The most recent episode of Cyberpunk 2077's Night City Wire live streams took a deep dive into the weapons of the game - but are you ready to go even deeper?
There's no doubt that one of the most challenging aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 for developer CD Projekt RED will have been its all-new, projectile-driven combat. CDP has built sprawling open worlds and intricate quest lines before in The Witcher, but Geralt is no gunslinger. The monster hunter is also controlled in third person, while the world and battles of Cyberpunk are experienced through V's eyes directly.
In the second episode of the publisher's Night City Wire video series, members of the development team took a deep dive into several aspects of the game, including weapons and combat. Following on from our chat about all things narrative and story last time around, we again had a chance to take things even deeper, sitting down with senior gameplay designer Pawel Kapala, also a Witcher 3 veteran at the studio, to talk all things weapons.
Below you find the full, lengthy transcript. We cover everything from ongoing improvements to melee and how players will get their hands on legendary weapons as quest rewards to weapon mods, character progression with firearms and that nebulous but vital concept of 'gun feel'. Read on, Samurai:
VG247: Let’s start at the top, because this is really different to The Witcher. When you were first approaching the game were there any particular inspirations in terms of gun feel, and handling?
Pawel Kapala: We definitely looked around, and we shopped around, and we saw nearly every game that comes out in the last couple of years. The biggest problem that we encountered there is that most of the games that we play, or played, or tested, they are shooters with RPG elements, and we’re not aiming to do that. We’re basically going from the opposite side. So, first of all, we’re an RPG, of course. And then we’re adding shooter elements on top of that. Most of the games that we encountered have a great feeling of shooting somebody, things like effects, visual effects, sound effects, animations, all of that was looked at, and we were actually inspired by a couple of major titles there.
However, like I said, the problem is that you have to implement those RPG systems into the shooting mechanics, and what that means is that suddenly most of the games that we were looking at basically disintegrate, because you need to scale things that those games do not scale. So, stuff like recoil, for example, isn’t something that is a static variable any more. Like the movement of your camera, the amount of spread that weapons have, the charge time, the reload time, all of those things need to suddenly be scalable, and throughout the entire experience. So, we definitely looked at other games when it comes to visual feedback for the player, and what feels good as you’re pulling the trigger, so to speak, on the gun. However, most of our work was spent on developing and creating the RPG systems, so that the player can see that, as the game progresses, the player character basically becomes better and better in using those weapons.
VG247: How do you balance that, because you said about recoil, right? And when I think of shooting in an RPG, and the RPG levelling making recoil better, the first thing I think of is the first Mass Effect game, where you start out and your reticule is this big, and then as you level up, it gets smaller and smaller to represent your accuracy. But that also led to the frustration where you’d be pointed straight at someone, pulling the trigger, and bullets would be going off and missing.
Kapala: Yes, absolutely. That was the biggest problem I feel like we needed to solve. So, basically, to merge those two systems like you noticed, if you start on the heavier side of the RPG, I would say. If your spread is too big, like if it envelops one fourth of your screen, it makes it impossible to hit anything. And that brings that frustration to the player. We really don’t want to create that feeling. However, you also need to have that sizable portion of all the variables to be tweakable, and to be progressive.
So, in general you have two types of variables on the weapon side. You have variables that are controllable by the player, or semi-controllable by the player, like, for example, the recoil. Recoil can be smaller or larger, so this would be the movement of the camera as you’re firing. Something like CS:GO has big recoil, right? But proficient players can still control it. However, spread is the size of the crosshair as you’re firing the gun, and that’s something that’s completely random. You cannot foresee where the bullet will go next, because it’s just a huge chunk of your screen. And what we learned during our development process is that we much prefer scaling recoil, so something that the player can control still, even at the beginning of the game, than scaling spread. So, spread will still be scalable, but it’s not infuriating at the beginning. And it scales a little bit less than recoil, which you can still control as the player. And that alleviated a lot of that frustration, at least for us. And I think that players will experience a similar thing, that basically, you can learn the guns.
VG247: A big thing in pure shooters is the world tends to be more reactive to bullets, whether that is the enemies, or shooting out lights, the world itself, whatever. RPGs tend to scale back on that. So, how reactive is your world? Is it more reactive than your average shooter RPG?
