In a recent stream, Cyberpunk 2077’s quest director Paweł Sasko took the time to answer viewer questions about the highs and lows of CD Projekt Red’s dystopian sci-fi RPG.
In what might otherwise be a typical Cyberpunk 2077 stream, Sasko used the platform to answer some fan questions about the title’s plot composition and had a lot to say about its narrative design (via computer gamesN (opens in a new tab)).
He admitted that the game had “an insane amount of linearity” and that the various branches of player choice were “unsatisfactory”. He went on to point out that developers view “non-linearity in a much broader sense than gamers”, which meant that “for gamers [Cyberpunk 2077’s story choices] weren’t enough.”
That said, Sasko described some of the players’ criticism as “a bit over the top”. “People say there’s nothing [but]if you use such a strict definition [of what branching storylines are]then you come to the point that literally only the biggest branches matter and nothing else,” said Sasko. “I’m not saying we did a … great job. I think that’s okay. I think it could have been better.”
You can find the full broadcast at Sasko channel on Twitch (opens in a new tab). His discussion of players’ questions and Cyberpunk 2077’s narrative design can be found at the 1:17:00 mark if you want to hear his comments for yourself.
Sasko also compared Cyberpunk 2077 to CD Projekt Red’s previous project: The Witcher 3. The Witcher 3 set something of a bar for open-world role-playing games with branching narratives, and Sasko was very vocal about it: “you can’t have identical transitions [of The Witcher 3] at all”.
“The players expected more [from Cyberpunk], because of how The Witcher 3 is built… expectations were higher,” Sasko explained. “In The Witcher 3 you had giant branches [including] Bloody Baron… vampires or [the] fairy-tale world [in Blood and Wine]”. This meant that when it came to Cyberpunk 2077, “the expectations were there [high] for large [narrative] branchs”, which means Cyberpunk’s “incredibly linear” will never live up to gamers’ expectations.
Sakso discussed one particular branching storyline in Cyberpunk 2077 as a point of comparison, namely the (potential) death of Arasaka Corporation agent Goro Takemura. “Takemura may or may not die… [it took] so much to do [both branches] work” from the narrative design perspective. However, Sakso admitted that when people find out that this fan-favorite character can be saved by completing a hidden secondary objective in the main story quest, they “run to save him”, implying that “something that was designed to be non-linear [stops being] choice.”
While playing Cyberpunk 2077 recently over the Christmas break, I discovered this previously unknown storyline for myself. When I found out that Takemura could be rescued from his predicament, I loaded a previous save and got the desired result. CD Projekt Red did such a good job of portraying Takemura as a likable character that letting him die didn’t seem like a palatable option anymore. Sakso was right: it wasn’t really a choice.
The revelations Sakso offered on his Twitch stream remind us that it’s not enough to fill the game with arbitrary player choices; the choices must mean something – each one offers a unique and valuable story in itself.