It’s hard to sort out my feelings about Cyberpunk 2077 (opens in a new tab) of the disaster of its launch. I’m lucky I guess I’ve never tried playing it on the latest gen consoles, but even on PC it was mired in issues and disappointments, from the plethora of game-breaking bugs to systems goofy like Night City law enforcement.
To be clear, I ended up having a great vacation in Night City. It’s a gargantuan RPG filled with gripping tales of crime and corruption, but that’s not its legacy. Phantom Liberty is therefore a chance for CD Projekt Red to rewrite it, but it will have to be something quite special.
This week’s reveal at least left me cautiously optimistic. Questions about quality and polish won’t be answered before release, but the setup certainly piqued my interest, promising to explore the politics of dystopia while bringing back both V and Johnny. A alleged data mine (opens in a new tab) in May suggested that Keanu wouldn’t return, so that was a pleasant surprise.
Really, I’m just excited to have a better reason to go back to Night City than new apartments (opens in a new tab) and one cool jacket (opens in a new tab). Sure, I can come back whenever I want, but Night City isn’t really a sandbox. This isn’t GTA Online, or Skyrim, where chaos reigns supreme. It’s a scene, and it needs a script to bring it to life. I still enjoy driving under its arrows and flashy holograms, or taking desert road trips where you get the best views, but there are only so many screenshots I can take. This is a city that needs more stories.
But it’s going to be under a lot of scrutiny. Mainly from players who just want it to be good, but also from those looking for another reason to get into the studio. After The Witcher 3, CDPR became one of the most highly regarded developers, but as soon as there was blood in the water, that reputation couldn’t protect it anymore. The gap between pre-release promises and the final product means there are grudges now.
Historically, especially on PC, people have had a lot of patience for jank. Sometimes it’s even attractive. Huge companies like Bethesda were given significant leeway, and Skyrim’s enduring popularity was certainly nothing to tweak. But Cyberpunk 2077 crossed an invisible line and got stuck with a bad reputation that took a long time to fix.
Since the troubled December 2020 launch, a lot of work has been done to improve the base game, but players are hungry for something new. The outstanding DLC for The Witcher 3 has set the bar high, and this is the studio’s first big opportunity to show what it has learned from its mistakes. There’s also the context of Cyberpunk 2077’s multiplayer mode, which was at one point planned for this year, entirely canceled after launch. Issues that might have been overlooked in another game won’t get a free pass here.
There is no doubt that CD Projekt is also feeling the pressure from shareholders. In July, the company’s shares had dropped to a quarter of what it was before Cyberpunk 2077 launched (opens in a new tab). The blow to his reputation scared people, but public perception was far from the only problem. Last-gen console versions were in such dire shape that Sony pulled Cyberpunk 2077 from the PS Store, cutting millions of potential customers from the pool. That didn’t stop it from making money, of course, and the development costs had already been recouped before launch, but sales still dropped dramatically, according to CD Projekt itself, after its exit.
The hype was strong enough that none of the problems were enough to topple the company and she remains one of Poland’s biggest hitters, but I doubt she could afford another stumble. Phantom Liberty is due out sometime in 2023, and hopefully this time around it doesn’t get pushed until it’s ready. It’s going to be an uphill struggle, though, and while deciding against releasing the expansion on last-gen consoles absolutely seems like the right choice, it means it’s already disappointing people again. Phantom Liberty is a chance for some measure of redemption for CDPR: but only the best will do.