Some games are ambitious, with mechanics and systems we haven’t seen before. Some games are massive, offering expansive and dense worlds ripe for exploration. Some games are complex, delving into mature themes involving violence, authority, and sexuality. And then there’s Cyberpunk 2077, which aims to be all of those things. It is one of the most overwhelming and intricate open-world games we’ve played; after multiple Game Informer editors spent hours charting their own course through the urban sprawl of Night City, everyone had different experiences to share. But it was easy to agree on one thing: This game is enormous in every sense of the word.
Inspired by and rooted in the world of a long-established tabletop role-playing game, Cyberpunk 2077 catapults players into a lurid future. People dramatically modify and augment their bodies as a matter of course, and enter virtual mindscapes to chase fleeting thrills. Megacorps hold vast power, scheming and killing with impunity. And in the underbelly of this bleak dystopia, outlaw edgerunners chart their own paths beyond the reach of the grasping corporations, leveraging underground connections, insane tech implants, and earned street cred to shape their own destinies. You are V – one of these enigmatic cyberpunks – and you’ve got a lot of options in front of you.
Growing Beyond The Witcher
CD Projekt Red loves to take risks and improve with every new project. Since the days of the studio’s humble beginnings, the goal has always been to create “big RPGs,” and a core part of that philosophy is going the extra mile. In a world where gamers have so many options, CD Projekt recognizes that people need a compelling reason to buy. The company made it a mission to have open conversations with its fans, and earned respect for its generous approach to post-release content.
Over the years, CD Projekt Red has become a studio known for masterful storytelling, specifically with The Witcher series. Geralt’s adventures present difficult dilemmas with no easy answers, and the unpredictable consequences of his actions have opened new frontiers of player choice. Nowhere is this more evident than 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which raised the bar in terms of scope, narrative, and meaningful decisions. But after spending about 15 years wrapped up in The Witcher, CD Projekt is ready to chart new territory with a new property, leveraging its strengths and challenging its developers in new ways.
City of Dreams // The World of Cyberpunk 2077
Between countless RPG sourcebooks crafted over decades and an intense investment in worldbuilding from CD Projekt Red, the universe of 2077 is incredibly rich. In play sessions, Night City feels alive and dangerous, but also layered with history and competing interests. “Night City is the city of dreams, because it promises a lot to people who live there,” says quest director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz. “They all believe they can be at the top, while actually, in truth, most people either end up victims of gang violence or as cogs in the corporate machine.”
In the alternate history of the Cyberpunk fiction, the world was rocked by a series of conflicts in the early 21st century, which saw the collapse of the United States. A subsequent corporate war wiped out whole cities, and the use of viral programs killed the Old Net that had once connected the world. Night City was left devastated by the detonation of a tactical nuke, and recovery took decades.
By 2070, after the conclusion of a secessionist war by several states attempting to withdraw from the recently reformulated New United States, Night City emerged as a free and independent city, separate from external law. The cost for this freedom was steep. Corporate interests prevailed, particularly as the megacorp Arasaka established its North American headquarters within city limits.
As the game opens in 2077, Night City is under siege from within, with gangs, corporations, and other factions all vying for a spot at the table. The surrounding world is hardly doing much better. “2077 is pretty dark,” Tomaszkiewicz says. “It’s a devastated world. The animals are mostly extinct. Birds are gone. The world has been devastated by climate crisis, natural disasters, and political strife. But as you can see when you play the game, people are carrying on.”
In this bleak time, cyberware implants are commonplace, letting people augment their bodies and minds with an endless variety of mods. Some users go overboard and take on so much invasive tech that they succumb to cyberpsychosis, sending them into berserk rampages. Braindance is the defining entertainment of the time, letting users experience the emotions and memories of others; influencers gain followers who literally live vicariously through them. And Night City is awash in hundreds of products and services, many of which are featured in fully realized marketing and ad campaigns that pop up everywhere you go.