Kapala: Oh, absolutely. We put a lot of emphasis on having destructible environments overall in our game. Players will experience things ranging from very simple, so for example, if you have a shootout in a bar, and you’re shooting the environment, you will see glasses exploding, or things like beer bottles disintegrating on bullet impact. We wanted to have that feeling that, basically, after you’re done with a shootout, the place where you had the shootout is destroyed. But this ranges up to very big portions of the level. We have stuff like destructible cover. So, we want the players to actually use some weapons to destroy the cover, so that the enemies are at a disadvantage. We have destructible glass. All of those things give you the feeling that the projectiles from your weapons actually carry power with them. And this also extends to stuff like, you will see bullet decals on most of the things, all of the things in the level. You will see different hit reactions. Like for example, if you hit a pipe with water in it, you will see the water sprouting from the place that you hit it. And this extends to nearly every object that we have in the game.
Just quickly, as an aside from that, what about character deaths? Is that canned animations, or is that physics? What goes on there?
Kapala: It would be a mixture of the two. It depends on the strength of your weapon. So, if you headshot somebody with a small calibre pistol, you would not expect him to go into ragdoll, necessarily, or just to fly away. Like, we’re not doing a Quentin Tarantino movie. However, if you have a grenade explosion, you will see that the bodies actually get dismembered, they go into ragdoll, they get flung away from the centre of the explosion. And this extends to weapons as well. So, depending on the strength of your weapon, the overall power of your weapon, you will see different results there, on NPC death.
VG247: In the Night City Wire interview, they talked a little bit about the legendary weapons that are attached to specific quests. I got the impression that, for instance, depending on how you tackle a mission, you might get a different legendary at the end, compared to, say, if you go in all guns blazing versus stealth. Can you talk a little bit about how that works?
Kapala: We need to remember that it’s not like you finish a quest and you get a reward. We don’t want to have that artificial type of game loop in our game, necessarily. It’s more of a situation where you helped a certain NPC, like, let’s say you helped Meredith Stout, that we had in our demo. If you help her, and then you continue your relationship with her, you can get a certain legendary weapon from her, because she rewards you as a character. It’s not necessarily that the legendary weapon falls out of the sky, so to speak.
But that’s a part of your choices. Since we’re making an RPG, you will not know that, when you’re making those choices. It’s not like we’re informing the player, ‘Oh, are you certain that you want to help this character? Because that character has a special weapon for you.’ It’s a part of our RPG system that your actions have consequences, and some of the consequences are that, basically, you will not get rewarded by certain NPCs that you meet in the game. And it’s not the core of why you should help those NPCs, so the decision shouldn’t be made depending on which weapon you want to have. The decision should be, ‘I want to help that NPC because I like that NPC,’ or, ‘He speaks to my ideas in the game.’ And then you get rewarded by the NPC in a certain way.
And those legendary weapons also are very different, and they will actually give you a certain feeling connected to the NPC that you got it from. So, what I’m trying to say is, basically, they’re handcrafted for the specific quest. It’s not like you have a completely disconnected weapon that you can see the NPC never using. No. Some of the NPCs will actually take out a gun from their own holster, the gun that you saw them use five minutes ago. This gun has a specific visual to it that will not be repeated anywhere else in the game, and they will give you this gun. And that feels rewarding, because they actually give you something from their own person.
VG247: If you get one of these, you would assume that an early or mid-game legendary would be outclassed by the late game. Is that the case, or can you upgrade weapons, as well as get new ones? Like, if you fall in love with a specific weapon, legendary or not, can you upgrade, and craft, and tinker, to bring that along with you as you grow?
Kapala: You can upgrade weapons by using modifications on them, so you can bring them up to a certain level. However, we have so many weapons that we don’t want the player to kind of spend their entire game using only one. And what you have to also know is that some legendaries will have - I wouldn’t say drawbacks, but will behave in a certain way. And we expect players to pick and choose their favourite guns, and some of those guns will not fit your playstyle. And we’re completely okay with that, because, again, we’re making an RPG, so this is part of the choices that you want to make. Some of the weapons will fit, maybe, a stealthy character. Some of those weapons will fit a complete solo, that goes into every encounter to assault people, never uses stealth. So, it’s kind of a pick and choose situation, there.
VG247: You mentioned stealth, there. So, that leads into another thought - how do you make sure that there’s that RPG increase in power for all players, without just introducing bigger, louder guns? In the respect that if a player’s focusing on stealth, they might be focusing on a certain weapon type, like pistols. So, how do you make sure that growth is there for someone who doesn’t want to pick up an assault rifle, or an SMG, or whatever?
Kapala: What we opted to do pretty early in development is, we have a system that basically rewards the player for using certain weapons. So, as you’re using pistols, you get better at using pistols. It’s not necessarily that you level up a couple of times, and you get 20 points, and you can spend it on unrelated stuff, so to speak. If you want to use pistols, you get better at using pistols by just using them. So, for the player, it’s basically a situation where, if you’ve fallen in love with an assault rifle, and you want to continue using an assault rifle, you’ll get better and better at using it. Stealth and combat don’t necessarily fully compete with one another. We expect the players to kind of play a hybrid, since we don’t have a class system in our game. It’s not always a good idea to engage fully in stealth, or fully in combat, right? This is something that the players need to decide on their own, as they engage in an encounter.
