When Cyberpunk 2077 got its big redemption arc thanks to post-launch patches and the Edgerunners anime, I laughed – this game was always this good, despite any glitches or last-gen console performance, but those vaunted updates never quite got to the real malaise at the heart of its RPG system: the character building and gear that didn’t. never felt substantial or rewarding, and always served as more of a drag on Cyberpunk’s great combat, stealth, and storytelling.
A post-Summer Game Fest interview by VGC, however, gives me hope: creative director Pawel Sisko and quest designer Despoina Anetaki described “every major core system” of the massive RPG as having been “remade or updated from major way” for the upcoming Phantom Liberty expansion.
Sasko says the game’s enemy AI and in particular the NCPD will be overhauled, and he described more alert levels and a greater variety of cop units that seem more in line with Grand Theft Auto games. That certainly sounds good, but the police AI in Cyberpunk never bugged me as it seemed to annoy everyone – maybe I’m just too good and never had enough trouble noticing it.
The most enticing proposition to me is what Sasko said about the upcoming changes to character building: “The biggest [main system changes] are the perks and skill trees, which have been completely rebuilt.” While Cyberpunk offers this dizzying array of viable playstyles for V, a lot of the skill trees behind them boil down to “+3% hit chance ‘shooting, hacking, slicing, or sneaking through Night City is a great feeling, but building V to do it has always been mind-numbing. A screenshot shared by jordgoin with the Cyberpunk subreddit shows a perk tree more linear agility that almost reminds me of Dragon Age Inquisition, a game with really good class perks and abilities.
The tidbit that fired me up the most was what Sasko told VGC about the sweet and soft loot: “We’ve also redone the loop and the whole game progression – the difficulty curve is different, the levels and loot drops are different, enemy archetypes have been redone for more variety.”
I’ve always found Cyberpunk’s gear economy to be a vastly underrated drag on the whole experience, worst of all when faced with the looter shooter/live service “numbers rise” deluge of drops gray, green, blue, and purple applied to a single-player game where it just doesn’t fit in the first place.
Instead of saying, Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas, where level adjustment breaks down into multiple power tiers—9mm pistols and iron daggers on one end, anti-materiel rifles and Daedra swords on the other —Each piece of gear in Cyberpunk has a level-adjusted number attached to it determining its damage or damage resistance. The result, for me, was spending way too much time poring over slight damage and damage differences per second between slightly different variants of the same revolver. Worst of all was getting a cool, unique weapon and having it quickly outdated by running drops once I had leveled up once or twice.
I want Byakko’s unique katana (with mega-thrust attack action!) that I got as a gift for becoming a BFF with Black Widow Kingpin Wakako Okada to be the best fucking katana in the game. I certainly don’t want it damaged by some “uncommon” generic sword I find in the hands of some random jerk two hours later, and I don’t want my only recourse to upgrade stuff nice either modify my built character set to spec in the “Technical Ability” attribute that allows you to do that. I’m a cyborg ninja hacker, damn it, not a gearhead!
It got to the point that on my last playthrough I used a mod to just automatically upgrade all weapons and armor to the next level. This, however, screwed up the game’s entire difficulty curve and I grabbed another mod to increase things beyond Very Hard to compensate for all that level cap gear available for free. Even then, this all served to show just how mechanically shallow Cyberpunk’s gear system was without increasing the level-adjusted damage and damage reduction stats to obscure it.
We still don’t have details on what Cyberpunk’s systems overhaul will entail, or even how much will be covered by a free update in September or locked behind Phantom Liberty. What I hope, however, is that CD Projekt will finally deliver RPG mechanics that match the quality of Cyberpunk’s quests, world, and storytelling.