Was Keanu Reeves the catalyst that brought Cyberpunk 2077 down?

Cyberpunk 2077 is a mess. This mega-hyped game is full of bugs, and players are rightfully angry that it was released in this state. Development began on Cyberpunk 2077 in 2012, and ramped up to full production after the release of The Witcher 3, which gave around five years to develop the game. So, what happened? Well, looking at the evidence, it seems like the involvement of Keanu Reeves might have been the tipping point for what was almost certainly a bloated development cycle.

After finishing the game, I’ve been looking back at Cyberpunk‘s marketing and pre-release assets to see what went wrong. Obviously, there were general issues like feature creep, but when a game is released in such a broken state, there’s usually an identifiable catalyst for failure.

With Anthem, it was corporate interference and a lack of a cohesive vision for the game. No Man’s Sky simply overpromised and underdelivered. Fallout 76 failed to appeal to the franchise’s fanbase and overconcentrated monetization. After studying what we know of Cyberpunk 2077‘s development, it seems like CD Projekt Red was thrown off track around the time Keanu Reeves joined the cast as Johnny Silverhand.

Please note, the following isn’t an indictment of Keanu Reeves or any celebrity or influencer that has a role in Cyberpunk 2077. Keanu isn’t a game developer, and outside of his role as Johnny Silverhand, he most likely had little say in the game’s overall script and scope.

Cyberpunk 2077 Pre-Keanu

In 2018, we saw gameplay of Cyberpunk 2077 for the first time. After five years of silence, CD Projekt Red dropped a 48-minute gameplay walkthrough in August 2018. Many small things shown in the reveal changed before the final release. In particular, Lifepaths weren’t implemented at all. Instead, the player would choose between three sets of three events to shape their character’s past. However, the story segments shown are largely the same.

The 2018 gameplay reveal covers Breaking Through, the mission where V and Jackie save Sandra Dorsett, the meeting with Dexter Deshawn, V visiting the ripperdoc for the first time, and the mission to grab the spiderbot from the Maelstrom gang. While there were some minor script and mission changes between the gameplay reveal and the final game, it’s easy to see that at least the main storyline had been finished by 2018. Dex still foreshadowed the upcoming heist of the Relic, and it can only be assumed that Johnny Silverhand would play a similar role in the game overall.

Cyberpunk 2077 2018 Gameplay Reveal Johnny Silverhand quote

However, when CD Projekt Red produced the 2018 gameplay reveal, Keanu Reeves wasn’t part of Cyberpunk 2077‘s cast. In fact, Johnny’s backstory might have been much different altogether. On a radio in V’s apartment in the reveal, during a cutscene (which is missing from the final game) a DJ says the line, “But first, remember the man, the myth, Johnny Silverhand? Been a year since he went on his last ride.”

In the final game, Johnny is captured in the attack on Arasaka Tower in 2023, trying to save Alt Cunningham, and imprisoned in the Relic, though he is presumed dead by his friends. However, the source story in the tabletop RPG leaves his fate ambiguous. Unless the DJ is using “it’s been a year” as some sort of colloquialism, we can assume that in the original story, Silverhand returned sometime after the attack on Arasaka Tower and died (or disappeared) in 2076.

Enter Keanu

According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Reeves was first approached for the role of Johnny Silverhand in July 2018. Further reports stated that he liked the role so much he asked to have his character’s presence doubled, a request that was granted. That means someone in CD Projekt Red’s upper management agreed to make significant alterations or additions to the game’s script a maximum of a year and a half before the game’s original release date of April 2020.

Of course, when CD Projekt Red revealed Reeve’s involvement at E3 2019, people went wild. “You’re breathtaking,” was the meme that kept on giving, and I would bet that developers added the many cameos from influencers, musicians, and actors due to the positive reception Reeves got.

Engadget reported around the time that the 2018 gameplay reveal released that the game had hit a major milestone: the main story was playable from start to finish. At that time, producer Richard Borzymowski stated that “seeing the story come together is a critical step in the development process.” Of course, that milestone would have unraveled when the devs had to greatly expand Silverhand’s role in the game. Revising the script and missions to include twice the Keanu and the myriad of celebrity appearances was likely time-consuming. This time that could have been spent working on the core systems of the game was instead spent unraveling completed scenarios and systems to weave in more Silverhand.

Unfortunately, it seems Reeves and the doubling of Johnny Silverhand’s role might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for this Cyberpunk 2077. If the reveal wasn’t just smoke and mirrors and really showed the state of the game at that time, the devs were likely approaching the point where core gameplay systems would undergoing finalization and polish in August 2018. The need to unravel already completed content and add more featuring Silverhand may have introduced issues and been such a time sink that the entire schedule was thrown off and the devs couldn’t catch up even with the seven-and-a-half month delay.