Cyberpunk 2077 Review

A dystopian open-world adventure that’s spectacular but deeply flawed.

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3.7

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

What We Like
  • Unparalleled visual quality

  • Immense open-world cityscape

  • Lifelike character models and animation

  • Excellent voice acting

  • Engaging campaign and side plots

What We Don't Like
  • Rampant, game-breaking bugs

  • Poor performance on all but high-end PCs

  • Broken AI

  • Missing features

Bottom Line

Cyberpunk 2077 is a deeply flawed masterpiece that was released in an incomplete state.When it works it can be an incredible experience, but you’d be well advised to wait to play it till at least the most serious problems are patched.

3.7

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

Our reviewer purchased Cyberpunk 2077 so that they could thoroughly assess it. Keep reading for their full take.

The promise of Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the ultimate RPGs, a game that draws you into a complex, interwoven, living digital world where your decisions truly matter. In the eight years since its development was announced, an immense amount of anticipation has built up around this game, fueled by sky-high promises and too-good-to-be-true teasers. Unfortunately, Cyberpunk 2077, like Spore and No Man's Sky before it, falls short of the hype built up around it.

Look a little closer, and you may find a lot to love in this game, but it’s important to be aware of Cyberpunk 2077’s many flaws before deciding to jump into the immense and darkly beautiful dystopian metropolis that is Night City.

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

Story: Engaging and well written

You start out by choosing from one of several different life paths, each of which features a different intro, as well as unique dialogue options throughout the game. The Nomad starts in the wastelands, the Street Kid in the inner city, and the Corpo in what else but the heart of a mega corporation. 

Once you get past the prologue you are let loose upon Night City, and from here the game progresses through various interconnected missions, both mandatory and optional. Because of this interconnected nature of the game, you may get a different outcome to the overarching story based on your decisions, both in main story missions and side quests. It can be rather daunting to be faced with so many potentially impactful decisions, and between this and the dense skill and ability customization system, this is one instance in which you might want to invest in a physical guide to the game.

As for the quality of the story itself, whatever path you choose is remarkably well written, and this quality of storytelling is probably the main highlight of the game, next to the insane graphical fidelity. It is well-acted, and some sequences are so well done that you can almost forget you’re playing a game, and it becomes more like an interactive movie. This is in part due to the innovative conversation system, which allows the player more agency while talking to NPCs. Unlike a lot of games, most conversations don’t lock you in and fix you in place until you excuse yourself, and it’s remarkable how natural it feels to talk to people in the game.

There is clearly a lot more polish put on the main story missions than on some other parts of the game, and if you follow it closely, the flaws of Cyberpunk 2077 don’t show quite so much. You get to experience the massive open world of Night City in a way that makes narrative sense and see the most exciting set-piece sequences. With that said, there are some really entertaining side stories to be found if you venture off the straight and narrow path of the main campaign. 

Cyberpunk’s gameplay is very much a case of sharply contrasting highs and lows.

Gameplay: Fun, but deeply flawed

As with the game as a whole, Cyberpunk’s gameplay is very much a case of sharply contrasting highs and lows. It does some things very well and stumbles bafflingly in other regards. The game mostly takes place in the first person, with third-person view being an option while driving. 

Driving is not what I’d call a perfect experience in either third or first-person modes. Though beautifully designed and widely varied, vehicles tend to have little weight to them, and you really have to work to avoid careening about the road, running over pedestrians, and attracting the tepid attention of the police. They all also seem to be in desperate need of a new set of brakes, and to make matters worse the AI for the NPC vehicles is very simple indeed. Park your car with a bit of it sticking out into the road and a line will quickly build up as these simpletons exhibit infinite patience rather than simply go around.

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

The reason behind the driving issues seems to be largely an issue of perception, as they occur at high speeds, but unless you keep an eye on your speedometer it's very difficult to judge how fast you’re going. I often found myself going over a hundred, but my mind said I was traveling at half that or less. It would be better for the sake of gameplay if your wheels stuck to the asphalt a bit better, and it wouldn’t really be that unrealistic, given that it is 2077 after all; it makes sense for cars to handle better than they do in 2020.

What can't be explained away by an unwise dedication to realism is the behavior of NPCs. This simplicity of NPC AI is widespread throughout the game and a big letdown from what was promised. When I started out, I played very carefully, since the realistic looks and the promise of police response encouraged me to treat everyone with respect, like I was in a real living world. However, as time went on I came to view these automatons with even less consideration than the NPCs in other RPGs. 

