I was recently reading my friend Gene Park’s brilliant piece on playing Cyberpunk 2077, a game about a character with a terminal condition, while he himself is currently fighting cancer. It’s a great read, and I’ve found Gene to be a rare kindred spirit in his love for Cyberpunk, or at least what it became. Later, in further discussion, he equated it to “already playing” GTA 6. Previously, I’ve made the argument that it’s actually better than GTA 5 in a myriad of ways.
More than a year and a half after launch now, Cyberpunk 2077 continues to stick with me. Not just in terms of the game itself, which I played through in the early, hyper-buggy days, but in terms of what could have been had CDPR execs not kicked it out the door well before it was ready.
It’s true, Cyberpunk had already experienced a number of significant delays by the time it was released in December 2020, and yet with one more major one, one more year, I think we could have seen the entire narrative about the game shift, and it might have altered in the entire industry, to a certain extent.
I think people are forgetting just how much hype there was for Cyberpunk 2077 before it was released. It was enough to propel the game to an absolutely unthinkable 13.7 million sales in just the final three weeks of December, an astonishing total that even Elden Ring didn’t match this past year in that same time period. Those are, for lack of a better comparison point, Grand Theft Auto numbers.
The point is, if Cyberpunk had debuted in a better state, I genuinely think we could be living in an industry with a legitimate competitor to Rockstar’s GTA series. The interest was there, the early sales were there. And a year or so later, the actual, full game was also there. But the window was already missed, and the reputational damage, to both CDPR and Cyberpunk itself, was done.
I don’t think everyone has been following just how much has been patched with Cyberpunk 2077 since it was released. It’s not just thousands and thousands of bug fixes and performance upgrades, they have rebalanced the economy, difficulty level, combat, driving controls, essentially every major aspect of the game.
It’s true, some things were never patched in, like a robust police wanted system or real car chases of any kind, categories which GTA still wins. But Cyberpunk, once you were no longer battling goofy bugs or performance issues so bad it caused Sony to rip it off the PlayStation store, became something truly great, and genuinely the most meaningful do-crimes-in-the-city sandbox entry since any other GTA title. And nothing else is particularly close.
This, combined with the obvious interest in the game, could have created a future where Cyberpunk arrived as a hit in holiday 2021, thousands of bugs gone, performing well on all platforms, QoL changes made. CDPR could have not thrown 80% of their stock price down the drain, as industry confidence fled from them after the release. Cyberpunk could have produced more DLC earlier on, rather than spending a year and a half just fixing things. We could have gotten two major expansions instead of just one. Perhaps the multiplayer game that was planned wouldn’t have been canceled. And perhaps Cyberpunk 2 would have been a priority rather than now merely an open question, that maybe we could see it some day once The Witcher 4 is out in another five years, or whatever it will be. Cyberpunk could have been one of the most popular, significant IPs of the generation.
With just one more year.
I truly believe that. Anyway, go play it now, and wonder what could have been.
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Pick up my sci-fi novels the Herokiller series and The Earthborn Trilogy.