As Cyberpunk 2077 has been repeatedly updated, the focus has primarily been on the improvements made to the performance of CD Projekt RED’s open-world adventure, especially on console where – let’s be fair – it launched as more than a bit of a pig. But returning to Night City, I’m stunned by the depth of these updates. And I am surprised they’ve not been talked about more.
I played Cyberpunk 2077 on PC, back before it was released to the world and chaos ensued. At the time, I thought the game was, y’know, pretty great. It wasn’t perfect. Its love of sledgehammer-level subtlety grated, and it wasn’t a GTA-quality open world (though it was arguably never going to be so, coming from a studio a fraction of the size of Rockstar). But it was an interesting, exciting open world, with some gloriously breakable RPG systems, decent shooting, and a branching story structure that I honestly found to be surprisingly compelling and engaging. I spent about 60 hours with it and loved it.
Then it came to consoles. Oh, god, it came to consoles. Those console versions were what they were, right? A mess. Launched a thousand memes. A high-end PC experience that was beset by some bugs, but no more than your average open world game release, suddenly gave way to brutal bug compilation videos of a game in terminal decline, as systems both graphical and mechanical seemed to collapse in on themselves and implode.
So CD Projekt had a job on its hands. A lot of people looked silly. One of those people was me, right? I could only play the game on a high-end PC, delivered a verdict based on that, and then a huge chunk of the audience got a very different experience. But they also shredded their reputation as the gamers’ darling studio. Much of what The Witcher 3 built up in terms of studio reputation seemed to disintegrate in just a few weeks.
The closest comparison I can think of is what happened to Square Enix with Final Fantasy 14. The follow-up to a perfectly successful MMO, one of the few healthy rivals to World of Warcraft, it was a disaster. In that case, Square had to reboot the entire game, starting from scratch to build something new in order to rescue not just the game, but the reputation of the company and its most valuable IP. The result, now famous, is hands-down the biggest comeback in gaming history.
And, y’know… I’m getting shades of that, albeit light shades, off Cyberpunk. It’s never going to be FF14. For a start, it’s improving the existing game rather than rebooting it entirely - but these improvements are about so much more than the bare minimum. Bluntly, you can tell that CD Projekt gives a shit. As it should; that studio’s everything is on the line here.
This week, when I returned to Cyberpunk 2077 for the first time since its release month, I knew what I expected: technical improvements, bug fixes, and perhaps some general tweaks. What I didn’t expect was how much would’ve changed beyond simply getting the game to work properly under all circumstances.
So put all that to one side for a second; assume the game works on your platform of choice. With some niggles here and there, it appears to be pretty much there on all platforms. What I want to talk about, and what’s impressed me the most, is everything else that has changed throughout this patch process.
There’s balance changes, like how entire weapons have been rethought, new weapons added, and mechanics completely retooled so that you can’t completely break the game by guaranteeing every hit you land is a critical. There’s clever quality of life stuff, like showing what crafted clothes look like on your character before you craft them. Clothing has generally been reconsidered with their stats, abilities, and perks reorganized. Skills have been rebalanced, moved, merged, or even outright removed – because why keep something that doesn’t work? Some of the most powerful cyberware have been given new mechanics, moves, and finishers.
There’s just… a lot of this. There’s now neat, bespoke animations for when you first equip certain types of weapons. While there’s still no vehicular police chases (and I don’t think there ever will be, as the game really isn’t built for it), you occasionally now see police cars chasing gang members through the streets – and you can follow and involve yourself in that battle. There’s lots of these dynamic events scattered around the world, in fact: NPCs actually doing things rather than just standing around or walking in circles to give the illusion of activity. A lot of this comes with new sound effects and other elements to add to the legitimacy of the ambiance.
YouTuber One Dragon is doing a particularly good job of tracking the changes, noting things like how certain NPCs actually do now appear to have schedules. If you visit a shop in the day, it’ll be filled with customers, but at night there’ll be cleaners mopping the floor. The security guards, who used to stand static outside, now move around and take a seat from time to time to rest their legs.
These things sound small, but I firmly believe that in an open world game like this, the little touches add up to a lot. It adds up to more when the core game was always pretty solid to begin with, performance issues aside – and that was the case with Cyberpunk 2077. The changes are many, and they make this update about more than papering over the cracks: it’s attempting to fill and finish them properly, so the cracks are no more.
Basically, I think CD Projekt RED has a chance here. This studio might actually have a shot at rescuing this game. With the larger of their recent updates, versions 1.3 and 1.5, the studio has found a good cadence of updates and a strong trajectory in what those patches are doing. We need more, though – and probably some free DLC – and then they can maybe have a crack at actually relaunching the game proper to reverse public opinion.
In short, I’m impressed. This is the largest post-launch improvement in a game I’ve seen in a very long time, and it’s left me surprisingly hopeful about the future of Cyberpunk 2077. Here’s hoping this is just the beginning of the do-over.