Cyberpunk 2077 is the latest title from Polish game studio CD Projekt Red, the same company that brought us the successful Witcher series. Announced first in 2012, Cyberpunk 2077 went through multiple delays before it was finally launched on December 10 on Windows, PS4, Xbox One, and Stadia.
It would be an understatement to say that Cyberpunk 2077 was one of the most hyped game launches in recent memory. While the initial announcement did happen in 2012, it wasn’t until the developers showcased the game at E3 2018 when it suddenly exploded in popularity. Then last year, the studio announced that Keanu Reeves would be part of the game. Reeves appeared on stage during the Xbox E3 2019 event and ended up giving us one of the best memes of 2019. The game also finally got a launch date – April 16, 2020.
Since then, the hype train had been going full speed until it reached its first major hitch in January of this year when CDPR announced that they won’t be making their April deadline and instead will be releasing the game on September 17. They said the game was complete but needed more time to polish. Then in June the release date was pushed back further, this time to November 19. Again, the studio cited the same reason for the delay, saying they need more time to iron out the issues and fix the bugs.
The final hitch came in October, where the studio once again took to Twitter to post what is now their infamous yellow text image to say that the game is being pushed back again to December 10. The delay was to further polish the game and work on the changes that would be going into the day 0 patch.
The hype train, which was still going strong at this point despite all those setbacks, ended up derailing itself on launch day. Turns out, the game wasn’t finished, wasn’t polished, and the bugs certainly weren’t ironed out. While the PC and Stadia versions were still playable despite the bugs, the PS4 and Xbox One consoles were also burdened by severe performance issues that rendered them largely unplayable unless you had the next-generation version of those consoles or particularly low standards.
The reason for this preamble is that Cyberpunk 2077 is not your average game to review. Few games have received so much attention, curiosity, and interest before launch and managed to lose all of that in such a spectacular fashion immediately after launch. Other than the death threats, refunds, and negative reviews, the studio has also had to deal with Sony removing the game from its PlayStation store indefinitely along with multiple lawsuits.
But underneath all the drama there is still a game to review, the one the developers had been working on for so many years and the one they wanted you to play. After 65 hours on the PC version, there certainly is a lot to talk about because, underneath all its issues, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that might be worth your time and patience after all.
Story and setting
Cyberpunk 2077 takes place in a fictional place called Night City in California. The world in 2077 is ravaged nearly beyond repair by multiple wars and climate change. Fresh food and water are scarce, most wildlife has gone extinct, and humanity has taken to extreme body modifications to survive and adapt to rising local and cyber attacks.
Night City is divided into multiple areas, each with a distinct look and identity. There are parts like Westbrook and City Center, where the rich and famous live and spend their money. The slightly less fortunate live in Watson and Heywood, places that still have that big city charm to them but where the streets aren’t as shiny and the cars aren’t as expensive. Those who are really down on their luck inhabit the streets of Santo Domingo or Pacifica whereas the deserts of Badlands have mostly been taken over by nomadic clans.
Night City is home to all sorts of people, from billionaire CEOs of mega-corporations that essentially run the city to celebrities, violent criminals, skilled hackers known as netrunners, mercenaries, sex workers, drug dealers, and the homeless. The city also houses several gangs, many of whom have claimed a part of the city as their own and don’t take kindly to outsiders.
You play as V, a mercenary for hire. Whenever someone needs to get something or someone delivered, snatched, or just made to disappear, they call you. Depending upon the lifepath you choose in the game, V is either a corporate employee fallen from grace and trying to make their way back to the top (Corpo), someone who was raised on the streets of Night City and trying to rise up (Street Kid), or someone who once belonged to a gang of nomads but left wanting to become a big shot in the big city (Nomad). Regardless of how you start, your goal is the same, become a legend in Night City.
Since this is a non-spoiler review, I’m not going to get into the events that happen in the game. All I’ll say is that things don’t quite go according to plan for V, which puts them on a path to set things right and thus we have a game on our hands.
I really enjoyed the main storyline in Cyberpunk 2077. Although parts of it are influenced by the choices you make, the overarching story largely remains the same and is entertaining regardless of how you choose to play it. It has its usual twists and turns but also has a fair bit of emotional depth and ends on a surprisingly poignant note that I wasn’t expecting. It’s something that sticks with you long after you’ve finished the game.
To my surprise, the main story isn’t actually very long and if you just focus on completing it then you will make your way to one of the game’s multiple endings in about 20 hours or so. However, this is really not the best way to play the game and you would be missing out on so much the story has to offer, which really grows the more side-missions you do and get more side characters involved in your adventure. These people will later also influence the endings so make sure you take things slow, help others out, and not rush through the story.
