Cyberpunk 2077 hands-on: 8 points for RPG fans

There’s a lot of questions to be answered about Cyberpunk 2077. The biggest question is, of course, if it’s any good. Coming off the back of The Witcher 3, one of the most highly regarded RPGs of all time, CD Projekt RED has a lot to live up to.

The release is fast approaching, and even in the wake of another delay Night City feels so close that we can practically taste it. We’ve now been hands on, playing the game from character creation through four hours of story, side content and open-world exploration.

Rather than a traditional preview, we thought we’d have an internal conversation on the RPG Site team, coming up with questions we figured RPG fans might want answered from that hands-on. So, here’s our hands-on impressions with the biggest RPG of 2020, Cyberpunk 2077. 


How open does Night City feel when not currently progressing the story? How does it feel to just wander around without a specific quest/objective in mind?

So, what I played is a fully-fledged sort of open world. Obviously The Witcher 3 was also an open world, but it feels like CD Projekt took a look at a lot of other city-based open worlds for this. As such it totally feels a little bit like GTA and games like that.

You can get out and walk around in first person as much as you like. Driving is in third or first person, your choice. There’s ten radio stations in the car, which is cool.

Walking around, the city really shines design-wise. The area I started in was sort of a more slum-like area, all dirty and grimy, and I didn’t really get to see the posher, more corporate bits of town, or the outskirts of town which are more desert-like. But there’s good variety, and there’s a lot of character in the city through billboards and things you overhear and stuff like that. 

Interestingly, CD Projekt say they created four different art styles based on four different time periods, so basically the idea is as you walk around the city you’ll see these styles represented depending on how old a building or district is. 

There’s also clearly a lot to do - like icons will pop on your mini map of points of interest nearby, things like that. So while there’s the big side quests, there are also less specific, smaller stuff.

Are there “random battles?” IE, is it possible to fight anything hostile outside of quest or story-defined encounters?

So, for me, random battles brings up an image of, like, guys accosting you on the street, or being chased by the cops. I didn’t have that happen to me, though a UI pop-up did mention about being wanted by the police, so I assume it can. It probably can with rival gangs, too.

But like I said, in terms of the map, there’s little icons all over. These will be things like… you can get text messages on your phone from friends telling you that there’s something going on at the corner of X and Y or whatever, and you can go check it out. Or you can just see when you drive by and decide if you want to get involved or not.

Admittedly, when you mention points of interest and map icons, my eyes start to glaze over, does Cyberpunk do anything unique with these sorts of task-like objectives to prevent them from getting stale? 

Those points of interest might be something like… I heard a woman screaming walking down the street, and I investigated where it was coming from and it was a mini gang stronghold. Design-wise, this had everything you need for a little self-enclosed challenge… so cover if you want to go in guns-blazing, back routes if you want to go all Deus Ex and stealth it. 

Another time, I discovered a bunch of cops in a shoot out with a really powerful augmented woman who had lost it and was going on a rampage - so if I wanted to, I could pull over the car, hop out and tackle that mini-boss - that’s completely uncoupled from story quests and fully-fledged side quests. If you do it, she’d obviously drop some good gear, plus there’d be XP gains.

To be honest, these tasks felt pretty run of the mill, the sort of random events that I assume spawn in the environment at random, the same sort of stuff GTA has done. Beyond this, there are obviously the proper side quests, and you pick these up through NPCs, over the phone, via text message, stuff like that, and it’s clear to me these will be the same sort of huge side quests CD Projekt did in The Witcher 3.

Oh - and there’s the clock. I had an occasion where I couldn’t advance the story until a certain time, when a bar opened. I assume there’s a wait mechanic, but I didn’t bother - that was all the encouragement I needed to go exploring. Hopefully it does that a good amount.


It’s been a while since we’ve seen the character creator, did you get access to it to see both the cosmetic/appearance options?

Yeah, they put us straight into the game at the main screen. I sort of rushed through character creation, but it seems really in-depth. Rather than sliders, each option - be that jawline, or eyes, or nose, or teeth - they’ve all got a range of options. I was quite surprised that the game doesn’t hold back and hits you with the full-frontal nudity right there in the character creator!

Because I had a limited amount of time, I sort of pushed through the character creator quickly. The life origin story thing - it’s like Dragon Age: Origins, honestly. There are three different ones - Street Kid, Corpo and Nomad. I picked Street Kid, and that started with me in a bar having been in a fight, then led to an introductory mission to steal a car. It’s a different initial introduction to the story and world that ultimately leads to the same place - but elements of your initial background will follow you around all game.

We know covering RPGs with multiple branches is always tricky, with limited time to see all the permutations. Did you get a chance to look at any of the other life path options?

I didn’t do it myself, but I have seen footage of the Nomad one, and that seems to start with you actively outside Night City, making your way into the city, so that’s gotta be a very different feeling opening as you’re out in the desert. And the Corpo one, it’s obviously going to start with you on a job for a Corp, I guess.

