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Cyberpunk 2077 New Gameplay Demo Impressions from E3 2019

It's hard to believe it's already been a year since Cyberpunk 2077 was first shown off at E3 2018, and we will have all played it by this time next year. This E3, we had a chance to see another near-hour of gameplay footage behind closed doors. Just as during E3 2018, we got to watch a developer-led gameplay demo of one of the game's quests, this time in the Pacifica neighborhood of Night City. Pacifica is an abandoned resort of sorts, where half-finished beachside hotels are instead occupied by the leather-bound Voodoo Boys and the hulked out Animal gang, two factions that find themselves at each other's throats and protagonist V finds themselves wedged between.

At the outset of the demo, we got a brief look at the character screen for V, and got some glimpses of both the stat selection options as well as customization features. The first demoed character was a male V who had high Body and Technical stats but relatively low Cool and Intelligence. We would later see how these stat options would also affect specific skills such as hacking and athletics. We also saw a selection of hairstyles and facial feature adjustment possibilities before the demo settled on the default Male V appearance.

None of the customization options here were anything we hadn't seen before, but it still seemed to be a full feature set despite the majority of the game taking place from a first-person perspective. Later in the demo, we would see purchased equipment from vendors also affect V's actual appearance, with options to wear different t-shirts and jackets with different stat sets. We did get to see this reflected when riding around Night City on a motorcycle in third-person, but otherwise the demo geared around supporting the actual character build over any cosmetic reason.

The demo opened up with the player face to face with Keanu Reeves, er, Johnny Silverhand, a 'digital ghost' that resides in V's cyber-brain. We're then tasked to meet with Brigitte, the leader of a faction of a hacker group called the Voodoo Boys in order to meet up with the enigmatic Alt Cunningham. After meeting with a Voodoo contact in a nearby chapel, V ends up at the leash of a Netrunner named Placide, who promises to lead V to Brigitte if in return for a few dangerous favors. It's a little bit of a daisy-chain of Night City VIPs, but it sells the idea that V starts their story as a small fish in a big pond. 

Before getting into any combat, it's clear that branching and stat-driven dialogue options are going to be hugely important in Cyberpunk 2077. Even with the first contact point in the chapel, we saw a greyed out option for the "Streetkid" upbringing, one of three possible upbringings for V alongside "Nomad" and "Corporate". In addition to some dialogue being locked behind this upbringing choice, we also saw timed dialogue windows for reactionary statements, similar to what was present in The Witcher 3, as well as a couple of incidental dialogue options that the demo player opted to ignore -- it wasn't clear if these were also time-based or perhaps proximity based.

All in all, CD Projekt was definitely trying to illustrate the important synergies between character builds and dialogue-based gameplay, and it's hard not to walk away impressed. We were often reminded that Cyberpunk is a narrative-driven RPG at its core, and so far the stat and decision-driven outcomes demoed to us wholly support that claim -- there's no Fallout 4-esqe streamlining apparent so far.

Once V interfaces with Placide so that he can monitor the mission, we find ourselves entering a rundown mall known as the GIM. On the way, we got a brief demo of motorcycle riding around Night City -- just as we saw last year, this is one of the few places in the game where the perspective can be shifted from first to third-person. Our demoer made it very clear that the whole city can be explored in this way with no loading screens between neighborhoods, dynamic day and night cycles, the works. Some fast travel use was also demoed, but it wasn't 100 percent clear how and if fast travel options would be present in the final game.

After meeting with a couple of Voodoo goons outside, V finds himself face to face with the Animals, who served as an opposing faction to the Voodoo boys and the demo's primary enemy force. From this point on, the demo would periodically swap between two gameplay styles -- a combat focused 'Solo' character and a Netrunner who would focus more on stealth and hacking. Interestingly, even when facing an objective that's not suited for the current character build, the level of ability needed is always made very clear. For instance, a jammed doorway clearly showed a needed Athletics skill of 8 in order to breach, but the player Netrunner in the demo had the option grayed out because they did not meet the requirement.

During the demoed section of infiltrating the GIM and clearing out the Animals holed up inside, the most remarkable impression that we walked away with was the variety of enemy animations presented. In one instance, our Netrunner hacked an enemy's cybernetic arm in order to prime their grenade prematurely, and then watched as he fruitlessly struggled with his own limb trying to keep his fist shut. In another, an Animal lost control of the pistol in his right arm and watched in horror as he ended up firing on himself. An enemy laying down at a bench press flailed wildly as the weights were hacked to drop the bar on his neck all at once. Other enemies phase shifted towards the player in a sort of blink movement manner.

The hammer-wielding boss of the area, Sasquatch, also provided a lot of spectacle. Juiced up with her giant mallet, she smashed through giant monitors when chasing after the player, and only left the smallest of gaps in order to hit the implant on her back that augmented her strength. Part of this demo seemed a bit scripted, such as the demoer placing themselves behind a raised monitor just for the boss to cinematically smash through, but it sold the environmental aspect of combat rather effectively.

In general, combat seems fast, dynamic, and also highly variable. Certain enemies lunged at V with the after-image like movement from before, while turrets blasted with gunfire from afar. Depending on the character type played, the options presented were thoroughly explored. The Solo character was able to rip of a turret from its mount and use it as a heavy weapon herself, while the Netrunner demo character instead hacked it in order to have it provide cover fire since he himself wasn't as well-suited for guns-blazing combat.

It's hard to tell from the demo exactly how much of the combat flow is driven through related feats and skill levels. Every character in the demo, including NPCs like Placide, had a floating integer next to their nameplates indicated their level. As weapons are fired, floating damage numbers would tick next to the target as healthbars depleted from right to left. My best estimate is that damage inflicted via a certain weapon type and item level is the key factor at play, with similar stats determining things like the chance to inflict a critical hit. 

One footnote about the demo is that the Voodoo Boys that have contracted V for this assignment in question are clearly influenced by a Haitian Creole culture which is evident in every interaction with them. Pretty much every important Voodoo Boys member from Placide to Brigitte speaks in a heavy Haitian accent, and the faction is even first introduced with the backdrop of a Catholic sermon. The Voodoo Boys are a gang adapted from Mike Pondsmith's Cyberpunk 2020, and by all accounts seems like a faithful interpretation of the original. Personally, the Voodoo Boys came across as capable, cautious, and proactive group within Night City, even if their motives are presented as questionable -- near the end of our demo, Placide tries to assassinate V but fails, though the pair somehow end up on somewhat agreeable terms.

Every accented manner of speech was laid explicity bare in the game's subtitles, from "the" being replaced with "da", them and they with "dem" and "dey". Oddly, this seemed to even be the case when translating to English through V's Cybernetic auto-translator. I thought that the accents were clear enough from the voice performances themselves and that reflecting it in the subtitltes themselves felt maybe a little bit overdone, but potentially necessary for players that are hearing impaired to have the most compatible experience with the game. 

CD Projekt has stated that this year's footage will eventually be made available publically, hopefully by around Gamescom. This is similar to how things rolled out last year as footage from E3 2018 was finally shared widely in August. While having Keanu Reeves promote Cyberpunk 2077 on Microsoft's stage was a surreal experience and a highlight of the show, being able to see the RPG-backed mindset behind the game's quest and combat design along with a raw gameplay demonstration was genuinely equally exciting. It's hard to know exactly how to fairly judge a one-hour snippet of a massive undertaking like this, but so far everything I've seen leaves me eagerly anticipating more.

Cyberpunk 2077 E3 2019 Screenshots and Artwork

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