As a player, the scope of fictional immersion is hard to overstate. Consider your favorite modern military game and its emulation of real-world guns, or the clever nods to real events in your favorite historical epic, but imagine that same level of depth and detail applied to wholly fictional elements. Cyberpunk 2077 features its own competing brands of cars and fashion lines. An entire street language vernacular is spoken by those you meet. As one of the titular cyberpunks, you are the unaffiliated agent of change in a bespoke world, crafted to appeal to your curiosity and respond to your actions.
Cyberpunk 2077 is so much more than a new setting; it’s about giving players the flexibility and freedom to play the game their way. We each spent four hours hands-on with an early build, and it is shaping up to offer a new level for customization in games, allowing you to influence multiple facets of the gameplay and narrative. “It comes from the desire for us to make sure that it feels different from the Witcher series,” says level designer Max Pears. “You played the role of Geralt; you had the journal, fought the monsters, had the two types of swords – silver and steel. Here it’s more about giving the player freedom. The most exciting part is not only are there so many different ways to play – it’s ways to upgrade yourself, to tell your story with who you are fashion-wise. It’s the weapons you’re going to use, and deciding if you’re going to spend your time crafting special ones or finding mods. I think it’s just about making sure that we represent that freedom, making players well aware that this is different from the Witcher franchise, that it is exciting to be your cyberpunk in this world.”
Pressing Start On Cyberpunk 2077
Our demo allows us to play from the very beginning of the game, giving us the ability to fully define our own experience, from customizing V’s personality to the skillset we want to use. Similar to Dragon Age: Origins, Cyberpunk 2077 has different prologues that explain V’s roots. You choose from three distinct life paths [see sidebar], and you start at different places and meet unique people depending on your origin story. The three of us each played a different path to see how stark these differences are and what they mean for V as a character. After getting a glimpse of how V gets into the mercenary business and befriends their biggest ally, we took on an in-depth story mission that has V teaming up with a legendary fixer that could put them on the map. We saw bits of this mission in previous E3 demos, but there was much more to it in terms of character interactions, gameplay sections, and choices of which characters to align with and the repercussions. CD Projekt Red allowed us to explore the open world and take on side activities with total freedom. Even with hours to explore, everyone who played had the sense that we were only scratching the surface of the game’s breadth.
One Character, Three Backgrounds
Role-playing games must always confront the challenge of providing freedom to shape characters, but also find a way to anchor those protagonists in the narrative of the world. Cyberpunk 2077 solves this dilemma with the concept of the lifepath.
As the game begins, players choose one of three backgrounds for V. Each of these lifepaths features an extended game opening that sets a distinct tone. “Each version of V knows this world from a different perspective,” says quest director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz. “Later on, you will get additional dialogue options where you can use information from your backstory. Sometimes it will unlock additional quests, and in some cases, it will unlock additional paths through a quest which you wouldn’t otherwise see.”
Curious about which lifepath to try when you play? Watch for the three “Lifepath” sidebars throughout this article. Each offers a narrated account reflecting our personal playthroughs of the early minutes of the game, and three very different ways to meet one of 2077’s most intriguing characters.
The customization starts before you step foot in Night City with the character creator, which offers extensive options for hair styles, skin tones, scars, facial hair, and makeup. You embody and define V, and here’s where you choose a lifepath to give the character. What’s impressive about the character creator and its myriad options is these choices speak to the fluidity of this world and the nature of a person’s body in the future. People are not defined by the bodies they’re born into; they can easily alter their appearance and add cybernetics, and the character creator showcases this well by not limiting the type of character you create or forcing you to adhere to traditional gender identities.
This is also the place where you pick where to invest your first attribute points. The five areas you can invest in are body (raw physical power, increasing health and stamina), intelligence (memory and intellect, improves hacking abilities), reflexes (coordination and speed, enhancing critical chance and evasion), technical (tech aptitude, providing armor bonuses and additional chance of harvesting craftable loot), and cool (self-control and willpower, improves stealth and speed at which NPCs notice you).
As a staff, we went for different playstyles. For hacking, we invested heavily in intelligence and cool, but could still brute force our way through situations with our fists and guns thanks to points spent on body and reflexes. You are never locked into one playstyle, leaving you free to experiment. “The system is built in the way that you can pick and choose,” explains quest director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz. “You don’t have to specialize in one skill. You can be a hacker and you can also use the katana, or you can use heavy guns but also be a techie.”