Cyberpunk 2077 is an open-world first-person, action-adventure role-playing game. It features first-person gunplay and melee combat, first or third person driving, and progressing the story primarily by having conversations with characters using a dialog tree structure, which also changes the outcome of the story and its ending based on your choices.
The combat in Cyberpunk 2077 is varied and elaborate and you can get things done in a variety of ways. If going in guns blazing is your thing, Cyberpunk 2077 has a wide variety of weapons, from standard ammunition such as handguns, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns to more sophisticated and advanced ‘smart’ weapons that can fire tracking bullets that follow your target and shoot behind cover. The guns don’t need specific type of ammo and a weapon belonging to a particular type — say, rifle — will use the same ammo as other rifles. You can customize and upgrade your weapons and carry several of them at once based upon your carrying capacity but only three can be enabled at any point.
If you are more into close combat, you can either go in bare knuckles or use one of the many swords and knives in this game. You have to be really good at these since most of the enemies in the game have guns and you would literally be showing up with a knife to a gunfight. But it’s an option should you be inclined.
The game also uses hacking as an offensive move. Since all human and non-human enemies have some electrical components, you can hack into them and disable various functions, such as making them deaf or blind, burn their insides, or just disable their entire body. Alternatively, you can also hack other objects around your target. You can hack cameras to prevent them from seeing you or hack a TV to distract your enemies.
Hacking is a useful tool if you plan on being stealthy. Stealth is often the most pragmatic option in Cyberpunk 2077 and you’ll often be told by the other characters alongside you to go through things quietly, with violence usually being the last resort. Stealth is also usually the simplest option; clearing a room full of enemies can be tedious at times, especially early on in the game where the weapons aren’t as powerful and the enemies behave like bullet sponges. Later on, you get guns that can one-shot kill most enemies so can choose to forgo stealth and shoot your way through if you want.
Cyberpunk 2077 is only a moderately difficult game. I played on the Normal difficulty setting and aside from the early missions where the weapons felt really underpowered, it was generally quite easy to get through even in the very end. The Normal difficulty setting seems more biased towards narrative-based gameplay than skill-based gameplay but if you prefer more of a challenge then I recommend bumping up the difficulty setting.
Weapons and ammo are extremely common in Night City, with most killed enemies giving some sort of weapon and/or ammo. It’s also lying around everywhere so you will rarely run out of it. You actually have to be careful with your inventory as you’ll usually have too many guns to carry and then have to get rid of some of them, either by dismantling or selling them off. If you have too much stuff, your character slows down considerably and can barely move.
Aiding the combat are cyberware. You can upgrade nearly every relevant part of your body to aid you in combat. The optic mods make you better at hacking and spotting items, the leg mods make you double jump, or you can mod your arms to fire weapons or have blades in them. Body mods can be expensive and you need to visit one of the in-game ‘ripperdocs’ to get them but are often worth their price.
Getting around the city can be done in two ways. One of them is just driving around. You get a vehicle for free early on in the game and if you do more side missions you get even more free vehicles. Aside from those, you can also purchase vehicles; you will get offers in your inbox to purchase them, and sometimes you can just see a nice car parked by the side of the road that you can buy. Or you can just steal someone else’s car and drive off in that. Cars that you own can be summoned to your location at any time.
While I do enjoy driving around in open-world games, the driving mechanics in Cyberpunk 2077 leave a lot to be desired. Vehicle physics can be comically bad, especially on motorcycles. You can have a head-on collision with a car and send that car into lower orbit while your bike barely flinches but a two-inch sidewalk could send you flying all the way to your destination.
By far the worst is the navigation system and especially the mini-map. The mini-map shows the route to your destination but it is so zoomed in all the time that you won’t see a turn coming while driving until you are well past it. You either have to brake before every turn or just drive around real slow to not miss your turn and have to come back or reroute. It’s a weirdly frustrating system that every other driving game has managed to get right.
Also, since we are on the subject of cars, all the vehicles in this game seem to use an internal combustion engine, which feels super odd for a game set in 2077. They also all have radios, which is just hilarious.
The other way you can get around the game is to use fast travel points. These are everywhere in the game, and usually just outside important areas but you need to have visited the place once to unlock them. Once unlocked, you can instantly teleport to another location in the city.
The last piece of the gameplay puzzle is the conversation or dialog tree design. As with other RPGs, you engage with characters and are presented with options for your dialogs. The dialog choices are often just different things you would like to know. Sometimes, they are a specific question that could take the conversation in a particular direction. Often it’s a statement with different emotions, such as sympathy, optimism, or antagonism.
