mysteries regarding how it was made, how it came to be, and how it works. That’s what I can say without just going completely into spoilers.”

Cyberpunk 2077’s enormous dystopian city imparts a strange sensation. Wandering its streets, and encountering its beleaguered tech-overwhelmed inhabitants, it’s often troubling to see parallels to real-world issues, like getting a peek into the darkest future timeline. And yet, that same disturbing place invites exploration, and the thrill of seeing what lies around the next corner. Like the genre from which it draws its name, Cyberpunk 2077 warns us about a dangerous path society might take, but one that we just can’t look away from.

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