In one play session, we had planned to focus on hacking. While we did a fair share of hacking TVs and pushing boxes over to distract guards, we came across a new toy that changed everything: the shotgun. This powerful weapon forces you to get close to enemies, but can annihilate them with one shot. It makes quick work of the baddies, and you feel powerful as hell doing it. We quickly turned our character concept into an intelligent hacker with a penchant for popping off their shotgun if things got too frustrating.
Lifepath // The Nomad
My name is V, and I’ve been on my own for a long time. Most nomads travel the Badlands in clans – harder to become a target if you’re part of the herd, if you know what I mean. That’s not for me. I’ve stayed off the grid for a while now, and it’s hard to make ends meet out here. Maybe, with the benefit of hindsight, taking the job will turn out to have been a mistake. But I was hardly going to survive out here much longer. At least in Night City, I can blaze hot for a time before I go dark.
Just my luck, the car breaks down on the way to the pick-up. The local mechanic in this dusty border podunk hardly knows what he’s looking at under the hood, so I step in and hotwire a bypass that should get the thing running – at least for a while. Of course, the local sheriff has to show up for a pissing contest – show off what a big fish he is in his dirty little pond. Real gonk. He wants me out of town, but I need their radio tower to connect with my contact. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.
I’ve got to climb the tower to get a signal, but it’s worth the risk. On the comm, Willie does me one last favor and lets me know where my guy has gone after I didn’t make the meet-up. I’m worried that the sheriff is going to lose it when he sees me driving back through town, but he must be off hassling somebody else.
I find Jackie Welles in a beat-up trailer in the outskirts. Not exactly a great first impression. More than a little green. Everybody’s got to start somewhere, though, even with smuggling. And he’s got the goods – looks like something in cryo-freeze.
We chose this spot for a reason – it’s only minutes from the crossing. Once we’re there, corporate mooks do their thing, guns drawn, shouting like they’re badasses. I’ve seen it before. Jackie tries to pull a fast one and hold on to the bribe, but that’s not going to fly. I tell him to hold tight when they call me in for the expected “questioning.”
You know the drill. Little room. Uptight agent. Money changes hands. But something’s off. This guy is playing a longer game; I can see it in his eyes. I’ve got that tingle on the back of my neck the whole long walk back to the car. We need to get out of here.
Sure enough, as soon as we’re past the crossing, the Arasaka goons pull their vans into view. The guard ratted us out for an extra payday. Now’s not the time to cry about it. Jackie’s at the wheel, so I lean out the window and start shooting.
It’s a close one. This old bucket we’re riding in isn’t exactly armored up. But I don’t think the corporats were expecting this much trouble, much less a high-speed chase, and I’m a fair shot with this pistol. After weaving through some abandoned buildings, and a few unmarked vehicle explosions later, we pull into an old garage and slam the door shut. We’ve lost them.
Jackie did alright. He might not be as bad as I thought. Yeah, he tried to scam me. But at least he’s honest about it. As for the job? I don’t normally care about what’s in the package, but I’ve got to know this time. I pull the lid, and see what the fuss is about. An iguana, still breathing and hissing. I suppose it makes as much sense as anything. Not too many of these things left – should pull a fair price in Night City. But I’ll need help. I’m not sure this lone-wolf thing is going to fly anymore. There are worse options than teaming up with a guy like Jackie…
Beyond just getting V’s look and skills right, a huge part of the experience is about role-playing the character through dialogue options. You can make V more cautious or silent in shaky situations, trash talk with reckless abandon, or decide to let your weapons speak for you. Having the lifepath options certainly help you fit a mold. For instance, if you play the corporate path, expect V to act untouchable and to see their privilege show. If you pick the street kid, life has hardened you a bit; you’re street smart, and can hold your own in any situation. We were impressed by how realistic and varied the dialogue options felt, allowing us to inhabit our V rather than just going through the motions.
