Cyberpunk 2077: A Special Unscored Review

Cyberpunk 2077 is available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. I reviewed the game on an Xbox Series X on the hardest difficulty.

You can find a video version of this review here: Cyberpunk 2077: A Special Unscored Review – YouTube

A Foreword from Gideon

I’ll be handling my Cyberpunk review a little differently than normal. First of all, I won’t be scoring it. It will be the only game so far that I have left unscored. There are a couple of important reasons for this decision. First off, the last thing I want is a bunch of hate messages from people who scroll down to the score and miss all the context.

Since I’m reviewing it post-release among the massive amount of controversy surrounding the game, this could happen whether I scored it high or low. A high score would get me called a bootlicking hack, and a low score would get me accused of riding the bandwagon for clicks.

Attributes have a large effect on your playstyle.

So the fact of the matter is. If you want to know what I think and why, you have to actually read or hear what I have to say. If you can’t be bothered, that’s fine, no hard feelings. But I don’t review games to add a number to an aggregated score to validate your preexisting feelings. I also can’t fail to give my view on one of the biggest games of the generation, regardless of who is willing to read or watch it.

The second reason is, Cyberpunk was a damn strange game to review. My opinion of it flipped several times as I played and often to one extreme or the other. Scores, in general, are a shallow verdict of a game. I don’t like them, but I use them because readers like them.

In the case of Cyberpunk, there was so much that I hated and so much that I loved, that attempting to find the right number to slap on it is far more difficult than usual. I could simply take the fact that there are a bunch of Pros and Cons, and just average it. But to be honest, that’s a pretty fucking lazy way to score a game.

Your lifepath grants you a unique prologue mission and some window dressing dialogue throughout the game.

I’m also not factoring in bugs or performance. It’s been talked about to death, everyone already knows. I played it on a Series X, so it ran fine for me. It was still, in fact, the buggiest game I’ve ever played and this is coming from an Ark player.

I’ve been playing the game for nearly a month, and patches have slowly made them more and more irrelevant to my experience. You already know the game is buggy. It’s less buggy than it was at release, and in two weeks it will be probably be even less buggy than it is now.

So, if you’re still here, let’s dig into the nitty-gritty.

Story and Choices

I’ll be as vague as I can to avoid major spoilers. At its core, the story itself is well written and voiced by a talented cast, while the characters have facial expressions that make them really come alive.

It’s a story that I found myself invested in the same way that Mass Effect grabbed me. Just as I felt like Shepard, I felt like V. I grew attached to many of the characters that can appear in V’s life, and I valued spending time with them or hearing everything they had to say.

Cyberpunk is full of interesting characters.

It’s a testament to how well these characters are designed. I generally don’t care that much, I’m a gameplay oriented person. But I really enjoyed living in V’s shoes. However, Cyberpunk’s storytelling is far more than just it’s core writing, it’s an open-world RPG with a focus on choice. Whether or not your choices matter isn’t always obvious, and the answer is both yes and no.

There are some significant events that will happen regardless of what you choose. Many dialogues are simply window dressing with a single path ahead. At one point, I came across a dialogue that gave me two choices, and I shit you not, they were.

“Little help, Johnny”

“A little help here, Johnny”

Thankfully, this is the worst example of dialogue in the game.

At the time, I was already annoyed with the game, and I very nearly put it down for good. But in the grand scheme of things, it was a very small piece of dialogue. The fact is, you CAN affect the outcomes of a couple big events, and there are multiple endings as well. But you can’t affect a ton of events on a large scale.

However, if you truly care about being immersed in the world, you don’t really have to affect the big picture. The little things do matter. The journey is as important as the destination. The more I played, the more I found that while there was a path to follow, much of what I did still told my version of the story.

It could be as small as dictating V’s personality, or relationship with other characters. It could be as big as a couple of side characters living or dying. Or it could be things you might miss. Killing a gang leader in a small meaningless side quest, gave me a dialogue option in the main story later.

Some characters I had rescued in the open world, appeared at a camp in the late game and I could speak to them. Sure the Lifepath I chose at the beginning of the game led to the same destination, but it helped me weave the words that got me there.

Some choices matter, others don’t. But they all help you tell your own version of V’s story.

My world is canon to my story. My V might have friends that you don’t, or someone may live in my world that died in yours. Video games have limits, and Cyberpunk handles those limits pretty well.

The main story pacing is entirely at odds with the rest of the game though. The main story feels like a ticking clock, and it can flat out feel wrong to be out doing side quests while it ticks. Yet, the worst thing you could do is beeline the main story. The side quests are full of great characters and storylines, and they help tell your own version of the story.

Furthermore, a few side quests can even affect the ending. Plus, who you interact with, and how will change the ending credit scenes. Rushing through the game will cause you to miss a lot of it.

Every attribute has a ton of perks.

