We’ve finally seen it in action. Cyberpunk 2077, the sci-fi RPG shooter from the makers of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is most definitely real. FANDOM was invited to watch an hour of the game being played by developers from CDProjekt Red, and here’s the blow-by-blow of how it went down.
Throughout our hour-long demo, Cyberpunk 2077 drifted between moments of raw storytelling with dialogue trees and consequential decisions, to high speed vehicle chases and firefights, to upgrading our own body with technology, to using these augments against unwitting gang members.
The whole thing starts off with a very in-depth character creator. You are “V,” a protagonist of either sex, with one of a few backstories that will absolutely affect how people in Night City treat you.
Witcher fans will instantly recognise Cyberpunk 2077’s dialogue system. You’re given a few options to every response, each coming with handcrafted gesture animations, voice acting, and later on, consequences.
Great writing is hard to come by in games. In the Witcher, it reliably meant the dialogue trees never felt like a lazy decision between two evils, a crutch many games use to evoke emotion. While we didn’t especially notice any Sapkowski-quality writing during our one-hour demo, it came across that everyone we talked to had their own interesting, believable agendas.
In tense situations, these crafty choices can help you navigate conversations without them spilling over into violence. Twice in our demo session, we had meetings with underworld bosses that walked a knife edge between lucrative deal and unfortunate bloodbath — made all the more tense by the fact that these contacts were much higher level than us.
These situations strongly encourage nonviolent outcomes, as taking on enemies so advanced is not recommended. We felt CDP Red was using these meetings with powerful rivals as a tool to emphasise different ways of solving conflict.
Night City is Unfathomably Vertical
In The Witcher 3, you couldn’t walk 10 metres without your attention being pulled into some peripheral intrigue. It was a huge world, but also quite dense with its curious scenarios. It was a feat by CDP Red to write so many one-to-two line openers to hook players so effectively.
Now that we’re in Night City, a large but also vertical world, we’re keen to see how CDP Red does the same thing in Cyberpunk 2077. Already we noticed nearby hustlers offering their services to us, as well as various forms of advertising directing us towards some other part of town. Night City will be dense, noisy, and busy. It’ll be CDP Red’s job to, ironically enough, cut through its own noise to get our attention.
We saw an advertisement we could focus on and investigate, which led us to a machine selling the relevant product. As a tool for finding narrative tools or loot, it seems like a promising piece of world UI. For now, we just buy a coke.
Our first mission involved grabbing someone of high value from a lair of “scavengers.” These gangsters strip human bodies of their augmentations, with little thought of what they leave behind. We entered a run-of-the-mill apartment expecting violence.
These Night City dwellings don’t look super-futuristic. There are no immaculate white walls or all-serving AIs. Advanced appliances are juxtaposed against humdrum walls and ceilings — much like today, the lower and middle classes get what they can afford.
Out of several naked bodies in a freezing bathtub, we located our target and learned she was still alive. We signalled her ultra-expensive health insurance, which promptly arrived with both medical personnel and armed guards. After placing her on the stretcher, she could soon go back to living how the other half tend to.
Gunplay Had Us Worried
We saw some early game gunplay with these gangsters as well, keen to protect their scavenging operation. It was fairly typical action, with a scenario crafted for the particular demo. Sprinting and ducking would slide, enemies would flank, we’d go for headshots. Much of the environment seemed destructible, with pieces of cement pillars breaking off as we took cover behind them.
Having just come from the character creation screen, this was all very “level one” gameplay. We were shown a few shooting sequences, as well as a car chase. Aside from being first-person, we were getting strong GTA vibes.
We were a little underwhelmed by the shooting and driving in the early-to-mid parts of this demo. It’s stuff we’ve done in games many times over.
Walk into a building, shoot ‘em up, head back. Take damage, puff on your magical techno-inhaler for health, dive back out. Open world games always run the risk of being a jack of all trades and master of none. The shooting action will never be as polished as a triple-A dedicated to shooting.
It’s up to CDP Red to make sure Cyberpunk 2077 takes its gunplay in new, interesting directions — and we saw a glimpse of that before the end.
The Real Cyberpunk 2077 Begins
After we visited the “Ripperdoc” – essentialy a doctor who installs your augmentations – we saw a bit more of the type of action you’d expect in Cyberpunk 2077.
