Cyberpunk 2077 E3 2019 preview: In among the glorious violence, there was a deeper mystery

Recently we were treated to an extended behind-closed-doors look at Cyberpunk 2077. From the creators of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Cyberpunk 2077 is based on a 1988 tabletop RPG, set in a hyper-futuristic dystopia where body modification and transhumanistic digitization has become the norm. Corruption is rife, despair and desperation are endemic, and it's on you, as a character known as V, to cut a bloody path through this tough existence.

Cyberpunk 2077 is first and foremost a first-person action RPG, where choice and consequence permeates every level of play. We caught a glimpse at how Cyberpunk 2077's gameplay options work in practice, as well as some of the deeper mysteries that will grip your soul as you carve through the game's dark plot.

This is Cyberpunk 2077, and it should be at the top of your most-wanted games list.

Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay impressions: Play your way

Cyberpunk 2077 goes quite a bit further than The Witcher 3 in terms of roleplaying, allowing you a high degree of control over how to customize your own personal cyberpunk. The character creation screen is fairly detailed, with more customization on the way according to CD Projekt RED, with a wide array of hairstyles, skin tones, and face options, as well as things like contact lenses and tattoos. You can also choose one of three backstories for V, Mass Effect-style, which affect dialogue options and story encounters throughout the game. One option for V's backstory is that of a street kid, growing up on the rough streets of Night City, while another paints V as an ex-corporate lackey, descending from the MegaCorps that now control the country.

In conversation, dialogue boxes open up giving players a range of responses for every situation. Some are tied to your cyberpunk's skills and abilities, while others are tied to your backstory and knowledge of current events. Investigating side objectives may give you an edge in a more important conversation, helping you gain leverage over another character during a negotiation.

The mission we were shown has V getting involved in conflicts between local gangs. V is asked (we use the term asked loosely), to infiltrate a gangland stronghold in exchange for access to the Voodoo Boys' hacker group's big leader. How exactly you approach this mission remains entirely up to you, and therein lies the most exciting aspects of Cyberpunk 2077's gameplay.

Cyberpunk 2077 (Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

Cyberpunk 2077 has no hard class system. Instead, you tailor your playstyle based on what stats and abilities you choose. You can create a heavy cyborg tank and go in guns blazing, build points in agility and become a cyborg ninja, emphasize hacking and manipulate enemies and their systems to gain an advantage, or gear up a jack of all trades, switching weapons based on the needs or the situation. For our demo, we were shown a couple of archetypes, one which showcased stealth and hacking, and another that prioritized strength and brute force.

The Animals' gang stronghold had several entrances to infiltrate, and your Voodoo Boys contact offered advice via radio link to help you get an idea of where to go. You could either go in through the back sneakily or if you were more confident, bust in through the front door, although you'd be greeted by dozens of superhuman cyborgs and other deadly machines in the process. The demonstrater opted to go around the back, listening to NPC conversations. One carried a stack of pizzas up the stairs for the other goons, even cyborgs gotta' eat.

CD Projekt RED was keen to note that it's entirely possible to go through Cyberpunk 2077 without killing anyone. A non-lethal takedown of the pizza guy, stuffing his body into a trash can to prevent enemy alarms typified this. However, slicing him in two with electrified razor-sharp whips represented an equally valid option.

A simple jaunt through a corridor threw up various new gameplay options too. A security camera lit up the room, preventing further access without alerting the guards. A stealthy player may want analyze where the camera's power source is, and simply disable it that way. A hacking-heavy player would be able to access and disable it remotely, or even turn it against your enemies. A strength-oriented cyberpunk may be able to simply rip the door off to gain access to another route, using hydraulic enhanced cybernetic forearms.

Cyberpunk 2077 is unapologetically violent, should you choose to play it that way.

While you can play Cyberpunk 2077 fully in close quarters combat, it also seems like it has robust shooting chops too. Blasting through enemies produces damage numbers which should help you feel your progression, and your weapon choices also dictate the amount of viscera you'll send flying through the air as you cut enemies down. Cyberpunk 2077 is unapologetically violent, should you choose to play it that way. Blood, guts, brains, and severed limbs all give weapons a sense of real impact, that should prove a treat for fans of digital brutality. Flesh-warping heavy machine guns, skull-crushing cybernetic sledgehammers, and bone-slicing blades offered just a glimpse at the full arsenal V will have access to, through various vendors and other means. CD Projekt RED showed how you could simply hack a turret and turn it on your enemies, or literally just rip the gun out of the floor, and go in all Rambo-like, reducing the environment to chunks of crimson-painted concrete.

The demo also showed off how choices made throughout could impact the final outcomes of the mission. Defeating a boss with non-lethal methods might come back to haunt you later in the game. There was also an opportunity to betray the Voodoo Boys, which would no doubt lead to further cascading problems (or solutions) for V. There was a strong showing of choice and freedom in the 50-minute presentation that it's a bit dizzying, and I'm sure I'll remember other details after I've hit publish on this article. There was simply so much to take in.

