The next game from the makers of The Witcher 3 is looking impressive, and perhaps most importantly, it looks like a real video game. A 50-minute behind-closed-doors E3 demo of Cyberpunk 2077 showed attendees proper gameplay, played live, that appeared like something we might actually see in the next year or two.
Here’s the short version: Cyberpunk 2077 is a lot like Deus Ex, with what looks like less stealth but better shooting. There’s lots of violence. There are branching quests with multiple choices, like The Witcher 3, and there’s a driving system that seems a whole lot like Grand Theft Auto. The demo was impressive, hinting at typically dystopian themes, lots of player choice, and many, many different guns.
What’s most striking is that it looks like a real game. Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t shockingly pretty or full of astounding pre-rendered graphics—it looks like a video game built to run on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with an impressive, humongous world that may live up to the bar set by Velen and Skellige. CD Projekt Red won’t commit to a release year—which is smart, until they’re absolutely sure—but for a game that was teased in 2013 and has been MIA until now, they showed quite a bit. Put another way: this isn’t Final Fantasy VII Remake.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person shooting role-playing game that feels very different from CD Projekt Red’s last game. It’s full of gritty slang, futuristic technology, and diverse characters. The whole game takes place in Night City, a fictional city in the “free state of North California” within Cyberpunk’s world, and there are six different districts: the sprawling City Center, the corporate dystopia Watson, the luxurious Westbrook, the suburban Heywood, the gang-ridden Pacifica, and the industrial Santo Domingo.
The E3 demo started off with character creation—you get to decide whether to play as a man or a woman version of the main character, V. Both the male and female V are fully voiced, which sure must have been expensive. You also get to play around with an in-depth face creator, and assign V a background, a key life event, and a purpose for being in Night City. (Some examples: “Unfinished Business”/ “Ex-Lover In Town” / “Something to Prove.”)
Then you choose which stats to pump up: Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, Reflexes, Tech, and, uh, Cool. (This appears to be un-ironic.) There are classes, but you don’t pick just one. Your character can blend skills and traits from all three: Netrunner, Techie, and Solo.
The demo started off with a sequence in which V, working alongside her meaty companion Jackie Welles, goes into a gang-infested apartment to rescue a kidnapped girl. It plays out a lot like Deus Ex, minus the stealth, and with what appears to be more interesting gunplay. There’s plenty of shooting, covering, and lingo-infested dialogue. (“Eddies,” for example, is slang for “European dollars,” this world’s currency.)
Once the mission ends—after you’ve taken out the gang and carried a naked, nearly dead woman to a team of trauma rescuers—we cut to V’s apartment, where Cyberpunk 2077 reminds us that it’s equally gratuitous to both men and women by showing us a carefully rendered naked male bum. Then V gets a prestigious invite, to the car of a major “fixer” named Dexter DeShawn. This is a big deal. V is stoked. DeShawn gives her a proposition—if she passes his test, getting a special spider-robot from a group of thieves, he’ll recruit her as one of the many mercenaries he sends out on missions throughout Night City.
That’s the demo’s big quest, finding a way to get the spider-robot. As a CD Projekt Red developer explained, there are several ways to do this. The path we saw first involved V going to a Ripperdoc, Victor, who gives her upgrades like an optical scanner and a new weapon grip. Then she takes Jackie’s car for a ride, which will play a big part in Cyberpunk 2077. “Driving is an essential way of getting around in Night City,” said the developer.
You can toggle from first-person to third-person for driving—thank god!—and as you go around the city, CD Projekt Red says you’ll run into random encounters. In this demo, those gang members from earlier came and chase down V’s car, leading to an intense action sequence where Jackie takes the wheel from the passenger seat while the player has to shoot at enemies out the driver window.
Eventually V and Jackie get to a meeting with an agent belonging to a generic “Corporation”—one of Cyberpunk 2077's faceless evil organisations—and get into a tense encounter. During each of these encounters, V is barraged with dialogue options. She can choose to be amicable or aggressive at just about every turn, and CD Projekt Red is promising many ambitious narrative choices and branches. The agent offers V a great deal of money—which she’ll be able to use to reclaim the spider-bot—if V will implant a chip in the thieves’ computer terminal. In the demo, V says yes. CD Projekt Red says you’ll also be able to say no, or run away with the money, or who knows what else.
Then we get to the main quest, a standoff between V and thugs belonging to a “psycho-gang” (so much lingo) called the Maelstrom. Long story short: that agent’s chip was a trap, and it shuts down the Maelstrom’s entire system, leading to a brutal shoot-out. V gets the spider-bot, then makes her way through the gang’s complex, shooting enemies and snagging gear along the way. It’s all gorgeous, impressive, and looks like a lot of fun to play.
A few other notes:
- The whole game is in first-person, and you can’t switch to third-person, except for when you’re driving. You’ll see V in cut-scenes, though. She (or he) has a personality, although it’s hard to tell how much of that will be pre-determined and how much will play out based on your decisions.
- Gear is colour-coded based on rarity. Uncommon stuff is green, “Epic” stuff is purple, etc. Seems like there will be a ton of guns, each with its own ability.
- The coolest gun we saw was one whose bullets auto-track their enemies. You don’t even have to aim—you just fire it in a direction and it’ll hit people.
- Other guns included a “Tech Blunderbuss” shotgun, a pistol, and a smart rifle. There’s very little stealth in Cyberpunk 2077, from what we saw, so shooting plays a huge part. Hard to tell how it feels just based on watching it.
- V also has a set of weapons called Mantis Blades that she can use not just to hack enemies apart, but to cling to walls (!!!) so she can scope out the scene.
- You’ll also be able to get a double jump, among other abilities, and we saw some sort of technique that allows V to slow down time.
- One of the game’s core mechanics is called Street Cred, sort of like a currency that’s both your reputation and your experience. Levelling up your Street Cred by questing will let you unlock new skills and missions.
- During conversations, you’ll sometimes have extra options on top of your dialogue tree. While facing one security guard, for example, you can try to grab his gun. In another scene, you can pull out your own gun instead of saying something.
- CD Projekt Red is promising that Cyberpunk 2077, like The Witcher 3, will be full of branching scenes and bazillions of possibilities. After The Witcher 3, I have a whole lot of faith that they’re telling the truth.