Their glitchy reactions are so at odds with their realistic looks that the end result is rather off-putting, so I began to regard them with pure disdain. Also, the fear of police response quickly fades once you realize that they won’t chase you for more than half a block, and once they lose sight of you they forget about you completely in short order. There are no consequences, no exciting spontaneous chase scenes, just a couple of dudes firing at you ineffectually with pistols. 

Furthermore, there are no lasting consequences. Your friendly contact in the NCPD will still call you up and ask for help, and cops on the street won’t care that the world's most prolific mass murderer just waltzed through the holographic police tape cordoning off their crime scene. By hour 15, the result of this failure of AI systems led to me to think nothing of stealing a car from the middle of a busy intersection and accidentally pinwheeling my out of control vehicle through a crowd of pedestrians before driving off into the sunset as two officers bounced rounds off my retreating bumper.

If you want to avoid conflict and don’t want to slow down for stupid drivers, your best bet is a motorcycle, and it is indeed a blast to go zipping through the streets dodging through gaps in traffic. For some reason, motorcycles control much more reliably than cars, and a cynical mind might suppose that more care was put into motorcycle control due to Cyberpunk featuring the brand of motorcycle owned by a major celebrity who plays a part in the game’s story.

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

You can also use fast travel booths to get around instantly once you’ve unlocked them, though I found myself favoring the slow route, despite the issues inherent in that experience. Cruising through Night City is truly a jaw-dropping experience.

This contrast of “holy cow” moments with irritating design flaws continues with combat. In one of the first combat encounters of the game, you fight a dynamic battle in a small apartment that includes walls being ripped apart by gunfire. In another sequence, you fight a crazy cyborg with swords for arms as you race down the freeway. These scripted fights in the story are exciting and well-balanced. 

However, stray from the areas of the world where your story is progressing, and you will meet higher-level enemies. They do more damage and have more strength, and also drop gear that you can’t equip until you level up. This makes sense on a technical level as it prevents the story missions from becoming imbalanced and too easy. The problem is that the enemies look little different from those you’ve fought in lower-level locations, and it really shatters immersion for a random thug with no armor or magic powers to take a dozen sniper rifle bullets to the head to kill. Again, this makes sense from a balancing perspective, but they could have figured out a more dynamic and natural way to scale difficulty throughout the game.

Other aspects of gameplay include hacking or netrunning as it is referred to in the game. This allows you to take control of various objects and even people, depending on your character build. It’s immensely helpful in tough fights to enter scanning mode, appraise the situation, and use your hacking skills to turn the tide of battle. With hacking, stealth skills, and non-lethal weaponry you can even go for no-kill run, though bugs, glitches, and AI issues may make the temptation to jump in, guns blazing, rather tempting.

It may sound as though I hated playing Cyberpunk 2077, with as much complaining as I’m doing about gameplay, but the truth is that I had a blast despite the bugs. Driving through Night City is still exciting after dozens of hours, and I’m still finding new weapons that offer new ways to approach combat.

Driving out of a garage for the first time into a canyon of towering sci-fi skyscrapers bedecked in holograms and neon is one of those awe-inspiring moments that come only fleetingly in video games.

Customization: Lots to tinker with

There is a deep level of character customization possible in Cyberpunk 2077, and you can sink a lot of time into creating the perfect character. Of course, you can always just pick a preset, but where's the fun in that? I tried to craft a likeness of Snake Plissken from Escape from Los Angeles, but couldn’t get it quite right, so I made a rough approximation of Basil Fawlty instead.

Next, you get seven points with which to customize your character’s attributes between body, intelligence, technical ability, and cool. This determines your proficiency in both physical and technical skills. Don’t worry too much, as you will level up and add to these attributes and their associated skills as the game progresses. Skills allow you to fine-tune your abilities, as well as add new ones to your arsenal. It’s a good idea to focus on a specialty, once you know what you enjoy doing in the game because the more points you put into a category the more options unlock. 

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

Another area of customization is your cybernetic implants. These can affect everything from your netrunning skills to giving you swords and rocket launchers that pop out of your arms. You’ll need to visit a Ripperdoc to buy and install them, and they cost a pretty penny, so you’ll need to pull off a few jobs to afford them.

You can also clothe your character in whatever garments you find or buy around the game world. These affect your armor and other stats, though in a somewhat unintuitive fashion where a high-level cotton shirt may give you more armor than a low-level bulletproof vest. This goes for weapons as well, and I ended up going through weapons at a rapid pace as I acquired higher level ones.