The characters will react based on your choices, which presents further options. Usually, the options you pick will lead to the same basic outcome but other times it can change the direction of the story. Some of them have heavier implications, such as choosing how the story ends. The game doesn’t differentiate between these so you just have to trust your gut and pick what seems like the best option in that situation.
Of course, there will usually be some regret, which is probably where the save system comes in. Cyberpunk 2077 lets you save manually any time other than outside of active combat. It will also autosave rather frequently on its own. However, while the manual save slots seem to be unlimited, the autosaves have limited slots and get overwritten by new ones as they come in, so you shouldn’t rely on them and save manually whenever you think is necessary. Also, as I’ll explain later, the game is super buggy right now, so the more save points you have, the better.
Getting back to the conversations, it is partly affected by the lifepath you choose. Other than changing the first mission in the game, the only other impact your lifepath has is introducing some additional relevant conversation options based on context. For example, if you pick Nomad as your lifepath, then you will get some conversation options specific to the Nomadic lifepath every now and then, which won’t be available if you were a Corpo or Street Kid. From what I can tell, these usually don’t affect the outcome of the conversation much other than giving you some additional information that may or may not be useful.
What has a bigger impact on the conversations and the gameplay as a whole is your character’s skill tree. You have attributes such as body, reflexes, technical ability, intelligence, and cool. Each of these attributes can be upgraded as a whole but you can also drill down into each of these individually and find additional perks within each to upgrade. The attributes and perks have their own separate points, which can be used to upgrade them.
I found it more impactful to upgrade the attributes as a whole than the individual perks. If you have attributes beyond a certain level, you get additional conversation options to pick from, which could lead to more information about the mission. You can also do things like hacking objects that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do with a lower skill rating. If you come across a locked gate but have enough Body attribute level then you can just choose to rip the gate out clean through its hinges. Or if it’s an electronic door that’s locked then a high enough technical ability attribute will let you hack it open.
To get these points or even the money to buy cyber implants or vehicles, you need to do missions. The missions in Cyberpunk 2077 are divided into three types, story missions that directly move the story forward, side missions that may or may not have an impact on the main story, and gigs, which are purely jobs for cash.
While the story missions are obviously the end goal, it’s the side missions that offer some of the most rewarding moments of the game. It’s where you will meet new people or continue adventures with people you met in the story missions. The game lets you have smaller story arcs with multiple different characters in the game through the side missions. These arcs and the characters in them can often have a big impact on the main story at a later point, including influencing the ending.
The side missions are also where you will find the romantic options in the game. Based on your chosen appearance and voice (yes, both are important), you can romance with at least one of the characters in the side missions. This is pretty much the only impact that your character’s appearance has on gameplay. The rest is just for aesthetics, which matters even less in a first-person game.
The story-based side missions in the game can show up as a phone call or message from key characters in the game based on where you are in the main story. However, the random side missions usually show up depending upon your location on the map. The game will have characters calling you with a job offer based on your current location, as these are usually located near your position. As you drive around, more job offers will appear in your journal and on the map. The game doesn’t really differentiate between these in terms of importance or relevance to the story, so unless you are a completionist, you could actually miss out on some cool missions simply because their basic description didn’t seem interesting.
One aspect of the Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay that felt under-explored was Braindance. Braindance (or BD) is first-person memories of someone transferred to a chip that you can then playback in your head and experience as if you are seeing it for yourself. An exciting premise and one that has been explored before in science fiction but Cyberpunk 2077 only uses it sparingly. The only time you get a BD is when you have to analyze it for a story mission. You can play it back in first or third-person and then have to scan it for clues, which will lead you to whatever it is you are looking for.
Outside of those contrived scenarios, you can’t use the BD yourself. There are places in the game where you can purchase BDs but they instantly get added to your junk pile. That’s because there is no way to access or play a BD on your own outside of those select few ones in the story missions. It’s a shame because the game promotes the BDs as this revolutionary experience for people in Night City that has changed the way they experience all sorts of things.
Another aspect of the gameplay that is a letdown is the AI. The random people walking the street have nothing to add to the game except visual clutter. You can’t really speak to them as all they have is one or two lines that they will keep repeating. People on the street will often just walk back and forth and generally don’t really go anywhere. If you fire a gun or attack someone, they all just duck down or run around in circles like a headless chicken. You will also hear NPC saying the same few lines of dialog everywhere you go. There are a couple of cops below the apartment where V lives that always say the same lines every time you go past them, no matter how many hours you put into the game.
