Well, I accidentally got everyone killed. My bad.
I’d just played through a portion of Cyberpunk 2077‘s story, one that I’d first seen as a hands-off demo at E3 2019 and then later played during a brief hands-on session. The mission has Cyberpunk’s protagonist, V, take on a mercenary job with the Voodoo Boys, a gang known for their special aptitude at hacking. After fighting through a hideout filled with members of another gang, the steroid-and cybernetics-loving Animals, I knew how the mission would shake out. The Animals were protecting an agent of Netwatch–basically, internet cops–and the Voodoo Boys wanted him eliminated. From my past playthrough, I knew the Voodoo Boys had every intention of betraying me once the job was done.
So instead, I cut a deal with Netwatch to extract the malware the Voodoo Boys had left in my cybernetic implants. Little did I know, however, that in removing the Voodoo Boys malware, the Netwatch guy zapped me with different malware. In a later scene, when much of the Voodoo Boys’ leadership were jacked into the net along with me, they all got remotely fried through their direct-to-brain connections–thanks to my choices.
Like any big game of this type, not every dialog option or snarky comment makes for a massive branch in Cyberpunk’s narrative, but sometimes, your moves–like whether you leave an incapacitated opponent alive, or who you decide to trust–can create serious ripples.
After fighting my way out of the Voodoo Boys’ hideout in the aftermath of the carnage, I received a text from Placide, the gang member from whom I’d received the initial job: “Watch your back.”
This scene was part of a huge, 16-hour hands-on preview I recently got of Cyberpunk 2077, during which I played the game from the very start of the campaign. I spent a lot of that time with the main story, which centers on V, a mercenary in Night City out to make a name for themselves and become a living legend. Things take a turn relatively early in the game, after the job to steal a prototype “biochip” goes south. V ends up depositing the chip into their own skull, where it malfunctions, leaving them sharing their body with the techno-ghost of Johnny Silverhand, a legendary character who died 50 years earlier.
Much of the story from that point on is about V trying to figure out how to get that chip out of their head and trying to track down people who might be able to help. CD Projekt Red’s RPGs are known for being heavy on choice and branching narrative, and it’s that feeling of choice that most marked my time with Cyberpunk. Through hours of the main story and a few side missions, I felt like I was leaving my mark on Night City, while also developing relationships with some of the world’s characters. It’s those relationships and the people you form them with that make Night City a place I want to keep exploring.
There are a lot of compelling side characters you encounter as you work through the story. One is Judy, a braindance editor you encounter before the job to steal the biochip. Braindances are one of the cooler elements of the Cyberpunk world–these are virtual reality recordings that allow you to experience an event from the point of view of the person who lived it. With Judy’s help, you’re able to step outside of the perspective of the person recording the braindance and scour the scene for information and evidence. Braindances came up a few times in several missions, adding an element of investigation to some story beats. It’s a nice change in the regular pace of shootouts, stealth missions, and vaguely hostile conversations, offering a few minutes of detective work that help you feel like you’re uncovering some of intricacies of these stories yourself, instead of just being directed to the next waypoint.
In past previews with Cyberpunk, it’s been tough to get a larger sense of how choices play out in the game. The Voodoo Boys scene is one big example of possible cause and effect, but working with Judy seems like it provides a lot of smaller ones. You interact with Judy in the search for her missing friend, a woman who works as a “doll”–a sex worker who uses their cybernetic implants to give up control of their body to an artificial intelligence as part of fulfilling customers’ desires. The hunt takes you through seedy locations to meet up with some dark characters in the underbelly of Night City.
Judy asks that you keep her apprised of the situation, and she seems to really appreciate you doing so. She even accompanies you on a later part of the quest, providing another gun as you scour the hideout for Scavengers–a gang who harvest cybernetic parts from victims. While playing through the quests that concern Judy, I got a real sense that the way I treated her–both in regards to her stake in the investigation and her personal feelings–were affecting my V’s relationship with her.
Braindance: The VR Drug of Cyberpunk 2077 | Cyberpunk Lore
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That pays off in later interactions. Create a bond, and Judy sends messages to your phone to see how you’re doing and check in on some further story developments. In turn, this unlocks more story with her; but it seems that if you blow off her texts and treat her poorly, those options won’t be available to you.