Of course, if you get a weapon you can’t bear to part with you can upgrade it, and you will pick up legendary and epic gear that you will want to hold onto (including clothing). However, I found it to be a bit of a headache figuring out the crafting system, and you need to invest points in the necessary skills to do so.

At launch, Cyberpunk 2077 is something of a bug-riddled mess.

Bugs: Welcome to Glitch City

At launch Cyberpunk 2077 is something of a bug-riddled mess. Even a few months and a few patches later it’s very noticeably in need of major fixes. Right out of the gate I found a collectible card that can only be picked up during the intro, but the game refused to allow me to pick it up, so I was forced to leave it sitting there forlornly, forever gnawing at the completionist streak in me. 

It bothered me even though I later found it wasn’t actually unique or important. Just after this, I drove past a dingy alley and glimpsed trash bags flying up into the air from the dumpster. Curious if it was some cyber-raccoon I investigated, but to no avail. It was only silent, motionless bags of trash, quietly minding their own business.

More game-breaking bugs lay deeper in the game. In one mission I entered a shooting competition, but the mission broke halfway through and locked me in the shooting range. Worse was a bug that rendered me unable to draw my weapons, and this persisted even after loading an earlier save. I ran aimlessly through the streets spamming the alt key until I injured a pedestrian with a car and got a warrant put out for my arrest. When this happened the screen flickered, and suddenly I was clutching an assault rifle. I felt like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” opening up his Red Rider BB gun.

Other bugs I ran into included many instances of cars being fused together or spontaneously combusting. One particularly disturbing scene during a mission involved me materializing inside an NPC behind the wheel of a car so that I was staring in horror at the backs of her eyeballs, her detached jaw hanging in mid-air as hair floated like tentacles all about me.

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

Mature content: Pushing the boundaries

It must be mentioned that Cyberpunk 2077 earns its mature rating. Parents and players alike would do well to head the descriptors of that rating, as all of them are well deserved. There are options to ameliorate this in some respects, but only to a limited extent. The fact is that Cyberpunk 2077 is an imagining of a dark and disturbing future, and the game forces players to confront the consequences should humanity go down such a road. 

The truth is that Cyberpunk is a role-playing game in the truest sense of the word. While you will never be able to completely dodge potentially offensive content, you can play the game in a way that reflects your own morality and ideals. A great example of this potential for choice is alcohol, which you will be proffered on numerous occasions throughout the game. Even though it is embedded into the story you almost always have the option to refuse, though as in real life the peer pressure is there and the choice may affect how people regard you.

The high quality of storytelling is probably the main highlight of the game, next to the insane graphical fidelity.

Performance: Making strong GPUs cry

Sometimes a game comes along that pushes the limits of what computer hardware is possible. This led to a whole generation of gamers growing up asking the classic question “Can it run Crysis?”. Cyberpunk 2077 is truly the Crysis of the modern day, and that means that at launch very few people will get to experience this game as intended. To get the most out of this game you really need a Nvidia RTX 3080, an expensive GPU that at the time of this writing is so scarce that really only a handful of people around the globe are getting the most out of Cyberpunk 2077.

With that said, don’t give up hope. PC gamers with last-gen GPUs can still eke out a good experience from this monster of a game. My rig made out pretty well with its RTX 2070, though it took a lot of time tweaking graphics options in order to balance looks with performance. 

Running at 1080p I was able to max out many of the graphics options, though I had to make a few sacrifices. Interestingly, the infamously power-hungry ray tracing tech actually greatly improves performance here if your GPU is capable of it, this is thanks to the integration of DLSS which works with ray tracing to reduce the load on your GPU. You do trade a good deal of sharpness for this DLSS performance boost, but honestly, I find the grainy look to be appropriate for the grimy dystopia depicted in the game. 

Even with my settings well-adjusted I still ran into occasional frame rate drops, particularly in areas with a lot of volumetric fog and many lighting sources. Traveling at high speeds also tested the limits of my gaming rig.

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

If you don’t have a ray tracing enabled card, you may want to think twice about Cyberpunk 2077 until you’re able to upgrade. It’s playable on older cards, but the incredible visuals of this game running on high-end hardware are such an integral part of the experience that it’s hard to recommend running in a reduced capacity. The same goes for last-gen consoles (PS4, Xbox One), where the experience is also greatly impacted by reduced processing power. Players are reporting the worst issues on these older consoles, where Cyberpunk appears to be almost unplayable for many.