The enemy AI is no better. They don’t take cover effectively and often just run out in the open. Also, alerting one suddenly alerts all of them instantly but if you go to a different room they are all oblivious. You can also usually sneak by right in front of them without them noticing and other times they will suddenly spot you from miles away. During one boss fight, the boss just decided to stay in one spot and I was able to just unload into him from a distance using a sniper rifle. It’s just super inconsistent and immersion-breaking.
The law enforcement aspect of the game is also underwhelming. Night City has police all over the place and the game also has random side missions that show up as you drive down the street, where a crime could be taking place and you have to assist the police for a reward. But other than that, the law enforcement aspect never really plays into the game. Sure, the cops do momentarily get upset if you run someone over right in front of them or even run over one of the police but as soon as you drive off or turn a corner they forget about it and there are no consequences for your actions.
It’s only if you decide you are going to start hunting the police for sport does the game suddenly go into a Blue Lives Matter mode and mark you as a wanted fugitive and send the Max-Tac cops after you. Max-Tac is a special division within the Night City police that is armed to the teeth and largely invincible. If they come after you, you are dead. But that’s the only time I died to the police in the game. Otherwise, I barely had any contact with them.
They also hate it if you take pictures of them
Another poorly designed feature is being in a car driven by an AI character. Many times during the game’s missions you will be given a choice of either driving to a location by yourself or with another character. Other times, you have no choice but to be driven there by the character. All the characters in the game drive incredibly slowly and the vehicle is very obviously moving on a rail with its rigid movements. It’s like being driven around by your grandma and it gets frustrating really fast. Fortunately, the game lets you skip the drive if there aren’t any further conversations to be had during the drive.
Pick up the pace, grandma
Cyberpunk 2077 also hasn’t properly solved the issue of walking next to a character and matching your speed. The game does match your speed to other characters as long as you walk exactly behind them and point at them. If you move away or point elsewhere then you start walking at your normal pace, which is much higher than the AI characters. Also, the pace matching is broken for some reason on the stairs and you walk at full speed there. You can just start running if you know where to go and that causes the AI characters to also run behind you but you often don’t know where you need to go so you have no choice but to follow them around slowly.
To round-up the gameplay section, Cyberpunk 2077 has its issues currently. The driving feels clunky with a clumsy navigation system, the AI is just under-developed, the police don’t do much, being driven around is a pain, and the BD feature feels wasted. However, I still had a lot of fun playing all the missions in the game. I wasn’t too big on the hacking and melee combat but the gunplay can be very satisfying, largely thanks to the first-person perspective.
I also liked how several missions in the game just open a can of worms and lead you down several more missions related to the first one that you can’t help but see through because they are just so damn interesting (you always have the choice of backing out). The conversations also never get boring and although the writing here isn’t as funny as in Rockstar games, it’s still entertaining enough.
Overall, Cyberpunk 2077 has really solid base gameplay that doesn’t quite reach its full potential or do anything we haven’t seen before but is entertaining nonetheless.
Visuals and sound
By far the most striking aspect of Cyberpunk 2077 is its visual design. Aesthetically, it is one of the most stunning games I’ve seen and definitely the best-looking open-world game we have had so far.
The game’s vision of a cyberpunk future set in 2077 is equal parts utopia and dystopia. Areas like City Center and Watson have jaw-dropping architectural design and complexity. Buildings as high as your camera movement will allow, with intricate connections linking them together. The streets are filled with shops with bright neon signage and beautiful cars plying across the glossy, manicured streets.
Step outside the posh areas and you see the real Night City. The architecture still impresses but everything is more worn down and less immaculate. The streets aren’t as clean or well-maintained. The shops are simpler and many are just shut down. The cars aren’t as nice. Then when you go out into the deserts you see old run-down business and what was once a windmill farm, now dilapidated and looking more like a cemetery.
Powering these stunning vistas is CDPR’s REDengine 4, the latest version of the in-house engine that has powered their previous games. Using the new engine, Cyberpunk 2077 can deliver exceptional lighting effects with highly detailed, high-poly models and environments, a massive open-world sandbox map, and some serious crowd density that makes Night City feel like a real place with living, breathing people.
REDengine 4’s real claim to fame, however, is perhaps one of the most ambitious implementations of ray tracing that we have seen since Remedy’s Control. While the standard rasterized version does have your traditional effects, such as static and bounce lighting, global illumination, screen-space reflections, and ambient occlusions and shadow maps, many of these effects can be replaced with their ray-traced equivalents if you have an NVIDIA RTX graphics card.
