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Cyberpunk 2077: The Future of RPGs

It feels like it’s been centuries since we got a true RPG.

As time went by, the designation was arbitrarily expanded to include every game with even the most basic and rudimentary progression system and any modicum of player choice. We’re past the heyday of MMORPGs, and while some games take their respective mechanics pretty deep, in most cases character builds differ from the next only in minor cosmetic ways. Sometimes, one might even get a slight difference in gameplay pace, but in the vast majority of so-called RPG titles, that’s as good as it ever gets.

Arguably, the last true RPG launched back in 2004, in the form of the cult classic Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, and ever since, the industry never felt compelled to follow the formula, most probably due to its poor commercial performance. Mired by a troubled development and releasing in a broken state on the same day as one of gaming’s most anticipated sequels, Half-Life 2, did no justice to the love and artistry, the stupefying attention to detail that went into the final game.

Given another year in development and a proper polish, Bloodlines would have spelt instant success for developer Troika, instead of forcing the company to fold and close its doors. It would have created a much different gaming landscape, with every publisher tasking their studios to create a similar flash in the pan, trying to jump on the bandwagon of the latest success.

Not all would be successful.

Indeed VTMB had an arguably smaller task to accomplish than, say, Mass Effect, as it was leaning on some very rich history and lore in its core material and was free to tell its story without having to do too much world-building. Preexisting tabletop or pen and paper IPs lend themselves nicely to immersive RPGs, effectively handing developers a veritable motherlode of building blocks and backdrops to riff off of, begging the question: Why haven’t more studios tried the same thing?

Well, CD Projekt Red definitely is.

They’re not reinventing the wheel. They’re not out to revolutionize the genre, or the setting. No, what they’re doing is the smart thing. They’re digging deep into the treasure trove that is the Cyberpunk IP and putting together a truly immersive experience.

A protagonist you can tailor to your every whim.

A living, breathing setting, populated by equally interesting and diverse characters.

One doesn’t even have go looking for hidden evidence or trawl forums for leaks. Everything you need to know about Cyberpunk 2077 is plastered all over the 48 minute demo we got last year in big neon letters. The attention to minute details, like the boxing match playing on TV in real time or the myriad clues about CP77’s world on the numerous ads that infest every building like ticks on a dog, says a lot about the devs’ dedication to the universe.

Even nameless NPCs you only see for seconds on screen bristle with characterization, convincing you they’re characters of their own merit, not just cardboard cutouts that go through the same animatronic motions when the player is looking. The Trauma Team medic who barks at you to step back at gunpoint is convincing that he’s going to pump you full of lead if you cross his line in the sand and the pissed off corpo’s goon makes you think twice about lying to his boss. The performances sell you effortlessly on the world and the characters that inhabit it, and your choices actually affect large chunks of the experience, not just in the math that’s running in the background, but in your chosen course of action.

It is known, for example, that the last part of the demo where V wholesale puts down the Maelstrom gangbangers is entirely optional and avoidable, should you choose to warn them about the virus in the credchip and just walk out of their hideout with the merchandise you just bought.

It overflows with dedication to porting the tabletop system onto the medium and carries over all the deep customization and richness of the universe in an appealing package that doesn’t require planning around the busy schedule of four to six people to enjoy. I won’t even go into how gorgeously rendered and realized everything on screen is, as graphical fidelity is par for the course for a studio with such high production values. Frankly, I wouldn’t even care if the game wasn’t as breathtaking is it is, as the opportunity to dive into a roleplaying world such as this doesn’t come around all too often.

With CD Projekt Red’s evident love of both the RPG genre and the Cyberpunk IP, along with a categorical aversion to the scummy practices infesting the industry, the end product can only be a high point for the medium. The hype and popularity surrounding it alone have seemingly telegraphed to the rest of the industry that there’s a keen audience out there just waiting for the next Bloodlines, which coincidentally also was announced a few months ago.

With CP77 gearing up to be a massive hit when it launches, things can only get better for proper, fully fledged, unapologetic RPGs, which we have been deprived of for the best part of a decade.

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