Friday 14 January 2022

Buddy Holly Never Wrote a Song Called We're Too Cyberpunk

It’s been a while since I really sunk myself into a new game, but Cyberpunk 2077 has properly hooked me. Melmoth gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up so I picked it up in the Steam sale; about 30 hours in I’ve just hit the title card having spent plenty of time pottering about Night City tackling random criminals and side quests before cracking on with the main story.

It feels very Deus Ex, more so than the actual sequels in many ways (which were fine in themselves, but didn’t really capture the sprawling openness of the original). It’s comfortingly familiar in its systems; stealth, tech/hacking and a variety of firearms presenting different ways of tackling problems from tiptoeing around piling up unconscious bodies in wheelie bins to silenced sniping to the more straightforward shotgun to the face. It’s comfortingly familiar in setting as well. I never played the pencil and paper RPG but have enjoyed plenty of similar media like Blade Runner, Neuromancer, and Altered Carbon; having been around for the first two editions of the RPG, set in the wildly futuristic years of 2013 and 2020, the cyberpunk genre seems oddly retro in many ways now, even with the subsequent updates.

It seems to have absolutely hit my Goldilocks spot. The city has the open world elements so there’s always something to do, but with distinctive enough side missions so it doesn’t always feel like you’re just doing yet another instance of the same activity. Combat is challenging enough that I can’t just wander around blazing away with impunity, but not head-smashingly frustrating (mostly; the level based nature of it meant I inadvertently got into a couple of scrapes with nigh-invulnerable opposition, but the good old RPG standby of coming back a few levels later sorted things out). The main story is strong enough to pull me along, but loose enough to allow for meandering diversion. It feels like there are choices to be made in that best RPG way, where you know you’re going to end up in the same places but with subtle enough differences that it feels like your own version of the story. There’s plenty of loot to be had, and crafting and upgrading if the things you find aren’t quite right, but it’s not the be-all and end-all, it’s not like you’re repeating activities solely for the chance of an almost-identical-but-very-slightly-better gun. As many have pointed out the armour system does force a bit of a choice between selecting the item with the best stats in each slot versus not looking like you’ve clothed yourself from a charity shop reject dumpster, but I haven’t found that too much of a hindrance (there’s usually something decent looking that’s not too far off, stat-wise, or you can just avoid mirrors if it really comes to it). The stats and perks system seems intuitive enough with a plethora of interesting-looking options, I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to ultimately acquire but I’m looking forward to trying out a few different options.

I’m also greatly appreciating the single player offline nature of it, particularly after Fallout 76. I’m not missing a cash shop or season pass goals or daily login rewards at all, they have their place, but not everywhere. Being able to pause at any point is quite the blessing; I was playing a PvP match of KARDS, which only allows communication via a limited series of emotes. That’s a thoroughly sensible system, cutting through language barriers and removing the possibility for the usual online unpleasantness (you can even shut them off if someone starts spamming them in a desperate attempt to be mildly irritating). The downside is the absence of a “My dog’s been sick on the carpet!” emote (understandably, it’s a bit specific), so I could only use the more generic “Sorry!” after I’d inadvertently let the timer run down on a couple my turns.

Of course this all comes with the caveat that I’m still early on in the story and entirely reserve the right to fundamentally change my mind as things go, but so far it’s looking good. I’m sure things will get a bit stale after a while, but I’m hoping the combination of narrative and gameplay will at least see me through to the end of the main story; plenty of previous games with similar open world/RPG elements (Red Dead Redemption 2, Far Cry 5, Assassin’s Creed Origins etc.) have fallen at that hurdle, maybe there’s something about an SF setting I need (the (offline) Fallout and Mass Effect series being cases where I did actually finish the story).