This is a spoiler-free account of the early hours of Cyberpunk 2077.
Cyberpunk 2077 is finally, somehow, in the hands of gamers after being announced all the way back in 2012. For the longest time, this game was something of a myth and a joke, something that was so ambitious and massive that it would never see the light of day. But it was developed by the same studio that gave us The Witcher 3, which is arguably, one of the best games of the last generation and perhaps of all time. So the anticipation for 2077 was high and only grew closer to the game’s release, with the reveal at E3 2019 that Keanu Reeves was to co-star in the game as Johnny Silverhand. But after being delayed three times in 2020, there’s still a myriad of bugs and glitches have plagued the game since launch and those with base PS4s and Xbox Ones, in particular, have suffered from a near-unplayable game, so much so that apparently Sony is offering refunds for the game if it was purchased digitally on the Playstation store. So, with all that in mind, how does the game really run?
I’ve been playing Cyberpunk 2077 on a base PlayStation 4 since December 10th off of a physical disc purchase and have recently completed the prologue of the game. It took the better part of six hours to install the game from the disc with all the patches (Day 0 and Day 1). In that time, my heart fell into my stomach with word that the game was virtually unplayable on the console. Videos of missing textures, t-poses, hourly crashes, game-breaking bugs that prevented missions from starting or finishing and general glitchiness. As of this writing, the game has a user score of 2.8 on Metacritic. A lot of people online slammed those who bought the game on last-gen consoles, saying they needed to play it on the new tech or a PC (despite the original release date being in April 2020, many months before the PS5 and Series X was even revealed, let along released). Needless to say, I went in with some reservations.
While the day 1 experience wasn’t exactly smooth sailings, I was surprised that I was having a better time of it compared to most people it seemed. I never experienced any crashes and the textures all loaded. There was a general haze to the picture quality, made worse by the cinematic filter applied by default, and the game was running in 720p, which on my 4k monitor, definitely was noticeable. But it was certainly playable. The most egregious issue I faced was the game coming to a pause for around 5-10 seconds as I drove, but the music kept playing. I’m not even sure if this could be considered the game freezing, or the frame rate dropping to 0, but it was the most game-breaking issue I faced. I perhaps had this happen to me 4 or 5 times. Keeping 30 frames-per-second was also difficult at times, but I never lost enough that it was tearing the screen or anything like that.
On December 11th, CD Projekt Red (CDPR from hereon out) released the hotfix (1.04) patch, which was another massive patch to be installed, coming in at just under 20gigs and taking another hour to install. At this point, the game’s file is larger than my Red Dead Redemption II file. But the patch definitely made some improvements. In this update from CDPR directly, you’ll be able to see all of the patch notes and how they pertain to missions. I think the biggest difference that I noticed first hand was that the graphical fidelity was much higher. I’m not sure if the game is running in 1080p now (if someone knows this, leave us a comment) but textures look much sharper and the game runs much smoother. On December 18th, hotfix 1.05 was released as part of a release within seven days of showcasing the roadmap to fix the game. This hotfix comes one day after Sony pulled the game from the PlayStation store.
Honestly, I think the biggest I’ve faced with Cyberpunk 2077 has been the AI of the NPCs of Night City. Unlike the E3 demo, which showcased hundreds of citizens going about their business, there have been very few NPCs wandering about the city in my playthroughs so far. In the square outside V’s apartment, there was a small handful of people aimless walking around. Likewise, city streets feel very empty, as there is a shortage of cars on the roads. Not only is there a lack of citizens in this otherwise huge Mega City, but they don’t feel alive. Red Dead II’s citizens felt like people with lives of their own. These NPCs just walk around and react to violence by crouching down and staying put, all at the same time. Leave a car in the road and no one behind you honks, gets angry or tries to get past you. They just sit there and wait. It feels like a dissatisfying version of cyberpunkish Westworld. I hope that this gets patched out next, or at least in the near future. Does my game look as good as advertised? Sadly no, but it still looks good and I can certainly play the game. But I want to feel emersed in the world as well and that should take priority now, as well as the ability to get a haircut. I started the game as a corpo with a more sleek design but wanted to move away from that and become more of a punk, with wild hair and such as part of my roleplay. And while I can do that with clothing, every time I look in a mirror or see V in the menu, he still has that corporate look I designed for him at the start. I just want my neon blue hair at this point.
Issues aside, the story thus far has been solid. There’s some top-notch voice acting at work here and the missions feel layered and well written. Gameplay is also great, with the minute to minute gunplay being exceptional and the sound design, especially on the cars, being great. It’s really fun to play and the story so far is captivating and engaging. I want to continue to play this story and learn what’s going on in this world. Already, I feel invested. I started the game on the harder difficulty but dropped it to normal. As this is an RPG game, enemies are bound by stats and such and their health bars felt extra-spongey in the harder difficulty, which wasn’t as fun to play I found. On normal, things felt more realistic and natural, even though the spongey health bars are still somewhat present.
I think Cyberpunk 2077 still has a lot of work to do and this game could have likely benefitted by another 6-12 months in the oven. People would have been angry for sure that the game was late, but I’d rather devs take their time and release a polished game than a broken one. That said, I don’t think the experience on PS4 base is as bad as many people online are claiming it is. It’s fun, well written, well-acted and has some great moment-to-moment gameplay. Is it as good as CDPR said it would be? No, and they’ll have to atone for that as it clearly could have been. I doubt I’ll buy any of the expansion packs from the studio and in all honestly, they should make them free as compensation for their fanbase now that the game is already profitable. I think CDPR, a company I had a lot of respect for before this game, has a lot of making up to do for fans, largely due to the shifty marketing they did leading up the game, promising that the game worked great on consoles and in one tweet, saying that after the day 1 update, it was like a different game on consoles. But with the launch performance for many, this hasn’t sat well for consumers. Not giving console review codes to critics to judge this product for launch was another flag for many, especially when console gaming makes up a large percentage of the sales.
In short, Cyberpunk 2077 works better for me than most people are saying, but I still think it shouldn’t have been released just yet. But The Witcher 3 was a buggy mess when it came out and it’s considered one of the best games ever made now. CDPR will be working hard at patching the game to improve it and they’ll have to show some goodwill to win fans back to their camp, but right now, expect the studio to be on Santa’s naughty list for the time being due to releasing a broken game and for not being forthright about the issues.