It’s ironic that the biggest splash made at E3 was by a game that didn’t actually showcase one iota of gameplay… well, not to the public at least. Whether it was because CD Projekt Red wanted insurance against potential future downgrades or whether it was a clever tactic to build even more suspense for Cyberpunk 2077, it worked: not a single person I saw who walked away from the behind-closed-doors demo didn’t have a big smile on their face and an exciting story to tell. And I was in exactly the same camp, because there really was that much to talk about and that many surprises to unpack.
Arguably the biggest, of course, was the revelation that Cyberpunk 2077 is to be a first-person RPG, a complete departure from the third-person perspective that CDPR has forged its prestige on with the critically acclaimed Witcher series. It confirmed that the developer was intent on not only scrapping the thematic setting of a beloved franchise but that it was also readily throwing out the window a gameplay design in a title that has been hailed as a masterpiece and a game of the generation. Shock, horror. The internet wasn’t just unamused, it was downright furious. For many, apparently, CDPR is making a ruinous mistake that has spoiled what might potentially be a new masterpiece.
Few, if any, of course, have actually seen the game in action. So I’m here to allay those concerns and tell you why Cyberpunk 2077 is better off embracing a new perspective. And, for the record, I typically prefer third-person games.
You’ve got to appreciate that Night City, Cyberpunk’s dystopian urban environment, isn’t like any open world you might have seen before. Seriously, that’s not just PR speak. This is an incredibly dense, up-in-your-face metropolis where billboards hurl bright neon lights in your eyes, cables hang low like makeshift ceilings in cramped alleyways, and punks lurking on street corners intimidate you for fun. It’s claustrophobic in a way that wide open fields of yellow maize and the expanses of swaying forests in The Witcher 3 never were.
Mike Pondsmith, the mind behind the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop RPG on which CDPR’s latest project spoke of it in a recent interview:
“In an incredibly urban environment, stuff happens around your perception all the time. And if you’re above and out of it and you’re just driving a puppet around, you don’t get that same feeling you get of being in the place and picking up data, looking at opportunities – when you are in it, stuff impacts you.”
He’s got a point. As much as I love watching my avatar move through an environment, vanquish enemies with a badass sword swipe, and play around with its attire, it’s not immersive in the same way as a first-person experience is. There’s not that same level of interaction with the environment because everything is being observed from an unnatural perspective. And believe me, you want to soak up every ounce of Night City from eye level.
Not to mention, you almost certainly want to be shooting from a first-person perspective, too. In my preview of the game, I spoke of how stunned I was at how sublime the shooting appeared to handle. It’s hard to speak of fidelity without having actually played the game hands-on, but what we saw was a showcase that looked far beyond conventional gunplay. Shooting a bad guy in the legs, having him stumble forward, and then blowing his head off; highlighting an enemy’s outline and then shooting through the table in front of you to take him out: it’s the sort of visceral combat that actually wouldn’t be possible in third-person.
In fact, that’s actually the biggest takeaway for me. I could try to argue to you the merit of one perspective over another until the cows come home, but you’ll have your opinions and I won’t necessarily have any success in changing them in this article. What I can urge you to consider, though, is the value of just how brave a move it is that CDPR is walking away from everything it’s done up until this point and creating something entirely new. Not just a reskin, not just a CC of what has worked in the past, reclad to look like something new: this is a bold new direction in every sense of the word. It’s the sort of effect that can never be achieved by keeping the same mechanics and using the same perspective across two different franchises. Think Dragon Age Inquisition to Mass Effect Andromeda, or Assassin’s Creed to Watch Dogs – nothing good comes from rebranding assets and trying to capture the same audience while simultaneously winning over a new one.
I couldn’t think of anything I’d want to see less than a Cyberpunk 2077 that reminded me of The Witcher 3. And that’s exactly what would have ended up happening if CDPR had stuck with third-person; different setting, different story, but that sense of familiarity that you’d experienced it all somewhere before. But that’s not in any danger of happening, thank goodness. Cyberpunk 2077 might as well have been made on a different planet. It’s fresh, different, challenging, and far more exciting because its developer has taken a risk.
Ultimately, there’s precious little audacity in AAA gaming, so shouldn’t we all be celebrating the intent and embracing the change rather than lamenting it because of a petty grievance?