Opinion: Cyberpunk Deserved Better

By | December 19, 2020

Cyberpunk 2077’s launch has been nothing short of disastrous. Between the initial slapdash review process, the discovery of considerable performance issues on older hardware, the report that it triggered a seizure in at least one reviewer, then the news that PS4/XB1 players can get refunds but actually they couldn’t, all the way up to Sony’s announcement that it was removing Cyberpunk from its digital storefront entirely… to say “it’s been a week” for CD Projekt Red feels like an understatement – even for 2020. And it’s a real shame, particularly because underneath all the bad management decisions, poor communication, and overhyped marketing, there’s a really good game.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to say that the mess CD Projekt Red currently finds itself in is anyone’s fault but those on its executive team who decided to release a game that is essentially unfinished on two of its major platforms. But it’s important to recognize that as frustrating as this situation is for the many fans and players who felt led astray by Cyberpunk’s confusing, anti-consumer messaging about base PS4/XB1 performance, it’s an equally (if not more) difficult situation for its employed development team. The PC version of Cyberpunk is proof that they had (mostly) realized their highly ambitious vision, and December 10* could have been one of the rare days that the entire gaming community was united in celebration – or at least recognition – of said vision, of this bizarre milestone we’ve somehow all found ourselves counting down to over the last few years. But it wasn’t – and Cyberpunk deserved better.

Yes, the PC version still has some technical issues, and it could be a little more ‘punk’ for my tastes, but by and large I’m having a blast exploring Night City and getting to know its back alleys and the bizarre characters who inhabit them. There’s a ton to explore and – while there’s plenty of discussions to be had around how it handles its various themes, for better or worse – I’m still in awe of Cyberpunk’s massive, intricate world. My play clock is sitting at ≈20 hours and I’ve only just started exploring outside the starting district. I really want to move the main story along, as it’s a compelling adventure that expands on a mythos I’m already invested in, but I keep getting distracted by another nearby quest marker or blip on my radar.

They’re very different games, but Cyberpunk manages to instill the same sense of exploration I got from the likes of Witcher 3 or Red Dead 2. It’s a sign of excellent world-building when you’re en route to Somewhere Important only to frantically veer off course at the sight of an overturned cart or a crumbling ruin – or, perhaps in Cyberpunk’s case, a bunch of dudes with robot eyes trying to break into a shipping container. Wandering into a cafe only to end up in the middle of a robbery – that I can then talk my way out of – only to run into the perpetrators in a random nearby parking lot after the fact is something that’s going to stick with me. It’s not without its issues, sure, and my feelings may change as I get closer to its endgame – but that doesn’t change the fact that every day for the past week I genuinely could not wait to clock out of work, finish my chores, and get back into it. And it’s a true shame that not everyone who wants to can share in that experience all at once; to see a project that has had so much energy and passion poured into it by a development team who clearly holds themselves to a high standard so thoroughly thwarted in its home stretch by corporate mismanagement.

That’s not to say Cyberpunk is dead-on-arrival – its numbers are still record-breaking, and despite the current (and extremely justifiable) public blowback, I do believe the company will work very hard to make amends for its current failings. The studio proved itself committed to post-launch support with The Witcher 3, providing bug fixes and little quality-of-life updates for months after launch. It was this sort of support (along with plenty of free DLC), coupled with a general air of transparency about its practices, that garnered so much favor throughout the gaming community and made them one of the most valuable studios in Europe. Whether or not the public will be able to forgive this particular series of screw-ups, however, remains to be seen.

CD Projekt, as a corporate entity, has massive issues that have been thrown in stark relief this year. We know the studio had imposed mandatory 6-day work weeks on their developers despite initial promises of a “crunchless” launch (which were previously backpedaled in January), and its developers were apparently kept in the dark on monumental decisions. Much of the reputation for quality and transparency that the studio has built over the last decade has been squandered in a short period by management who – by their own admission – “were too focused on releasing the game” after the previous delays.

It’s just… sad. I could rant on about how CD’s statement that the board “didn’t feel any extra pressure” to launch when it did feels at odds with the fact that the company’s stock value dropped by nearly $3 Billion after its second delay, or how maybe announcing Cyberpunk four years before it actually went into active development wasn’t the best idea (did you remember that Cyberpunk was announced before The Witcher 3?! I didn’t). But, ultimately, after all that huffing and puffing I’d still find myself sitting here with the same slightly hollow feeling I get when someone tells me they’ve lost their job to automation, or that the cool mom’n’pop shop down the block closed because the landlord sold the building to a condo developer.

“I suppose it’s a fitting bit of tragic irony considering the source material”

Though maybe we should have expected this – I’m sure some of you did. Maybe it was inevitable that, after so many years of hype and fanfare and in-your-face omnipresent marketing coupled with mounting pressure from an increasingly hostile part of its fan base, the only way this was going to end was in disaster. I, for one, wanted to believe that all the hardship its devs were enduring over the last several months would be in service of spit-shining away the final(ish) bugs on the culmination of so many years of work, not scrambling to finish the game after – it seems – the January claim that it was “complete and playable” was also not to be believed. Which is all the more disheartening since all signs now point to a crunch period that will almost surely continue in order to deliver a more functional last-gen version by Q2 of 2021.

Cyberpunk 2077 Night City Photo Mode Gallery

Barring a scandalous tell-all somewhere down the road, I doubt we’ll ever get a 100% clear picture on just how Cyberpunk’s launch fell so spectacularly off the rails. There are clear signs of a broad-strokes cautionary tale of what happens when a company’s leadership puts profits ahead of people and their product – which I suppose is a fitting bit of tragic irony considering the source materials the game is born from. I hope that everyone eventually gets to experience the vision of Night City that the team intended, because there’s a legitimately great game from a creative, passionate team underneath all these corporate failures. Is it perfect? No, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Cyberpunk 2077 could have been a game we collectively looked back on as a momentous occasion for its legion of fans and anyone who’d followed its development (or just couldn’t escape its advertising). In a way, it has been – just not the one it, or especially its developers, deserved.

*realistically some day in February or March 2021 if things had been done right

JR is a Senior Editor at IGN who really loves RPGs, both digital and tabletop. You can follow him on Twitter to talk about video games, D&D, or catch a glimpse of this three-legged dog.