It was Microsoft who earned the right to showcase Cyberpunk 2077 during their keynote this year. A long time partner of CD Projekt Red’s (CDPR) their conference lights were about to shut off as Phil Spencer was saying his goodbyes when every monitor in the theatre went black and the house lights flickered with red as a series of code and static flashed onto the screens, before launching into a trailer that would unknowingly set the standard for the week.
What we saw on stage then was an introduction for the world, a vertical slice of what would later be extrapolated on behind closed doors in a full one hour presentation of the expansive and alive world you’ll inhabit in Cyberpunk 2077.
Set (unsurprisingly) in the year 2077 you play as “V”, an urban mercenary trying to make a name for yourself in this new version of America. A shadow of its former self, the country is in pieces and the divide between the rich and poor is wider than ever before. Megacorporations rule the world on the surface whilst below gangs control the streets and its industries of sex, drugs and cybernetics.
V is a “Cyberpunk”, a free soul bound to no systems or rules. You take jobs as a means to survive and grow your personal brand as a merc in turn earning a greater reputation in the world you live in. You modify your body to do jobs no one else will take and with the help of your partner complete missions for whom offers the greatest rewards.
Everyone’s V will be a little different though. The game offers a level of character customisation we’ve not seen before in CDPR’s games allowing you to mould not just the appearance and gender of your version of V but also their back story and demeanour.
This of course is aligned with the game’s core table-top roots. Originally an RPG developed by Mike Pond in the mid 80’s Cyberpunk’s video game realisation aims to stay true to its past. Similar to The Witcher being developed from Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels Cyberpunk goes a step further incorporating not just story and characters but mechanics and a vast array of elements from it’s RPG origin.
Unlike an RPG though Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t ask you to choose what class your character will be. The game uses a “fluid class system” where your choices in augmentations and gameplay style will influence the natural sway of your character’s way of going about things. They can also change at any point in the game too. Going stealth into one situation doesn’t necessarily mean a run & gun tank like tactic is completely off the cards either.
The game also marks a first for CDPR in moving to a first person view. Whilst heavily rooted as a narrative driven RPG the game’s future-set battles of course involve weaponry more akin to an FPS play style so it makes sense they’d shift. There could be the option to pop out into a third-person view later on but the only time it was shown during the demo was whilst driving your car. I was impressed by the FPS perspective though it felt right to me and worked seamlessly as you entered combat.
Battles work as you’d expect and similar to Destiny or Borderlands damage counts pop over enemies heads as they’re attacked. In the multiple battle instances we had a chance to see there were a variety of weapons and environmental interactions that showcased new systems not present in other CDPR titles. For instance environmental destruction was present however it’s unknown exactly how much was handled in real time or predetermined by in game modelling.
V’s abilities and weaponry were kick ass. Sure shooting through walls with a giant shotgun is cool but how about bullets that track enemies with ricochet rounds or climbing the walls with mantis blades that pop out your arms and then serve as katanas that slice through enemies as you fall on them. You can even hack your enemies, should you have the right abilities, jacking into one can filter down into the squad and allows you to do things like jam their weapons to render them easy targets. It may have a FPS style to it but its flexibility in approach and plethora of load-outs will make each person’s play through a distinctly unique experience.
Combat can also be affected by certain inhaled enhancers called “whiffing” in the game. Various concoctions will allow you to buff and affect V in different ways like enhancing your senses or making you more resilient to types of damage. We were shown one that allowed V to slow time and be more precise within battle for a short period. Think of it as a combination of The Matrix’s bullet-time and Fallout’s VATS. The downside to whiffing is its similarities to drug use that Australia’s classification board has in the past felt warrants a “no classification” rating and blocked the release of a game. It’ll be interesting to see what happens come the game’s distant launch.
I sadly say distant too, not because it looked unfinished or unplayable in any way shape or form but because of comments made by CDPR’s president after E3 confirming that it was still years away. If history repeats itself and we use The Witcher 3 as a guide, when it was first demoed at E3 the same was said of it. A vertical slice of what is a work in progress, which sadly we had to wait another two years to play.
As sad and torturous as that may be the realisation once it’s here will be well worth the wait and whether it’s one year or two I for one will be first in line to sink a good portion of my life into exploring the world of Cyberpunk 2077.