Diving Deep Into Progression
CD Projekt Red has discussed skill trees and customization in the past, but we were not prepared for the full breadth of options available. Every time we leveled up, exciting new perks beckoned, and finding new gear and weapons of various rarities made us want to search every corner of the world. One of the strongest aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 is how every system has multiple layers. It can be overwhelming at first, but once you get a handle on the way those systems interact, tinkering with them is exhilarating and rewarding.
As you level up, you unlock attribute points and perks. You invest points in improving the main attributes, but each one also has its own branching perk tree for unlocking new skills. For instance, in the intelligence attribute path, there are two hacking paths: device or target. You can mix and match skills from both. Device skills improve your prowess with hacking things like security systems and turrets, while target skills disrupt enemy cyberware, like calling an enemy to another to get them both in range for a grenade detonation. Prefer the subtle approach? A high cool attribute provides options for stealth, like adding aerial takedowns, or a Cold Blood tree that buffs movement, damage, and other effects when your health drops.
How far you go down any given path is determined by the corresponding attribute level, and the more you do something like hack or use a specific gun, the more your proficiency grows. “Basically if you want to level up a skill and a specific weapon … you basically level it up as you use that specific tool,” Tomaszkiewicz explains. “However, the maximum amount to which you can level up that skill is limited by a specific stat. For example, your hacking ability cannot exceed your intelligence stat. So if your intelligence is four, you cannot level up hacking higher than four.”
Lifepath // The Corpo
My name is V, and I live at the top of the world. People dream about the sort of wealth I have, working for Arasaka counter-intel. Of course, everything has a price. So what if I’m so stressed I just threw up in the sink of the executive bathroom?
I take a breath, but can’t escape reality as long as my eyes are open; a stock ticker continually scrolls past in my lower-right field of vision, a not-so-gentle reminder of the only thing I’m supposed to care about. A call comes in from my old friend, Jackie Welles. He’s not exactly running in the same crowds as I do, but I trust the guy – which I can’t say about many. I push him off. I’ve got to get to Jenkins’ office. I’m already late.
Jenkins – my boss. What a piece of work. Being middle management at Arasaka still means he’s got more power than he can handle. He’s taking risks lately, and I feel like I’m just along for the ride. He may have gotten me where I am, but it’s not worth it if he gets me killed in the process.
Like everything in this building, Jenkins’ office is dark, cold, and bigger than it needs to be. He’s watching the vote in the European Space Council. I’ve seen this look on him before. He’s about to make a play.
I don’t know why I’m surprised when half the people on the screen start screaming, clutching at their heads as their implants burn their brains out from the inside. We would have lost the license, but this buys us a week. Subtlety is not exactly Jenkins’ M.O.
The call comes in from Abernathy almost instantly. Jenkins went rogue on this one, so it stands to reason that his boss would be pissed. The cover-up is going to cost a fortune.
After getting reamed out, Jenkins plays it cool. He’s been slyly working against Abernathy for a long time now, but now he’s putting the gears in motion. He hands me a shard. I insert the data device into the personal port in my head.
He’s got everything. Abernathy’s accounts. Her trauma team info. Her lover. Her lover’s husband. It’s all there. And he tells me what I knew was coming. I’m supposed to take her out. He hands over a stack of eddies, hefty enough to hire the muscle – physical cash, so it can’t be traced. I put the question to him, but I already know the answer. What if I refuse? It’s not a request.
I take Jenkins’ personal A.V. down into the city. Flying over all those neon-lit buildings and little people scurrying around, I think about how we’re all in the same bowl trying to stay above water however we can. I down a glass of champagne in one swig, and listen to the news drone a bull story about the space council deaths.
Jackie meets me at Lizzie’s bar. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to need his help. But he sees the same thing I do. This one’s a loser, and he knows it. And, sure enough, that’s when the Arasaka heavies show up. There’s too many to fight. They know about the hit. Abernathy probably had eyes on Jenkins from the start. I’m dead.
With one wordless command from the head thug, it’s all gone. They seize my swanky pad. I watch in my HUD as my accounts get zeroed out. No more stock ticker – all my mods go dark. I can barely think straight, as my brain goes into withdrawal from all the hormone stabilizers blinking off.
