What Cyberpunk ‘Orion’ Can Learn From 2077
Between the popularity of the Edgerunners anime series, the improvements in the latest patches, and the recent milestone of having sold 20 million copies, there’s no doubting the fact that CD Projekt Red’s take on ‘roleplaying in the dark future’ is finally living up to much of its original promise – even if it took a bit longer than expected.
What we didn’t necessarily expect, however, was that CDPR would be so quick to announce their plans for another installment of the Cyberpunk series. Details are admittedly sparse – all we really know for certain is that plans for it exist, and that it’s being made by a brand new studio. But given that I’ve already dumped 200+ hours into 2077 and god knows how many more into the original tabletop RPG, it’s never too early to start thinking about how the next chapter of the Cyberpunk saga could benefit from a few lessons learned on its journey so far.
Don’t Announce (or Release) Too Early
Let’s put the cyber-elephant in the room outside first, yes? Lesson One is don’t announce your game a full four years before it even goes into development.
Now, given the recent announcement, it’s already too late to avoid this one entirely – though at least this wasn’t a full-blown trailer or anything. All we know for certain after this week’s Strategy Update is that there is another Cyberpunk game planned, currently codenamed Project Orion, it’s slated to be developed by CD Projekt’s new North American studio. Now, CDPR’s leadership has said there are at least three new Witcher games on the docket before Project Orion – and given that only two of those three games are currently even in pre-production, it seems unlikely we can expect to see any real details on Orion (or whatever it ends up being called) for at least another few years.
No small part of 2077’s hardships stemmed from the fact that the game was simply revealed way too early, with its initial announcement in 2012 predating not just its own development starting in earnest by several years, but even the announcement of The Witcher 3. This clearly put a ton of pressure on the developers to over-promise when it was re-revealed in 2018 – which then made matters all the worse as it became clear that Cyberpunk probably shouldn’t have been scheduled for release until at least 2022 in the first place.
It’s obviously not as black and white as some would make it out to be, as game development is an innately complex and messy business. That’s especially true for an ambitious project that both had to adapt to the madness of a global pandemic during its final months and contend with expectations set by a fully runaway hype train hungry to regurgitate every morsel of new information. I’m not going to act like we on the press side of the industry are blameless, here – after all, here I am writing this when we don’t even have so much as a real name for this presumed sequel.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that Cyberpunk 2077’s difficulties – the huge amount of reported crunch, its massive, obfuscated technical problems on older consoles and the sloppy messaging around its launch, and the abhorrent treatment of developers by certain so-called fans – all stem from the root of a much-too-early announcement and the huge amount of pressure that created for the creative team. Ultimately, had Cyberpunk simply remained a cool sci-fi alternative to D&D for a few more years, with no one any the wiser about a video game adaptation, it may have been much easier for it to live up to its original Coming: when it’s ready tagline.
Every CD Projekt Red Game In Development
All that being said, CD Projekt Red has clearly gone all-in on making itself a development powerhouse. The 2077 team leads are heading to this new Boston studio to helm the project, joining the flagship in Poland as well as CDPR Vancouver and other third-party partners to concurrently produce multiple games and plenty of other media at once – and one has to assume that there are no plans to have any of their upcoming projects become such a fiasco as Cyberpunk did. Here’s hoping that’s enough to avoid what Cyberpunk’s Quest Director called a “heartbreaking” experience this time.
Okay, with that colossal hurdle out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the actual gameplay elements that we’d like to see revived or updated in our next visit to Night City…
‘Cyberpunk: Edgerunners’ Nailed Cyberpsychosis – ‘Orion’ Should Too
If you’ve watched any of the new Edgerunners series on Netflix, you’ll know – without getting into spoiler territory – that a major focus of the show is this concept of Cyberpsychosis; of what happens to a person’s mind when they become too dependent on cyberware. This is a great example of how the show bolsters elements of 2077’s gameplay, since the only real interaction with cyberpsychosis we see in-game is a series of loosely connected minibosses.
Even this in itself I found odd, since preserving your humanity is such a huge part of the tabletop RPG, too – get too much cyberware and fail the wrong checks, and you hand your character sheet over to the GM… and that doesn’t end well for anybody.
It would be great to have to take that into consideration when upgrading your cybernetics, or even activating certain pieces of cyberware. Maybe seeing a debuff to social stats if you pass a certain threshold, or being able to gain additional power boosts at the risk of running along that edge (get it?!). I don’t know what the “bad ending” would look like if you ended up going full cyberpsycho, but I’d love to be able to find out.
Crank Up the Weird (But Tone it Down Elsewhere)
Between the in-universe slang, fashion options (did anyone else think parachute pants would have made such a comeback?), and general absurdity of life under the 2077 corporatocracy, CDPR has done a great job designing its immersive cyberpunk dystopia. But it would be great to see that dialed up to 11 – let us see what TV is like beyond the three talk shows and endless parade of half-voiced ads. Let us order braindances from that weird guy on the corner, or show us the more bizarre side of cybernetic enhancements. Hell, the original Cyberpunk tabletop had gangs based off Gilligan’s Island and Bozo the Clown! It definitely doesn’t need to get that wacky, but there’s a deep, dark well of weirdness hiding under the neon-tinted surface, and it’d be great to see more of what’s down there.
But also – consider turning down the “the crux of every other ad is just ‘huge asses’” and “orgasm noises echoing across every city block” dials. Yes, the gonzo, in-your-face madness of unfettered capitalistic sex appeal certainly fits within the universe, but there’s a time and place for that and shuffling the soundscape of Night City will give other elements of life in its dystopian sprawl room to shine. Also, if it would be possible to not have them blaring over emotional story beats, that’d be great, too…
More Discoverable Moments & Tiny Details
Night City is full of awesome little discoveries, like the crew of cyberpunks in the Afterlife having their own adventures, or the Cyberpsycho that randomly tries to rob the store you’re shopping in. Those moments remain some of my favorite, and I’ve heard tons of similar stories from others around the office who found things I didn’t. Lean into that, don’t worry about putting a big yellow ! on everything.
