by William Thompson
previewed on PC
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt was the first - and to this point, the only game - that I have handed a score of ten out of ten in my time of writing reviews for Hooked Gamers. There have been quite a few that have been close, but The Witcher III is the standard by which others are judged. It is a game that did everything right – from the characters, to the story, to the dialogue and to the stunning setting.
When the team at CD Projekt Red announced they were developing a game set in the future, I was a tad concerned. We are certainly not going to be handling swords and axes and probably not attacking enemies at close range. The lore in The Witcher series is deep and detailed based on the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, but would the developers be able to create a similarly enthralling world adapted from the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game?
At PAX AUS, we were not only lucky enough to view a lengthy gameplay demo of a section in the middle of the game, but also had the pleasure to sit down and talk one on one with John Mamais, the Studio Head at CD Projekt Red’s Krakow office about the forthcoming Cyberpunk 2077.
Out with the old, in with the new
Before heading into the presentation, I asked John about the shift in time periods from the lore of the Northern Realms of The Witcher to the futuristic Cyberpunk 2077, and in particular, how much of an effort was it moving away from the medieval fantasy setting into the futuristic landscape of Cyberpunk 2077? John replied that Cyberpunk is still an RPG like the Witcher, so fundamentally they are the same but with a different skin. There are certainly differences in the art styles, and there had to be some work on moving the combat from a focus on melee to the firepower used in Cyberpunk.
The presentation shown at PAX AUS was of a section towards the middle of the game in one of the six districts (seven if you include the Badlands/Outskirts), known as Pacifica. Pacifica was built as a holiday resort for the rich and famous before a downturn in the economy resulted in the corporations pulling out and leaving the city to become a metropolis wasteland filled with two factions (The Animals and the Voodoo Boys) fighting for control. Playing as V and working for the Voodoo Boys, the player must infiltrate the Animal’s headquarters.
Back in Class
Two of the classes (the Techie was not on show) were on display in the gameplay presentation – the NetRunner (a hacking stealth type of class) and the Solo (a brawnier class). Playing as each of the two classes allows for a substantially different playstyle. Although both can use weapons in a similar fashion, the way they move through the levels is contrasting. The NetRunner was able to hack into security systems and can control anything that is connected to a network, including manipulating enemy limbs to work against them. On the other hand, the Solo has immense strength and can use this to their advantage. In the gameplay demo that was played at PAX AUS, the Solo was able to prize open a locked door, rip apart a turret and use the gun against enemies, and even pick up enemies and use them as a human shield. The variation in gameplay I saw was particularly fascinating, as it allows gamers of different styles to play through the game their way. I can definitely see myself playing as the stealthy NetRunner.
When asked about balancing the abilities of each class, John was quick to point out that balancing is difficult, but CD Projekt Red have a skilled QA department that is always working on recognizing issues in the game. He also noted that the QA team would continue to test the game up until release and indeed post-release and would be listening to the customer feedback in order to tweak the game after it has hit the shelves. It was refreshing to hear that a large company such as CD Projekt Red had such a customer-driven focus.
As the main character V - a mercenary of the metropolis that is Night City - can be played in numerous ways, I asked John how important it is to have a character that players can relate to. He answered that it is always a key concern for the team, particularly in writing the dialogue for the character. Getting it right is a difficult proposition. He re-iterated that dialogue choices are important in Cyberpunk 2077 as the decisions made during the game will affect its ending. Like The Witcher, this would allow for multiple playthroughs, even with the same character build.
With a number of factions within the Night City, there will be times that you will be tasked with siding with one group over another. Players will be able to gain particular equipment from each of the factions, and indeed contracts completed for the factions will even unlock vendors who supply different gear, and so your reputation is also an important aspect to track.
With its glorious visuals, The Witcher series was notorious for requiring higher-end PC specs on release. I asked John if lowering the specs would enable more gamers to get into Cyberpunk 2077. His response was that, as the game will be released alongside the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, it will require similar PC specs, which is great news for those with PCs that are a few years old.
But from what we saw at the presentation, CD Projekt Red have created a glorious looking setting. Despite the area of Pacifica being a run-down wasteland, everything looks realistic (well, as realistic as a fantasy universe set in the future can be). Day turns to night, with a setting sun providing a blinding glare that shines off the mirror-like finish of the skyscrapers that were once the mecca of rich corporations. John mentioned that each of the six districts are quite different.
I asked John how the artists came up with the futuristic setting, and he mentioned that although it is a futuristic setting, it is built from a historical context. With a starting point, the writers and artists were able to incorporate the lore of the table-top Cyberpunk game to build a deep-layered universe for which the CD Projekt Red team are renowned. This is somewhat identified within the six districts and their different styles. Apart from Pacifica, the other five districts include The City Centre – a hub of corporations and opulence, Watson – an area of narrow alleyways and markets, Westbrook – a tourist getaway, Heywood – a suburban housing district with gangs, and Santo Domingo – an area of factories and power plants that effectively powers the entire Night City.
It was a pleasure to chat with John. He was insightful and showed excitement for Cyberpunk 2077 that often doesn’t come from larger developers. There was one thing that disappointed me though… there will be no futuristic variation of Gwent in the Cyberpunk world. John laughed when I posed the question, but he did mention that there would be several playable mini-games throughout the game that would allow for a break from the main game. John also said it was a great feeling that knowing their games were loved by gamers, but with that came an extrinsic pressure. With more than 400 people working on the game, there is a huge amount of expectation for Cyberpunk 2077. But after speaking to John and watching the gameplay presentation, it seems as though everything is on track. I’ll be watching this game closely as it nears its scheduled release in April 2020.