VG247: How do implants and augmentations fold into that, and into combat in general? How do they affect gunplay, or melee, or any of the combat? What sorts of things can you unlock and use to change the way it plays?
Kapala: So, we have specific cyberware that can definitely help you in combat. For example, we’ve shown one of the active cyberwares on last year’s demo, which would be the Sandevistan, which basically temporarily slows down time for you. And that doesn’t directly influence the gunplay. However, it gives you a huge edge in combat. And that’s what we wanted to do for cyberware overall in our game, is that using it should basically change the way a player approaches encounters. The same thing goes for cyberware that you install in your body, things like, for example, Mantis Blades, that we’ve also shown. They are quite difficult to get, since you basically need to engage with the black market to get them. However, they are very powerful, military-grade implants that you install in your body, and they have different behaviour than the rest of the melee weapons. So, if the player installs something like Mantis Blades, they will give you an edge over your opponents.
And how much limitation is there with stuff like that? Can you have the Mantis Blades and the Gorilla arms at the same time, or is that a trade-off sort of choice?
Kapala: So, that would be a trade-off, because basically, inside Night City, inside the game world, Mantis Blades and strong arms are a complete rebuild of a player character’s arms. So, you get your arm rebuilt from the upper portion, completely down. There isn’t much more stuff that you can fit in there. So, yes. We expect the players to make that choice, basically.
VG247: Let’s put this as two different questions in one, almost. Can you play through the whole game just almost as a traditional FPS? And also, the flip side of that is, can you play through the whole game and try and go for just an all-melee thing? Is that possible in encounters? Or are you going to have, sometimes, enemies that have got the range on you, and you need to switch to a gun?
Kapala: So, what I would say here is that overall, the city, Night City, is a very dangerous place, especially at the beginning of the game. Since V is quite an unknown, newish mercenary on the streets of Night City, V needs to use all the tools that they have to defeat certain encounters. And you will see pretty early in the game that there are certain players in Night City that are much, much more powerful than the player character, and you cannot take them head on. Stuff like big corporations. You cannot necessarily expect that you will survive an encounter with elite forces, such as, for example, MAX-TAC, or Trauma Team. So, we encourage the players to engage in different types of approaches, depending on the different types of encounters that you will find in the game.
As far as melee combat is concerned, I would say the same thing. So, we put a lot of emphasis on the fact that enemies in our game exist in the game world. And if you take out a katana, and the encounter, for example, has two snipers, they will not oblige you. They will still shoot at you with their sniper rifles. So, you need to basically think about your approach. Yes, it’s technically possible to run around everywhere with a katana. However, if you see a helicopter, would you charge at it with a knife? I don’t think so. It might not be a very good strategy. I fully expect them to, yes.
VG247: On the topic of melee, where are you at with melee? This sort of first-person combat is really hard to get right. And Lord knows we’ve seen Bethesda struggle enough with it. Honestly it didn't quite feel there in your preview build. So, where are you guys with melee, with swords, and fists, and stuff like that?
Kapala: We’re still a couple of months before release, and I’m actually right now working on melee. We’re spending a lot of time trying to perfect that, and we basically, we’re not 100 percent happy, mostly with visual feedback on the hits, on the melee. So, we’re still working on it. We’re continuing to work on it. And I’m happy to say that, even right now, it’s much better than it was. And it’s going to get even better. And we acknowledge that this is something that we need to perfect, basically. But as you said, melee in a first-person game is extremely difficult, from the get-go. So, it wasn’t an easy task, since we basically come from a pedigree of creating TPP games. It was also a big part of our development to actually figure out, how do you do melee in a first-person perspective? We’re working on it.
VG247: This probably applies more to guns than melee, but what are really the benefits of targeting different areas of an enemy’s body? Like, if you are shooting for the kneecaps, or for the feet, to try and slow them down, does that sort of thing work?
Kapala: Absolutely. We have different hit reactions per body part of the NPCs. So, if somebody’s charging at you with a baseball bat, for example, if you shoot them in the kneecap, they will actually fall over. If you want to disarm somebody, quite literally, you can shoot them in the arm, and part of their arm will actually fly off. If you injure somebody in an arm, they might drop their two-handed weapon in favour of using a one-handed pistol. It’s not necessarily that we expect the players to use this at every opportunity, however, it’s useful to know about this, that sometimes, actually engaging the enemies in certain limbs will give you an edge in combat.
