One of my favorite parts about Cyberpunk 2077 is that it allows me a whole variety of cyberpunk power fantasies. I can be the cybernetically enhanced ninja, hopping from rooftop to rooftop with a katana, silently taking down enemies, or I can be the master netrunner, who takes down an entire enemy outpost remotely, hijacking cameras and frying brain implants without ever lifting a finger.
But to truly see the highest form of play for either of these options, it pays to specialize, investing skill points in just a couple of skill trees rather than becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. In theory, like many of my favorite RPGs, this should make Cyberpunk 2077 a joy to replay, since each run could feel completely different depending on my build.
However, Cyberpunk 2077's pacing, and in it's extremely long introduction in particular, turns the first leg of any replay into a chore. I want to keep playing Cyberpunk 2077. I want to build new characters and see how different builds interact with the game world, but the very linear, story-driven first section of the game has turned me off to experimentation. I want to skip the game’s early moments to get to its open world and currently there’s no way to do that and so, for the moment, I’ve stopped playing.
As any Skyrim fan who's played it multiple times will know, the worst part of any Skyrim run is getting started. When I think about playing the game again and trying the magic system (which I, to this day, haven’t touched) or finally running through all the Thieves guild quests, I get excited until the moment I boot up the game. Fade in from black, the title appears on the screen, and a familiar voice says, “Hey you, you’re finally awake.” In a game that is known for endless variety and player choice, it is such an uncharacteristically scripted and mandatory scene, it has become a meme.
The opening moment of Skyrim was entertaining exactly once and is a chore on subsequent playthroughs. No wonder then, that mods that allow you to skip that opening entirely are some of the most popular available. Fallout 3 and Fallout 4 also have this problem. The former locks you into a long tutorial with Liam Neeson before dumping you into the wasteland and the later has a lengthy scripted sequence where you’re literally sitting in a tube watching events unfold around you before you’re free to explore.
Cyberpunk 2077’s problem is worse. The game gives you a lot of freedom to go where you want and do what you will from the jump, but it's not until you finish the game's first chapter that multiple main characters and you can begin pulling on threads that open up the world. On my first playthrough, I didn’t see the title screen until 12 hours in. Waypoint’s Rob Zacny, who spent a lot of time on side content, got the title screen drop 14 hours in. On my second playthrough, when I was pushing to hit that tile screen, I got it in six hours. Cyberpunk 2077 takes a long time to completely open up. No matter how much dialogue you skip, it’s going to be several hours before you’re talking to Keanu Reeves with the whole of Night City ready to be explored.
The title card is an indication that the game has really begun and many of Night City’s burroughs don’t unlock until it rolls. Certain characters, sidequests, and stores don’t open until the player has met Johnny Silverhand. This long introduction is a trend in video games right now and it's obnoxious. Assassin’s Creed is a serial offender. I saw the title card drop in Valhalla nine hours in.
There’s a point in every open world game when the world becomes available to you in total. Some, like most of the Far Cry series, dump you into the open world from the get go. Others take a few hours to teach you the game’s systems before unleashing you. Emerging from a vault in Fallout, floating off the starter plateau in Breath of the Wild, and lifting the lockdown on Watson in Cyberpunk 2077 all feel like the moments the games begin.
But in Cyberpunk 2077, lifting that lockdown takes way too damn long. I didn’t feel this the first time I played because I was taken in by the spectacle of Night City, charmed by the story, and enjoying the side quests available in the game’s starting district. I’ve seen two of Cyberpunk 2077’s endings now and the meat of the game is roleplaying in its open world. I’ve started two more playthroughs since beating Cyberpunk 2077 over winter break and each time the opening felt absolutely excruciating. I want to build a shotgun toting character with high strength and endurance, but the thought of sitting through the game’s opening moments again has made this a non-starter.
Cyberpunk 2077 is very proud of its story. The game spends hours building the player's relationship with Jackie Wells, setting up it's opening heist, and establishing its characters. When all you want to do is see if a blade-based Cold Blood build is viable on Very Hard (it is and it rules) then these story beats get in the way.
Compare this to Fallout: New Vegas. Five minutes into a New Vegas game and I’ve already set my stats, made my character, and am wandering the Mojave. If I want to experiment with a pickpocketing explosives expert in New Vegas, I can find out if it’s viable pretty quick. If I want to see content I still haven’t run through in Skyrim, I just have to sit through a carriage ride and a dragon attack. If I want to try new builds in Cyberpunk 2077, I’m going to sit through multiple hours of dialogue I’ve already seen before a title card drop. As of this writing, the fastest anyone has been able to get there is one hour. Even rushing, it’s still too long.