As I sat down at my PC on December 10, 2020, I had big plans. I was going to start playing Cyberpunk 2077 as a Corpo—my version of V would be young, driven, and privileged—a ruthless company techbro. I carefully designed my character with a tidy hairstyle, no tattoos, and minimal cyberware.
I figured as I progressed through the game and fell deeper and deeper into the violent underworld of Night City, I'd alter my appearance. My hairstyle would get shaggier and wilder. I'd slowly add tattoos and more severe cyberware to my face and body. My character's looks would reflect his life. You know. Roleplaying.
That was the plan. But it became clear almost immediately I wouldn't be able to do anything like that.
Cyberpunk 2077 at launch
The Corpo lifepath in Cyberpunk 2020 was absurdly brief—I walked around an office for a bit, clicked a few things on my desk, got a wad of cash and a shady assignment from my boss, and then met my old friend Jackie in a bar—where I was immediately fired from my job and severed from my corporate contacts. That was it? That was the Corpo lifepath option I'd heard about so much in the pre-launch buildup to the game? It's hard to call something a path if you run into a brick wall after a single step.
An even shorter cutscene showed my character descending into a life of violent crime—the sort of thing I wanted to experience myself rather than sit there watching. A few minutes into the game I was, essentially, a Street Kid, the lifepath I deliberately didn't choose. And more bafflingly, I could forget about changing my looks to mirror my new lifestyle. There were no character customization options once I began playing. I couldn't alter my appearance or add tattoos. In a game about becoming whoever you want, I couldn't even change my nail polish color once I'd picked it.
That was a lot of disappointment to experience in the first 20 minutes of one of the most hyped and highly-anticipated games ever. And the Corpo lifepath I'd chosen felt like it rarely came into play over the next 20 hours. There were some dialogue options, one or two Corpo-related choices to make during quests, and one side-mission late in the game which was more of a quick encounter. The disappointments didn't end there.
Glitches in the Matrix
Bugs. Everywhere there were bugs. The first time I stepped out of V's apartment and into the streets of Night City, I just stood and stared. I should have been gawping at the city itself, but instead I was drawn to a street corner where each and every car that turned down the block plowed into the same concrete barricade. Doors were torn off, glass shattered, bumpers bent and crumpled, and drivers shouted expletives as they sped off in their ruined cars.
Most of the bugs I experienced in my first playthrough of Cyberpunk 2077 weren't major. There were one or two that actually prevented me from progressing and required a reload of my last save, which is always irritating. But it really wasn't the individual bugs themselves that were the issue. It was the overwhelming number of them. In every mission—that's not an exaggeration, it was every single mission—at least a few things would go wrong. A character would repeat the same line of dialogue over and over from start to finish or T-pose during a dramatic moment. A weapon would wind up sticking out of someone's face or an object would simply hover in midair. A notification would get stuck on the screen or someone would get stuck walking in midair or my car would get stuck in another car, flip upside down, and explode.
Every game has bugs and glitches, but they were inescapable in Cyberpunk 2077. It was a mess, and distracted heavily from interactions with interesting characters and what would otherwise be engrossing storylines.
Other issues weren't the result of bugs but systems that seemed incomplete at best or simply nonexistent at worst. It felt weird how quickly police would respond to a crime, and weirder how they'd prefer to run after your car than jump into their own to give chase, until it became obvious—they didn't possess the ability to follow you in cars and they responded so quickly because they were simply teleporting to a space a few feet behind you. In one mission where cops are specifically supposed to pursue me in cars, they did—until I briefly looked away from them. When I looked back, they'd vanished:
As the first few hours passed it became clear Cyberpunk 2077 wasn't just a buggy game. Cyberpunk 2077 was an unfinished game. There's a big difference.
Cyberpunk 2077 was a massive hit, with 13 million copies sold within 10 days across all platforms. It was also a major disaster, with backlash from unhappy fans and angry developers inside CD Projekt, a refund debacle, its removal from the PlayStation store, multiple lawsuits, and the rapid erosion of CDP's reputation.