Cyberpunk 2077 has three main ray tracing features — reflections, shadows, and lighting. Ray-traced reflections allow glossy and diffused surfaces to bounce light and produce reflections, even for objects outside of the view frustum; something the standard SSR cannot achieve. The world of Cyberpunk 2077 is filled with glossy surfaces everywhere so enabling ray-traced reflections can have one of the most profound impacts on the game’s visuals and give it that true next-generation look.
The next RT setting you can toggle is shadows. This generates ray-traced shadows from the sun and the moon, which means it’s only visible outdoors under certain conditions. Unlike reflections, shadows don’t have as big of an impact on the game’s visual design. The standard shadow maps in the game do a good enough job where, even if their outlines aren’t necessarily physically accurate based on the distance from the object casting the shadow, the position and shape are still largely fine.
The final RT Lighting setting encompasses multiple ray-traced features, including diffuse illumination, ambient occlusion, and global illumination. RT lighting replaces the point and probe lighting in the game and turns emissive objects into their own light sources. This causes them to produce lighting that is physically accurate and contained within the shape of the object. It also turns the skybox into a light source, accurately bathing the scene below in realistic lighting. The result is that objects are more correctly lit and shaded without the glowing appearance of standard rasterized lighting.
RT AO also fills in the gaps that screen space AO cannot, causing the areas in the dark where objects intersect to be filled in correctly with shadows. Areas under vehicles, for example, which should be dark but often lit in the non-RT version is correctly shaded with RT AO.
Lastly, there’s RT global illumination, which is only enabled with the Psycho preset for RT Lighting. This replaces the game’s standard global illumination effect and produces a more natural lighting effect with bounce lighting that stays accurate with the game’s dynamic time of day and weather system. It is, however, by far the most subtle of all the RT effects.
With all the RT effects enabled, the visual experience is elevated to a whole new level. While the game is already quite good-looking even without ray tracing, enabling RT just adds that extra level of realism to the visuals and removes some of the video-gamey appearance of the non-RT graphics.
As of now, ray tracing is available exclusively on the PC and on the NVIDIA RTX graphics cards. CDPR has said that they will be bringing the feature to the AMD RDNA2-based cards in a future update. No word yet on whether the feature will be coming to the next-generation consoles.
But while ray tracing is one part of the visual story, the second is DLSS, another NVIDIA RTX-exclusive feature. With DLSS 2.0, the game renders at a lower internal resolution and then uses AI and machine learning to reconstruct it back to native resolution. You can choose between Ultra, Balanced, Performance, and Ultra Performance presets for DLSS and these render at increasingly lower resolutions internally but net an appropriately higher frame rate.
Cyberpunk 2077 is likely the best showing for DLSS so far. The Ultra preset produces results that are often indistinguishable from native resolution. The only places you can tell a difference is in the resolution of some textures and the more pixellated nature of volumetric fog due to the lower internal rendering resolution but otherwise, the image is extremely stable and detailed. It even looks better in some instances by reducing aliasing artifacts left behind by the game’s fixed TAA implementation, and also cleaning up the noise in the game’s SSR implementation.
Depending on your target resolution and frame rate, you may want to experiment with Ultra and Balanced modes. Performance can look a bit rough and Ultra Performance is really not recommended unless the target resolution is really high.
I do have some issues with the visuals of the game. For one, the animations often look a bit janky. Even though the game has motion-captured animation, several of the character movements just feel like they were done by animators and not by actors.
The other issue is with the facial animations for V. Being a first-person game, you mostly don’t see V’s face in the game, but in the few instances that you do, particularly towards the end of the game, the face is completely devoid of any expression. Next to a fully animated character, your own character looks like a cardboard cutout, sitting there with a completely neutral expression regardless of the situation. It’s extremely jarring and immersion breaking.
The third issue is with HDR. Cyberpunk 2077 has a raised black floor in general, even in SDR, which means blacks don’t look black but dark gray. The default gamma setting makes every shadow area look gray, which looks terrible in the indoor scenes and just makes the game look washed out with poor contrast. Reducing the gamma value improves things marginally but can severely hamper visibility in dark environments. HDR doesn’t help much here; it boosts the highlights to stunningly bright levels and also adds extra details in the bright areas but the shadows remain grey and washed out, which can make even an OLED display look like LCD.
All things considered, Cyberpunk 2077 is still a stunningly beautiful looking game. The architecture of the different parts of the city, art direction for characters and their costumes, vehicle and weapon design, and just the general look and feel of the environment from the glossy city centers to the grimy underbelly, is all done beautifully. While it isn’t perfect, this is easily one of the best looking games I’ve ever played.
