Cyberpunk 2077 Hasn’t Earned Its Redemption Arc

Cyberpunk 2077's time is now. After a well documented rocky launch that resulted in the game being pulled from storefronts, refunds demanded, and CDPR's stock value crashing and burning amongst the rubble of of its reputation, a phoenix is rising. The phoenix has a branch of patch notes between its wings, cybernetic updates strewn across its plumage, and anime tail feathers. Impossibly, Cyberpunk 2077 is back on top of the world again, almost two whole years after it first launched. It doesn't deserve any of it.

This is the point where you say "well, I'm enjoying it!", and that's fine. I know I seem like the guy in the Quit Having Fun meme, but unfortunately that is sometimes what this job is about. Not to harvest hate clicks or to rile you all up for kicks, but because being a critic involves being critical, even of things you enjoy. I played Cyberpunk 2077 at launch, twice. I beat it in around 30 hours the first time, juddering to the end of it through all the crashes, then almost immediately again with a few stabilising patches that took me over 100 hours to complete every mission, apart from one which, in typical fashion, bugged out on me. I've played Cyberpunk 2077 a lot and I know there's fun to be had in Night City. But Cyberpunk has not earned this redemption, even if you personally are having an okay time with it, and it's important to keep that bigger picture in mind.

We've seen games come back from the brink before. As TheGamer staff discussed this week in our Big Question column, video games are full of redemption arcs. Destiny 2, The Elder Scrolls Online, No Man's Sky, Fortnite, the list is endless of games that, for whatever reason, launched in a poor state and eventually ascended to greatness. They all fixed what went wrong. But Cyberpunk has only repaired itself.

These words sound similar. The difference between fixing and repairing seems minimal, but there is a major distinction. These games that have been fixed have interrogated what was wrong about them, whether it was the shallow world, the absence or overload of features, the poor balancing, or whatever else you might reel off. In fixing these issues, the games were notably improved and managed to live up to, or even surpass, their potential. Cyberpunk 2077 has only been repaired. It has taken things that were actually broken, the bugs and knock on effects of them, and eventually swept them away. No real improvements have been made. The world is still a facade, locking us out of almost every building. The melee combat is still poorly integrated and pointless. You're still a punk helping the cops. Major story beats are still rushed over. There's still no wall running. Stealth is still pointless. The world is sexually regressive and binary. It's still Cyberpunk 2077. The clunky missions, the repetitive objectives, the imbalance between great characters and clearly-just-a-first-draft characters all still exist.

I wrote once that Cyberpunk 2077 1.0 belonged in a museum. A monument to hubris, a headstone for hype. In a medium that erases its own history so often, 1.0 was like the melted wax gathered up from Icarus' wings. Now I realise I had it all wrong. Cyberpunk 2077 1.0 should not have been a memorial, but a warning. The game was made under heavy crunch conditions and, while crunch is always a thing the industry should be working to avoid on such a large scale, isn't it so much more insulting when it's all for nought? CDPR's CEO did say crunching for months "wasn't that bad", then got bad press and decided it was actually "utterly bad". This game was such an unprecedented disaster that fans demanded refunds in their thousands, to which CDPR promised to help, then just told us to take it up with Sony and Xbox.

Things didn't end there though. It eventually came back to PlayStation's store but, even though it was a PS4 game being sold on PS4 consoles, we were told not to buy it on PS4, though of course we still could. It was a wildly anti-consumer move that we all just looked the other way on, and I still can't understand why. They knew we couldn't play the game but they sold it anyway. Then after promising us that Cyberpunk 2077 would be supported by meaningful expansions, we were told it's only getting one (another broken promise), and that it won't be available on PS4 and Xbox One. You know, the platforms the game launched on while it sold itself as an evolving story.

The game has had minor improvements recently that make it less frustrating to play and offer a smoother experience, but it's still a shell of what we were sold on, and it always will be. If you've gone back for the first time in a while and are having a great time with it, or if the anime either brought you back or got you to jump on board, that's fine. I'm glad, even, I didn't hate my life for my 130 hours playing it, and I've written in praise of it many times before. But it doesn't feel like CDPR has put in the hard yards to earn this comeback the way Hello Games did with No Man's Sky. It has just gotten lucky with a Netflix adaptation and has brushed the most heinous bugs under the rug. We should think twice before celebrating its return to the top.

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