Judy looks at V in a promotional image for Cyberpunk 2077.

Image: CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077’s been having a bit of a renaissance lately. The hit Netflix spinoff anime Edgerunners, which fellow Kotaku staff writer Isaiah Colbert described as “Studio Trigger at its finest,” has pulled people into the dark and gritty world of this game once more. Add to that a number of patches and improvements from developer CD Projekt Red, and the quality of this once-perilous game is much improved. There’s also a DLC expected next year, so now is a great time to jump into a much better version of what was first released in 2020.

In some ways Cyberpunk 2077 is still a bit of a hot mess. But don’t let that dissuade you. It can still give powerful machines a hard time, and the gameplay often seems very distracted, wanting to chase a variety of AAA-isms without all of them feeling fully necessary or baked. And yet in spite of it all, the main story is a real joy to play through, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in speccing out your V so you can hit the streets of Night City in your own way. So let’s get into it.

A screenshot of Cyberpunk 2077 shows off parts of Night City.

Screenshot: CD Projekt Red / Kotaku

Night City is worth returning to

If you’re like me and played the game when it first stumbled out the door, only to have drifted away from it over time, let me assure you that it’s worth firing up again.

To start, the stability is much improved. Overall the game just feels more responsive and I don’t think I’ve seen a single serious bug or glitch yet. I still need to watch the spec setting on PC, but it’s very easy to get a reliable level of performance now. Also, some quests are more polished and actually work this time around. “Bloody Ritual,” one of the series of optional gigs in which you take down a “cyberpsycho” mini boss of sorts, was the first I noticed. Not only does it actually start when you’re in the right area now, but there are newly added elements to the fight that, while mostly superficial, give it more character and dynamism that either wasn’t there at all before or just didn’t work when I played it.

Having revisited the game, my memories of launch days now feel way more like I was playing an Early Access version rather than the actual release. Which, well, I kind of was, in a way.

Your lifepath is mostly salad dressing

Hang on now, salad dressing can make a big difference. But, at the end of the day, you’re still eating the same salad. Each of the game’s lifepaths—Nomad, Street Kid, and Corpo—gives you a unique start and will pepper the game with some unique dialog options and side quests as you go, but the main course of the game is still pretty much the same.

You should take some time to consider your origin though, because your V is about to go on one hell of a ride. Whether they’re a street kid with big ambitions, an outsider nomad who gets roped into the chaos of this wild city, or a successful corpo agent who has fallen from grace, the origin provides a nice framing for the events of the game. It’s the journey that counts.

For what it’s worth, I find Corpo and Nomad to be tied in terms of the best options. Street Kid was a little unmemorable for me.

A screenshot of Cyberpunk 2077 shows reduced HUD elements.

Screenshot: CD Projekt Red / Kotaku

The HUD is customizable—and you should declutter the hell out of it

Maybe it’s a commentary on how absurd augmented reality displays will become in our own future, but the HUD in this game is a little out of control. The good news is that the game has a number of critical settings you should consider adjusting to suit your tastes, and you really, really should consider turning off a few of these to get a more immersive experience. “Interface,” “Gameplay,” and “Sound” (for subtitles) are where you’ll find these options. Play around with these as soon as you can.

At a minimum, I recommend shutting that minimap off. There’s so much detail in this Night City that the tendency to just stare at the upper-right corner will really rob you of taking in the sights. Night City is far too detailed to be ignored for the sake of watching an arrow chase a dotted line on a map. Shutting the map off will put all of your attention on what you’re seeing in the world around you. It also can lead to some happy exploratory accidents. I also like to kill the job tracker from time to time as well. The active quest marker can never be disabled (please, for the love of god, CDPR, change this) so you’ll never be without a sense of where to go.

I also like shutting off the damage numbers that pop on successful hits (can that trend please die?). Ammo and health indicators are pretty important though, especially as you can die real quick at low levels and high difficulties. You can also kill the NCPD alerts and random calls from fixers; those can get particularly annoying. Leave them on at first if you’re new, but if you’re already familiar, shut that shit off. As a note, your ammo counter won’t be fully available until you get your optics replaced in the early parts of the game’s main story.

