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Cyberpunk 2077 gets a second chance with Netflix Edgerunner, patches

Every day this week, more than a million people have signed up to play Cyberpunk 2077 – and with good reason. There’s no better time than now to try or revisit the most infamous video game of 2020.

CD Projekt Red, the developer of the game, announced the stunning statistics on Wednesday, a week after Netflix debuted Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, an anime show based on the game, which has received rave reviews from critics and fans alike. Since the Netflix show ended, tens of thousands of people have watched Cyberpunk 2077 play on Steam, the largest number of concurrent players since the game’s launch window in December 2020.

It’s a reversal of fate for Cyberpunk 2077. Two years ago, the title suffered a disastrous and flawed launch after it was revealed that it was performing poorly on consoles and failing to deliver on the many promises made in its years-long marketing campaign. In 2020 the game was a joke. Today, “Now it’s good” is a common refrain for many players.

“Thank you Chooms for this second chance,” CD Projekt Red Quest Director Pawel Sasko tweeted, using a term that loosely translates to “friend” in the cyberpunk world. Sasko was a cheerful, reassuring presence on the studio’s streams of game updates.

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It’s been a long road to recovery. The game was so buggy at launch that PlayStation took the unprecedented step of removing it from its digital stores for several months. Even into 2021, CD Projekt Red has updated the game with minor updates and additions to minor fanfare.

“Now is a really special moment for Cyberpunk 2077 — a moment we’ve wanted to achieve for years,” CD Projekt Red board member and chief marketing officer Jeremiah Cohn told The Washington Post. “The current resurgence of players is a direct result of many months of hard work by our amazing developers and others here at CD Projekt Red.”

Cohn points to the game’s February 1.5 patch as the start of this resurgence, an update that not only brought the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and Series S versions up to current-gen performance standards, but also introduced a host of changes , the restructured game, how it unfolds and how its setting, Night City, feels. The game encouraged imbalanced builds at launch, but by adding and removing certain abilities and refocusing weapon use, CD Projekt Red made creating a character with special abilities feel consistent and engaging. Traffic and pedestrian behavior has been corrected to bring the hustle and bustle of Night City up to the standard of other open world games.

The game has also been updated on how its side quests are distributed. Fixers providing jobs to Cyberpunk mercenaries were given a linear structure with powerful, meaningful rewards at the end of quest lines. Notes and environment details have been scattered throughout the world to give additional context to these gigs and add more flavor and context to the player’s actions. And other side quests are clearly marked on the map so players won’t miss them. This was important as the game’s side stories were easily overlooked, but also often lauded as the game’s best-written content, reminiscent of CD Projekt Red’s exemplary strength in video game storytelling.

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And finally, the Netflix debut of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has made people want to visit or revisit Night City. The show was a powerful statement of how transmedia storytelling can be successful. The Paramount TV series Halo has been criticized by many die-hard fans for how different it was from the original product. Edgerunners doesn’t just tap into its video game roots — it bakes the game’s architecture and layout right into the anime. The entire video game world of Night City was used as the show’s stage and setting to reward players familiar with the game.

“By timing the game update with the incredible anime, we were able to connect Cyberpunk 2077 players with Edgerunners viewers while engaging them both,” said Cohn.

Playing the game after watching the show, in turn, feels like continuing the adventure. The show’s story may have ended, but Night City lives on in the virtual world of Cyberpunk 2077. This is transmedia convergence at its strongest, coherent, and cohesive in design, theme, and intent – a feat that will challenge even the likes of Disney and Marvel.

Edgerunners succeeds because it follows the spirit of the game and its design choices. The show uses the same soundtrack and brings some of the game’s radio tracks to the fore. The song “I really want to stay at your house” might have been a sad but happy city-pop track, but “Edgerunners” forever recontextualizes it as a funeral anthem. Nondescript city blocks in the game now convey a sense of nostalgia as memories of the Edgerunners characters flood into the player’s mind.

