[Editor’s Note: This preview contains spoilers for quest events in the first four hours of Cyberpunk 2077. If you want to avoid them, turn back now!]
After playing the first four hours of Cyberpunk 2077, It’s tough to know where to begin. No, literally: you’re offered three “origin story” choices for your V, no matter what physical appearance you choose or how you allocate your initial allotment of skill points. You can start the Nomad life on the outskirts of Night City, be the Street Kid who slums it in the urban jungle, or begin as the connected Corporate goon navigating the skyscrapers and sky-high risks of Arasaka’s cutthroat company politics. I chose the latter in order to put myself right in the thick of Night City from the jump (meanwhile, IGN’s Miranda Sanchez chose Nomad if you’d like to read about her experience), and what I quickly learned is that no matter where you start, there are so many layers to Cyberpunk 2077 that even a four-hour hands-on session isn’t enough time to scratch the surface of any of it – in a good way! But I nevertheless learned a lot about what makes Cyberpunk special – as well as what it still needs to work on between now and its new November 19 release date.
My “corpo-rat” life began in a bathroom on one of the upper floors of the Arasaka building downtown, where I vomited into a sink. Jackie Welles, my friend and crew member, called me mid-vomit and warned me about getting in too deep with my corporate overlords. And as if on queue, right then my boss, Arthur Jenkins, summoned me into his office. After he puppeteered a messy European Space Council boardroom massacre that played out on the giant screen in front of us, fellow Arasaka executive Abernathy called Jenkins angrily, wanting him to take the heat for it. (Ethics are clearly a gray area in the corporate world of Night City…)
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Instead, after she hung up, I’m given intel on her in the form of a datashard and told to “take care of” her, and he even handed me a clean, untraceable stack of cash to hire a crew and get it done. On my way out I explored my office, read emails on my personal computer terminal at my desk, and talked to some coworkers before taking Arthur’s AV (basically a flying limo) to Lizzie’s Bar elsewhere in town to meet with Jackie in person and get the murder ball rolling. It’s immediately apparent that you’re always going to have a lot to do.
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Moreover, it’s during these early moments – including the AV ride that conveniently takes you on an aerial tour of part of Night City – that makes clear the number-one most impressive thing about Cyberpunk 2077, even in its opening hours: the absolutely incredible job CD Projekt Red seems to have done on worldbuilding. As you’ll quickly come to see, Night City feels both alive and lived in, and its unique districts are just that: genuinely unique. There are people everywhere, from shopkeepers to sex workers to gang members to even, surprisingly, children – and interactions with just about every person of interest have many dialogue-tree choices.
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The visual identity of Night City is also strong, with neon colors and hazy lighting giving the world an appropriately gritty feel. There’s a late-night talk show playing on TV screens during elevator rides. Advertisements for in-universe products are everywhere. Cars have upwards of a dozen unique radio stations to choose from. The urban favela near my apartment is teeming with shops and food stands, etc. The quests do a great job of adding to this as well, with bigger jobs featuring multiple layers of setup, preparation, and intrigue – and you’ll have the chance to change allegiances numerous times during these major quests as well. You can even take sidequests on behalf of the police, not unlike Grand Theft Auto’s vigilante missions, because law enforcement here is spread too thin to catch all of the illicit activity that goes on.
Wherever I May (Free-)Roam
After my AV illegally parked on a basketball court – which upset the guys playing there until I spiked one of them in the head with the ball and throat-punched a second one, leaving the third to cower in fear – I walked into Lizzie’s Bar to talk to my pal Jackie (but not before nonchalantly picking up the basketball, turning, and swishing a cybernetically enhanced 30-footer). He again encouraged me to abandon the corporate life, but of course it can’t be that easy. Abernathy either anticipated Jenkins’ treachery or got wind of it, and sent goons after me to intimidate and then “spike” me, effectively giving my cybernetic implants a virus. I lost consciousness and woke up later, helped by Jackie, ready to build our crew…
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A driving sequence a short time later again showed off more of Cyberpunk’s wide “acting range.” One minute Jackie was driving and more Abernathy heavies were on our trail, so I leaned out the passenger window and shot the guys out of the back of one van and the driver of another. The next minute, as we approached the entrance to my home neighborhood of Watson, we stopped at a police roadblock. The area had been shut down, and we weren’t getting through – that is, until Jackie (with a dialogue-tree assist from yours truly) sweet-talked the officer and convinced her to let us pass.
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You can choose to “free roam” between missions, of course, but even as you go from one quest to the next, it quickly becomes clear that Night City is huge. As I drove around I saw a lot of question-mark icons pop up on my mini-map that I didn’t have time to explore. These are Gigs – jobs you can take from fixers as a way to earn rewards like gear and credits. One of those fixers is Dexter “Dex” Deshawn, a laid back leader who hires you and the crew you assemble to complete what is arguably the main-est of main quests in Cyberpunk’s first few hours: acquiring The Relic, a prototype biochip that Arasaka’s dead CEO’s son has stolen and that plenty of bad people want to get their hands on. It’s up to you to decide who you want to align with and get it for.
