Cyberpunk 2077: Everything we learned from the jam-packed E3 demo

A massive info dump on the first-person combat, driving, and a stunning world to explore.

Five years after watching a teaser trailer for Cyberpunk, I can finally confirm that Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that exists. And it looks awesome. During E3 2018, I was among the first to sit down and watch an hour-long demo that showed off a dizzying variety of Cyberpunk’s systems, character progression, and combat. It was a stunning introduction to a world that I now cannot wait to explore in greater detail. Here’s what I learned.

Cyberpunk is a first-person RPG with shooting

Dare I say it’s a first-person shooter? I think I dare. Though cutscenes and driving sometimes switch to third-person, Cyberpunk 2077 involves a lot of first-person shooting. With guns. Lots of guns. It’s was chaotic and fast-paced, but was less aggressive than, say, Doom. During a firefight in the opening moments of the demo, V, the main character, ducked and peeked around cover to spray a gang of organ scavengers with bullets from her automatic pistol. Like Destiny 2, numbers indicating damage dealt exploded with each landed shot—but enemies didn’t feel like bullet sponges. I also love how agile V can be.

Though there’s supposedly quite a bit of variety in what abilities V has, in this demo she was an agile cyberninja. She could run and slide to cover and also trigger a slow motion bullet-time mode. She also had a quick dash that let her burst in a specific direction. When bullet-time and this dash were combined, she could quickly flank enemies and deliver fatal killshots.

I also saw a ton of cool weapons, and yes, there are weapons other than guns, though again, there are a lot of guns. A street-modified Tech Shotgun could penetrate cover and enemies, which was a deadly combo when paired with V’s upgraded optic implant that could show her enemies through objects. A Smart Rifle takes all the skill out of shooting by firing bullets that track enemies. You merely aim in their general direction and it’ll lock onto multiple targets and fire bullets that automatically track their intended targets.

You can play as a man or a woman

While we knew we would be creating our own character in Cyberpunk, it was never clear how in-depth that customization would be. During the demo I got a quick peak of the character creation screen, which starts with choosing your sex. From there, you can customize hair, tattoos, and clothing. It doesn’t look like you can change your character’s bone structure, though—no deep menu of facial feature sliders here.

You can also change your stats. There are basics like strength and intelligence, but also a ‘cool’ stat that I’m guessing determines your charisma in conversations. The full list from what we saw in the demo: Strength, constitution, intelligence, reflexes, tech, cool. Notably, there are some important stats from the tabletop Cyberpunk not represented here, like Empathy. More on why that’s significant below.

I’m sure cool will have some other cute functions aside from charisma, as we speculate here. It just sucks that if I want to roleplay as myself when the game releases I’ll have to set it to zero.

You can also change your backstory, which will have an impact on how characters regard you and may open up new choices and story moments. You know, the standard RPG stuff these days.

You can drive around the massive Night City

Cyberpunk 2077 takes place in Night City, a fictional metropolis in Northern California. The city is, by all accounts, massive. It features six districts with no loading screens between them. To help you get around, there are vehicles you can drive in either first or third person. It was hard to get a sense for how realized this part of the game is—I’m not sure if there will be all the depth of simulation you see in something like Grand Theft Auto V’s driving and traffic. But it did look impressive and smooth.

During one scene, V was ambushed by a truck full of organ scavengers from the first shootout. While her partner Jackie grabbed the wheel, V leaned out of the window to fire back. It was a cool moment of on-rails shooting as we flew through Night City at high speeds. CD Projekt Red says there will be many different vehicles, but I have no idea if you can pilot the cool flying cars some characters had.

This is very much a mature-rated game

Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t for kids, and definitely seems to be leaning into its inevitable mature rating. In the first few minutes of the demo, V rescued a woman kidnapped by organ scavengers. She was found naked in a bathtub, and the game didn’t flinch away from full nudity. In the demo, we played a female V who, during a cutscene that showed her morning routine, was wearing pretty skimpy clothing. There was also a ton of swearing, as expected, but also what sounded like masturbation jokes and more. Cyberpunk 2077 looks keen to capitalize on the ‘punk.’

Cyberware greatly changes how you play

These augments have all sorts of crazy uses. During the demo, we visited a Ripperdoc who could upgrade and replace our cyberware. We opted for a Kiroshi Optical Implant that let us zoom in on objects and also analyze the environment, seeing enemy levels and getting detailed information about them. We also picked up a Subdermal Grip for our gun hand, which increases the damage we do when firing guns.

The implants are wildly cool, but it’s strange that they don’t seem to have downsides in a game world which—at least in its tabletop incarnation—stressed the dehumanizing and dangerous sides of cyberware with mental illnesses like cyberpsychosis. It’s a facet of the universe that we know the developers are aware of—the 2013 reveal trailer featured a woman getting arrested by C-SWAT for going off the deep end. On the tabletop, a character’s Empathy and Humanity stats dictated how much cyberware it was safe for them to use, but Empathy seems absent from Cyberpunk 2077.

Some Ripperdocs will also let us suit up with illegal military-grade tech.