As awesome as the gameplay seems, it was the story implications which gave me goosebumps.

Cyberpunk 2077 story impressions: A dark world with deep secrets

Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077

Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077 (Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

In Cyberpunk 2077, you play as a mercenary ascending through the ranks of Night City's grimy underbelly. Gangsters, corrupt MegaCorp officials, tech cults, and all sorts of nefarious customers vie for V's services. It's not all about V's career, though, there is a deeper mystery unraveling through Cyberpunk 2077's preview content, hinting at the game's broader plot.

Cybernetic enhancements are commonplace in the Cyberpunk 2077 world and despite the prevalence of affordable cyber tech, the U.S. was devastated by the collapse of martial infrastructure, following a period of global instability and war. To stave off collapse, the U.S. essentially gave MegaCorps free reign to control everything, creating an unregulated capitalistic hell with extreme inequality and injustice. Entire areas of Night City, somewhere in 2077 California, operate completely without law enforcement or government involvement, save for private security forces more beholden to their company's interests.

For V and his pals, this creates an opportunity, albeit a dangerous one. Choosing which factions to ally yourself with may lead to pissing off others, and will ultimately depend on the type of cyberpunk you want to create. In the demonstration we saw, Cyberpunk 2077 created more questions than answers about the game's plot, which now famously features Keanu Reeves himself, as a digital ghost, glitched into V's cybernetically-enhanced brain.

Johnny Silverhand, as he's known, will haunt the player throughout the game Tyler Durden-style, commenting as V heads towards his or her ultimate goal. At least in this point of the game, V has discovered that they're carrying a mysterious, untraceable biochip, that may unlock the secrets to true human immortality. Hunting down answers for this mysterious chip, which the MegaCorps desperately hunt, V opted to aid the Voodoo Boys in an attempt to gain access to the deep net.

The dark places of cyberspace may form some of the game's most powerful, evocative moments.

In 2077, global internet infrastructure doesn't seem as robust as it is now, separated instead into localized subnets. However, it seems a deeper global layer still exists, and to access it, one has to take a quick dip in an ice bath to jack in.

It's here in cyberspace where Cyberpunk 2077 took an oddly mystical, vaguely supernatural turn. Cyberspace in Cyberpunk 2077's world feels more like the stuff of legends, where hackers exchange rumors and stories of powerful netrunners who were able to transcend their flesh entirely and become fully digitized. Alt Cunningham is one such netrunner, in a call back to older Cyberpunk lore. She created the "soulkiller" program, allowing the user's mind to become fully digitized, taking on its own life on the net. V hunts Alt beyond an area of cyberspace known as the Black Wall, a digital place where no explorer has returned alive.

Cyberspace in Cyberpunk 2077 is an awe-inspiring realm of digital artifacts, and black and red ethereal entities representing other netrunners and cyber citizens. The Black Wall rolled up like a monolithic alien structure, standing at mythical contrast to the high-tech gritty reality on the outside world. It feels like solving the mysteries of Alt, the biochip, and the dark places of cyberspace may form some of the game's most powerful, evocative moments.

More excited than ever for Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be a big event in the 2020 gaming calendar, as CD Projekt RED seek to solidify their place as the gods of RPG gameplay. The Witcher 3 is a daunting performance to follow, though, and while there's still a year left to go until launch, I did notice a fair few imperfections in Cyberpunk 2077's gameplay presentation that I hope get ironed out.

If the whole game is as rich as what we were shown in this relatively brief demo, Cyberpunk 2077 will be a huge achievement.

I'm hoping that CD Projekt RED can polish up the first-person camera motions, which seemed far-less polished and smooth than Dying Light 2's, for example, which I saw right after I saw Cyberpunk 2077. I was also concerned about vehicle handling, which seems a bit janky, and enemy A.I., which seemed a little slow to react in combat when stringing moves and other behaviors together. CD Projekt RED did note at the start of the demonstration that it was still a work in progress, and asked attendees to provide feedback to that end towards the end of the show.

Despite some concerns about polish, the core gameplay, the art, the narrative delivery, and staggering world-building have me more excited for Cyberpunk 2077 than ever before. If the whole game is as rich, deep, and varied as what we were shown in this relatively brief demo, Cyberpunk 2077 will be a huge achievement well worthy of every RPG fan's attention, for decades to come. Keep your eye on this game.

Xbox accessories you'll love

Every one of these quality accessories is guaranteed to enhance your Xbox experience.

PowerA Enhanced Wired Controller for Xbox One ($20 at Amazon)

PowerA's take on the Xbox One controller is an attractive pickup for budget-conscious gamers that nails all the basics.

Talon PDP Xbox media remote ($20 at Amazon)

The Talon PDP Xbox media remote is great for watching shows on your console.

Xbox One S vertical stand ($10 at Amazon)

Stand your console upright with this accessory.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!