I did enjoy the maturity and nuance the game presented, especially with romance options, or at least the ones I experienced. At face value, the game comes off as juvenile. The billboards are plastered with nudity, which is fine, but it’s almost cartoonish in its depiction. The in-universe ads that play are pretty bonkers and almost feel like a parody of adult themes.

Knowing that Cyberpunk had explicit sex scenes, I really expected any sort of relationship to be handled in a shallow way, as a simple excuse to be horny. I was really, really wrong. The major characters I encountered were deep, flawed, and their relationship with V was handled in a mature, and believable fashion.

I was shocked the first time a character I was attempting to romance very gently and realistically turned me down. I had been led to believe the option was there to show me, the player, a pair of digital boobs. As I got to know the character further, it felt appropriate when it did happen. It was believable, and the relationship dynamics felt cute. An actual romance and not just titillation. Though the graphic scene was still there, of course.

The romances I played through were handled well.

Yet, you can see Cyberpunk buckle under pressure where it was stretched thin. Just like that oddball dialogue choice I mentioned earlier. Two of V’s potential love interests are involved in the main story, and they feel far more significant because of this.

Two others, I never even met on my first playthrough. They were relegated to side quests I just never got around to doing. I never even knew who they were. On the flip side, one that is involved in the main story can actually grant you an entire ending, if you do her side quests, whether or not you romance her.

Speaking of endings, only one of them felt right to me. Not just because many of them are sad or bittersweet. But because they largely don’t make sense within the context of the game’s events and the characters within them. The one I mentioned felt more fleshed out and rational. It ties up almost every plot thread while still leaving a bit up for interpretation. It’s what I would call the “good” ending.

If you happened to have romanced one of the two characters that appear in main story, they matter in that ending as well. You’re shit out of luck if you took one of the other two romance options. If any DLC is to come post-story, it feels like CD Projekt Red pigeonholed themselves pretty badly I see no way of handling it where you don’t invalidate a lot of players’ choices.

Gameplay Systems

Cyberpunk is a game of extremes. What it does well, it does really really well. And what it does poorly, it does exceptionally poorly. It also suffers from what I call the Days Gone effect. This basically means, the game you play early on, feels significantly different than the game you play hours later. In my case, I was twenty hours in before the game clicked for me.

When you’re still at a low level with no street cred and your pockets are empty, the game’s stealth and combat feel like a limited mix of Borderlands and FarCry. Enemies take a billion bullets with very little reaction. You can sneak behind them for stealth takedowns, but your options for getting around are also limited.

The game looks great on next gen consoles

It feels bad, and it feels bad for hours. In fact, if you beeline the main story, you may never actually get to the point where it feels good before you’re done with the game.

The world itself is sprawling and feels alive. The districts are varied and so are the people. I rarely saw a duplicate NPC. But it’s also shallow, with very little to interact with outside of missions. There is nearly no driving AI, there are no car chases that aren’t scripted. So the massive amount of cars you can purchase left me wondering why I’d ever want to do that.

Luckily side quests are a mix of sandbox encounters and interesting stories. Both have their merits, though the sandboxes aren’t fun until you have the proper toys to play in them. The overall quest structure is pretty damn good with a lot of variety. Many side quests look, feel, and play like main quest missions, and they are a ton of fun.

This is good because fancy Cyber Implants, interesting perks, and other stuff is locked behind your skill points, money, and street cred. You’re gonna have to take part in the open world if you want to get the most out of your character.

The gunplay feels good

The leveling system is clever, with massive perk trees spread through different attributes. You can focus on hacking, different types of weapons, stealth, or whatever you want. Every perk point feels like it matters, even if it’s a passive bonus. You also gain some additional passive perks just by playing. The more you hack, the better you get at it, the more you use a pistol, the more proficient you are.

There came a certain point in my progression where the game just kind of switched. I went from firing nerf guns to using smart weapons that shot around cover, or tech weapons I could charge up and blow right through it.

Overtime I went from being able to do minor hacks like a small electric shock, to detonating grenades in people’s pockets. I could turn them psycho, or even make them commit suicide. I could turn turrets to my side or even rip the gun off and use it myself since I was so strong.

There were many types of grenades at my disposal, and I could super jump with leg implants allowing me to sneak around or attack from a variety of angles.

Smart guns can fire around cover.

If a closed-door was in my way, I could either open it with my technical skill or brute force it. All due to how I built my character. Time slowed when I dodged, and I had customized my weapons and armor to my liking. Once I hit that point, every combat encounter was a blast.

You have so much choice in how to play, or even how to get around. But none of that is apparent early, not until hours and hours into the game. It takes time for Cyberpunks’ good systems to get warmed up, and the poor systems are even worse at first. To make matters worse, none of its mechanical design is cohesive at all. Almost every aspect feels like it was independently made without the rest in mind. Nothing is truly consistent.

