Let’s not spend too long going on about the state of Cyberpunk 2077 when it first launched in December 2020, but it was pretty rough. And pretty high profile too; heck, even my mum asked me if I’d heard anything about it as we sat down together for that one day we could over the Christmas period. Those that tried to play it on a base Xbox One or PlayStation 4 reported a nigh-unplayable game. Those on their shiny new Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 apparently didn’t fare much better.
Fast forward to 2022 and the game has just received Patch 1.5, which brings a current-gen upgrade amongst many other new features. Cyberpunk 2077 is in a much better place than when it first released, but how does it fare as an actual Xbox Series X|S title now, over a year after launch?
I’m sure at this point, many players will be jumping into Night City for the first time, and I include myself in this group. Furore about the state of release aside, I had largely avoided any spoilers about the game itself. The only decision I had made beforehand was that I was going to start as a Nomad.
Other starting locations are available, but aside from a change of scenery during the initial moments and some different conversation options, there is very little difference. Don’t go in expecting Dragon Age: Origins opening sections depending on which background you choose.
Background chosen, character created, genitals sized: It is time to begin your adventure. Cyberpunk 2077 is first and foremost an action-centric open-world adventure, with very light RPG elements thrown in. As V, you move into Night City with fellow merc-for-hire Jackie Welles. They think they’ve hit the big time when they receive a job to steal an implant known as The Relic from a huge corporation. Things go disastrously wrong however, forcing V to implant The Relic chip inside their own head. The Relic however contains the conscious mind of one Johnny Silverhand – former lead singer of in-game band Samurai and played by none other than Keanu Reeves – and a power struggle then begins inside of V to see who will ultimately control the body.
Cyberpunk 2077 progresses as you would expect; a main quest path that will continue the narrative as you complete missions and plenty of side content. In this sense, Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t breaking any new ground. Side quests become available for specific characters once you have met them in the main narrative.
But it’s the world you inhabit, the characters around you and the overall atmosphere that will suck you in. Cyberpunk 2077 starts off slow; it wasn’t until at least two hours in I could begin to explore this world and at least five hours before the main titles revealed themselves. But once the shackles were removed, I was off. I wanted to be fully absorbed in Night City; a dangerous but gorgeously designed world. And it felt alive. Stepping out of my flat and I was instantly caught up in my surroundings. The people, the traffic, the shops. Many open-worlds have touted “living” and “breathing” descriptors, but Cyberpunk 2077 is the first time I can honestly say that they have nailed it.
The characters in particular are some of the best written for a long time. You will quickly develop favourites, but I would recommend to treat Cyberpunk 2077 as Game of Thrones; it is best to not get too attached to them. Even when discovering which of them you can romance. They have specific needs, and one wrong turn could completely ruin it for your version of V.
It helps that you are able to create whichever version of V you like. After deciding their appearance, a tutorial will show you the basic forms of combat. Depending on your preference you can choose to play stealthy or go in guns blazing, with everything in between also a viable option. I opted for a stealth introduction to enemies and once I had thinned the numbers – or more often, I had been spotted – the guns and bullets came out.
Progression is how you would expect in Cyberpunk 2077, with EXP and skills trees aplenty. What was once a criticism prior to the release of patch 1.5 has been addressed. Now, Cyberpunk 2077 feels more like an RPG again with skills trees rebalanced. Each action you complete, whether that be getting a headshot, sneaking up behind an enemy right down to running and jumping, feeds into a specific skill tree. These all have unique skills you can unlock through progression whilst feeding into your wider, overall level. Again, it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but the freedom here allows you to play Cyberpunk 2077 however you want.
Patch 1.5 also introduces new visual options for Xbox Series X and S that vary wildly. On Series X you have the option between Performance mode and Ray Tracing mode. Performance mode is Cyberpunk 2077 running in 4K and at 60fps and runs buttery smooth. I haven’t noticed any drops in framerate. I also briefly tried Ray Tracing mode which adds reflections and better lighting but drops down to 30fps. In my opinion, having the higher framerate is the preferable choice, but you may prefer the enhanced lighting and reflections. My eyesight didn’t notice much difference.
The Xbox Series S unfortunately only has the option to run the game at 1440p and 30fps. This may change over time.
The new update has also started to add free DLCs, much like CD Projekt RED did for The Witcher 3. This includes new weapons, new photo mode options, the ability to change hairstyles at mirrors and additional apartments that work the same way as purchasing cars. They are nice touches if nothing else, with many of these also available on last-gen versions too.
Of course, there are also hundreds of bug fixes. Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox Series X|S is in a much better place than it was at launch, but it still isn’t perfect. I have had a few graphical hitches when playing including one where the HUD has completely disappeared and resulted in my restarting the game from the dashboard. This is as bad as it got though, which is a big improvement.
Cyberpunk 2077 on Xbox Series X|S takes a very good but very familiar shooter RPG system and gameplay, and layers this incredibly designed world over it. Nothing about the gameplay will seem out of the ordinary – and if I was being super critical, I could argue the range of side activities is a bit lacking – but Night City and the surrounding Badlands are unlike anything you will have experienced before. The people that live within these cities and the characters you interact with make this a living city unlike any other open-world that has come before it. You can see where all that development time went; it wasn’t in the gameplay so much, but rather this utterly brilliant open-world.
Would I then say Cyberpunk 2077 is more style over substance? Not really, because underneath this is still a stellar action RPG, it’s just unfortunate that it won’t be this that people talk about in years to come.
Go for a drink with Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077 from the Xbox Store