Later on we got access to some wild toys. One piece of cyberware let V ricochet bullets around corners to kill enemies behind cover. This was accompanied by a UI element that showed you the intended path of the bullet, so you could line up shots perfectly. We also got to see V’s mantis-like sword arms, which she could use to eviscerate enemies. Other upgrades let V wallrun, use bullet time, double jump, and dash forward in short bursts. There’s even robots you can control remotely, like a spiderbot that can climb walls and ceilings. We didn’t get to see it in action, but once we acquired the thing it followed us through levels automatically defending itself during combat.

At one point, V snuck up on an enemy and put them in a chokehold. From there, she could hack into that person’s cyberware and access data about that person, some of which is just for lore. If enemies are connected together by a network, though, a bunch of new options open up. In this instance, V hacked one enemy’s gun to make it stop working without him realizing. She killed the person she had put in a chokehold and then attacked the two remaining bad guys. As she finished off one, the other tried shooting only to realize his gun was jammed. His confusion created an opening for V to get in close and finish him off.

We were told that some Ripperdocs will also let us suit up with illegal military-grade tech. I can only imagine how cool that stuff will be.

There’s loads of interactivity in the environments

Both in and out of combat, there were many ways we could mess with the environment. Out in the open world, for example, advertisements for products could be touched, giving you a market on your HUD where that item could be purchased. We used that to buy some soda from a vending machine that would heal us over time.

In combat we saw light destructible elements in certain areas. When fighting a boss character in an exo-suit, for example, V shot a lift holding a car to drop it to ground level, creating some on-the-fly cover to hide behind.

Dialogue doesn’t feel like a stilted cutscene

In a lot of RPGs, dialogue sections basically put the game on pause while two characters talk stiffly back and forth. It’s not the best way to deliver the story, and thankfully Cyberpunk 2077 has massive improvements in this area. While I’m not 100 percent certain, all dialogue appears to happen in real-time. You can continue moving and looking around, but when you focus the camera back on the character you’re speaking to, dialogue options appear on screen. There were usually three or four options at any time, which does suggest this system won’t be as robust as some other pureblood RPGs.

It was incredible walking through streets and seeing hundreds of characters walking, playing, talking, and fighting. It’s not clear how dynamic this world is, however.

I’m okay with that, though, because this new system and the first-person perspective make for some incredibly tense exchanges. When V and her sidekick Jackie arrived at a Maelstrom gang hideout with the intention of buying a powerful piece of gear, the deal almost went sour. In the middle of the dialogue sequence, characters including V started drawing weapons and pointing them at one another. Meanwhile, dialogue prompts kept appearing that let you try to steer the situation: Do you try to keep calm or open fire? In this situation, we finally managed to deescalate by showing the thugs that we had the money and weren’t looking to screw them over.

In an earlier scene, V was apprehended by a group of corporate agents. These extremely deadly characters were looking for information, and mistook V as someone they were looking for. While they pinned her to the ground, they jacked into her cyberware and installed a lie detector app and began an interrogation. If we lied, they would know it immediately and there would be consequences because of that. I love this new system because it feels fluid and natural. There’s no longer the clear distinction of entering and exiting a conversation with someone. Everything flows together.

Objects can be inspected to learn new information

Every item in the game, we’re told, can be inspected within the inventory. This shows the item close up, where you can look for hidden details and learn bits of lore about the world or, just maybe, discover a clue that will help you on a quest.

You have at least one teammate who helps you in combat

His name is Jackie and he’s a real badass. He’s a big, gruff Latino man who can handle his own in a gunfight. During one boss fight, he picked up a car and used it as mobile cover. In another fight, he charged straight through a wall to tackle an especially tough enemy. He appears to be a main character and he accompanied us throughout the entire demo. It’s not clear whether or not other party members can be recruited and swapped out.

We know nothing of the story, but the world looks incredible

Thanks to some awesome crowd technology, the world of Cyberpunk 2077 feels alive and bustling. It was incredible walking through streets and seeing hundreds of characters walking, playing, talking, and fighting. It’s not clear how dynamic this world is, however. We passed by a crime scene in one neighborhood, and I’d like to know whether that crime scene will ever get cleaned up or if it’s a static landmark in this area.

What I really love is how deep the characters and their motivations appear to be, however. The world feels absolutely bursting with factions and cultures. During the demo, we were recruited by a ‘fixer’ named Dex to track down a piece of powerful tech as a way of proving ourselves a worthy freelancer for hire. That simple mission led put us in the sights of a corporate agent in full damage control mode trying to reclaim a shipment of stolen military tech. It was a completely optional decision, but we decided to strike a deal with her and help her reclaim the kit and save face in exchange for the one item that Dex needed.

We went to the gang hideout and decided to play it cool, offering to buy the gear instead of taking it by force. Things almost went bad, but we managed to convince their leader that we were straight and he gave us the item. As he plugged the currency chip into his computer, only then did he realize it contained a virus made by the Corporate agent—she had betrayed us all and got involved when she said she wouldn’t. It’s almost overwhelming trying to stay on top of who is who and what they want, but it also means Cyberpunk 2077 feels fleshed out and layered in a way that few RPGs ever achieve.

Those were some of the biggest highlights of that hour-long demo, and I cannot wait to see more. Honestly, my head is still spinning, and it’s hard to say whether the full game will be able to feel as dense and intricate. I never expected that our first look would have so much to cover, which is hopefully a good sign of how much more is still to come for Cyberpunk.

By Steven Messner

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