The video game industry is no stranger to robust and memorable stories told within them. Games are afforded the length and freedom to craft interactive narratives of all kinds. They can engage and engross the player in ways no book or TV show can. Competent storytelling within games has almost become as much of a requirement as the gameplay itself. Cyberpunk 2077 takes the art of storytelling and evolves it like no other game has. CD Projekt Red managed to tell one of the most imminent, natural, and mature stories ever seen within a game. Now with the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty and the 2.0 game update, players can finally embark on this experience 10 years in the making.
Authenticity in the Dialogue
Games are not shy about having lots of dialogue, especially big RPGs such as Cyberpunk 2077. An issue many video games run into, even recent releases like Starfield is delivering that dialogue in an interesting way. Conversations can begin to feel mechanical, just a nonstop faucet of information for the player. This causes the player to disengage from what’s happening. Their minds wander to looking at the phone or spacing out. The easier-said-than-done solution to this is writing and delivering better dialogue. Video games are enormous, with content that can tally up to hundreds of hours. There are difficulties in keeping up the quality for a long period, but Cyberpunk 2077 did it years ago when it was released.
It all starts with the quality of the script, and how each dialogue option flows from one to another. Cyberpunk keeps every dialogue option relevant to the current conversation. You aren’t allowed to ask ten questions in one instance. The quality-over-quantity approach keeps each conversation focused and authentic. The player doesn’t have five or six responses for V to say, just two and a choice for extra details. It borrows from the Mass Effect series in that respect. You choose the flavor of V but not who V is. CD Projekt Red focuses more on telling you a story in Cyberpunk instead of allowing you to make your own.
The Beauty in Limitation and Mistakes
This limited scope for each conversation might strip some choice from the player but in return each conversation has meaning. No matter what you say, the game will respond with an outcome that feels authentic and leads to something. It’s all highly catered to with a certain level of detail, characters will make mistakes while talking. The inflection of the voice will fluctuate uncontrollably at times, the “ums” and stutters that happen when talking are included.
Cyberpunk’s world has a vast number of phrases and vocabulary such as “Choom” or “Eddies” that the conversation naturally includes. Then it’s all presented with some of the best voice acting a game has delivered. Every character has voice direction and delivery of a high quality, the way a sentence is uttered can elevate conversations to perfection. All this adds up to creating one of the most real and human-feeling stories seen in an RPG. Players are allowed to buy into these characters and the world, CD Projekt Red cares about the little things.
Keeping the Player Close
To many players’ surprise during the reveal window of Cyberpunk 2077, the game is first-person only during normal gameplay. A decision Cyberpunk’s quest designer Pawel Sasko, still stands by as seen in this article from IGN. It’s a choice made by a few RPGs, even those set in first-person still will cut to close-ups of other characters.
Cyberpunk 2077 keeps you firmly in the eyes of the player character. You see and experience only what they do. This choice adds an incredible sense of intimacy to every aspect of Cyberpunk’s story and gameplay. As the player, it connects in a much deeper sense to the main character V, and their struggle. When V is experiencing sadness, fear, love, and all the rest the player is right there with them. Simplistic interactions like meeting in a car or sitting in a room across from another character feel authentic. It makes the player pay close attention to the subtleties of the animations or delivery of lines.
Cyberpunk Brings out the Little Things that Makes Us Human
The choice to go first-person in some games might mean less scripted cutscene conversations that traditional RPGs have, but no. Cyberpunk 2077 took this choice as a challenge to push what a video game cutscene could be in an RPG. Just because the perspective is fixed to V’s eyes doesn’t mean there is a lack of animation for the player character. V creates nuance and life by how they sit or move their hands during a conversation.
Often, when talking the player has the freedom to drink, smoke, or hold something which adds layers to the interaction. There are thousands of little movements V does while talking, the small details are captured through this. Humans are not static creatures, we do things with our bodies uncontrollably, without noticing and CD Projekt Red implemented this. Without spoilers, the story Cyberpunk is telling necessitates this kind of detail and connection the player has to V.
This same design philosophy and care is transposed onto every other character and environment within Night City. In a discussion with the Cyberpunk 2077 cinematic designer and narrative director, they discuss how complex each scene in the game is. There’s so much going into the animation work and set design each second, all to serve the story. Small details like characters having their own mannerisms for you to pick up on are made possible by the perspective. When you’re locked into one view the cinematics can’t rely on camera angles to engage the player. CD Projekt and to ensure that there is plenty for V to see while talking and a variety of conversations. It pushes Cyberpunk 2077 to have an unprecedented amount of detail amidst every corner.
Focusing on Themes and Tone
The world of Cyberpunk that Mike Pondsmith created is a rather dark and serious one, just like most in the genre. CD Projekt Red understood this and crafted their stories with intent and thematic consistency, so everything feels at home. When you walk through Night City there’s a sense of hopelessness and darkness masked under the bright colors and corporations. In Night City nothing is as it seems, and you are moments from some horror around the corner. Something that all the major stories told within the game stay true to. Cyberpunk 2077 is huge, the game handles complex topics about life, depression, crime, family, love, etc. The writing and character moments can lead to things of beauty and happiness; however, it’s always fleeting. V is constantly staring down their own mortality and the game never lets you forget that.
Video games that offer a wide range of quests can be fun, it’s nice to have a break from the dominant tone. However, Cyberpunk 2077 chose to stay focused, to deliver a mood that is constant and consuming. Cyberpunk has plenty of stories to tell, ranging in subject matter that can pivot the tone, but it comes back around. Night City doesn’t offer happy endings, it’s rare to experience anything other than dread and manipulation. V and all the other residents of Night City are just trying to make the best of it. Trying to hold on to each other and fight for the small shreds of life and happiness still left this dystopia.
Never Backing Down
No doubt Cyberpunk’s true greatest achievement is never giving up on itself. This game had years and years of exceptions built up around it. When Cyberpunk 2077 released back in December of 2020, there was a fantastic and thoughtful narrative buried under a broken game. CD Projekt Red knew this, they took all the feedback to heart and got to work. This 2.0 update of the game and the release of its expansion Phantom Liberty has paid off. The fans are happier than ever with the game, and it was announced that the game sold 25 million copies. The future has never been brighter for the franchise, and more is coming with a sequel and live-action project. None of this would have been possible if CD Projekt Red hadn’t pushed the boundaries of storytelling in games.