The team has been hiding little winks and nods to the broader world since launch, and even small tweaks, like making sure the random NPC dialogue is consistent from one line to the next or finding more data shards that can be used as clues to tiny in-world vignettes would be great additions to the detailed world they team has built.
More Varied Player Choices
CDPR has really hammered home that they want to focus on creating RPGs with memorable stories just as much as they want to build beautiful, fascinating worlds to explore – and 2077 definitely strikes that balance. But when it comes to the “role-playing” element of the game, much like Geralt, it feels like a lot of V’s dialogue options often boil down to “Say Yes” or “Say Yes, But With Cheese.”
The choices we do get to make are all interesting, and I’m definitely enjoying playing through it again, now, and making as many alternate decisions as I can – but something is still missing for me. This may be more of a ‘What Cyberpunk 2 Can Learn From Fallout: New Vegas’ thing, but being able to really RP a character who’s altruistic or cruel or just… stupid as hell would be a great way to flex the story team’s chops and make subsequent playthroughs that much more interesting. The cyberpunk world lends itself so well to the “be anyone, do anything” angle, and it would be great to be able to truly forge my own path through the ranks of Night City.
Impact Cyberpunk’s Factions and Setting
At the same time, there’s so much going on in the Night City of 2077 – from the various factions that run each district to the megacorps whose glass castles tower above it all. While there are a few missions and side quests that let you get a bit more involved with these different groups, it would be great if we could actually find ways to gain influence and rise through their ranks.
Want to get a corner office at Arasaka? Infiltrate Militech and steal some research to curry favor. Need a rival gang member “dealt with”? It’d be great to be able to call in backup from your own cadre of cyber goons. Obviously it’s practically impossible to fully replicate the infinite web of options that a tabletop GM offers, but letting us join gangs, put together custom crews, or being able to connive and scheme our way up a corporate ladder would be a fascinating way to explore such an intricate world.
Does Cyberpunk Need Multiplayer?
The briefing on CD Projekt’s upcoming plans said the studio was working to incorporate multiplayer experiences into its portfolio. We know that the multiplayer mode originally intended for 2077 was cancelled, citing the shift of development engines as the reason, but that the studio does intend to introduce multiplayer – more specifically, “online” elements – to all of their franchises moving forward. So far we only know of one upcoming Witcher game that is confirmed to have a multiplayer component, so we’ll likely have to wait and see how online play shakes out for Cyberpunk down the road.
Ultimately, 2077 stands very tall on its own without a multiplayer aspect – as does every other CD Projekt game so far. Well, except for Gwent – but also, Gwent is great, and an awesome example of how to adapt such a successful franchise as The Witcher to more casual online play.
The big question, for me, is: what would Cyberpunk multiplayer even look like? Are we talking about a standalone game like Star Wars Battlefront or Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodhunt? I could see a PvP FPS set during the Fourth Corporate War, sure – but that doesn’t necessarily feel like it passes the ‘memorable stories in unique worlds’ test. For my part, we’d ideally see something structured like TLoU’s Factions mode, maybe? Or perhaps a Strand-esque mechanic where other players’ choices in their games have effects on your world?
Of course, they could throw us all for a loop and go the mobile game route – honestly I can easily see myself taking a walk to play Cyberpunk Go! on my lunch break.
We Need Road Warriors
If Edgerunners highlighted any other glaring omissions from the interactive version of Night City beyond cyberpsychosis, it was 2077’s decided lack of vehicular mayhem. Now, that’s not to say that we need the next chapter of Cyberpunk to be another GTA or Twisted Metal, but seeing David and his crew get into some sort of high-speed shootout or another basically every other episode was a major reminder that, at least for now, most of your time behind the wheel in Night City is pretty dull.
Sure there’s the occasional street race or shootout while riding shotgun, but our options are fairly limited beyond that. The good news is that CDPR has already confirmed that vehicle-to-vehicle combat will be a major part of the next big patch, along with an overhauled cop system, so here’s hoping this becomes another solid foundation for the team to build off of when plotting out the next installment.
No More Relics
2077 did a great job of adapting the “hero lore” from the tabletop and its subsequent expansions, and while there’s no Canon Ending™ as far as we know, they all wrapped up their stories really well (even if some were a bit darker or more open-ended). Orion’s story doesn’t necessarily need to re-revive Johnny & Alt and/or anyone else left from “The Old Days” to keep us onboard – CDPR built a fascinating world in 2077, both through their own innovation and with the assistance of the original loremasters.
An unofficial motto in cyberpunk stories is that life is cheap, and the 20XX universe specifically abides by the “it’s never possible to save the world, only possible to save yourself” credo – so having sequels focus on new cyberpunks (ie. “fresh meat”) feels a bit more in line with the running themes of the genre. It would also be interesting to see how the world changes 2/5/10 years down the line based on choices you made in 2077 (think along the lines of Dragon Age 1 & 2), and how that impacts the start of the next character’s game in 2078. Or 2084. Or maybe they’ll go the third-gen tabletop route and just call it 20XX.
Of course, only time will tell us what this next iteration of the Cyberpunk franchise looks like – but in the meantime there’s never been a better time to start playing (on PC/current-gen hardware) if you gave it a pass at launch. In the meantime, why not check out all of the cool Edgerunners Easter eggs you can find after the latest update, or everything we know about the upcoming expansion, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty.
JR is a Senior Producer at IGN, you can follow him on Twitter for more video games and tabletop RPG shenanigans.