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Cyberpunk 2077 works now, but its real strengths and weaknesses remain unchanged

Viva Hooky Street

Cyberpunk 2077 was an infuriating mess in so many ways when I reviewed it at the end of 2020, but a funny thing would happen every time I'd stop playing it. All the T-posed NPCs, floataway physics bugs and crashes-to-desktop would be lost in time, like tears in rain. What remained was the deep appreciation I had for its story and characters, and a longing to revisit Night City.

So I have. After last week's patch 1.5 promised more fixes, a refreshed perk tree and improved AI, I wondered if I might finally be able to champion the first-person RPG without caveats. The answer is not a simple yes or no - but the list of caveats is definitely a lot shorter.

This isn't Cyberpunk's first update since launch, obviously. Patch 1.2 already brought several hundred fixes, wiping away the most egregious launch errors - including fixing quests which, on my original playthrough, simply couldn't be finished.

Alongside another stack of fixes, patch 1.5 makes substantive changes to Cyberpunk's systems. These changes are much needed, at least in theory. At launch, 2077 was a great RPG in the sense that it gave you a rich world to explore, an interesting character to inhabit, and several dozens of hours of quests which could spin in wild directions based on your decisions.

It was also a pretty rubbish RPG anytime a number was involved: its weapons were a soup of barely distinguishable DPS stats, until suddenly you were overpowered; its economy kept you poor until it very suddenly didn't anymore (and mostly seemed there to sell you uninspiring cars); and its perks were either unexciting minor percentage tweaks or entirely useless.

Patch 1.5 aims to address the perk tree specifically, and it is better now. A perk like Commando, which made you undetectable while underwater in a game in which you're almost never underwater, is gone. It's been replaced by "Looking Sharp", a perk that lets you use throwing knives to blind enemies. It is roughly a kajillion times more useful, and the kind of ability you can feel opening up new options as soon as you unlock it.

Likewise, a perk like Lightning Bolt - a piddly 3% increase to crit chance for tech weapons - has been replaced by Draw The Line, which lets you see the trajectory of ricochet weapons before you fire. I'm happy anytime a small percentage increase perk is binned, and the replacement here makes a fun combat trick easier to do regularly.

A screenshot of a female V's outfit in Cyberpunk 2077.
This is my strongest armour circa level 12, so I would like transmog in a future update, yes.

Do these changes turn levelling in Cyberpunk 2077 into a rich exercise in defining your playstyle? Sadly not, because the changes still don't - and likely can't - go far enough. A lot of the remaining perks continue to offer just small percentage tweaks, and in a game where your actions are also being shaped by weapon stats and installed cyberware, the impact of your decisions in the perk tree still never feel satisfying. I invested most of my points in the "Annihilation" tree this time, the name of which alone suggests exciting things, but most of the time I couldn't tell the difference after unlocking a new perk there. Am I really now reloading shotguns 10% faster after killing an enemy? If you say so, Cybes.

On paper, patch 1.5's AI changes address a more glaring set of omissions from the original release. In practice, while enemies are apparently now smarter during combat, it's another thing I didn't really noticed while playing. I did notice pedestrians acting more intelligently. It was possible to stop your car in Cyberpunk's launch build and block every car behind you for eternity. Now, NPC drivers will back up and try to drive around you. Likewise, if you aimed your gun at a driver in the original game, they'd cover their face with their hands like a child who thinks you can't see them if they can't see you. In 1.5, they'll flee, slamming their car through you and any other obstacle in order to escape.

Yes, Cyberpunk 2077 has finally achieved parity with Grand Theft Auto 3 from 2001, and the result does liven up any fight you have in an area where pedestrians are around, as their panic can prompt explosive chaos.

However. However! Here is my bold and articulate counterpoint: ...who cares? Despite being a de facto feature of these-sorts-of-games for over twenty years, none of my real frustrations with the original release related to unresponsive NPCs. All of these AI tweaks feel like changes that look good in YouTube comparison videos, but do little to substantively change or improve the actual experience of playing Cyberpunk.

Which is sort of the problem with update 1.5 in general. As another example, you can rent different apartments now, another feature that I've never thought the game needed.

In fact, being able to simultaneously rent five different apartments undermines a lot of what I like about Cyberpunk 2077's story. Night City is beautiful but deafening, and the people who live in it - particularly the poor - are commodified and killed by corporations who act not merely like governments, but as gods. V and her friends, Johnny Silverhand included, all attempt to transcend their environment by becoming "legends", whether by enriching themselves through crime or by committing violent acts of rebellion, yet all are shown time and again that the only transcendence available is through their connection to one another.

I love this shit, because I love rain-soaked neon almost as much as I love sentimental paeans to enduring human kindness. Cyberpunk 2077 does an unusually coherent job of communicating these themes across its 30-hours of missions, too. So it's a shame that it's now a tad undermined by V owning more flats than a Tory MP. Put another way, it's like Only Fools And Horses - V is Rodney, Johnny Silverhand is Del-Boy, FYI - and just like Only Fools And Horses, it's shit when they actually succeed at getting rich.

Instead, there's a much smaller change that I think works much better in 1.5: now, sometimes when you go to sleep in your bed, you'll wake up to find your partner sleeping alongside you. That's it.

So, can I now champion Cyberpunk 2077 without caveats? It undoubtedly works a lot better than it did. You can complete all the quests, I encountered no strange physics glitches, and I saw only one T-pose (in the GIF above). This is obviously good news.

Beyond these straightforward fixes, Cyberpunk 2077 remains a messy, mediocre RPG when it comes to the ways its combat and progression interlock. While 1.5's tweaks to those systems make marginal improvements, it doesn't - and likely can't - address the problems fully.

Yet in truth, I'm ready to jettison the caveats anyway. Cyberpunk 2077 works now, and I can accept the flaws which remain because the bits of it that really matter to me, the bits of it that have stuck with me, are exactly as great now as they always were. For its world, story and characters, you should play Cyberpunk now.

About the Author

Graham Smith avatar

Graham Smith

Contributor

Graham used to be to blame for all this.

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