As for the sound design, Cyberpunk 2077 starts off strong with a really good soundtrack with several tracks that really stick with you even after you’ve completed the main story. There’s also a good range of licensed tracks that play through the game world and on the game’s radio.
The voice acting is good. I only played as the female V so I can’t speak for the male voice but Cherami Leigh, who did the female voice, did a good job overall. The game also projects the voice in a certain way, which almost makes it sound like it’s coming from your head. It also plays it a bit differently when V is talking in her head. There were a few moments where I felt like the voice I was hearing somehow didn’t match my character’s chosen appearance but you rarely see your character in third-person so it wasn’t a big deal.
As for Keanu, well, he’s Keanu. It’s probably not a controversial opinion at this point that he’s not the greatest actor alive and certainly not the best choice for a voice acting role. But while his delivery can be inconsistent, he makes up for it in charm. His character — Johnny Silverhand — is sardonic, ill-tempered, and impatient. A rockstar, reduced to a shadow of his former self and is often both the angel and the devil sitting on V’s shoulders. You never really know if you can trust him but often you have no choice in the matter.
Silverhand could have easily been an insufferable character had it not been for the writing and Keanu’s performance, which keeps him feeling likable despite definitely coming off too strong in the beginning. I was actually surprised by just how much of him is in the game; I expected a few minutes here and there but nope, he’s there a lot. And he did the motion capture for it, too.
The rest of the voice acting is fine. Some of it stands out, such as the voice for Judy Alvarez (Carla Tassara) and Goro Takemura (Rome Kanda) while the rest sort of meld into one another. The game also has some cameo appearances but it’s best if you find those out for yourself.
The rest of the sound and foley work is pretty good. The weapons all have a satisfying punch to them, the vehicles with their odd internal combustion engines in 2077 also sound great, and walking around the city really feels like you’re in an actual place filled with real vehicles and people, especially if you have a surround sound system as the game supports Dolby Atmos. Overall, we have some good sound work in here and the soundtrack is definitely worth checking out.
Let’s discuss the performance characteristics of the game because there’s a lot to talk about here. But before that, here’s a rundown of my system. As mentioned before, I reviewed the Windows version of the game, which was tested on a PC running an NVIDIA RTX 2060 Founders Edition (factory + manual OC) and an AMD Ryzen 5 2600 with 16GB of 3000MHz dual-channel DDR4 and the game installed on a 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD. The game was a retail GOG copy and tested using the version 1.04, 1.05, and 1.06 patch, with 1.06 being the latest at the time of writing.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a very demanding game on PC. While some of it definitely feels justified, such as with ray-tracing enabled, the other aspects of it don’t quite measure up to the level of hardware required to run it consistently.
One of the easier ways to improve performance is to customize the visual settings. Cyberpunk 2077 offers a range of options to adjust, all with varying impacts on performance and visual quality. Here’s a quick rundown of all of them.
- Contact Shadows: Low performance impact, high visual impact
- Improved facial lighting geometry: No performance impact, low visual impact
- Anisotropy: No performance impact, high visual impact
- Local shadow mesh quality: No performance impact, low visual impact
- Local shadow quality: Low performance impact, medium visual impact
- Cascaded shadow range: Low performance impact, medium visual impact
- Distant shadow resolution: Low performance impact, low visual impact
- Volumetric fog resolution: Medium performance impact, high visual impact
- Volumetric cloud quality: Medium performance impact, medium visual impact
- Max dynamic decals: Low performance impact, low visual impact
- Screen space reflections quality: High performance impact, high visual impact
- Subsurface scattering quality: Low performance impact, low visual impact
- Ambient occlusion: Medium performance impact, medium visual impact
- Color precision: Low performance impact, no visual impact
- Mirror quality: High performance impact, high visual impact
- Level of detail: Low performance impact, Low visual impact
- Ray traced reflections: Very high performance impact, very high visual impact
- Ray traced shadows: Very high performance impact, medium visual impact
- Ray traced lighting: Very high performance impact, very high visual impact
You can refer to this list if you’re trying to customize the game to reach your preferred resolution and frame rate target. You should go for the high performance impact settings first and try to reduce them to a point where the game still looks good enough. Meanwhile, you can leave the low performance impact settings at their highest values as there’s not much to gain by adjusting them.
