- Author: Daniel Downey
- Date: September 20, 2020
Many RPGs have promised the player a “unique, immersive experience” where you could “go anywhere” and “do anything”. But how often do games actually end up giving the player meaningful freedom of choice and exploration? Freedom doesn’t just mean you’re allowed to walk anywhere on the map; freedom is only meaningful or useful if there is something to gain with that freedom. Sure, you could explore every nook and cranny of Skyrim’s Whiterun, but there wasn’t much to see once you were off the path. Conversely, the Dark Souls series hides items, equipment, even entire sections of the game behind walls or secret paths, thereby rewarding the player for exploration.
With Cyberpunk 2077, it sounds like CD Projekt Red are working hard to make sure that Night City is a living, breathing place with plenty of reasons to peek down every one of its dark alleys. We’ve already talked about the incredible effort that’s gone into crafting the game’s locations, how they all connect together and yet remain clearly distinguishable locales. It’s clear from what we’ve seen of Night City that it is immense, and that players should be able to travel relatively freely around the city. But how is that different than any other RPG?
For starters, CD Projekt Red is attempting to craft a world where things are actually happening. CDPR has stated that there will be over 1,000 NPCs in Night City that all have their own routine, which has to be a record in gaming (and makes the relatively low system requirements a surprise). This should make just walking around the city feel more real; seeing the same character standing outside the same building at every hour of every day makes it easy to remember you’re playing a game. Many games have attempted to solve this issue by making everyone hide inside at night, but it doesn’t exactly make them seem alive (especially when they tend to be happy to chat once you roust them out of bed). It also seems possible that NPC routines could play a meaningful role in some quests: if you need to tail someone, you’ll have to learn their routine in order to keep tabs on them.
In addition to all the NPCs doing their own thing day-to-day, the devs have said that there will be plenty of people and events to run into as you stroll Night City’s streets. In the latest Night City Wire, Senior Level Designer Niles Tost revealed that there will be “mini-stories” that the player can encounter as they explore the city. While this is by no means new territory in video games, it is one more way CDPR are making Night City feel alive. Given breadth of Night City, it also won’t be as simple as walking from quest to quest and running into scripted events. In order to find all of the side-quests, stories, and other activities, it sounds as though the player is going to need to put their sneakers on and get to walking, sometimes off the beaten path. You might get a call from your fixer about certain jobs only when you are in close proximity to them, further encouraging exploration.
Traveling by foot is not always the safest option, however. We already know there are player-drivable vehicles in the game, but the Official Night City Website lists two other forms of transportation. First, the NCART (Night City Area Rapid Transit) appears to be an electric train line, and the 2018 E3 trailer has footage from inside one of the NCART trains. The site also mentions Delamain transportation service cabs, which can be taken anywhere for a “reasonable fare”. Perhaps one (or both) of these transit options will be tied to the fast-travel system. Either way, the variety of options for transit is another way CDPR are helping Night City feels alive.
While other RPGs have large cities, they tend to be fairly straightforward to navigate. Night City, by contrast, sounds like a twisted, confusing maze of streets and elevators. The player can discover shortcuts between areas, and wander around only to find themselves on a new main drag they’ve never seen before. And unlike the repetitive textures of many video game streets, Night City should have boulevards that look lived in. The developers have named every single street in the city, and level designers have been working hard to bring them to life, going so far as to place individual pieces of trash on some streets. Niles Tost said in a recent interview that “The whole city is built to cater to that [sense of wonder]”.
As at whole, it looks like CDPR’s goal is for the player to feel drawn to explore the districts, and to be rewarded for that exploration. Fast travel junkie’s beware! This might be one game where you too will find yourself holding down W (or up on left stick) a lot more than you are used to.