The mechanical Mantis Blades we’ve seen in the iconic promotional image was now in our arms. Our palms seemed to be made of high-grip metal to assist with recoil. But that was just the beginning.
Our eyes were next, and we could see why Cyberpunk 2077 wants you to see the Ripperdoc so early on: you’re going to want these eye augmentations all game. Not only do they enable some new combat moves, they allowed us to scan various points of interest for info pop-ups. The scanning itself puts us in mind of Metroid Prime, and that’s only ever a good thing.
Later on, we would come across a type of ammunition that bounces off walls. Our demo driver combined that with our eyes’ new ability to track the trajectory of bullets. In a firefight, this meant pointing our gun at the wall, dragging the bullet path onto the enemy hiding behind cover, and wiping them out.
This was much more encouraging from Cyberpunk 2077. Using futuristic abilities to solve combat problems in an interesting way, as opposed to straight up, seen-it-all-before FPS action.
Those Mantis Blades proved useful for climbing up walls and gaining a bit of ad-hoc high ground over our enemies. Instead of shooting from his elevated position, our demo driver decided to hop down and put one of those blades right through a man’s face.
Other cool weapons included a “smart rifle” that auto-targets enemies within a large rectangle on your UI, and a high-value, Boston Dynamics-inspired military drone. The latter was the subject of a retrieval quest, but our money’s on being able to use it later on.
It’s unclear if these weapons actually had stats attached to them. It would be an interesting move to just let guns be guns, regardless of a character’s level or augmentations.
We’d welcome the change — especially after The Witcher 3‘s weapon scaling. Any form of achievement or sentimentality was crushed when you would toss aside the epic quest rewards for common minion loot one level later. Perhaps CDP Red can get us to look upon its guns more fondly.
How Many Playstyles Are There?
Our demo driver had picked the path of the “solo” class, which has nothing to do with how many NPCs you team up with. This led us to ask what other playstyles CDProjekt Red wanted to cater for.
In our interview with cinematic animation acting lead Maciej Pietras, he told us the “solo” class offers technological upgrades to specifically assist in melee and shooting. There are two other classes: the techie and the netrunner.
These classes are intentionally built from the old Cyberpunk 2020 game. Netrunners enhance themselves with brain augmentations designed to interface with computers. There are near limitless applications of this in a videogame, from plugging into security systems, to directly accessing another human with the right inputs.
Techies are moreso the crafters of the world. This could mean medical tech, as well as traps and other gizmos, and even weaponsmithing.
Pietras was keen to stress that you’re not limited to any one class, though. Mixing and matching abilities is absolutely an option.
Promising Signs Towards the End
Getting close to the end of the hour-long demo, we started seeing some exciting stuff. Decisions we had made earlier came to fruition, and combat abilities were more inventive and fun.
Since everyone has a one-word role in this universe, we had gone to see a “fixer” – another nod to the old Cyberpunk 2020 classes – who pointed us to the job retrieving a military drone from gangsters. This involved our first meeting with a large corporate faction, in which we were again surrounded by potential foes of a much higher level.
For this meeting, we told our friend to stay put on a nearby bridge and watch over us. Our instructions were to not get involved unless things got violent. Even when we were shoved to the ground with intimidating corporate thugs standing over us, our buddy was smart enough to keep his cool — but every time we saw a fork in the road for dialogue, pulling out our gun and going loud was an option.
We wanted to see how such a gunfight would play out, and how useful our friend would be. But we also wanted to see our demo driver skillfully navigate this tough situation without getting hurt. It’s a good sign that both of these story options were enticing.
Later on, when we had retrieved the drone, it turned out the corporation’s representative hadn’t told us everything. It absolutely affected our mission and our safety. But somehow, through all the decisions, we had made it out with considerably more money and street cred. Our local fixer was keen to work with us again.
There’s a lot to parse there. CDP Red clearly wanted to show off its shooting, driving, and talking. Driving, and all the attached features like putting the camera behind the wheel or the car, isn’t really a triumph. Neither is early gunplay. We’ve all had that experience already.
But once Cyberpunk 2077 gets cranking with augmentations and complex story trees, then it starts fulfilling our impossibly high hopes for the game. It has a long time to deliver on that promise — developers have said just because it was shown at E3, doesn’t mean it’s due anytime soon.
We hope CDP Red takes the E3 feedback and doubles down on the parts of the game that really make it special. The sooner it gets into the unique Cyberpunk magic, the better.