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‘Cyberpunk 2077’ Gets a Fresh Shot of Players After ‘Edgerunners’ Dazzles Fans

CD Projekt Red's ambitious sci-fi RPG 'Cyberpunk 2077' is experiencing a sudden influx of players after the tie-in anime, 'Edgerunners', has won over fans. But is it good enough to be worth playing now?
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Cyberpunk 2077 is having a bit of a moment right now. Developer CD Projekt Red recently announced an upcoming expansion, Phantom Liberty, which will add a considerable amount of new story content to the single-player RPG. Meanwhile, the game finally has a considerable number of concurrent players on Steam for the first time in months. 

After numerous updates to shore up the game’s stability and correct errors with its enemy AI and bugs, the game is in a much healthier state now than it was upon release. That disastrous debut, which saw the game pulled from the PlayStation store as CDPR offered refunds for customers, is now a distant memory. Players are flocking back to the game to check it out following the updates and the critically-acclaimed Edgerunners tie-in anime.

Edgerunners, created by the renowned anime studio Trigger, is one of the best shows on Netflix and is a resounding success for CDPR. It’s driven millions of players back into Night City to check out the world that inspired the fantastic series. Has the game become a better representation of the dystopian future fantasy than it was upon release, or are fans flocking to the game going to be disappointed by its presentation?

Edgerunners

The Netflix-exclusive anime series Edgerunners is set in the same continuity as the video game and tabletop game. The original Cyberpunk RPG, created by Mike Pondsmith in the late 1980s, uses the aesthetics of genre classics like Neuromancer and Blade Runner to create a moody, atmospheric sci-fi world. Edgerunners also trades in the aesthetics of Trigger’s iconic shows for something that would look right at home alongside a classic Mike Pondsmith Cyberpunk sourcebook.

The series follows the brilliant student David Martinez as he tries to navigate the hypercapitalist world of Night City. The dystopian future city is grimy, tech-focused, and brutal. Humans in the setting routinely exchange their flesh-and-blood body parts in favor of metallic prosthetics that are multiple orders of magnitude stronger than their original components. This is a visual metaphor for characters leaving their humanity behind to embrace the market-driven, robotic world “on the Edge”. 

In Cyberpunk parlance, “the Edge” is that deadly zone outside of normal life, where criminals, mercenaries, and other “adventurers” live–and die. The people bold enough (or stupid enough) to inhabit “the Edge” are called Edgerunners, a term that replaces “adventurer” or “player character” in the setting. The anime series, likewise, focuses on Martinez’s transformation from a struggling student to a full-blown Edgerunner in his own right–and all the dangers inherent in such a life of crime.

Climbing the Ladder

In Cyberpunk 2077, protagonist V becomes a big shot in a relatively short amount of time. After stealing a personality modification chip containing a digital ghost of the long-dead rockstar Johnny Silverhand (yes, that’s the game’s plot), V quickly rises through the ranks of the criminal underground in a series of vignettes that helps to get players up to speed so they can take on some dangerous jobs.

In Edgerunners, Studio Trigger doesn’t rush things. Instead, Martinez’s transformation from a gifted student to a hardened criminal is a long process, one that sees him gradually trading his soul for money and power. He falls in with a band of mercenaries led by the stoic Edgerunner, Maine, and the group finds itself mixed into a complicated series of plots involving a fixer named Faraday.

The complex interactions between the Edgerunners, the fixers, and the various megacorporations that pull the strings behind the scenes are fascinating to watch. This seedy underworld is the most compelling part of the Cyberpunk setting, and it’s fascinating to see Studio Trigger apply its particular madcap brand of animation to this brutal, heart-wrenching setting. If you’ve been dying to see the world of Night City fleshed out in more detail, this is the show for you.

Rushing Back

Players have started flocking back to the critically divisive Cyberpunk 2077 after finishing Edgerunners, eager to experience a life of crime in the neon-soaked streets of Night City. According to developers from CDPR, it’s vindicating to see the game’s resurgence in popularity after nearly two years of post-release updates aimed at making the game more playable. 