The apologies began to arrive a few days after launch, with the studio first suggesting issues with AI were just bugs, which was obviously not the case, then doubling down by saying that pre-launch testing “did not show a big part of the issues,” which was clearly bullshit. The game wasn't finished and everyone knew it. Our review recommended coming back in a few months to see if some of the major bugs had been fixed, but I personally felt it needed another two years of development. A couple patches weren't going to fix Cyberpunk 2077, because it didn't just need to be fixed, it needed to be finished.
Cyberpunk 2077's launch was a rotten situation on all sides. It was unfair to players who bought the game expecting it to be complete. It was unfair to the developers who worked for years and weren't allowed to take their game across the finish line before it was shipped. Cyberpunk 2077 was, and still is, an Early Access game. It just didn't say that on the box. It should have. It would have tempered expectations and no one would have felt cheated.
The patches began rolling out alongside repeated promises to make Cyberpunk 2077 whole. Stability, performance issues, and critical quest and game-breaking bugs were addressed first, along with a bizarre memory limit issue that was corrupting saved games over a certain size. Last-gen consoles, which bore the brunt of the problems, were naturally a big focus of patches and the game finally returned to the PlayStation store in June. I jumped back in to try it again on PC after the v1.2 patch, which was a whopping 32GB in size. I played a few hours, then quit because despite the patch addressing over 500 different issues, the game was still a huge mess. Even those cars I witnessed smashing into the barricade outside V's apartment on day one were still doing it. That was back in April. There was a long way to go, I wrote at the time. There still is.
Playing Cyberpunk 2077 today
I'm playing through Cyberpunk 2077 again now, almost exactly a year after launch. And it's honestly nice to be back. There are some excellent characters with interesting stories, and despite all the problems my first time around I truly enjoyed getting to know them and seeing their stories develop. There's some great dialogue (along with plenty that's terrible) and some truly excellent missions.
And I can, finally and definitely, see the difference a year of patches has made. I'm not getting anywhere near as many bugs as I did those first few weeks and the following several months. The cops still teleport when I get a warrant on V (they're a shade more subtle about it) and still won't chase me in cars, but I wasn't really expecting that to have improved. Maybe in 2022.
There's been an impressive amount of work done over the year, and it shows. An early quest where Jackie kept getting stuck midway through the level on my first run went perfectly smoothly this time, and looking through patch notes it appears dozens of other quest bugs have been squashed along with that one. I haven't been launched through the air while climbing ladders, something that happened regularly the last time I played, and notifications don't get stuck on my screen anymore.
I'm especially happy to see some quality of life changes, like fewer messages from fixers trying to sell me cars (this, and the rest of the near-constant phone call spam was a major irritant for me), the improved zoom level on the minimap so I don't miss turns while following the GPS, and the fact that open world NPCs now react differently to events instead of all crouching or running or exiting their cars in perfect unison, which was pretty immersion breaking.
I am, however, getting far more frequent crashes to desktop than I ever did. In about eight hours of playing, the game crashed five or six times. That's not great, especially since crashing was one problem I never really had originally (and I'm using the exact same PC). And I'm pretty pleased to report that the cars outside V's apartment no longer ram mindlessly into that barricade.
But like I said, bugs aren't the only problem. I still can't change my appearance after starting the game. The lifepaths still feel entirely pointless. And playing the game again I'm remembering other things I was excited about, like brain dancing, which turned out to be used only a few times to solve some low-level puzzles, and the fearsome Trauma Team, who show up… what, once? Twice? And have absolutely no other part in the game? Surely there was meant to be more of them.
I'd love to be writing a year later that it's a great time to be jumping back into Cyberpunk 2077. Apparently a lot of new players are having a great time. But honestly, if you've waited this long, I recommend waiting another year to see if more than just bugs get patched. A lot—but not nearly everything—has been fixed in a year, but making Cyberpunk 2077 whole will mean not just fixing what's broken but addressing what's lacking. I'm sure they'll eventually do the first part. I'm not so sure about the second. Maybe I'll try again next December.