The PS5 and Xbox Series X may offer a more consistent experience (though not equivalent to high-end PC), but like 30 series Nvidia GPUs these devices are in high demand and short supply, and you won’t be free of bugs, glitches, and performance issues even there.

An alternative worth considering if you have a robust high-speed internet connection is streaming the game on Google Stadia. This will allow you to experience the game at its best without having to invest in a two thousand dollar PC. However, it does leave your ability to play the game at the mercy of your ability to access a strong internet connection.

Graphics: Ahead of its time

The star of the show in Cyberpunk 2077 are the visuals, and if you have a PC with the hardware to render the game at its maximum quality while maintaining playable frame rates the world of Night City is absolutely jaw-dropping. Driving out of a garage for the first time into a canyon of towering sci-fi skyscrapers bedecked in holograms and neon is one of those awe-inspiring moments that come only fleetingly in video games. 

It may sound as though I hated playing Cyberpunk 2077, with as much complaining as I’m doing about gameplay, but the truth is that I had a blast despite the bugs.

Everything is so finely detailed, from the lovingly rendered cars to the buildings to the cracked and filthy pavement beneath your feet it is incredible what CDPR has achieved here. Because of how sprawling, spectacular, and densely packed the game is, you can often put aside momentarily the game's flaws and just admire the sheer scale of it all. Automotive enthusiasts will fall in love with the retro-futuristic design of cars in the game, though unfortunately, car customization is a feature that was pulled before release.

Character models are also remarkably lifelike, and when conversing with characters in the game it is amazing how little of the nefarious uncanny valley is present in them. However, as previously mentioned, I found that the realistic design of NPCs on the street clashes with their awful AI in a way that brings about an all new but no less awful incarnation of the uncanny valley. This isn’t a critique of the graphics so much as a mark against the buggy and incomplete state of the game.

One other criticism I have is not a slight against the graphics and is largely a matter of personal preference, but I can’t help but feel somewhat put off by the oppressive dystopian setting after putting many hours into the game. If anything, this is high praise for its realism, as CDPR has managed to realistically depict a dark future that is at times too real for comfort. It’s so grand in its decadent squalor that I can’t help be drawn back in.

One more thing that irritated me was the repetition of items and advertisements throughout the world. The many glowing holographic and neon advertisements seem to have maybe a dozen or so variations at most and are all rather unpleasant to look at. It’s just a little weird that the developers didn’t design a few more ads given how much unique handcrafted detail is in the rest of the game world.

Again, it’s important to note that most players won’t see this spectacular vision of Night City due to the demanding hardware requirements, and that is a shame. 

Cyberpunk 2077

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

Multiplayer: Absent for the moment 

At launch and for long after Cyberpunk 2077 will be a single-player game. However, CDPR has said that a few years down the road they will be launching a multiplayer mode, and a lot of people are looking forward to that. Of course, it is impossible to predict if this will be any good or if some circumstances might prevent its release, but there is a lot of potential for Cyberpunk to become a better experience when Night City goes online. With that said, CDPR really needs to fix the single-player game before they even think about launching multiplayer.

Price: A refreshing lack of micro-transactions 

At $60 with no extra monetization at launch, Cyberpunk 2077 is something of a bargain. Take this with a grain of salt though, as this situation could change dramatically once the multiplayer mode is released. 

Cyberpunk 2077 vs. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Though very different in setting, tone, and gameplay perspective, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is a similarly vast open-world that launched not long before Cyberpunk 2077, and gamers may be split on which to dump a hundred or more hours of time into. At the time of writing, Valhalla is a much more polished and complete experience. Also, whereas the dystopia of Night City can be an oppressive environment to spend many hours exploring, the green hills of England in Assassin's Creed: Valhalla offer an escapist experience.

It’s also impossible to avoid comparisons to Grand Theft Auto, which in many ways Cyberpunk 2077 bears more than a superficial resemblance to. When you get right down to it, Cyberpunk plays like a heavily modded GTA V with less humor, more bugs, and worse driving mechanics.

Final Verdict

An open-world RPG with enormous potential that’s sadly incomplete and unpolished.

Cyberpunk 2077 had enormous potential, but it launched long before it was complete and the result is a deeply conflicting experience. Game-breaking bugs, performance issues, missing features, and demanding hardware requirements make it difficult to recommend, but there is the core of something great lying within. There are hundreds of hours of content to enjoy if you can temper your expectations and employ a saintly degree of patience.

Specs

  • Product Name Cyberpunk 2077
  • Price $60
  • Release Date December 2020
  • Color N/A
  • Platforms PC, Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Stadia
  • Rating M
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