Cyberpunk 2077's patches can't fix its biggest problems
Patching your jeans won't make 'em into a new pair of trousers
When a baby is about six months old they're often able to sit up on their own, are eating solid food, and might even have their first tooth coming in. Cyberpunk 2077, the current boxed-cat of games in that it's simultaneously the world's most and least favourite action RPG, is now at that same developmental stage, with its second meaty patch (1.2) having arrived at the end of March. There was even a new hotfix this very day! So I have been playing it to see what kind of a big fat cyber-baby it is now. And the answer is: mostly the same baby it was before, just working better.
Many of the patches and hotfixes were to make the game work better (or at all) on consoles, of course, but a bunch of them included across-the-board fixes for bugs, stability, or stopping the cops spawning next to you with the same haunted immediacy as your mum when she realised you hadn't taken the chicken out of the freezer when she asked you to.
I can confirm that you now have time to attempt to beat a retreat from the cyber-cops. I also went to play in traffic, because I heard rumours that cars will swerve out of the way for you now, rather than vehicle after successive vehicle hitting you in a cycle of slapstick stupidity that only ended when you ragdolled onto the pavement. I stood in front of approaching lorries like an insurance scammer about to get caught on dashcam and, while I didn't get any swerves, I got cars stopping and honking at me, or honking at near misses.
They also fixed some of the most, shall we say, memetic problems. V now sleeps in their bed like a normal human being (their previous style having been to lie sideways across it, their legs sticking out off the mattress as if they were hammered and passed out before they were done undressing). I've seen no more T-posing NPCs, although I have still seen a lot of duplicates. I ran into three of the same woman wearing bright orange leggings, so ran across the street and into - no exaggeration - five more of her, caught in an ecstasy of Malkovichian horror.
In general I've had few to none of the little annoyances that made it a bit more tiresome to play. The crashes, and the bugs that made palm trees bend and stretch in an invisible hurricane, people's faces stay blank and still when they were speaking, or the glitch effect that heralded the advent of Keanu Reeves to stay permanently on screen. No phonecalls running into and over other phonecalls or dialogue. Curiously, Delamain the driverless cab AI who calls you all the time is still in the game - indeed, he has been patched to make sure his calls trigger correctly, where some lucky players hadn't been getting them. I can only assume this was a mistake that will itself be patched soon.
The thing is, though, that all these patches make the game more stable and finished (e.g. loads of the laundry list of patch notes are to do with problems in specific quests, where NPCs would disappear or stages wouldn't trigger). It runs more proper, like. But these patches can't make it, y'know, a better game.
It's almost the inverse of Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, a game that needs a giant fan-made patch slapped on its arse to make it work, but is still beloved by many. The writing, the sense of place, the strange ways of interacting and being in Bloodlines all make it feel world class even though, sans-patch, it runs like a puppy in a heartwarming video about animal adoption: with great enthusiasm, but undeniably badly. And if you really love Cyberpunk the way it is, then more power to you.
I like it; it's a solid 7/10 bit of fun that I enjoy treating like I'm a photographer on a walking tour. I really enjoy the neon lights and the ads (like the one at the top of the page asking if I'm feeling kumquaty today, and boy am I!), and I like going to a ripperdoc and getting magic legs that can doublejump. I probably like it a little less than Graham, who gave it what I think is a very even-handed assessment in our Cyberpunk 2077 review. But whereas Bloodlines' patches elevated what was already there, here they've mostly served to underline that the biggest problems I have with Cyberpunk can't easily be patched out.
Can I request a patch to totally overhaul hacking to make it less like a kind of tedious sudoku? To make stealth and netrunning a viable way to play the game, 'cos right now I feel it's just a tool to prepare for when I have to start shooting, just like every other playstyle? For the story to interrogate any of the themes in an interesting way? Are there planned hotfixes making V's origin actually consequential to the rest of the game, braindancing being more of an actual thing because it's really cool and you only get to do it a few times, or for an earned relationship with Jackie? Jackie seems like a nice man, and I would have liked getting to know him beyond a montage telling me we were now close friends with a rich history, bam, pathos, care about this character plz.
I wonder if there will be a lot of people waiting for the patches to go back to Cyberpunk, thinking that it will be a completely changed game - that the patches are a messianic saviour for something they were really hyped for, and then disappointed by. In fairness, CDPR's Adam Kicinksi recently told Reuters that they're "convinced that we can bring the game to such a state that we can be proud of it", and the Cyberpunk roadmap does include some free DLC and further updates this year. They might be well good. Who knows? I hope they are!
But though I really like Night City, I'm still bored by the pacing and structure of the story made to pull me around it, and a bit unexcited by the tools I was given to make a mark on it. Even if Cyberpunk 2077 had come out running perfectly and without any bugs, I still would have thought it was good but not great, and I think maybe the more patches it gets, the more people are going to realise that Cyberpunk was always just fine. 'Cos even if you get your baby sitting up properly, that won't make it a vastly more interesting baby as a result.