Of course, if you have DLSS then switching to the Quality preset is basically free performance for little to no quality loss. It also lets you get away with things like a lower SSR quality preset as it smoothes out the noise in the reflections quite effectively. However, since the volumetric fog rendering is tied to the internal rendering of the game, it can end up looking blocky around light sources such as street lights, even at its highest setting, if DLSS is enabled. Other than that, I have nothing but praise for the DLSS implementation in Cyberpunk 2077.
The game also lets you enable or disable options such as film grain, chromatic aberration, depth of field, and lens flare. Film grain is one of the more subtle options here but the other three have a pretty serious impact on the look of the game. None of them really affects the performance so pick whatever looks best to you. Motion blur has three levels of adjustment and can also be adjusted to taste without any real performance impact.
While adjusting the visual settings is a good first step to improving performance if you are GPU-bound, it’s highly likely that you are also going to be CPU-bound in Cyberpunk 2077. The game is CPU demanding and can be quite taxing on low core count CPUs and some of the older architectures.
For example, on my 6-core, 12-thread Ryzen 5 2600, I am almost constantly running into CPU bottlenecks, which causes my GPU to drop in utilization as it’s waiting for the CPU to finish the draw calls. There are two aspects of this game that will destroy your CPU — crowd density and driving. Fortunately, you can adjust the amount of crowd in the game and setting it to low helps out a lot with reducing the load on the CPU. It does, however, make the game look a bit empty at times.
You hate to see it
Unfortunately, you can’t do much about the performance drops during driving. The only solution here is to have a powerful, high core count CPU. The developers could definitely optimize the engine further for weaker or low core count CPUs but I’ve been seeing more and more games, especially those using low-level APIs such as DirectX 12, being exceptionally CPU demanding, and that quad-core i5 or that AMD FX that you’ve been holding on to will only take you so far. Unlike GPU bottlenecks, CPU bottlenecks cause much more erratic spikes in frame times, which results in jerkier performance and stuttering, even if your overall frame rate doesn’t drop.
The other issue with the game’s performance is with the VRAM usage or at least the VRAM allocation since it’s hard to check how much VRAM an application is actually using. Even at 1080p, at the highest texture settings, Cyberpunk 2077 can easily exceed 6GB of allocated video memory. On my 6GB RTX 2060, I would constantly run into VRAM bottlenecks in crowded places. The solution here is to drop the texture settings one notch below the highest setting, which helps tremendously but does make some game textures appear blurry.
Based on all the different hardware configurations out there, it’s difficult to say how the game will perform for everyone. In my case, I chose a combination of mostly ultra settings, with a few things such as screen space reflections and volumetric clouds turned down. Then I made the tough decision to not use any ray tracing. While the game does look stunning with it, the RTX 2060 isn’t suitable for ray tracing applications (other than taking screenshots) and the game still looks great without it. Ray-tracing also puts an additional burden on the CPU and video memory, and since I was already short on those I decided not to push my luck. I did, however, enable DLSS and set it to Ultra. I also set the crowd density to low and textures to medium.
With those, I would get anywhere from 40 to 90fps in the game. The game would be at its lowest in crowded streets while driving and highest when out of the main city area and in the desert but during most of the regular gameplay, I found it hovering between 70-80fps, which wasn’t too shabby. I was almost constantly CPU bound by my Ryzen 5 2600, which meant that I couldn’t get a higher frame rate even if I reduced the visual settings. However, because I have a variable refresh rate display, the fluctuations in frame rates aren’t too distracting until they drop really low.
Overall, the level of performance and optimization in the game leaves a lot to be desired. While it’s easy to be dismissive of these things and just excuse the game for being “advanced”, a lot of the issues come across as a lack of optimization within the engine itself rather than due to something spectacular happening on screen. It doesn’t help CDPR’s reputation that they shipped the game in a state where it was only properly utilizing half the threads on AMD CPUs under 8-cores. This eventually got patched in 1.05 but only after the community pointed it out and released its own unofficial hex edit mod. This to me shows that there’s still more that CDPR could do, which brings us to our next problem.
Cyberpunk 2077 is a technically flawed game with several bugs, many of which can be game-breaking. While games having bugs at launch isn’t uncommon, few games have shipped in such a dire state in recent memory, with the only examples coming to mind being Fallout 76 and the PC version of Batman Arkham Knight.
The bugs in Cyberpunk 2077 can broadly be classified as being either game-breaking or non-game-breaking. The non-game-breaking bugs are certainly the most common type in the game. Characters will often randomly T-pose in front of you, stand up on top of their chairs instead of sitting on them, randomly switch between sitting and standing stance during conversations, spawn in the same spot as other characters, or sit, stand or walk in the air. Objects held by characters randomly float in the air, entire vehicles just spawn randomly in front of you or fall from the sky. Your own character will randomly stand on your car or bike’s seat while driving, often butt naked for some reason. Enemies will walk through solid doors and walls or get stuck in them. The list just goes on.