Before they haul me away, Jackie steps in. They’re on his turf, and they know it. If guns come out, not everyone is going home. But he’s sticking his neck out, and I don’t know how I’ll ever repay the guy. Abernathy’s guy figures I’m a goner anyway, without anything to my name. They take off. But they’ve forgotten about the hard eddies reserved for the hit. It’s not much, but maybe it’s enough. It was time for something new, anyway…
Beyond core statistics, it wouldn’t truly be a cyberpunk game if you couldn’t install cyberware to improve your body. Here’s where you get your superhuman passive, active, and triggered abilities. All you need to do is visit a Ripperdoc, who can do everything from installing a Mantis Blade in your arm to putting the Kerenzikov reflex device in the nervous system to provide slow motion after dodging an attack. All cyberware has different tiers: legendary, epic, rare, common, and uncommon. The higher the tier, the more slots it requires to install.
And this doesn’t even touch on the fact that all your armor and weapons can also have upgrades installed. For instance, you can put a silencer on your gun to keep your blast from alerting others as you sneak into areas. These can also improve stats, like providing additional armor or increasing your chance for a critical. Even when you go to pick a gun (you can have three equipped at once), you have a plethora of options. In addition to basic pistols and rifles, you also have smart guns, which have self-guided missiles (no aiming required!). You can also equip powerful tech weapons that launch projectiles at lightning-fast speeds and pierce armor. From what we played, the gunplay felt comparable to shooting in other first-person RPGs, though the early weapons from the beginning of the game don’t offer a complete picture. Even so, landing headshots felt great, especially as you could see the damage numbers each bullet produces on an enemy to know which areas to target.
Stepping Into Night City
The best way to describe our first moments in Night City is sensory overload. This is a high-tech, fast-paced world, and everything is vying for your attention. Pay attention to the people around you, and you can unlock cool scenes, like when we stopped to listen to a man preaching about the harm of technology, only to see a group of girls comment on his weird antics and take a selfie in front of him like he was a zoo attraction. Turn the wrong corner and you could come face-to-face with a gang waiting to jump you. Ads plaster the world, showcasing everything from sex toys to water supplements. Excess consumerism is alive and well.
It’s not all grim, though. Looking up, you can marvel at the high structures and fantastic architecture. The world’s verticality is a nice touch, making you feel like the buildings are pressing down on you. This is a strange universe to step into, and that’s part of what makes it so fun to explore. It is a portal into a gritty future that raises questions about our dependence on technology in our own world.
Lifepath // The Street Kid
My name is V, and nothing’s ever come easy. I’m from a pushy world, and that means sometimes I’ve had to push back. I can hold my own in a fight, but my best weapons are street smarts and cred; not many people know the urban jungle like me. Still, I’m not here forever. I’m moving up in the world.
Heywood may not be the safest place, but there’s opportunity if you work for it. Walking my neighborhood, filled with graffiti and gang members, it’s easy to make assumptions. But these are loyal people. Even as I sit at one of my favorite spots, a dive bar called El Coyote Cojo, I can feel the camaraderie. Folks are shooting pool and hitting the arcade machines. A shot of tequila sets my nose back into place. Much better! You should see the other guy.
I’ve known the bartender forever, but free drinks require the occasional favor. Today, he wants me to square his debts with the local info broker. Kirk is as cocky as he is brash, lounging in his “office” of a booth upstairs. I roll up to Kirk’s spot, ready to get down to business, except the fixer’s bodyguard boxes me in while stuffing his face with a burger. Rude.
Kirk’s not feeling like doing my buddy any favors on his debts. He knows he can get more out of me in order to wipe the slate clean. I’m known as someone who gets things done, so he says he’ll let up as long as I complete an “easy car-theft job” for him. He has his eye on a fancy model – supposedly only a handful in existence. To save my buddy losing his legs, I agree.