Gif: CD Projekt Red / Kotaku

Get out of your car and walk

Once you’ve shut that damn minimap off, consider walking to your objectives when you can. There are so many footbridges, alleyways, and unique twists and turns throughout the city that taking the time to be on foot is really a major part of the experience.

Cyberpunk 2077 is very capable of emergent moments of immersion, where you can just walk around, catch sight of a unique building, observe the game’s wonderful lighting effects (they’re a treat with either RTX turned on or off), or just truly feel dwarfed in a city with a pretty unprecedented scale. Leave the driving for the scripted sequences or when the objective is too far away. Like The Witcher, this is a great game to take your time with when it comes to travel.

Oh, and if you are going to drive, stick to third person. The effort put into each car’s interior is well-appreciated, but you will be crashing into shit left and right.

Yes, you can just focus on the main story

Cyberpunk’s sidequests are very hit or miss. The main story though? That’s almost always a good time. Without getting into spoilers, there’s also an element of the main story that sort of breaks the narrative immersion if you’re out running errands for everyone in the damn city, though of course plenty of games let you putter around all you want even when the world’s on fire. (I’m looking at you, Breath of the Wild.) Still, it’s a very loaded story that wants to propel you forward. Your first time with it might just be better if you let narrative gravity do its thing.

Since there’s no “New Game Plus” option, there’s also less of an incentive to max everything out your first time around as you can’t take that progress with you. You might find you’ll need to dip into some sidequests in order to keep yourself leveled up appropriately, but the game’s best plot hooks and characters are found at the heart of the main story. Save the sidequests for another playthrough. With three unique origins, if you really get into this game, you’ll have at least three reasons to replay it.

Main menu options in Cyberpunk show off a lot of detail and info.

Screenshot: CD Projekt Red / Kotaku

Spend a lot of time in the character menus

Night City might be huge, but that main menu is also one hell of a thing to get lost in. The good news is that there’s some great info in here to help you make sense of the varied systems and options in this game.

The menu is a little winding, and maybe not the most intuitive at first glance. If you’re lost, always go back to the main layout, where Crafting, Inventory, Map, Character, and Journal are all laid out horizontally.

Every element of this game is improved by spending the right amount of time in the menus. The Journal, for example, contains not only essential quest information, but bios for important characters and summaries of particular locations that’ll help the world feel a bit more alive. And if you’re like me and prefer to have the job tracker turned off in the HUD, Journal, Messages, and Shards are areas of the menu you’ll want to revisit often to keep track of where you are and where you’re going.

You should also check out the “Stats” option under “Character.” This is basically your character sheet, and a great summary of how good your V is at various things. If a particular combat scenario goes poorly, check the stats here to get a sense of what’s going on with your character.

It’s an RPG before it’s anything else

Sure, Cyberpunk’s got guns, cars, and plenty of standard open-world shenanigans, but it’s an RPG at its core. Unless you’re particularly clever, FPS-honed reflexes will only get you so far. Shooting, hacking, melee—it all ties into your stats, and there will be situations you cannot just shoot your way out of, at least not without some points put into guns. Plan out your build, experiment, and save often, since the game’s respec option will let you reassign perks for a hefty cost, but won’t let you touch your stats.

V has a clear hierarchy of stats to wrap your mind around. Attributes like Body, Reflexes, Technical Ability, Intelligence, and Cool all govern general features like how many hit points you have, how stealthy you are, and how efficient your hacking skills are, for example. These stats narrow down into specific Skills that govern different play styles. Reflexes, for example, governs Assault, Handguns, and Blades. Each Skill has a tree of Perks that allow you to focus on specific features such as melee weapons, specific guns, and more.

When you’re taking a break from the main quest, use that opportunity to dip into sidequests to get a sense of what play style calls to you. Since respec is limited, manually save your game before making major decisions, rolling back if you’re not happy with the choices you made.