The show, which is the canon of the game’s story, also offers an emotional conclusion. No doubt many players are revisiting Cyberpunk 2077 after the show reimagined certain characters and brought new feelings to old faces. Anyone who’s beat the game and finished the show knows exactly who I’m talking about.

This phenomenon echoes CD Projekt Red’s successful partnership with Netflix. At the end of 2019, The Witcher became the most-watched TV show in the world, reaching 76 million households within the first month; The third game’s audience skyrocketed in the weeks that followed, boosting its sales for nearly half a decade since its release. Steam concurrent player counts for The Witcher 3 at that time reflect today’s concurrent player counts for Cyberpunk 2077. It’s safe to say that CD Projekt Red and Netflix have done it again.

Making Edgerunners such a success was a tall order, but the developers have teamed up with legendary animation house Studio Trigger (Kill la Kill, BNA: Brand New Animal) to create something unique that pays homage to Michael Pondsmith’s World-Building Era He created the original cyberpunk board game in the 1980s and CD Projekt Red’s vision for 2020. And it was built with the intention of catering to the audience of both.

“My personal mission was not to make something that is for everyone, but something that someone can really love.” tweeted the show’s executive producer, Rafal Jaki. This stated intention is at odds with what other media companies are demanding, which is a “broader” audience. “Edgerunners” was never meant to find a place in the mainstream; it should find a place in your heart.

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The video game “Cyberpunk 2077”, in turn, finds a new place in history. There have been many high profile video game disasters that have reversed their reputation and quality after many updates. Most famously, Square Enix pulled Final Fantasy XIV from sale entirely to be revamped as A Realm Reborn and become one of the most popular online role-playing games today. “No Man’s Sky” by Hello Games made a lot of promises and didn’t keep them. But since its release in 2016, the studio has been able to implement pretty much every feature.

Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t quite at that level of reappraisal yet, and may never be. The latest update to launch the show added much-requested features like doctors changing body cosmetics and more freedom in the clothes you wear. Individually, these updates are incremental steps toward the original “RPG of our dreams” that many fans were hoping for.

Any further hopes of changing Cyberpunk 2077 to fit that vision are being undermined by the game’s core design, the structure of the missions, and the way the player interacts with the world. Many people expected a game that could rival Bethesda’s role-playing games, and the game’s marketing certainly didn’t discourage that belief in the future. Many of the features people were hoping for, like citizens being able to pursue their own unique routines or “living” in the game’s locales like bars or restaurants, may never be implemented. Cyberpunk 2077 is now too complete a product and vision to be easily updated. It would require an A Realm Reborn style overhaul or, of course, a sequel.

Thankfully, the studio has expanded its “mod” support, allowing players to modify the game’s files to create new playstyles and elements – while also extending the game’s lifespan even beyond official expansions. The most popular mod allows players to control flying cars, a feature that was never promised but is a digital manifestation of audiences’ hopes for a dream cyberpunk video game. Bethesda’s “Skyrim” remains popular for similar support, and it’s easy to see that “Cyberpunk 2077” will have similar legs years from now.

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CD Projekt Red has long admitted that it would scale back expansion work for Cyberpunk 2077. Although further development of Cyberpunk 2077 is expected to halt next year, Cohn reiterated the studio’s commitment to further exploring the Cyberpunk brand and intellectual property.

“With this expansion, we will continue to update and improve the game,” said Cohn. “The cyberpunk universe is so exciting and has unlimited potential, and what’s important now is that we cherish this moment and use this momentum as an opportunity to push things even further.”

Cyberpunk 2077 is still not what was originally promised (or even intended), but if the game were released in the state it is in now, it would immediately have its place among the best and most immersive open-world games -Action games of all time found. And Edgerunners sheds new light on the magnitude of CD Projekt Red’s stunning architectural achievement in creating Night City, the most complex virtual city ever created for a video game experience.

CD Projekt Red is fortunate that millions have chosen to reevaluate Cyberpunk 2077, but it’s hard work, not just luck, that has brought them this rare second chance.

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