On my way to the target, I bump into an old friend of mine. While Padre may be a man of the cloth, he’s not exactly what you’d expect. You certainly wouldn’t want to cross him. He’s covered in tattoos, has his own driver who looks like a force to be reckoned with, and he’s one of the most experienced fixers in Heywood. Padre gives me a ride, and I fill him in on the job.
Violence is just another type of conversation in these streets. As if to remind me, a gang member rolls up and points a gun at us through the car window. Apparently, he has some beef with Padre. Sure, I could stay silent, but that’s not how these conversations are meant to go. I tell him off, making it clear the type of trouble he’s messing with. He backs up, and I get to my job.
It’s supposed to be easy, but I know better. The guards have been bribed to look the other way and turn off the camera, so I can escape with the wheels. But even as I get in the car and insert the key, an armed silhouette approaches the door out of nowhere. I recognize him: Jackie, Padre’s driver. He overheard my conversation and decided to screw me over. I try to speed off and leave Jackie in the dust, but the damned car won’t start. I’m cornered.
As Jackie’s about to lay down some force, more visitors show up – the police. Cuffed on the ground together, the fuzz remarks about how they know both of us all too well. I run my mouth a little, but when the cops bring out the rich corpo who owns the car, he tells them we’re not worth arresting and they should just throw us over the dock and let us drown. Next thing I know, a baton knocks me out. I figure that should have been it. But somehow, when I wake up, I’m sitting next to Jackie, who must have had a hand in keeping us alive. I suppose I should be pissed and let him have it. But we both realize we have bigger fish to fry, with common enemies and common goals. Perhaps it’s the start of a beautiful partnership. Two Heywood natives, searching for something bigger and better…
One way this is illustrated is through “braindances,” which CD Projekt Red has cleverly implemented into the gameplay. The predominant entertainment format for citizens of Night City in 2077, braindance tech lets individuals dive into the memories of others, experiencing life firsthand from another person’s perspective. V gains the additional capability to edit a braindance, which becomes a core path to uncover new information. “It’s a tool to find hidden details that most viewers would not find,” Tomaszkiewicz says. “For the player, it’s actually a gathering of clues that can push investigations forward.” Rewind and fast forward through a memory, zooming in and out – perhaps onto important names displayed on a screen – or shift the audio focus to hear a conversation happening across the room. Swap to a thermal observation layer and find a hidden freezer in a concealed floor plan. Each new memory offers a new puzzle to solve, details to uncover, and a disturbing but voyeuristic thrill.
You visit six vast and disparate districts in Night City, from the poverty-stricken Watson to the Vegas-like Westbrook, and you never have a shortage of things to do in the open world. Veer off the main quest path, and you’re sure to stumble upon side quests, something CD Projekt Red has earned a reputation for doing extremely well. “Our side content can vary,” says quest designer Philipp Weber. “We have those bigger side quests that might be connected to some main characters from the main story, or we also have these small requests that you can find just out in the open world, but of course can turn into something bigger.”
Dynamic events also constantly pop up around you, like crimes in progress or gang-on-gang violence. As V, you decide if you want to get involved and reap the rewards. V can also participate in fun activities, like car races, fist fights, and the shooting range. But perhaps the most lucrative venture is to take on gigs. Every area has a fixer who sends V jobs, and these are your main source of income. They can be anything from eliminating a target to sabotaging a server. You can also take on bounties or unearth clues that point to secret stashes.
Driving around the city, this feels like a denser setting than anything CD Projekt Red has previously attempted. It’s labyrinthine, so much so you will often be navigating it by car. The driving takes a little getting used to, because there are a lot of tight spaces, and taking wide turns can feel punishing. You can eventually steal different cars, and if you engage in too much crime, your wanted level will rise, meaning you need to lay low for a bit.
Searching the city, we find our share of components and blueprints, which are used for crafting. You can craft upgrades for your weaponry, including scopes, silencers, grenades, and flashbags. CD Projekt Red says some of the rarer armor, such as tech weapons and various gadgets, are made through finding these blueprints and obtaining the required items. Just like in The Witcher 3, you can disassemble junk and get components to use in crafting recipes.
