Many fans expect Cyberpunk 2077 to define the current generation of games, but can it be better than The Witcher 3?

When CD Projekt Red released The Witcher 3 in 2015, it received near-universal acclaim and still enjoys an average Metacritic rating of 92% across PC and other consoles. It was a highly emotional and entertaining game that managed to fill a breathtaking open-world with the kind of small-scale details that leave a truly lasting impression. All in all, it was one of the finest open-world RPG games of all time.

So, can Cyberpunk 2077—which won our E3 2019 Game of the Show—really be better? I think so, and here’s why.

Cyberpunk 2077

Complete freedom of choice

Freedom

Quest Director Mateusz Tomaskiewicz said that CD Projekt Red wants to give players as many customization options at the beginning of the game as possible. This level of freedom means that Cyberpunk 2077 could be a role-player’s dream—especially with the implication that gender norms may not come into play.

This high degree of freedom isn’t going to be limited to character customization, either. CD Projekt Red wants players to also have complete gameplay freedom, and senior level designer Miles Tost says that’s a main difference between The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077. In the former, says Tost, some concessions had to be made in order for the studio to detail The Witcher 3‘s world as much as it did, and he said the gameplay suffered as a result.

In Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red didn’t have to make these concessions. From the ground up, the studio designed the game with freedom of gameplay in mind, allowing you to play how you want. With the studio already confirming that you can beat the game without killing anyone, this level of freedom looks to have taken new heights—and that’s something that can’t be said about its high fantasy predecessor, as good as it was.

It has star power

Star power

The voice acting in The Witcher 3 was top notch, but Cyberpunk 2077 is taking things to the next level with the star power of Keanu Reeves. The popular actor was revealed as an in-game character during Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference, and the crowd reaction said it all: fans have absolute faith in Keanu to put in a memorable performance.

Keanu Reeves’s character, Johnny Silverhands, is a Night City rock legend out on a quest for revenge against corporations like Arasaka. As confirmed by CD Projekt Red CEO Marcin Iwiński, Silverhands isn’t just a one-off character: aside from the main protagonist, he has the most lines of dialogue in the game. It’s unclear if Silverhands is truly alive in Cyberpunk 2077 or simply a hologram, but I know I’m not the only one excited to find out.

I’m certainly not saying that star power is what defines a great game, but having someone like Keanu Reeves play a large role is an exciting positive for Cyberpunk 2077.

Cyberpunk 2077

Night City

Night City

Night City is the corporate-driven, high-tech dystopia that Cyberpunk 2077 calls home. With six distinct districts, players have a variety of different-looking environments to explore. Since it’s an urban landscape, exploration will have a lot more verticality than The Witcher 3—many buildings in Night City will be fully explorable.

The result is a huge cityscape setting that CD Projekt Red has already called “far, far bigger” than The Witcher 3, which itself was a massive world filled seemingly endless sidequests. Visual effects artist Jose Teixeira said that The Witcher 3 was a “really good and often brutal learning experience”, and he firmly believes that Cyberpunk 2077 will benefit greatly the studio’s experience with its predecessor. I’m inclined to agree.

RPG fans have played across plenty of high fantasy environments similar to what is shown in The Witcher series, like the worlds of The Elder Scrolls and Dragon Age. While they’re fantastic worlds filled deep with unique lore to explore, Night City is something different entirely. While franchises like Mass Effect explored futuristic sci-fi universes, no project of comparable size has truly dived into the cyberpunk aesthetic.

This gives CD Projekt Red a unique opportunity to make its mark with some truly great. When speaking strictly about its setting, Cyberpunk 2077 has already set itself apart, and that’s a good thing.

Cyberpunk 2077

It started large-scale

Large scale

This isn’t to say the development of The Witcher 3 started small (it didn’t), but at its peak, there were some 250 in-house employees developing the game. Cyberpunk 2077 has over 400 in-house developers, and while neither of these numbers includes global out-sourced development staff, having nearly double the amount of in-house staff isn’t something to overlook.

To further help the development of Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red has partnered with a Canadian studio named Digital Scapes, which has been tasked with creating various technologies for the game’s development. The studio has also partnered with NVIDIA to produce real-time ray tracing effects for lighting, which means the breathtaking neon lights of Night City will react in a realistic, live manner.

In short, as much as The Witcher 3 was a technical marvel in 2015, Cyberpunk 2077 looks like it’s going to do the same for 2020’s higher standards. From what I’ve seen of the cinematics, the gameplay demonstrations and this year’s new screenshots, Night City isn’t just a larger environment to roleplay in—it looks incredible, it stays true to the cyberpunk aesthetic and it could impress on a scale we’ve never seen before.

Cyberpunk 2077

Time will tell

Release

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of Cyberpunk 2077. The neon-filled city streets produce a stunning aesthetic, and the concept of weaponized prosthetics is a sci-fi fan’s dream. Still, it’s impossible to tell how the final product will be before you get to play it for yourself. Beyond that, CD Projekt Red has indicated that it may add a multiplayer content post-launch, which would only add another replayability factor to the title.

Can Cyberpunk 2077 be better than The Witcher 3? Absolutely. All of the building blocks have been put in place, development seems to be progressing nicely and few studios have a track record of success like CD Projekt Red.

But IS Cyberpunk 2077 better than The Witcher 3? We won’t have that answer until after April 16th, 2020 when the game releases for PS4, Xbox One and PC.

One thing is certain, though: there are very few upcoming games that look to rival the quality of Cyberpunk 2077, let alone The Witcher 3.

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John's Take

Author

From my perspective, Cyberpunk 2077 is shaping up to potentially be a defining game of this console generation. The Witcher 3, despite being four-years-old, is still a large talking point today. With CD Projekt Red confident that Cyberpunk 2077 is both bigger and better, I can’t wait to explore the streets of Night City and find out for myself. I was already a big fan of the cyberpunk aesthetic, so this is a great match for me.