After years of having watching behind closed doors presentations and story trailers, I finally got to go hands-on with Cyberpunk 2077. Even though we’ve seen quite a bit of gameplay, I had never been so unsure of what to expect when picking up the controller to play a game.
I got to play through the first four to five hours of the game which essentially acts as a prologue. Things kick off by choosing one of three life paths, which has a larger impact than I’d have imagined. Street Kid is the “street smarts” persona who lives in the city, Corpo is the high-rolling business-person and Nomad is a free-spirit that runs solo in outskirts of the city.
Your choice mostly impacts the four or five hour prologue and this experience will feel hugely different based on what you pick. Where you start the game will be different, the characters that you run through the initial missions will be different and your personality will be quite different (more on that here). The thing that was clear from the get-go is that CD Projekt Red really want to make Cyberpunk 2077 an experience that is unique to you, which is evident throughout the whole prologue and I’m sure will continue on throughout the entire game.
After choosing your life path, you get to create your character. Your character will always be named V but in terms of what V looks like this is about as fluid and open a character customisation tool as I’ve seen in a game. The game doesn’t define genders, with you being able to mix and match things like genitalia including size and pubic hair (more on that here), piercings, eye makeup, teeth and way more. The only gender-specific thing that jumped out at me was the voice of choice which is described as feminine or masculine, but you can still go between the two for whichever character you want to create.
Next up, I had to choose my starting attributes. You get seven attribute points to start off with, which you can spread across five different attributes:
Body – raw physical power, improves health, reduces bullet spread
Intelligence – reduces hacking difficulty levels, shortens program upload duration
Technical Ability – armor, the chance of harvesting craftable loot, technical aptitude
Cool – self-control, improves stealth and speed, increases critical hit damage
I started with five points in technical, body and reflex, four in intelligence and three in cool, but that was literally only the beginning of customising your character to suit your play style. Each attribute has two-to-three perk trees which each have 20-30 different perks in them. This means that there are literally hundreds of different perks that you can unlock when levelling up. You also get bonuses such as an extra perk point or more health for levelling up skills by using them. So, for instance, you’ll level up your Gunslinger skill by using a certain type of gun more regularly.
Stepping into Night City, it delivered on my neon fantasy in spades. Being tossed straight into the first mission, it was extremely obvious that I was playing a CDPR game. I could go anywhere in the bar, speak to absolutely anybody around. It felt like a living, breathing world. Knowing I was under a time restraint, I rushed towards my first objective, which was given to me by two characters, Fixer Kirk and Padre, that are only available in the Street Kid life path. This led to me being introduced to Jackie, who becomes V’s best friend in the early stages of the game. It appears that this is the intersection for where the three life paths meet and start to follow a similar arc.
Alongside Jackie, I was tasked with tracking down a spider-bot by Dexter ‘Dex’ DeShawn of Maelstrom, one of the seven gangs in Night City. I took control of my car for the first time and had free range of the open-world. The camera angle suddenly switched from first-person to third-person and I sped off into the neon glow of the city. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the car controlled. It was responsive, it felt like I could speed around corners easily, and most importantly, it felt fun to drive around the world. Similar to Grand Theft Auto or other open-world games, running over civilians or pulling your gun out at the wrong time will lead to the Nighty City Police Department having a bounty on you, which you’ll need to escape.
I quickly came across my first crossroads. I was able to meet with a Militech Agent, who would then follow me into the Maelstrom hideout and provide backup. Alternatively, I could take it alone, which would have obvious repercussions for later on in the mission. I chose to take it alone with Jackie, meaning I never got to interact with the Militech Agent at this point in the story.
Heading into the bar and sitting with Royce, the leader of the Maelstrom gang, I was once again tasked with a number of choices in how I’d handle the mission. I could pay for the Spider-Boy with my hard-earned Eurodollars, also known as Eddys, or shoot Royce mid-conversation. Being strapped for cash, I opted to take him out and was into my first firefight.
The gunplay felt a little bit clunky at first but as I was able to get a hang of it, more so when I was able to pick up some better guns and mod my weapons with sights as well as modifiers to increase damage, add fire effects and such. Similarly, melee is a completely viable option as well, with V being able to combo punch and also block other attacks. I opted to go with a shotgun, pistol and katana combination for the majority of my session and that worked a treat. Similarly to gunplay, melee did feel a little bit clunky at first, but it was better once I got the hang of it.
Hacking is also a big part of this game, and you’re encouraged to use it in addition to gunplay. You can hack enemy weapons, cause distractions by taking over electronics and that was only a small taste for the hacking adventure. Time will slow when you’re in the hacking mode, and there’s a little mini-game that will play out before you can take control of most robotic objects.
Playing out the mission and experimenting with a lot of the hacking/gunplay techniques that I’d learnt in the tutorial, I was faced with more branching path lines. I came across an option to either free, detonate or leave Brick, the former Maelstrom leader. I chose to free him, but I was told that this would have huge ramifications further down the track in the Cyberpunk 2077 story.
Throughout the next few missions, I was introduced to many of Cyberpunk’s mechanics. V can have implants put into any part of his body at Ripperdoc clinics. These fall into three categories. There’s active which, as the name suggests, require activation, the triggered implants turn on when your health drops and lastly, there are passive, which operate in the background. V starts with an optical implant that helps see information about enemies, but there are other implants such Reflex Tuner, which slows time down when you drop below a certain health level, or Mantis Blade, which gives V a set of blades. These all completely change the way you play the game.
Another big part of the game is the newly announced Braindance mechanic, which is a staple of the world of Cyberpunk. This is essentially a headset that V can put on at certain points of the game in order to extract information about where something is or gain knowledge about a certain situation. It involves scrubbing through a sequence of events and scanning things such as heatwaves, audio waves or maybe hacking into people’s phones. It adds a certain L.A. Noire portion to the game that I certainly wasn’t expecting to see, and is a nice step away from the fast-paced action that the rest of the game provides.
Driving around the world of Night City was fairly overwhelming. There are hilarious billboards to look at everywhere, bounties to find, countless vendors to buy from, and a lot of mystery markings on your map that you’ll constantly be compelled to explore between missions.
I was barely able to touch the surface during my play session. There’s so much to wrap your head around in this game, in terms of all the things that you can upgrade, the mission types that you can find around the world, and just wanting to stop and take it all in. I haven’t stopped thinking about the game since I put the controller down.
We’re in for a real treat come November, and I know that it’ll be worth the wait.