“It’s hard to express when you’re putting so much heart and soul into something, and for some of us it’s been six, seven, eight years sometimes, especially for those who started at the very beginning,” explains Paweł Sasko, the quest director for CD Projekt Red. Sasko recently took to game streaming platform Twitch to thank fans for giving the game another shot. “So to have this moment of people liking something that we did, it’s really feeling a bit unreal.”

The initial reaction to Cyberpunk 2077 was nothing short of brutal. The game was a buggy, unfinished mess, which was a real letdown after months of pre-release hype talked the game up to be the next big thing in the industry. Notably, the game wasn’t as bad as many people said–in my review at the time, I noted that the Google Stadia version ran pretty well. But the narrative was solidified: Cyberpunk was a rushed, unfinished game that wasn’t befitting of its legacy name or its developers’ storied pedigree.

A Brand-New Night City

Cyberpunk 2077 hasn’t received the kind of sweeping updates that turned games like No Man’s Sky or Final Fantasy XIV into brand-new experiences. The core of the game is still an open-world, first-person action RPG set in the sprawling metropolis of Night City. The numerous updates it has received, instead, have been mainly aimed at patching out the copious bugs and crashes that made the experience essentially unplayable for millions of gamers.

Some of these updates also added some quality-of-life improvements like overhauling the user interface, shoring up the driving physics, and cleaning up some graphical performance issues that made the games look sub-par, even on next-gen hardware. These improvements took time to sink in and were rolled out over nearly two years, but the end result is unmistakable: the game looks good now. Finished, even! It speaks to how rushed it was to get out the door before the end of 2020 that it took another 18 months to make it look like a retail-ready game, but that’s another conversation.

Some of the updates even added features that players expected to see in the base game, like an improved skill tree system to let players more carefully hone their Edgerunner character. Likewise, a series of gameplay updates gave enemies more robust AI, created more realistic behavior for police cars and the officers that respond to in-game crimes, and overhauled the balancing of several weapons and skills in the game. 

Should You Buy the Game?

The real question, though, is whether these updates have made the game a better experience–and whether fans coming from Edgerunners will find the Night City they fell in love with from the anime in the game. The short answer is “yes,” but there are some caveats. 

Sadly, the Night City of 2077 isn’t as fleshed-out as the one seen in Edgerunners. It’s a compelling setting for a video game, but 2077’s story spends a surprising amount of time focusing on the dysfunctional relationship between the ghost of Johnny Silverhand and the protagonist, V. And since V is meant to be a player avatar, it’s hard for the game to give them much in the way of a defined personality.

That begin said, Cyberpunk 2077 will certainly scratch the itch for genre fans who want to live out their own sci-fi adventures. It’s a fun RPG that has all the grimy, neon-lit aesthetics you’d want from a game focused on an uber-capitalist future dystopia. Just be prepared to use your imagination to infer some of the finer details between the main story quests. If you come in with a role-playing attitude, you’ll find a lot to love in the flawed-but-fun title. 

Phantom Liberty

The game will receive even more updates in 2023, including the highly anticipated DLC pack Phantom Liberty. That DLC pack will be a paid product, though, unlike the free updates the developers have rolled out thus far. Still, fans expect to see the new DLC add further story content to the single-player RPG, as well as new activities and vehicles to spend time and in-game money chasing down.

Many fans are hopeful that Phantom Liberty will expand the game past the conclusion of the main story scenario of the original release. However, given the narrative twists that have to occur near the end of the game, this seems unlikely. Minor spoiler warning for the final story missions of Cyberpunk 2077 in the next paragraph!

Since Johnny Silverhand and V will both appear in Phantom Liberty, it’s not likely that the DLC will take place after the final mission–one of the two characters has to die in order to complete the story. It’s possible that Phantom Liberty could alter the outcome of the final mission and allow both characters to survive, but there’s no way to know until CDPR rolls out more information on the upcoming title.