My inventory was full of consumables I never needed.

I never once bought or crafted a healing item. I had hundreds in my inventory at any given time, despite the fact that I chugged them like ice water in the Sahara desert. At one point, I looked into my backpack, and I had a gigaton of food items I never needed or even thought to use. I had health hypos for days, on the hardest difficulty.

The crafting system feels under-cooked, overpowered in some ways, and underwhelming in others. Balance and consistency are meaningless words to Cyberpunk. For example, shotguns can send your foes flying, but a massive sledgehammer has all the physical impact of a roll of toilet paper. Sure their health bar drops, but you feel nothing. It’s like the old Morrowind days where you swing a weapon and the games just doing a dice calculation behind the scenes.

On the flipside, bladed weapons like Katanas felt fine, because they don’t rely on the same kind of player feedback. You don’t expect people to be knocked away or down. You expect limbs to come off, and they do.

Mantis blades feel awesome!

As a strength-based character, the cyber implant called Gorilla Arms was the most disappointing purchase ever. They had the same flimsy feeling as every other blunt weapon. Mantis Blades on the other hand felt badass. They have a special leaping attack and execution animation and are just plain fun to use.

Grenades felt like a powerful resource to manage, but an arm-mounted grenade launcher has unlimited ammo and less than a one-second cooldown. It really doesn’t make much sense.

An expensive smart link implant is given to you for free for doing one of the first main missions of the game. Meaning you wasted money if you already unknowingly bought it. It made me wonder why it was purchasable in the first place when the game always intended to give it to me anyway! It felt like a real gotcha trap.

Cyberpunk dog piles you with meaningless loot with tiny incremental stat boosts in the early game. In the late game you can use mods and figure out how to fine-tune them, but you can expect to manage a lot of inventory trash all game.

Even hacking in Cyberpunk can feel weird at times. The amount of different hacks you can pull off is impressive and the whole system is a blast to use. But to initiate a breach protocol, you have to play a little hacking mini-game, even in the middle of combat. It’s jarring and feels strange.

Many bigger hacks require a minigame.

Some of the most immersive moments in the game are when you are accompanied by other characters. It almost feels like there was a companion system that was eventually cut, and you can feel its absence. The point is, while every system either feels good or bad. None of it feels like part of a cohesive package. Yet, the good still manages to feel really damn good,

The combat is responsive and snappy. The guns have great recoil patterns and the different archetypes all feel significant. Power weapons can ricochet and you can see how with the right implant. Tech weapons can charge up and fire through cover, while smart weapons have homing capabilities.

The variety of powerful hacks opens up all sorts of fun in combat and stealth, and the implant system, in general, is great. I was very impressed with the amount of climbing and traversing you can do in the city and that ability is amplified by certain leg implants. A double jump in Cyberpunk feels ridiculously impactful, something you wouldn’t really think about by just looking at the game.

Once you have some options in your toolbelt, the combat feels very, very good. The mix of well fleshed out side content and sandbox encounters keeps you entertained between the fantastic main story segments and wonderful character interactions.

Super Jump leg implants be be quite handy.

The character growth system is solid with a lot of choices for build variety, even if it takes a while to truly get going. The reality is, once the credits rolled, I started a new game with a new character build in mind and some new choices to make.

I felt that early game pain once again, but I was willing to wait it out, for the gameplay, to relive the story, and to see my favorite characters and moments again. Once you have experienced Night City, it’s hard to say goodbye.

Verdict

I flipped back and forth on Cyberpunk for a long time. There were times I thought it was a terrible game, and I couldn’t fathom the high scores it got. Other times I thought it was a great game, and felt the hate was overblown.

The reality is, Cyberpunk is full of good and bad, poor and fantastic. Anyone claiming that Cyberpunk is the best game ever is being hyperbolic, and anyone claiming that it’s trash is trolling.

The truth of the matter is, Cyberpunk 2077 is a very good, but very flawed experience, but one that is still worth having. And with any luck, one that will continue to improve over time.

It’s worth picking up if you have a beefy PC or a next gen console. Otherwise, wait until you can play it on hardware that can properly support the game. Adding poor performance to the bugs is just going to dampen the experience further.

You might also be interested in my review of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

Pros

  • Great writing
  • Excellent characters
  • Some cute and believable romance plots that are handled with care
  • Deep character building
  • Player choices can matter on the small scale, and to an extent the large scale
  • Great stealth, gunplay and hacking with ton of options in mid to late game
  • Interesting side content with solid mission structure
  • Immersive atmosphere
  • Difficulty settings present

Cons

  • Still buggy
  • Gameplay systems severely lack cohesion and consistency
  • Some choices don’t matter at all
  • Combat and stealth options are very limited for the early hours
  • No driving AI or unscripted chases, lack of things to do in the world outside of missions
  • Only one ending feels right within the context of events
  • Most loot is very boring for most of the game