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E3 2018: Cyberpunk 2077 Takes Open-World Gaming into the Dark, Dangerous Future

You would expect the next game from CD Projekt Red, developer of the acclaimed role-playing game The Witcher 3, to have a sturdy RPG backbone. You might not expect it to have fierce first-person gunplay, however, or a dynamic world on par with the likes of the seminal Grand Theft Auto V.

But here we are, and here is Cyberpunk 2077. Fusing deep, multi-faceted role-playing features with riveting action gameplay, this futuristic thriller aims to redefine what fans should expect from an open-world RPG.

Based on a recent hands-off E3 demo, we’re convinced it will hit its target. You play as V, a mercenary living in the dense, neon-soaked jungle of Night City in the free state of North California. Who V is, exactly, is up to you: male or female, mohawked or pony-tailed, strong as a bull or smart as a whip, it’s your choice via a deep well of customization options. You can even choose V’s backstory, which will impact how characters react to her over the course of the lengthy game.

As a gun-for-hire, V takes jobs to survive. Her first mission in the demo was to locate a missing person in a dreary apartment overrun with scavengers, degenerate enemies who harvest tech augmentations. Despite its RPG roots, Cyberpunk 2077 primarily plays like a first-person shooter, albeit one enhanced by a wealth of sci-fi gadgets. A puff from an inhaler slows down time; a visual upgrade lets V see through walls. We watched V ricochet bullets to hit enemies hiding around corners, scale walls with twin Mantis blades and dive onto unsuspecting foes, and even hack into local networks to jam enemy weapons or wreak general havoc.

This flexibility extends to every inch of Cyberpunk 2077. The Witcher 3 was a masterclass in player agency, letting gamers truly feel like they had control over lead character Geralt’s destiny. CD Projekt Red looks to continue (and expand upon) that sense of player empowerment with branching dialogue trees, no rigid character classes, and a multitude of ways to solve problems.

One quest, for instance, tasked V with retrieving a stolen robot from a gang of cybernetically-enhanced weirdos called the Maelstrom. After securing funds to buy the bot back from the thieves, V was presented with several choices: negotiate without firing a bullet, take the money and leave the robot safe and sound with its new owners, or go in all loud and shooty. The demo circuitously wound up at option C, naturally – it’s E3 after all – but any choice is a good choice.

Your decisions also help determine your strategy. In a nod to the Deus Ex series, Cyberpunk 2077 lets players boost skills to access different paths through the game. Invest in your hacking skill and you’ll be able to unlock secure doors; focus on Engineering and you might find a less comfortable way into a building. There’s no “right” way through Cyberpunk 2077.

While V is the protagonist, the real star of Cyberpunk 2077 is the world itself. Night City is simply stunning. Bursting with color but cloaked in cruelty, the sprawling metropolis perfectly channels the dense, lively sci-fi aesthetic captured by genre-defining films like “Blade Runner” and “Ghost in the Shell.” It’s also packed to the gills with people, each of whom follows their own day/night life cycle.

CD Projekt Red has infused Night City with incredible touches that really bring out the sci-fi setting. Interacting with bright, holographic advertisements directs V to the items they’re promoting. Players can visit RipperDocs to purchase new (and dubiously legal) augmentations, from subdermal grips that enhance gun damage to optical scanners that reveal precious intel about every character you meet. And whether walking around the claustrophobic confines of V’s sketchy apartment or racing in a car across the dodgy streets of Night City’s six huge districts, it’s all one massive, seamless world. That’s right – per the developers, there will be no load screens whatsoever in Cyberpunk 2077.

Speaking of waiting, we can’t wait until the next time we have a chance to see Cyberpunk 2077 in action on Xbox One. Be sure to keep it tuned to Xbox Wire for all of the latest news on this game and many others from E3 2018.