Cyberpunk 2077’s Fragile Alliances and Unhappy Customers
I only had time for the first major phase of this in Cyberpunk’s first four hours, which you might recognize from their E3 2018’s 50-minute gameplay demo: acquiring a top-of-the-line spiderbot artillery drone. The setup? Meeting (or not) in some order with: Evelyn Parker (the client who wants the Relic), the Maelstrom gang who has the spiderbot – and, it turns out, whom Dex already paid the bot for when someone named Brick led the gang, but he’s dead and now the new leader Royce doesn’t want to honor the deal – the Militech Corporation and their sinister rep, Meredith Stout; her Militech rival Anthony Gilchrist, who she suspects is a mole inside the company; and…well, you get the idea. There are a lot of onion layers to peel back here, which only adds to Cyberpunk’s sense of massive scale and scope.
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I pursued Parker’s quest path first. She set me up with her friend Judy, who put me into a braindance – a sort of interactive video built from one’s memories – taken from the junior Arasaka’s apartment in an effort to locate the Relic. Think of it as a Cyberpunk version of Detroit: Become Human’s investigation scenes, where you’ll scrub the timeline back and forth (albeit from inside a VR-like mind-connection device) and examine the scene from multiple angles using audio, visual, and thermal cues. Both of the ones I played dragged on a bit too long for my taste, but hopefully they are tutorial-leaning exceptions to more straight-to-the-point examples we’ll see later in the game. My success in the Relic braindance established a bit of trust with Parker, who concluded the intel-gathering by asking me to flat-out betray Dex and “become a legend overnight.” I couldn’t commit to that, based on how cool Dex had been to me up to that point, but you do have that choice.
I called Stout next and met her at an underground parking garage. She’s got Gilchrist captive, thinking he’s their company mole. When she realized I’m not lying about not knowing Gilchrist, she offered me a deal: take a virus-infused credit chip, buy the spiderbot from Royce and thus give him whatever virus she’d planted, and then walk away. I called her out – which I was able to do thanks to my relatively high hacking skills that immediately sniffed out the compromised credit chip – and she claimed the intentional virus is just “tracking info.” I chose to purge the chip of its virus after she left, and then I made for the Maelstrom headquarters with Jackie to buy the bot.
My meeting with Royce didn’t go well at first, despite my honesty about the chip having been infected by Stout. He put a gun to my throat, which only escalated tensions, and a moment later I got one on his. I could’ve pulled the trigger right then and there, which of course would have resulted in a bloody battle with the Maelstrom on their turf and altered the questline. So instead I deescalated through dialogue choices, he checked the chip, saw I was telling the truth, and we got the deal done. He got paid, I got the spiderbot. Enter Militech moments later, who, it turns out, wasn’t too happy that I altered the deal. Now the Maelstrom were on my side, and I was able to sneak out using my high Intelligence skill that grants me stealthier movement. Gilchrist waited outside, having come to my rescue, in the end, because I stayed neutral with him and chose to betray his rival Stout. And with that, my four hours came to an end. Whew.
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I’m leaving out a lot of stuff I also did to further invest in my character and immerse myself in Night City, from visiting a Ripperdoc to get my first hand and eye cybernetic upgrades to checking off a handful of the five sidequests I had on my ledger, to talking to Coach Fred in the favela near my apartment and agreeing to do a series of illegal underground street fights with him as my manager, to completing the same rescue-the-cybernetically-overloaded-naked-woman-from-the-bathtub-full-of-ice mission we’d previously seen at E3, and more. Again, there is a lot going on here. It is highly unlikely that you’ll burn through everything Cyberpunk 2077 has to offer in a single weekend.
The Beginning of a Deep RPG
Did you just read a lot of spoilers about Cyberpunk? Technically, yes, but in practice not really, as there are so many different choices to be made – about your backstory, your playstyle, your quest choices, and more – the odds are good that you’d never have my exact same experience anyway. It’s also important to mention that my four hours with Cyberpunk 2077 weren’t perfect. I barely got a chance to use any of the hacking or stealth skills I invested so many of my first upgrade points into, such as disabling an area’s security cameras, unlocking all the doors in the vicinity, and throwing daggers like a ninja, among others. Admittedly, though, that’s more of a time-limit problem than a game problem. And for what it’s worth, I didn’t even see Keanu Reeves’s Johnny Silverhand the entire time I played, so it remains to be seen how large a role he plays.
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I can definitively say that, in the build I played, the inventory management was a bit clunky, with some gear and upgrade screens best described as annoyingly unintuitive. So too were some of the tutorials (though at least those were short-lived), and the driving controls didn’t feel particularly good either – though I appreciated the option to drive from a third-person view. But most, if not all of these issues are exactly the kinds of things CD Projekt Red can spend the next four-plus months ironing out. Cyberpunk 2077 feels like the spiritual successor to Warren Spector’s legendary original, Hall-of-Fame-inducted Deus Ex, and I cannot personally pay it a higher compliment than that. It just might somehow live up to the years of hype.