One time while riding a bike, my character didn’t have her head. That’s because the game was still showing the first person character model in third person and the first person character model has no head (which is why the game doesn’t show your character model in first person reflections even with RT reflections on). So now I had this headless horseman riding around Night City.
The non-game-breaking bugs are largely comedy fodder instead of being annoying. It’s like they thought instead of writing in actually funny dialog they’ll just add all these bugs for comic relief. Most of these don’t impact the gameplay; you have a laugh, take a screenshot for posterity, and then move on.
The game-breaking bugs are less funny. From my own experience, there have been instances where an important character in a mission just got stuck in a room and wouldn’t come out. Without the character being outside, the game wouldn’t move forward. No amount of riding around town reset the character and eventually, I just had to reload the last save file.
In another instance, I had to visit a location and had to take an elevator up to a building. The elevator pad didn’t show the buttons to call the elevator so that was the end of that mission until I had to reload the last save.
Another time, the person I had to collect something from got stuck inside a wall, which meant I had no access to them and again, had to load a previous save.
Perhaps the most common game-breaking bug in Cyberpunk 2077 is when you have to talk to someone important and the game simply doesn’t present you with the conversation options on the screen. Without the options, you really can’t do anything so once again, you have to reload an old save file.
Can’t ‘Talk to Mitch’ if there are no options
While reloading files (or sometimes, the entire game) doesn’t sound that bad, it totally kills the experience of playing the game. Also, depending upon how far back your last save file is, you may have to drag yourself through lengthy conversations or action sequences, simply because the game decided to crap out on you towards the end of it. While not as common as the non-game-breaking bugs, the game-breaking bugs are still plenty in Cyberpunk 2077 and really makes it hard to enjoy the game sometimes.
Of course, these are just the things that I came across, and others may have had other issues. I’m far from completing all the side missions and gigs in the game and there’s an entire world of bugs out there waiting for me if I were to attempt that. What upsets me most about the state of the game is the way it turned out to be despite the delays and promises of polish. Had it launched this way in April, it would still be bad but after three delays, all of which claimed they were for making the game better, the state of the game at launch is simply unacceptable. Not to mention the game had eight years of development time.
I’m not even going to talk about the console versions of the game, which I haven’t had any experience with it. All I’ll say is that they chose not to send those out for review, which should tell you everything. The phrase ‘It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to beg for permission.’ comes to mind. The game clearly needed another year of development work but CDPR decided to release it early and use its paying customers as unpaid beta testers. On top of that, they also burnt out their developers with crunch time and will likely continue to do so for the next year or so till the game is actually finished. All of this just so they could meet their holiday launch target and also the new console and PC hardware launch window.
It’s a sorry state of affairs all around but the irony that all of this happened with a game that primarily rails against corporate greed isn’t lost on me.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Cyberpunk 2077 is not your average game. In many ways, it reminds me of Death Stranding. Like that game, if I decide to list the pros and cons of Cyberpunk 2077, it would seem like I largely hate the game because there’s a lot to complain about here.
Is it full of bugs right now? Yes. Does it have unreasonably high hardware demands? Yes. Do parts of the gameplay feel underdeveloped and unremarkable at times? Yes. Should the studio have been upfront about the state of the game at release, perhaps delayed indefinitely, and not have burnt out its developer leading up to the launch? Absolutely yes.
But just like Death Stranding, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that I unabashedly enjoyed playing despite all its flaws. I enjoyed the story, I enjoyed the mini-journeys and story arcs the side missions took me on, I enjoyed the performances, and I enjoyed the conversations I had in the game.
Most of all, I just enjoyed walking on the streets of Night City and feeling like I was tourist in a different country. This year has been rough for travel but visiting Night City gave me the feeling of exploring a new place for the first time that I’ve been missing all year. That for me alone was the price of admission. So what if a homeless person was T-posing somewhere and cars randomly fell out of buildings. Every place has its flaws.
But as much as I enjoyed it, I would advise others to wait until the game has finished developing. This is still very much a work in progress, especially if you are a console owner. A year from now, the game should hopefully be what it should have been at launch and you would then be able to experience it the way the developers would have wanted you to. Because there’s a lot of hard work here that was put in by people who wanted you to have a good time. But they aren’t finished making it yet.
I plan on revisiting the game when it’s complete. But I also plan on visiting it as soon as I’m done writing this. This city isn’t going to burn itself.