Best of 2022: Cyberpunk 2077’s Redemption Arc Is a Breathtaking Return to Form for CD Projekt Red
It’s December 2020, and Cyberpunk 2077 is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Cyberpunk 2077 hit store shelves eight years after it was first announced, and had all the momentum in the world to help it end the year in blockbuster style. With developer CD Projekt Red having earned a lot of goodwill from its work on The Witcher trilogy, the idea of the studio working on a cult-classic IP combined with a Keanu Reeves show-stealing E3 moment made for one of the most anticipated game debuts of all time.
On launch day, it was a different story. While PC reviews mostly praised the game, they came with a giant star attached that could be seen from orbit while Cyberpunk 2077 was crawling with bugs, devastating bugs, and a world that felt half-baked at best. Fascinating gameplay features that had previously been showcased in trailers, such as using wall-running to perform an acrobatic drop on enemies, were missing from the final release.
Console gamers bore the brunt of Cyberpunk 2077’s shortcomings, as the game was barely playable on last-gen PS4s and Xbox Ones, while the recently launched PS5 and Xbox Series X|S hardware also had to deal with many issues.
If you followed the game, you probably saw stories detailing the litany of problems plaguing the game, from the neon streets of Night City randomly crushing and faceless NPCs, to broken quests and the odd car falling from the sky. It only got worse for CDPR as its reputation took a hit at the time, leading to an unprecedented move by Sony and Microsoft to not only offer refunds to their consumers, but to keep Cyberpunk 2077 off their respective digital store shelves for the next several months .
While Cyberpunk 2077 is hardly the first high-profile game to arrive in a less-than-ideal state (Fallout 76 being a notable example here), the years of patience, hype and sizzling previews resulted in a demoralizing return to reality for anyone who had been excited for the chance to play as a rebel in a dark future. The elevator pitch for Cyberpunk 2077 was solid and pure escapism, but the reality of the game was a bubble pop of depression for a variety of reasons, as stories of crunch culture and behind-the-scenes drama would be made public in the weeks to come. coming.
Since those turbulent days, however, Cyberpunk 2077 has become a completely different beast that feels more representative of CDPR’s original vision. It’s not perfect – a recent session saw my prized motorbike skid after it hit a pebble in the road – but frequent updates have helped improve the experience immensely. Cyberpunk 2077’s mistakes, when they occur, are now something to laugh at instead of shaking your fist at.
It’s an example of course correction from a studio that worked hard behind the scenes to not only fix the game, but to create a product that has the potential to become a classic and proud part of history. CDPR’s initial move saw massive bandwidth-busting patches released in the wake of Cyberpunk 2077’s launch, while paid expansion plans were put on hold so the game could be whipped into better shape. March 2021’s 1.2 update, for example, took the entire game apart for the most consequential overhaul at the time, further optimizing the experience on a macro and micro scale with hundreds of tweaks and significant changes.
This update wasn’t a cure for Cyberpunk 2077 and its lingering flaws, but it was a huge leap forward compared to the first launch day version of the game. Dragon Age: Inquisition design director Gabriel Amatangelo had joined CD Projekt in 2020 and was promoted from Cyberpunk 2077 creative director to game director as the game began to attract a dedicated player base. CD Projekt underwent an ambitious shake-up behind the scenes as it began developing multiple AAA games simultaneously.
Reports of crunch culture were damaging to CD Projekt Red’s reputation, with the company criticized for breaking its promise to provide “more humane” working conditions during the development of the game. Co-CEO Marcin Iwinski told investors after the Cyberpunk 2077 delay in September 2020 that reports of crunches on the game’s development “were not that bad”, but he later had to backtrack and apologize for those comments to CDPR staff.
The director of the upcoming Witcher game, Jason Slama, later tried to downplay fears of mandatory crunch practices. “Never on my watch,” Slama said in response to a tweet regarding CDPR’s poor track record when it comes to crunch, promising better conditions for those hired to work on the new title. CD Projekt Red has made efforts to change its work culture since the launch of Cyberpunk 2077, as a 2021 strategy update said the studio is “working hard to minimize stress, prevent burnout and give our employees everything they need to focus on their work with a full positive mindset.”
How effective these policy changes will be in the face of multiple ongoing projects remains to be seen, as CDPR still has fresh memories of the disastrous Cyberpunk 2077 launch that left many fans disappointed with the company after they bought a broken game on day one.
With the game’s foundations secured, Cyberpunk 2077’s development team set to work fixing any remaining cracks. A return to the PlayStation Store saw positive download numbers, more extensive updates and plenty of free content to draw players in. It had taken a year to get to this point and the best was yet to come.
All the technical work behind the scenes got Cyberpunk 2077 back into fighting shape, with February 2022’s next-gen 1.5 update marking a seismic shift for the game in terms of stability, performance and power on current-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X| S consoles. Not just a technical upgrade, this was the update that restored the Cyberpunk experience with new cybernetic modifications, more cunning enemy AI, improved romance options and fine-tuned driving controls.
The 1.5 update was the shot in the arm the game needed to move beyond its turbulent launch day history, but arguably the biggest moment for Cyberpunk 2077 came from the debut of an anime spin-off series that helped put it back in the mainstream map. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, a beautifully animated show produced by Kill la Kill’s Studio Trigger and released on Netflix in late 2022, helped drive millions of people back to Night City with its high-quality production values.
With animation sharper than a freshly forged pair of Mantis blades, an amazing voice cast for the dub, and the best use of Franz Ferdinand since “Take Me Out” became a ubiquitous track on the 2004 Billboard charts, Edgerunners helped transform Cyberpunk 2077’s fortunes. CDPR also struck while the cyber iron was hot, revealing a final big patch that added some Edgerunner Easter eggs for fans to discover.
All of these changes helped transform the fabric of Night City, making the urban sprawl feel exciting to explore unlike when it ran like a broken Matrix simulation. A wildly ambitious game, Cyberpunk 2077 lives up to its techno-fantasy ideals with compelling storytelling, deep levels of customization, and the freedom to become a legend on your own terms.
In its current form, Cyberpunk 2077 is a thrilling ride, a world where you establish your own legend while listening to Keanu Reeves chew up all available scenery as Johnny Silverhand, arguably his finest role since Always Be My Maybe. A hell of body-harvesting bandits and corrupt politicians, Night City is an incredible sandbox with a fresh story around every corner and gameplay flexibility that lets you hack your way to victory digitally and brutally.
Eight years of development and two years of post-launch support later, Cyberpunk 2077’s successes outweigh its failures. It has a cool factor that few games can match – a bleak and dark aesthetic where neon lights slowly bleed into a world that has been positively transformed by the Netflix boost and players willing to take another chance on CDPR’s grand vision for IP. It can’t be easy for a studio to see a hype train derail and be hit with harsh criticism on an industry-defining scale, but CDPR rolled with the punches, scraped Cyberpunk 2077’s most problematic issues, and continued to work on making one. of the most fascinating sandboxes to ever appear on PC or console.
From controversy to critical acclaim, Cyberpunk 2077 in its current form is not only the game that fans expected in 2020; it’s a better-realized showcase for some of CDPR’s singular talent for storytelling, surprisingly tender moments, and renegade action with deep layers of adaptation that reflect the Night City character’s approach to problem-solving. It remains to be seen how effective CDPR will be in avoiding crunch and glut launches in the future. But on paper, the future looks bright, as The Phantom Liberty expansion will introduce players to a new side of Night City – with Idris Elba on the way – and a full-fledged sequel is in the early stages of development.
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