The feeling you get when you reach the end of a video game can be exciting and satisfying. Or unsatisfying if the ending wasn’t what you expected. After spending seven long months on Cyberpunk 2077, I witnessed one of many possible endings the story could have. While the ending I got had some really good moments, it wasn’t the emotional payoff I had hoped it would be. I’ll try to keep my discussion of the game as spoiler free as possible.
The problem with over hyping a game before it comes out is you are inevitably going to be let down by the actual reality of the finished product. Setting aside the obvious issues that plagued Cyberpunk 2077 since its release, the story and world as a whole are pretty decent if you’re willing to invest the time into playing it.
The bright spots of the video game are the characters and their corresponding side quests that help you get to know each one individually and build a deeper connection with them overtime. However, it becomes obvious which of those characters are better written and which are underdeveloped.
For instance, River Ward is a Night City detective you’ll meet only if you do a particular side quest that will lead to V getting in touch with him for his help. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to miss River or not meet him at all throughout your entire run of the game. This is a minor complaint I have. While some supporting characters are directly tied to the main story in some way, such as Judy Alvarez, the ones who aren’t, like River, will remain another anonymous face of Night City. But characters like River are meant to be more than your random NPC with a side job to complete for XP and money. These characters are written and designed to create a bond with them, and enrich your experience with the game even more.
River has one particular quest, The Hunt, that’s so intriguing it would be a shame if a player missed out on experiencing it because he’s a bit hidden in Night City. The Hunt is a side quest where V helps River find his missing nephew. It plays out like a mini-crime mystery filled with plenty of opportunities to look for clues and catch a pedophile serial killer. It’s during this side quest that you begin learning more about River’s family and get a better sense of what his values are. Spoiler alert: River is a cool guy. The little nuggets revealed about his background and personality makes him one of the characters from Cyberpunk 2077 I really enjoyed spending time with. It’s unfortunate River is a supporting character that gets shafted.
This brings me to River’s romance. If you’re a female V in the game you can take River as your lover. Even that dynamic for a romance is really interesting and kind of hot. A detective and a mercenary in bed together? That opens up a lot of additional story layers that would have been worth exploring in detail. Unfortunately, after you decide to make River V’s main squeeze his story path is ultimately done, and you don’t really see him again until the very end of the game, if you make certain decisions with regards to that relationship. There are a few conversational options you could have with River after you become exclusive with him, but even those are severely lacking.
I have to say I wasn’t expecting to like River Ward as much as I did, and I was initially disappointed by the limited romance options the game offered. But after doing all of his character side quests and pursuing a romance with River, I really wished this character was as fleshed out as the female side characters were. Many people on Reddit seem to agree that not much care was devoted to developing River, and the same could be said about Kerry Eurodyne, another male character whose romance was a massive disappointment.
If the writing felt uneven for the supporting characters of Cyberpunk 2077, it also extends to the ending of the game. The story officially has 5 possible endings, one of them a secret ending, with certain variations for each one. In the final act, V is running out of time and the need to separate Johnny Silverhand from their body is imperative if there’s even a chance at surviving. V’s last ditch effort involves storming the mighty fortress of Arasaka to connect to a server that would separate the Johnny construct from taking over V’s body and erasing them from existence.
Your options are basically deciding who should go with you into this final push: Panam Palmer and the Aldercaldos or Rogue and Johnny (Johnny taking over V’s body that is). Or if storming Arasaka is not your cup of tea, you can play nice with the Arasaka corpos and obtain the help of Hanako Arasaka. I went with the Rogue and Johnny option in my playthrough. With Rogue, Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, and Johnny having a history storming Arasaka in the past it made sense to let them take charge of this final mission.
Again, without getting into any detailed spoilers the moments before the epilogue are one of the best parts of the game. The epilogue that follows afterwards not so much.
Depending on how you allow Johnny’s character development unfold in the game, the Rogue and Johnny path to Arasaka packs an emotional punch and ties up the loose ends of his past really well. Johnny Silverhand is introduced to V and the players as a rude, arrogant, and selfish former rockstar of the band Samurai who is unpredictable and, therefore, can’t be trusted.
Through flashbacks, and some Johnny related side quests, you learn he wasn’t the best friend, lover, and upstanding human being when he was alive. He only indulged his own needs with little regard to the thoughts and feelings of others. With Johnny being an unwilling passenger in V’s head, there’s an opportunity for Johnny to go on a redemption tour, with V’s help, to make amends with key people from his old life. If you continue on this path for Johnny you’re in for a surprisingly moving exchange between him and V at a pivotal decision moment that will define the type of epilogue you get afterwards.
I personally like a good redemption story and played it where Johnny is remorseful of the life he led and who he hurt along the way. By not wanting to repeat the same mistakes again, Johnny won me over when he genuinely wanted to help V regain full control of her body and refused to give into his worst impulses by ejecting V out of it and taking it for his own. Among my favorite scenes in the game are the ones between Johnny and V having a quiet conversation as they muse about their life choices, regrets, and what really matters. This is why when the last few minutes of the game play out after the the key V and Johnny decision is a downer.
The epilogue jumps a few months ahead and you find out what happens to V. While not entirely a bad ending it just didn’t feel like a happy or hopeful one. There’s a sense of V no longer being the same character you spent over a 100+ hours with, and a melancholic tone hangs over the relationships V had forged. The final scene of the ending I got felt abrupt and left me scratching my head.
“That’s it?” I thought. “Will this somehow be tied into future DLC of the game?” As the credits rolled, which has some nice video messages left by characters you have met and helped throughout the game, I couldn’t get over how anticlimactic my ending felt after everything that had come before. If I had known it would end this way I might have preferred that there was no epilogue.
I’m not sure what the other endings are like, and I plan on reloading to the last save that takes you back to the point of no return to experience the rest, but the ending I went with for Cyberpunk 2077 has left me wanting more than what I got. If anything the ending has left me with plenty more questions instead of answers.
The game also felt like it wanted to say or be more, but it never got to that place because the writers wrote themselves into a corner without finding any way to get themselves out of it, or the development of the game was handled poorly. Maybe both.
Themes about survival, consumerism, corporations, exploitation, and corruption are heavily implied in the open world of Night City itself, and touched upon in a number of side quests with many supporting characters representing these themes in some way. But try to dig deep and you won’t find much. Only tangential commentary at best.
Cyberpunk 2077 is certainly not the best video game of all time but it isn’t the worst either. The game always had plenty of potential with a gorgeous open world city to explore, distinctive characters you want to spend lots of time with, and fun combat. It’s just that it never fully tapped into what could have elevated the game to new heights and in storytelling.
Reviewer Rating: 7/10