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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077 1.3: How it feels to just start now

The biggest Cyberpunk patch 1.3 to date is hotly debated. But how rounded and bug-free does the role-playing blockbuster feel if you’re only now playing it for the first time?

Sometimes, even as editor-in-chief, you allow yourself a little luxury. So apart from the daily dip in the money bin, of course. And my luxury was not to touch Cyberpunk 2077 until now. The reason is simple: at the time of release, I simply didn’t have a powerful enough home PC (cursed graphics card shortage!) to play CD Projekt’s role-playing game with maximum detail. And the console version was out of the question anyway for well-known reasons.

Since I also knew that the Cyberpunk coverage was in good hands, I could and would allow myself to see last year’s most important game only in 2021.

Cyberpunk 2077: Patch 1.3 is a positive sign, but not for everyone

The cyberpunk discussion is affecting my gaming experience

This impression depends largely on how intensively you have followed the discussions around Cyberpunk 2077. Due to my profession, I am logically at the upper end of the scale here, and I already notice how strongly this affects my perception of the role-playing game during my first steps through Night City.

In almost every open-world game, the world is populated by clones, and Cyberpunk 2077 actually delivers a really wide range of passers-by, yet it regularly jumps in my face when I encounter two identical characters.

The same goes for the clipping errors, which are also almost standard in 3D role-playing games. Nevertheless, I can fade them out much worse in Cyberpunk than in other titles. And that annoys me because I know that this is actually unfair.

Because most of the graphical unpleasantness stems from the fact that Cyberpunk 2077, from a purely technical point of view, excels in many respects, at least on the PC. There is much more going on in the streets than in comparable titles, no other open world offers such a freely explorable city. And in every scene there are countless physical objects that interact with each other, which on the one hand makes for an enormously credible world, but on the other hand also for many clipping errors.

However, the game experience is not only affected in a negative way; I also notice the great strengths of Cyberpunk more consciously than I might under normal circumstances. For example, I simply can’t get enough of the sensationally staged dialogue. Never before have conversations in a role-playing game felt so real and natural to me.

And time and again I find myself voluntarily ignoring the fast travel to literally soak up the many atmospheric details and the sensational ray tracing on foot or by motorbike. Not since Red Dead Redemption 2 has a game had such a sightseeing factor for me.

I don’t find any serious bugs or errors

Meanwhile, I’ve been sneaking, hacking, slashing and shooting my way through Night City for about 30 hours. As a passionate question mark abhaker, I take everything that the packed map throws at me, just like in The Witcher 3. And apart from the omnipresent clipping errors, this works without a hitch, except for a few small things:

Every now and then I can’t pick up objects because they conflict with others. Thanks to physics, a courageous shot into the object crowd solves the problem.
Once my pistol refuses to shoot via the rear sight, only a reload of the game state helps here.
In a side mission, the crosshairs remain visible even though I am sitting in the car. So I get out of the car, change my weapon, put it away and get back in.
As described in point 1, I play Cyberpunk 2077 with great bug sensitivity, which is why I even think there are bugs where there aren’t any – for example, when I spend five minutes desperately trying to find the entrance to a shop and am already cursing the game … until I realise that the shop is simply still closed at 6 o’clock in the morning.

The only quest bug I encounter stands out all the more: In the quest “These Boots Are Made For Walking” I am supposed to look for my old car in the junkyard as a nomad … only that there is nothing at the quest marker. Apparently this is a bug that has only happened since update 1.3 and will hopefully be a thing of the past with the next hotfix.

Hey man, where's my car!? The only quest bug I've encountered in 30 hours of play so far.
Hey man, where’s my car!? The only quest bug I’ve encountered in 30 hours of play so far.

Felt like Cyberpunk 2077 would be on the bug-free level of a The Witcher 3 at release. Ten months after launch, that’s anything but a glorious record for CD Projekt. But also nothing that should stop you from playing if you want to give Cyberpunk a chance.

There are a lot of little things that still bug me

So it’s not the bugs that keep pulling me out of the cuttingly dense cyberpunk atmosphere, but rather the many other small shortcomings of the role-playing game:

  • Passers-by squat silly with waving arms on the ground during gunfights far too often instead of fleeing.
  • The navigation system fails every now and then and only leads me to my destination via detours.
  • I can’t double-assign the vehicle controls, which is why I switch between WASD and arrow keys depending on the mission (Do I also have to shoot or just drive fast?).
  • Still, when sneaking, I can only put my victim in a headlock if they turn their back on me at the perfect angle, which even after 30 hours of play I still can’t get right.

This all annoys me more in Cyberpunk 2077 than it does in other open-world games, simply because the drop is so much greater here. In its best moments, CD Projekt creates immersion with unprecedented effort, the likes of which I’ve never experienced in a role-playing game before … only to have it shattered a few minutes later because a couple of pedestrians are too stupid to run away from a wild shootout.

This doesn’t happen in Tales of Arise (which I’m currently playing in parallel as a co-tester). But there the world is also divided into small ground-level levels, dialogues are reeled off with fixed camera settings, and enemies simply fizzle out after combat instead of remaining as physical objects in the world

A great role-playing game, but still not a well-rounded one

I have great doubts that Cyberpunk 2077 will ever feel as round as The Witcher 3 did from version 1.3 (aka the Game of the Year Edition). Too many systems such as object physics, level design or NPC behaviour would have to be fundamentally reworked for that.

On the other hand, from my point of view, there is no reason to wait with your first playthrough. Cyberpunk 2077 can now be enjoyed 99 percent of the time without any problems, as long as you realise that you are dealing with a story-heavy role-playing game that, like The Witcher 3, uses its open world primarily as a beautiful but ultimately rather static backdrop.

Those who want a credibly simulated world like in Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim or Elex will continue to look for it in vain. There are reasons why Cyberpunk didn’t make it into our top 10 best open-world games:

If, on the other hand, you’re hoping for an exceptional role-playing experience from Cyberpunk 2077 in the first place, then I’m very confident that you’ll already be happy. Because as much as the small bugs and shortcomings annoy me now and then, the big picture impresses me. On the one hand, technically: apart from Flight Simulator, Cyberpunk 2077 is the only current PC game in which my new computer can really show what it can do.

On the other hand, it’s also fun to play: whether shooting, hacking or sneaking – it’s just great fun to make a name for myself in Night City with great playful freedom. And some of the missions are definitely among the best I’ve experienced in my 35 years as a role-player. The stories and characters of Cyberpunk stay with me far beyond the actual playing time, and many of them will be etched in my memory forever.

Would all this have been true for the release version of Cyberpunk 2077 and on my six-year-old PC with a GTX970? I don’t know. But I’m glad I waited.If, on the other hand, you’re hoping for an exceptional role-playing experience from Cyberpunk 2077 first and foremost, then I’m very confident that you’ll already be happy. Because as much as the small bugs and shortcomings annoy me now and then, the big picture impresses me. On the one hand, technically: apart from Flight Simulator, Cyberpunk 2077 is the only current PC game in which my new computer can really show what it can do.

On the other hand, it’s also fun to play: whether shooting, hacking or sneaking – it’s just great fun to make a name for myself in Night City with great playful freedom. And some of the missions are definitely among the best I’ve experienced in my 35 years as a role-player. The stories and characters of Cyberpunk stay with me far beyond the actual playing time, and many of them will be etched in my memory forever.

Would all this have been true for the release version of Cyberpunk 2077 and on my six-year-old PC with a GTX970? I don’t know. But I’m glad I waited.

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