E3 2019 Eyes-On Preview: Cyberpunk 2077’s Netrunner is a deadly mix of adept hacking and stealthy slashing

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When CD Projekt Red first showed off Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay last year, the ambitious new RPG from the developers of The Witcher felt excitingly undefined. It had mission structures that could seemingly be torn apart, affected by small decisions that would branch off in exciting ways and directly impact your story in Night City. Its gameplay had the trappings of a first-person shooter with common statistical elements attributed to role-playing but wasn’t shown off enough to come to a certain conclusion of how all of its pieces interlinked with one another. It instilled a sense of curiosity around Cyberpunk 2077; Something which this year’s presentation lacked.

That isn’t to say Cyberpunk 2077 disappointed in a new 45-minute behind close doors showing. In fact, it was the opposite. Many of the systems that seemed vague last year were solidified in a way that gave me a much better idea of what CD Projekt Red is crafting. Amongst the changes are clear improvements, with a deeper look at how your decisions around building your version of protagonist V will have a big impact on how you approach combat. Cyberpunk 2077 is still looking incredible, but it also feels far more defined now than it ever has been.

The demo took place in another of the six districts that make up Night City. The derelict Pacifica was once going to be a hot spot for tourists, with lavish hotels and entertaining theme parks littering the shoreline of the coast. But with economic destruction, poor municipal investments and rampant corruption, construction was hardly close to competition before the district was abandoned. Violent gangs and homeless families have made this space home now, with V exploring the region and confronting two sides of a gang turf war taking place in it.

There’s no questioning the amount of detail Cyberpunk 2077 is aiming for in its regions, as Pacifica feels alive with bustling citizens and fascinating conversations to eavesdrop on. The walkthrough spent a lot of time lingering on these elements, taking a slow walk through the district that captures its namesake. This was meant to be a happy place – one where families would come and spend long weekends or extended holidays in the sun and outside of the stressful routines of the rest of the city. But now no one dares venture here, with even V getting curious looks as he (we played as a male this time) made his way through the winding streets of the downtrodden district.

Eventually V was tasked with infiltrating a compound belonging to a local Haitian gang, using an assortment of disposable chips to hack security systems and internet connected devices to sneak in. This portion felt extremely reminiscent of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs series. Looking at interactable objects, V was able to easily overload a futuristic bench-press machine and have its weight crush a foe beneath it, for example. A boxing training robot could be hacked to deliver a fatal blow to its sparing partner, which resulted in a chuckle-worthy exchange between onlookers.

Since each of these actions requires a consumable resource, you won’t be able to run through an entire encounter like this without a large stockpile behind you. But since Cyberpunk 2077 now supports a fully non-lethal playthrough, we were promised that there are multiple ways to build your character to take advantage of systems like these to avoid using your weapons.

This Netrunner build blended stealth and hacking elements to create a cybernetic ninja of sorts, although the demo was pretty sparse on non-lethal takedowns. Instead we were treated to a look at a bright red cybernetic whip that V could use to both choke out enemies or cut off appendages, both of which were used when not hacking into enemies directly and forcing them to off themselves. The breadth of play that the Netrunner offers is certainly appealing, especially when combined with optional buffs and advantages you can work towards when hacking anything from a terminal to a door. Cyberpunk 2077 already seems well tuned to work with your flexible character builds, offering multiple rewarding paths with their own unique effects on how missions unfold.

During the mission we swapped between this Netrunner build and a closer quarter combat one, which showed off the large differences between slow, methodical hacking and outright warfare. Although Cyberpunk 2077 showed off its gunplay last year already, CD Projekt Red spoke about the refinements they’ve made to its overall feel and weight based on negative feedback last year. The result is certainly a more fluid looking experience, but without directly playing it’s unclear just how much of a difference this really is.

With an April 2020 release date on the horizon, it’s great to have a better idea of what type of game Cyberpunk 2077 is shaping up to be. It’s easy to be reductive and call it a prettier immersive sim in the vein on Deus Ex, but it’s looking to introduce a far more fleshed out paths for you to play the way you want, when you want. Coupled with the extraordinarily large Night City and the promise of its immensely engrossing societal simulations and adapting narrative, Cyberpunk 2077 is looking like the right type of game to really show off what this generation has been building towards.

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Last Updated: June 20, 2019

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