It seems like either way, you’ll meet Jackie, the friend we’ve all seen in the E3 previews and stuff, and from there the stories converge to one main thing. But as you play on your origin will impact conversation options and things like that - so for instance as a Street Kid my character had advanced knowledge of street drugs that was useful during a quest. 

Each origin also seems to introduce unique, important characters who I assume will come back later in the story exclusively for that origin… like the Street Kid gets arrested by a cop they clearly already have history with. 

Obviously Cyberpunk 2077 is based off of the Cyberpunk tabletop game, so I assume a large part of the creation mimics what one would draft as a character sheet?

As far as stats go, it’s pretty simple, but I think as an RPG Site it’s pretty important we talk about this one in more detail. What I want to say off the bat is that this is a fully-featured RPG. RPG fans won’t be disappointed.

So, it’s classic RPG stats but with a Cyberpunk twist in naming and stuff. So the stats are Body, Reflexes, Technical Ability, Intelligence and Cool. Body impacts things like health and heavy weapons, while Reflexes will be speed and rifles and stuff, for example.

As well as pumping points into these as you level up, each stat has its own set of related perks that can be unlocked. It seems like the more points you’ve put into a category, the more access you have to purchase perks in that category. Perks in Body might give you extra health, for instance, while perks in Reflexes might make you move quicker or make handling of Rifles more smooth. Intelligence perks seemed to be centered around hacking and stuff like that, while Cool actually had some stealth perks - presumably because keeping cool under pressure allows you to stay hidden better when you almost get spotted.

That’s how it works, but obviously there’s progression beyond points and stats.


How are those other forms of progression, then? It seems like there’s quite a few systems at play once you get into the menus and get into the minutiae of your build? 

One thing I find really interesting is how these progression systems seem to mesh. So level will obviously determine what you can realistically tackle. At level 4 I was encountering some optional side content that I tried to engage on but had to back off from because level 7 enemies were kicking my ass. So there’s level, obviously, but there’s a bit more besides that.

There’s Street Cred - which you get for completing quests and things. It’s basically how well known you are. The more of a bad-ass everyone knows you are, the more stuff opens up for purchase in shops. I think that’s a pretty elegant way around an open world where, in theory, you could walk to a late-game shop early on.

There’s also individual skill leveling up, a bit like in Skyrim… so if you use guns a lot, you’ll earn ‘Gunslinger’ Skill XP, with that making you better with firearms the more you use them.  

Then obviously there’s weapons and gear, be that ‘cyberware’ - body augmentations - or clothes, or whatever else. All of this has clear-as-day RPG stats, DPS, all that. Some things you can equip mods to as well. 

Over the course of the four-hour hands on, I was constantly picking up loot from enemies, a string of new weapons, mods, consumable food with various benefits, clothes, all those things. There’s inventory management and encumbrance and mechanics like that. Encumbrance obviously can be countered with certain Body stat perks - becoming stronger to carry more and so on. But loot and inventory management is totally a part of this, for the record. I saw prompts around disassembling items and crafting and such, too, but didn’t get deep enough into the game to see those systems.

All of this stuff meshes together to create a really great sense of ownership over V, the protagonist - more so than with Geralt, who is a more defined character with a more specific skill-set. It’s as open-ended as an Elder Scrolls game, or indeed almost as open as the tabletop game. 

The development team are calling the result of this a fluid class system - so you don’t pick a class, but the various choices you make will sort of naturally create a class for you.


How does melee combat feel? Sometimes (Skyrim…) it can end up feeling a bit floaty in first person.

Melee feels pretty similar to Skyrim on paper, at least - it’s the left trigger to protect yourself - hold to block, tap with the right timing to parry and open up the enemy for a counter-attack. The right trigger then is attacks - press for a light attack, hold and release for heavy hit. 

More interesting for a game like this, since you’d think guns would be the focus, is that it does seem like there’ll be different sorts of melee weapons with different stances. Using a blunt melee weapon has a different feel to using your fists, for instance - a katana more so. But I do think the melee system seems relatively simplistic, so I think mileage will vary depending on your taste.

How much of the game’s shooting mechanics feel like an RPG and how much of it is player skill? Do you need certain skills/numbers in various stats for shooting to feel good to play?

It feels like a bit of a mix. I’m really happy to say the shooting feels really good - it doesn’t feel like a role-playing game team created a shooting system and struggled to make it work. There’s none of that original Mass Effect or Alpha Protocol jankiness here. 

If you’re less comfortable with shooters, it seems like there’ll be options. You can play the game in different ways for a start - focus on non-violence, or stealth, or whatever. On top of that, there are perks, like I mentioned earlier, that can help out with skills like snap-to-enemy when you aim down the sights, quicker aiming, stuff like that.

But importantly, it felt to me like a real shooter. Shots have a meaty sort of impact, headshots result in crits that can down enemies quickly, stuff like that. The balance feels pretty great, and that really excites me, as I think combat was probably the worst part of The Witcher 3.