Cyberpunk is littered with such little choices and interactions, and while not all carry forward in big ways–there are plenty of instances where two dialogue choices lead to the same response from a character, for instance–you’re making decisions so constantly that enough of them pile up, making you feel like you’re carving a unique path through the world. Doing jobs increases your Street Cred, which raises your reputation and gets you more work, but you also have to constantly make decisions about how you maintain relationships.
In the run-up to the biochip heist, the plan required a specialized military drone that could hack different systems in the hotel where the theft would take place. To get it, I had to strike a deal with Maelstrom, a gang heavily into intense cyborg body modifications. CD Projekt showed parts of that mission early in the marketing process for Cyberpunk 2077, and it included a shootout with Maelstrom to steal the bot.
I didn’t go that path. Instead, I met with Militech, a corporation trying to track a mess of their property that Maelstrom had stolen. I cut a deal with the corpos to buy the bot using Militech’s electronic money–thereby giving them an opportunity to track it and find the Maelstrom hideout. Then, I used my technical know-how to wipe the malware from the Militech credit chip so it couldn’t be tracked, and spilled all the beans to Maelstrom. That maintained my relationship with the gang, got me my bot, and earned their allegiance as Militech showed up and attacked their base, helping me to escape unscathed.
Later, I ventured outside of Night City into the desert badlands that surround it, working a job with Panam, another mercenary. Panam is a former member of a nomad clan–a group living outside the city–but she’s on the outs with her former community. I got a lot of opportunities to learn about her and strike up a rapport as I traded helping her get back her stolen truck and getting revenge on the guy who stole it, for her aid in capturing a corpo with info on the biochip. By helping her out, the formerly gruff merc started to warm to V, with the pair bonding over some shared drinks, their loner lives, and blowing stuff up.
The mission leads to complications. After you trigger a massive EMP burst to knock out a flying corporate personnel carrier to get to your target, Panam’s nomad pals flock to the crash site to help survivors, despite your attempts to warn them away from the danger. Approaching after, I tried to sneak up on the corpo robots guarding the crash site, but was quickly spotted. Instead, I ran for it, got behind a rock, and used my smart sniper rifle to fire homing bullets at each of their robotic heads, while trying to keep my head down from the rockets fired from the carrier’s mounted turrets. After clearing the place out, Panam and I found the pilot of the carrier holding one of her friends hostage. I tried to talk him down, convincing him not to do anything stupid–which caused him to hesitate long enough for Panam, enraged, to shoot the pilot in the head and rescue her pal.
After saving Panam’s friend, I encouraged her to patch things up with the nomads, and got the sense that how I treated her worked to develop our relationship. I wasn’t able to spark a romance with Panam during the mission–it’s not clear it’s even possible to be more than friends–but she did call me soon afterward for help on additional side missions, so maybe there’s a future for us yet.
Then there’s Johnny Silverhand, played by Keanu Reeves, who’s a huge part of the story. The preview showed that Johnny isn’t just a digital phantom who wanders around scenes, dispensing advice and adding color commentary to whatever’s happening in the story. Johnny is an independent entity and your relationship with him matters as well. The biochip problem is a ticking clock–it’s slowly taking over V’s body and replacing their personality with Johnny’s–and you can choose to either have an antagonistic relationship with the legend in your head, or a friendlier one.
As with anyone else, though, there’s an underlying question of trust in these interactions. You also experience some of Johnny’s memories from his point of view, playing through a few story missions as the legendary rocker. And you do more than just gun down enemies with his awesome, overpowered revolver, though there is a lot of that, too. You move through Johnny’s memories as him, making choices and interacting with other characters, and those moments give you a deeper look into what kind of person he was: cynical, brusque, mean, and often narcissistic. Johnny claims to be out to help V, but his entire existence is antithetical to yours. As characters in the story suggest that you’re being influenced by Johnny in ways you can’t feel or understand, you start to wonder if being nice to him is just the biochip taking over your brain. Choosing to help Johnny reach his goals seems like it’s helping you and improving your relationship–but is that just hastening your inevitable demise?
Night City feels like it’s bursting with moments that raise these questions and push you into these kinds of choices. When I finished my 16 hours with the game, I’d amassed a huge slate of side-missions, taking me all over the city. All of them concerned fascinating characters, from Judy, Johnny, and Panam, to River, a NCPD detective investigating the death of Night City’s former mayor, and Padre, a Valentino’s fixer who appreciated V’s attitude of getting the job done by any means. The best part of Cyberpunk 2077 is feeling like a small part of the huge world of Night City, and I’m eager to continue learning about the people who inhabit it.
And I really want to know what Placide’s message means.