Cyberpunk 2077 Impressions from E3 2018

During E3 2018, we got the chance to go behind closed doors and watch 50 minutes of never-before-seen gameplay from Cyberpunk 2077. The developers of the mega-hit The Witcher 3 have taken on a completely new and different challenge unlike anything they've worked on over the last decade. For the first time ever, it was finally ready to be shown this year, over 5 years after the title's original announcement.

Cyberpunk 2077 is unlike The Witcher in pretty much every way imaginable: The fantasy worlds of The Northern Kingdoms are replaced with the simultaneously refined and rusted free state of Northern California, a remnant of a collapsed America. Fantasy magic and myths are replaced with drones and augments. Instead of following the story of The White Wolf, the famed Butcher of Blaviken, Cyberpunk tells the story of V, a small-time urban mercenary whose story, for the most part, is not yet written. Lastly, in one final, ultimate shift, Cyberpunk 2077 is a story told nigh completely in the first person, in a completely seamless world. 

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"V", the protagonist of Cyberpunk 2077, is a fully customizable player avatar. Early on in our demo presentation, we got a brief look at the character creator, which allowed for adjustments to the character's gender, stats, haircut, body type, and other visible customizations such as tattoos, make-up, and piercings. You'll also get to select, to some degree, aspects of V's upbringing and history, known as their Life Path, though we didn't get to see much of this in the demo presentation.

From the outset, it's very clear that CD Projekt has injected their RPG chops into every facet of Cyberpunk. In the character creator, you are able to set a stat spread from the pool of Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, Reflexes, Technology, and Cool - a sort of charisma/perception analog. Not only do V's stat help determine proficiency in undertaking certain tasks, but the game's world and NPCs will also perceive the player-character differently based on their upbringing, and even their gender.

The one thing you don't select during character creation is any sort of specifically designated class of any sort. Cyberpunk uses a fluid class system that grows out of your choices and abilities that you develop throughout your gameplay experience. We didn't really get to see the extent that this is implemented in the game, but we did see some cases where skills determined which quest paths were made available or inaccessible. 

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The first person perspective of Cyberpunk was, admittedly, a weird thing to see at first. However, after about 15 minutes of gameplay footage, it became extremely clear exactly what CD Projekt is going for. Cyberpunk is told nearly entirely from the player's point of view with no cutscenes, interruptions, or cutaways of any sort. During our 50 minute demo, there was one cutscene shown in the third person for a brief moment when V and his/her colleague Jackie entered an elevator, and once when waking up in his/her apartment, but shops, quest progression, exposition, and everything else were all from V's perspective. Even vehicle use is also in first person by default, though you can swap to a third person perspective when behind the wheel.

Checking your email to get updates on story beats involves facing a terminal inside your Night City apartment, and interacting with an ad on the street can point you to the shop selling the product via your heads up UI. Getting an augment involves seating yourself at V's 'ripperdoc' and browsing the possible augments from a monitor placed in front of you. Nearly everything unfolds from the V's perspective, a design choice to fully immerse players in the game world.

One thing that blew away the entire demo room was the extent of life the city had as soon as V exited from her apartment. Giant crowds bustle through the city streets, not dissimilar to the crowds entering the Los Angeles Convention this week during E3. Street merchants dot the corners, and thugs peek into windows of parked cars looking for lootable valuables. CD Projekt's goal was to create the most believable city in a video game to date, and based on what we saw, it's safe to say they may have already succeeded. The city is subdivided into six districts with no loading screens of any sort, and is seemingly massive. 

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Of our 50 minutes of preview footage, roughly half took place in combat scenarios, giving us ample time to look at various weapons, skills, and combinations of abilities. Weapons varied from automatic pistols, to melee arm blades, to shotguns with the ability to charge blasts to fire through cover, and an automatic rifle with bullets that can track enemy movement.

In some combat situations, V will be flanked with assisting NPCs such as Jackie, a combat focused 'Solo' (soldier-type) character, one that specializes in solving problems through quick, brutal means. There's also T-Bug, a hacker specialist who can force open or closed windows and doorways. These aren't strictly companions in the same sense as other RPG series, but more just a reflection that not every encounter in the game is taken on in a solo manner, but rather with characters involved as both the story and your player choice dictates.

During the gameplay situations shown, it's immediately clear that while the gameplay may resemble an FPS in a cursory glance, the combat options available are still very much "RPG" at their core. The tracking-bullet rifle combines with a learned skill to ricochet shots off of the wall to create a character with numerous engagement options. Or, a character that's purchased a visual augment in order to perceive enemy comm links can pair that ability with a wall running talent and melee blade equipment that can anchor into the wall, combining into a build that can disable enemy units from impromptu perches -- if they've hacked into the enemy network successfully. Combine this with quest specific triggers and narrative forks and the mind boggles at how many ways a certain chapter could potentially play out.

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On a narrative front, Cyberpunk 2077 is not bashful to give a narrow berth in terms of the tools used to share the story it's telling. Characters, including V, will speak with heavy expletives and crass language, and the first quest shown involves finding a person of interest among a handful of naked bodies, some of them corpses, and combat is bloody, fast, and brutal. There are also opportunities to have romantic and sexual encounters with many of the games NPCs -- some of them growing into full fledged relationships, though some remain nothing more than one-night stands. The options available in this respect are also partially determined by your gender and upbringing, in addition to choices made in the game.

Quest design is also fluid and largely open-ended. In the demo shown, V had the two broad tasks of either visiting with Dex, a powerful city fixer with many connections, or instead have V meet up with her ripperdoc in order to update her specs. The demo went to visit Dex to learn of how that questline continued on, but then visited the ripperdoc before seeing the first narrative thread through completely. Despite this, the NPC surgeon still referenced the partial progress made with respect to getting in tight with the city's top fixer through some introductory banter. Quests are described to dynamically interact to respond to not only the choices made within each, but the order these objectives are undertaken, and choices made will be reflected in dialogue options, gear availability, and even who you can eventually ally with.

An interesting mechanic related to quest completion is Street Cred. Completing quests in the open world will increase your Street Cred, which is independent of your character level, and gives you access to more shops and opens up quests through connections with more of the city's top self-assigned brass. So players are tasked to improve both their raw level and their Street Cred in order to fully build their character, with both components contributing to the tools available for any given situtation.

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CD Projekts newest undertaking is bold and unreserved. Despite not being anything more than a years-old teaser video up until a few days ago, Cyberpunk 2077 is already convincingly charasmatic, and we can't wait to see more.