On a stretch of futuristic tarmac, something clicked. Yellow quest markers hadn't built my relationships in Cyberpunk 2077. When a job needed doing, then they'd steer me in the right direction. But for those initial sparks of story, my cellphone had been key. Chats and texts buzzed into my brain at all hours. "Hey V", "V, got a minute?", "V!"
Characters would get in contact with me, not the other way around. And I liked that. In fact, I'd say it helped build a living, breathing world more than Night City's towering skyscrapers and moving billboards. More than, perhaps, any other big RPG I've played over the last couple of years.
Phone calls aren't exactly new in games. Take, for instance, Grand Theft Auto IV, which has your cousin Roman inundate you with requests to go bowling. "HEEYYY NIKKOOOO!" still echoes in my ear canal on quiet nights. There are likely countless other examples I haven't played or can't remember off the top of my head. But NPCs and virtual friends have been around for a long while, slinging texts and calls your way.
And yes, they can be irritating. It doesn't take long to find op-eds on how Cyberpunk's endless calls can wear you down. Sometimes your phone bleeps in the middle of critical conversations, blocking text and drowning out important chatter. Most of the time it's some gang leader offering you a great deal on a secondhand motor. We Buy Any Car clearly isn't punk enough in 2077.
I'll forgive this, though, as my phone messages keep Night City turning. That sense your mates live their lives alongside yours. Urgent calls out of the blue have you stamping on the brakes before you've had a chance to reply. Sometimes you'll get a call from an old acquaintance requesting that you "meet at the same place as last time". I particularly love it when an unknown caller springs up, having got your number from someone else. You get this feeling that your name's being yelled over pounding electro or whispered in neon-lit back alleys. These calls paint pictures of your reputation filtering through the cracks of a city that never sleeps.
My favourite moments come from small texts. An image of a close friend who's relocated far away from Night City. They are doing well and wish you were there to see it. Another thanks you for all the help. His brother is on the road to recovery and he couldn't be more grateful. Attached is an image of them as a family reunited.
You don't seek these moments out, either. Many of the game's most meaningful quests start on the road as you travel to and fro. Sometimes, you chat to a person's small hologram as much as you meet them face to face. For me at least, this serves to give them more presence than an NPC with a yellow quest marker above their head. By no means am I saying Cyberpunk's quest givers are super realistic or anything, it's just that they seem more organic. When time passes they don't stand in pre-determined spots, waiting for you to find them. They have places to be and brain dances to waltz around in.
That's not to say I don't like the traditional yellow marker method. But I've found that since playing Cyberpunk, I struggle to envision static NPCs as anything other than exoskeletons wrapped in code. I know, I know, video games aren't real, mate. But I reckon that Cyberpunk's way of dishing out quests through phone calls and texts veils this fact nicely. I genuinely believe that my mates' lives run parallel to mine as I slice goons with cyber-scissors or leap over cars with cyber-hooves. I also believe they'd all rather go bowling with Roman than wait with a yellow marker raised above their head for hours on end.