Cyberpunk 2077 has promised a massive, vertical open-world landscape in Night City, with six complete districts and no loading screens separating them. We’ve even seen parts of the city come to life in the E3 demo, with a sophisticated crowd and community technology quite literally breathing life into the urban environment. Yet, the truth is, Cyberpunk 2077 will be a far better game if developer CD Projekt Red has reigned in its ambition, as I fear that without enough small-scale detail in the city, the open-world game is doomed to be lackluster and lifeless.
Recently, I’ve been frustrated by the abundance of inaccessible buildings in Red Dead Redemption 2. Aside from its open world dragging on in later stages, the vast majority of buildings outside of towns are boarded up, inevitably creating disappointment. CD Projekt Red has likewise fostered an expectation of a detailed open world that promises access to the vast skyscrapers dominating Night City. This level of detail requires time and effort. With a completely “handcrafted” world, the prospect of a massive, detailed, fully accessible city seems too ambitious.
When asked about the size of Cyberpunk 2077’s map, a CD Projekt representative replied that “the world can be huge, but it can be huge upwards, or downwards.” Here lies the challenge —Cyberpunk 2077 promises a caliber of detailed vertical world design on a large scale. As an open-world city, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided’s Prague should be considered as the ideal blueprint. Despite a problematic story, this city environment was incredibly accessible, as the vast majority of buildings in each district were open to exploration. This design had a central hub with a “semi-open” world across each of the districts, with segmented districts linked by a metro system.
Imagine Dishonored’s standard of detailed verticality, with intriguing hidden apartments and rewarding side missions, now replicated across an open-world futuristic narrative. Cyberpunk 2077 could live up to this prospect, allowing players to navigate through the majority of buildings and find new NPCs, missions, items, stories, and more. This level design needs to be careful and meditated, ensuring that whatever path is taken feels unique and rewarding. If Cyberpunk 2077 aims to be as massively “open” as other modern open-worlds, it could well fall short of its promises.
When it was announced that the game would be entirely in first-person, many fans were disappointed, but this could transform the experience for the better. With CD Projekt Red highlighting the prominence of player choice and interactivity in Cyberpunk 2077, gameplay could well be comparable to an immersive sim. However, this is again dependent on detail to bring about immersion, as from the first-person perspective, players are far more likely to notice and interact with the world than from the third-person.
In a third-person city narrative, such as Watch Dogs 2, there’s simply no need to facilitate the same interactivity as first-person urban environments, like interacting with all manner of items in Prey. This can heighten the sense of immersion and reward, especially in an accessible environment, as you investigate the world from a first-person perspective to forge new paths through the levels. In a city, crowd and community technology is pivotal for illustrating the urban community, and thankfully, CD Projekt Red is one of the studios best equipped for this given their experience from The Witcher 3’s cities Novigrad and Beauclair.
On the other hand, will Night City be sufficiently interactive on this large scale? In the E3 demo, we witnessed the protagonist engaging with targeted ads, which is exactly the detail that tricks the player into a truly immersive euphoria. However, the same demo saw the protagonist move quickly through each area of the game, eliminating enemies but not stopping to loot, investigate or explore. Of course, the demo wasn’t a full showcase of the full game world, and there’s still time to instill such areas with interactive items and details, but having only been in development since 2014, it’s unclear whether there has been sufficient time to build to such a large scale.
Getting Burned Out
Just last week, it was revealed that The Division’s campaign has been completed more than any other story-based Ubisoft game. Whether it’s Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, or Watch Dogs, players are choosing to abandon these open worlds, getting burned out before finishing the story. Why are we so focused on asking about the map size of new releases? This fosters a habit of developers releasing lackluster open worlds, without sufficient time or resources to fill in the details of these massive expanses.
Ultimately, the promise of an equally “massive” open world in Cyberpunk 2077 may prevent it from building on the brilliance of smaller-scale worlds, despite it having the resources to create something truly remarkable.