On The Edge // The Origins Of Cyberpunk
Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most anticipated video game releases of the year, but it’s certainly not a game or setting that arose fully formed in 2020. The video game is the digital evolution of a franchise that has existed for decades. The original Cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game released in 1988, brought to life by designer Mike Pondsmith and built to emulate some of the gritty and tech-infused science fiction of the time.
That cyberpunk movement was born out of new wave sci-fi in the ’60s and ’70s, when a fresh and diverse group of authors wrote stories that challenged conventions. Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968) served as direct inspiration for Blade Runner (1982). Comics like Judge Dredd (1977) and manga like Akira (1982) fueled a growing popularity. William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) fired up imaginations around virtual reality and A.I.
For Pondsmith, early cyberpunk clicked. It was an aesthetic of rebellion and dystopian counter-culture pushing back against authority, intermixed with technology that was changing what it means to be human. “I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of really cool science-fiction technology, but that the place it was being used in was this totally craptastic world,” Pondsmith says. Blade Runner acted as a chief inspiration, but it was a lesser-known project that acted as the second tentpole. “One of my friends was running a Mekton game – our giant robot game – and one of the people in his game was Walter Jon Williams, the science-fiction writer. Walter had done a book called Hardwired. And that was the second big influence. Hardwired made me think about agency in a Blade Runner universe. I liked the idea of emphasizing the punk over the cyber. You have the technology, but the technology becomes part of the source of your agency in this lousy world.”
That concept of personal agency became foundational to what distinguished the Cyberpunk RPG. “You’re not a victim. You’re not a helpless person in that world,” Pondsmith says. “The punk side is that you’re willing to become someone who engages. You’re willing to get in the face of the powers that be, and ask why?”
After its initial release, Pondsmith and his company, R. Talsorian Games, ushered the Cyberpunk universe through dozens of product and book releases, and multiple editions, including the popular Cyberpunk 2020 edition in 1990. Through it all, Pondsmith aimed for immersion in the world, and accessible rule systems that felt realistic without getting bogged down in minutiae. Of equal importance, the game aimed for timeline consistency and discrete narratives that moved the world forward. “I look at Cyberpunk as an ongoing running comic,” Pondsmith says. “And like comics, it has arcs.”
Thanks to those efforts, when CD Projekt came calling, it was easy to imagine continuing to push that timeline forward into a new arc, one that would return to the same world, decades later in 2077. But the Polish video game developers arrived with a surprising depth of knowledge about the game. Pondsmith recalls early meetings with the team, some of whom had grown up with the game he had designed, exploring themes of rebellion in the final years of Soviet control of their country. “One of the things they said that cracked me up, was that: ‘We had Cyberpunk, and we had communism,’” Pondsmith recalls.
As the video game took shape, Cyberpunk’s creator cites a close working relationship with CD Projekt Red throughout the project, and his appreciation for their commitment to the fiction he has continued to craft for all these years. In his conversations with the development team, he highlights two central facets that he hopes Cyberpunk 2077 will embody. One aspect is the focus on setting. “It’s not a world you ignore – the world is a character,” Pondsmith insists. “Night City is a character. It should have a feeling of urban movement, density, and different types of places colliding in the same city.”
And the second focus is the nature of the story being told. “Cyberpunk, by its nature, is about a personal thing,” Pondsmith insists. “You don’t save the world. You might do that on the side, as an outcome of something you do, but it’s always personal. Johnny Silverhand tackles one of the biggest corporations on the planet, and he doesn’t do it to save the world, or because Arasaka’s evil. He does it because ‘they kidnapped my freaking girlfriend. So I’m going to make them pay.’”
Not everything about the Cyberpunk tabletop experience is about looking back. R. Talsorian Games has been hard at work on a new edition, which among other things ties the fiction of the original RPG to the new video game. “Cyberpunk Red bridges the point between 2020, post-war, and takes us almost up to 2077,” Pondsmith says. “You get to see that evolution, and you get to be a player within that world. Because we’ve unified everything across the timelines, what happens is that you’re playing the game, and you put the controller down, you might wonder: How did this happen? So you go over to Red, and it will tell you more of the story.” The full Cyberpunk Red core rulebook is set to release later this year, with a starter Jumpstart Kit available now, offering the perfect head-start to gamers eager to discover more about this intriguing world.
