When Cyberpunk 2077 had its big redemption arc thanks to post-launch patches and the Edgerunners anime, I scoffed—this game was always this good, glitches or last-gen console performance notwithstanding, but those vaunted updates never quite got at the real malaise at the heart of its RPG system: character building and gear that never felt substantial or rewarding, and always served as more of a drag on Cyberpunk's great combat, stealth, and storytelling.
A post-Summer Game Fest interview by VGC, though, has my hopes up: creative director Pawel Sisko and quest designer Despoina Anetaki described "all the core main systems" of the massive RPG as having been "redone or updated in a major way" for upcoming expansion Phantom Liberty.
Sasko says that the game's enemy AI and especially the NCPD will be overhauled, and he described multiple alert levels and a greater variety of units from the cops that sound more in line with the Grand Theft Auto games. That certainly sounds nice, but the police AI in Cyberpunk never bugged me the way it seemed to grate on everyone else—maybe I'm just too much of a good noodle and never got in enough trouble to notice.
The more enticing proposition for me is what Sasko said of upcoming changes for character building: "The biggest [main system changes] are the perks and skill trees, which have been rebuilt completely." While Cyberpunk offers this dizzying array of viable playstyles for V, a lot of the skill trees behind them boil down to "+3% headshot critical hit chance while airborne"-style nonsense. Shooting, hacking, slicing, or sneaking through Night City feels great, but building V to do so has always been stultifying. A screenshot shared by jordgoin to the Cyberpunk subreddit shows a more linear agility perk tree that almost reminds me of Dragon Age Inquisition, a game with very good perks and class abilities.
The tidbit that most set my mind on fire though, was what Sasko told VGC about sweet, sweet loot: “We’ve also redone the loop and whole progression of the game—the difficulty curve is different, the tiers and drops of loot is different, the archetypes of enemies have been redone for more variety."
I've always found Cyberpunk's gear economy to be a majorly-underrated drag on the whole experience, a worst of all worlds take on the looter shooter/live service "numbers go up" deluge of grey, green, blue, and purple drops applied to a single-player game where it just doesn't fit in the first place.
Instead of say, Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas, where level adjustment falls into broad tiers of power—9mm pistols and iron daggers at one end, anti-materiel rifles and Daedric greatswords at the other—every piece of gear in Cyberpunk has a level-adjusted number attached to it determining its damage or damage resistance. The result, for me, was spending way too much time pouring over slight differences in damage and damage per second between slightly different variations of the same revolver. Worst of all was getting a cool, unique weapon and having it get quickly outmoded by common drops once I'd leveled up once or twice.
I want the Byakko unique katana (with mega lunging attack action!) that I got as a gift for becoming BFFs with black widow underworld kingpin Wakako Okada to be the best damn katana in the game. I certainly don't want it to be out-damaged by a generic "uncommon" sword I find in the hands of a random goon two hours later, and I don't want my only recourse for upgrading cool stuff to be modifying my entire character build to spec into the "Technical Ability" attribute that lets you do so. I'm a hacker cyborg ninja, damn it, not a gearhead!
It got to the point that on my latest playthrough I used a mod to just auto-upgrade all weapons and armor on level-up. This, however, borked the game's whole difficulty curve and I grabbed another mod to crank things up past Very Hard to compensate for all that freely-available max-level gear. Even then, it all served to show how mechanically shallow Cyberpunk's gear system was without ballooning level-adjusted damage and damage reduction stats to obfuscate it.
We still don't have details on what Cyberpunk's systems overhaul will entail, or even how much will be covered by a free update this September or locked behind Phantom Liberty. What I hope, though, is that CD Projekt will finally deliver RPG mechanics that match the quality of Cyberpunk's quests, world, and storytelling.