VG247: Obviously, in an RPG, at a point, you need to have enemies that can take a lot of punishment. But how do you avoid these bullet-spongey enemies, where encounters seem to drag on, and you’re shooting someone over and over again? I’m thinking about the big fella you see in the Braindance, who’s heavily augmented...
Kapala: Adam Smasher.
VG247: Right. He’s clearly not going to be somebody that goes down in a few hits, no matter what weapon you’re using. Even if you’re using a rocket launcher, I would assume. So, how do you balance that, to make sure it doesn’t cross from challenging to frustrating?
Kapala: So, in the core of the game, if we’re talking about the normal NPCs that you meet on the street, they can have different rarities to them, I would say. Most of the NPCs that you will meet are normal, just goons. And if you’re continuing to level up, and if you’re on the level of the enemy, you should never experience bullet sponginess. They will feel quite fast to kill, quite fast to engage. However, they’re quite deadly as well, so you need to basically use cover, and move around a lot.
Some of the NPCs will be more armoured, or more, how do I say? Some of the NPCs would be, like at officer level, so they’re more elite enemies that deal even more damage, and they take a little bit more punishment. However, what we opted to do there is that, we basically ensure that hit reactions on our NPCs are always played. This is a big problem in most of the games that I played that have bullet sponges - that basically you don’t see any type of reaction on the NPC as you’re hitting him. It feels like you’re literally shooting a sponge, like there’s nothing there. And we never want to have that. So, we will still play hit reactions on those NPCs. You will still see that they’re getting hurt. They will stumble, they will fall from your gunfire. So, that’s still in place. And as far as boss fights are concerned, well, I think it would be best if players see it for themselves. However, I can assure you that we took the necessary steps not to have them feel like bullet sponges as well.
VG247: How do weapons tie into the lore of Night City? Because I realise that you’ve built out that there are specific manufacturers of guns, and stuff like that. So, do any of those manufacturers have specialisations, or specific qualities, where you go, ‘Right, I love this manufacturer’s style of guns, because they feel a certain way’?
Kapala: Absolutely. So, at the very beginning of development, we actually established, which manufacturers do we want to use in our game? And which manufacturers are basically producing higher quality weapons inside the game world, and which are lower quality, I would say. And also, we’ve put the weapons that we have on a kind of grid, that has the quality of the manufacturer on one axis, and on the other axis, it would be time. So, you can find weapons that are quite old-school. You can find a double-barrelled shotgun from Rostovic, which is a Serbian manufacturer in Night City. And they’re producing a double-barrelled shotgun, but they call it Igla, which is a needle in English. And that would be like an old-school weapon, and basically, Rostovic is focusing their production on double-barrelled shotguns. And you can find a tech version, and a smart version of that, because they’re modifying their existing idea.
However, you will also find that they’re not making the highest quality weapons, because that goes to the biggest weapon manufacturers in our game, which would be Militech and Arasaka. Those huge corporations are basically getting all the weapon production for the army, and all the other corporations are actually using their weapons, because they’re so high-level. So, you can see that, for example, Arasaka or Militech weapons are the highest quality, and you will feel it in actually using the gun. So, stuff like recoil will be more controllable, spread will be smaller on those weapons. You will hear that the sound is more subdued. It will feel like an actually well-oiled machine, compared to the lower manufacturers. As far as manufacturers creating specific weapon types is concerned, we also have manufacturers such as the Chinese Kang Tao, which basically emerged at some point where smart weapons became a possibility, inside Night City, inside the game world. And they are completely focused on creating smart weapons. So, if you see something coming from Kang Tao, it’s going to be a smart weapon, always.
VG247: Finally... you mentioned old-school weapons, and I’m thinking, obviously, you’ve got a bit of a time gap in the lore. But I’m thinking about, in Cyberpunk 2020, because of when it was written, there’s a lot of real-world-ish 1990s guns. You see a lot of Uzis in 2020. There are quite a lot of bows and crossbows in Cyberpunk 2020, too. So, are we going to see stuff like that, where it’s remnants of the past in this game? Are we going to see bows or crossbows at all, for instance?
Kapala: What we wanted to do is, basically, Cyberpunk 2077 is like a continuation of 2020. So, some weapons will fall completely out of use. However, other weapons will be still used in the game world. So, I believe that people well-versed in Cyberpunk 2020 will actually see a couple of weapons that we took from the textbook, and we tried to put our own spin on them. You can see that actually we’re connecting as much as we can to the textbook 2020. We’re not trying to shy away from that. However, we also wanted to do our own exploration on the topic of how the world would actually behave during the last 57 years since Cyberpunk 2020 came out.