Pure Ambition And The Power Of Choice
CD Projekt Red is a leader in the role-playing genre with its ability to give players choice and freedom. The way the gameplay and story intertwine is what makes Cyberpunk 2077 so fascinating. To see this play out on a grand stage, we take on a story quest called “The Pickup.” You might remember seeing portions of this quest from E3 presentations. This is the job that’s supposed to turn you into a legend, and it’s also a great introduction to this unpredictable world and the various ways to chart your path. “This quest showcases many different story nonlinearities combined with gameplay nonlinearities, which was our goal for quests in Cyberpunk 2077,” Tomaszkiewicz says, pointing to the large number of choices and variations with different outcomes.
Your goal is simple: obtain a high-tech military spider-bot. The Maelstrom gang, whose members abuse illegal cyberware to become more machine than human, stole this from one of the megacorps, a military weapon supplier called Militech. An optional decision here is to meet with Militech agent Meredith Stout. You could try to cut a deal with her if you get the spider-bot back, or you could bypass her altogether; she’s no-nonsense and hard to read. Can you trust someone who works for a corrupt megacorp? If you do meet with Stout, it opens up additional choices and determines if she shows up later when you meet with Maelstrom.
We all ended up seeing what Stout had to say, but used that encounter differently. Stout hands you a credchip telling you to pay Maelstrom with it. If you have the right skillset, you can detect that it’s laced with a virus. It’s up to you if you want to use it or confront her about it, but whatever you do, it opens up different paths in the quest. When you show up for the spider-bot, Maelstrom changes the terms of the deal, asking you to pay double for the bot. One of us got frustrated by this and just pulled our gun out mid-conversation, initiating an immediate combat sequence. This actually causes you to bypass a difficult boss battle later. Another one of us agreed to the demands and handed Maelstrom the virus-infested credchip, which causes Militech to come in and kill off the Maelstrom gang – but it also makes for a harder escape sequence. You can still bypass the difficult boss with stealth, but it won’t be simple. If you take the battle on, you need to find cover and shoot at weak areas, especially targeting his flamethrower-like weapon’s tank so he can’t use it and it blows up.
We also could have warned Maelstrom about the virus, which leads to an appreciative “thank you” and walking away with the spider-bot. This also ultimately determines if Stout or another character emerges successful in an internal Militech power struggle. Of course, if we were feeling generous in the name of peace, we could have solved this entire situation without any hostility if we just paid Maelstrom’s doubled fee with our own money, but it’s a pretty large sum. Even during the quest, there are certain side paths that you may not see the ramifications for until later down the line, like if you find Maelstrom’s previous leader in a booby-trapped prison cell, and how you respond. We don’t know how far-reaching these playstyle variations will be in the full game, but we were surprised by how different our playthroughs were in how events unfolded.
After our four hours, we feel like we barely saw a sliver of this vast world. The possibilities for what’s in store are endless. Much of the story has remained under lock and key due to spoilers, but we do know that in addition to the six revealed districts, players will make visits to cyberspace, where only the most experienced netrunners go. “For us, cyberspace is a storytelling tool,” says lead quest designer Paweł Sasko. “As a player, you will be going into cyberspace multiple times throughout the storyline, and each time something very specific happens. So it’s not that as a player you can freely explore cyberspace. This is more story-focused. You’re meeting specific beings, and uncovering more mysteries regarding how it was made, how it came to be, and how it works. That’s what I can say without just going completely into spoilers.”
Cyberpunk 2077’s enormous dystopian city imparts a strange sensation. Wandering its streets, and encountering its beleaguered tech-overwhelmed inhabitants, it’s often troubling to see parallels to real-world issues, like getting a peek into the darkest future timeline. And yet, that same disturbing place invites exploration, and the thrill of seeing what lies around the next corner. Like the genre from which it draws its name, Cyberpunk 2077 warns us about a dangerous path society might take, but one that we just can’t look away from.
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