Keep a “character build” in mind

Like any good tabletop roleplaying game, you’re going to get the most out of the game if you can think about what kind of character you want to build in broad strokes. If you want a stealthy sniper who can hack the hell out of her opponents, invest in Cool, Reflexes, and Intelligence, with perks that prioritize stealth, rifles, and boosts to your quickhacking efficiency. If you want a souped-up monster of a melee machine, follow the skill trees under Body, particularly in Athletics and Street Brawler, to gain maximum output from your fists or whatever melee weapon you desire.

I do recommend stocking up on skill points and perks before spending. Gain at least two or three levels at a time before investing as you might find different combat scenarios will spark your imagination with where you can take your V.

Two NPCs in Cyberpunk 2077 stare the player down.

Screenshot: CD Projekt Red / Kotaku

Take your time in the game’s first act

While I did say you can and probably should just dive into the main quests, the game’s first act is sort of a secret prologue. Again, avoiding spoilers for now, V and Jackie will eventually be asked to infiltrate an Arasaka building to steal something. This quest is a soft point-of-no-return where some irreversible things will happen. A great narrative moment for sure, but one that you might not be totally ready for depending on your play style.

That said, the game’s second act will bring some unique narrative embellishments to those early sidequests should you choose to do them after the life-altering climax of act one. Being aware of this development ahead of time, however, can help you get the experience you’re looking for.

Cover art for the original Cyberpunk roleplaying game shows a man with a gun in the foreground.

Image: R. Talsorian Games

Read the TTRPG rulebook! (It’s free if you have the game on PC)

Whether you bought the game on Steam or GOG, you’ll find a PDF of the source material, the second edition of Cyberpunk 2020, tucked into the game’s directory. You don’t have to be a TTRPG nerd or even have an active gaming group to make the most of it though. I’d even go as far as to say that the setting material in this book is kind of an essential prerequisite for enjoying 2077.

2077 isn’t great at explaining the setting’s history. You catch on to who the major players are pretty quickly, but there’s some important context that the TTRPG sourcebook can fill you in on.

Also, be sure to read or skim the adventure “Never Fade Away.” The characters and events of that tie directly into 2077, and seeing those connections pay off in the video game is well worth the time spent perusing the PDF rulebook.

If you have it on console, you’ll want to look out for the second edition of the book to get this content. You can pick it up on DriveThruRPG for pretty cheap. It might even inspire you to get a group of friends together to roll some dice. I can’t help you with scheduling though; every TTRPG group has to face that final boss on their own.

Level up crafting at least a little bit

Maybe you find crafting systems tedious. I know I do. Nevertheless, you should invest some points and Perks into it here in 2077, where it’s governed by the Technical Ability attribute.

At a minimum, you should acquire the “Scrapper” perk. This will allow you to pick up all the random bullshit that’s littered around Night City and have it automatically disassembled into crafting components.

Why would you want to do this if you’re not even focused on crafting? Because crafting ammo is remarkably helpful in this game. It’s easy to run out, and there’s nothing nicer than being able to quickly stock up without needing to hit a shop.

Claire waits at the Afterlife bar for the player to accept her quest.

Screenshot: CD Projekt Red / Kotaku

Yes, you should take on that racing sidequest

I too rolled my eyes when Claire asked me to do some racing. There it is, I thought. The inevitable filler car-racing content for the paint-by-numbers open-world segments of this game. But I, another Claire who is also trans, am here to tell you that you really should take on that quest.

I don’t want to say too much, but it’s a nice bite-sized story that takes place in the heart of Night City. There’s a good amount of racing, but the payoff is great. Claire’s a memorable, complex, and well-written character. The presentation of her gender in this game is so simple, normal, and matter-of-fact that it’s a breath of fresh air. Also, if you complete the quest, maybe you’ll get to spend more time with her car. You know, the one with the trans flag on the back.

I’ll never get over how weird of an experience this was for me though.

An annoying man rants on the street.

Screenshot: CD Projekt Red / Kotaku

Ignore the conspiracy theorist

Fuck this guy. Go for it if you’re a completionist, but you have to listen to these rants five individual times. Not only are they annoying, they’re also not particularly well written.

 



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