Cyberpunk 2077 and the Illusion of Choice

This is where Cyberpunk goes wrong and only occasionally gets right. Spoilers ahead! Cyberpunk 2077 is a game that you expect to give you meaningful choices, but the choices you are given are mostly illusions. Very rarely does a choice you make have any consequences for V, supporting characters or on the world of Night City.

Cyberpunk 2077 and The Illusion of Choice Cover

So, Cyberpunk 2077. It is a very little known title from CD Projekt Red, not sure how much you guys have heard about it. Obviously, I’m joking. It’s a game that has been unavoidable for the last year and even more so with the launch last month. This article is one that has been playing on my mind for some time now. It is fair to say that I am not going to be particularly kind either—which does feel like kicking someone while they’re down—but this issue has been gnawing away at me. 

The issue I am talking about is how most of the choices the game gives you don’t seem to matter. At all. Of course, some quests do give you genuine choices to make that influence the game but these are the exception to the rule. These aren’t bugs either. Whether it was because of rushed development, an oversight or by design, you don’t influence the world through your actions like you would expect. The majority of the choices you are given are merely an illusion of choice and free will. 

This article contains major spoilers for Cyberpunk 2077.

The Good

Cyberpunk 2077 does give you some meaningful choices. Occasionally. Some quests actually give you multiple ways to complete them with multiple endings depending on your actions. One such quest is The Pickup from the prologue, which tasks V and Jackie to collect a spider drone from a gang. This quest is actually quite a rarity. You can go in guns blazing from the off, you can side with a Corpo from Militech or you can screw Militech over. All of these different approaches mean players can experience different versions of the same quest.

Cyberpunk 2077 — Official Launch Trailer — V

It is no surprise that the quest above was the one shown off at E3 two years ago. That quest has obvious levels of polish and extra attention in development that make it stick out like a sore thumb. There are some other occasional moments of freedom, with one coming in the Pisces quest and Judy’s attempted takeover of Clouds. That quest can finish a number of ways depending on your actions and it can also influence a romance opportunity with Judy. However, these are the exceptions, not the rule.

The Bad 

Now we come to the downfalls. Cyberpunk makes a habit of sending you on a quest and giving you a dilemma, a hard choice to make, which you think could have ramifications for yourself, the supporting cast and the future of Night City. The problem is when you make the choice, it turns out nothing happens. You get some specific dialogue but that’s all you have to show for it. You are prepared for this early, with the first choice you’re ever given. The lifepaths. Your three options include Nomad, Streetkid or Corpo. The only difference in these lifepaths are your starting quests and some unique dialogue options in certain situations. These dialogue options rarely change anything either, with no unique paths given to any of the lifepaths. 

Cyberpunk 2077 also gives you alternative ways to complete your missions. Any playstyle can be broken down into two categories: lethal and non-lethal. This is par for the course with most RPGs and it ties into how you want to play but also adds replayability later on. Unfortunately, if you were expecting something like Dishonored where the choice between lethal and non-lethal can change the world, then you will be disappointed. Night City feels like a world that should react to your actions. Being a violent psychopath could increase crimes and distrust for the police whereas sparing everyone could make Night City a safer place. Again, this is a missed opportunity to make the world a little deeper and feel more alive.

Cyberpunk 2077 and The Illusion of Choice Meredith

Meredith Stout is one of the only characters involved in a truly open ended mission

The Bad(der)

The quests that really solidified this issue for me were the two that you undertake for the Peralez’s. First is a quest called “I Fought the Law”, which involves V conducting an investigation into the death of the mayor of Night City, Lucius Rhyne. During the course of this mission, you discover that Deputy Mayor Holt was behind the death of Lucius Rhyne and the NCPD helped cover it up. Now, what can you do with this information? Sow dissent in the NCPD? Blackmail Holt? Release the info to destroy Holt’s campaign? Nope. Detective Han threatens you and River and nothing of consequence happens. Here you have an option to alter the course of history and it leads to a dead end.  

The next Peralez mission, “Dream On”, involves you investigating some strange goings-on in the Peralez household. You soon find out someone has been altering the brain chemistry of both Jefferson and Elizabeth Peralez, essentially turning them into different people. Once you find this out, Elizabeth tells you not to tell Jefferson the truth and you later get threatened by an unknown entity to keep the brainwashing a secret as well. The only issue is, there is no change in outcome if you tell Jefferson or not. It’s a no-brainer for that choice to influence the world at large, but it feels like a giant missed opportunity instead. All you will get is a short 20-second call from Jefferson Peralez in the credits. Hardly a fitting way to show the consequences of your actions.

Cyberpunk 2077 and The Illusion of Choice Corpo

For a world full of corporate and political intrigue your choices don’t really affect the world

The Ugly

Does Cyberpunk 2077 get the ending right? That’s a hard no as well. All the ending choices only seem to boil down to some arbitrary options. The only input you can have is if you complete some side missions, then some more options open up, but that is all. Remember the backlash over Mass Effect 3’s ending? It is kind of the same here as the choices you’ve made have little to no effect on the outcome. Actually, it devalues the choices you’ve made as they don’t matter in any meaningful way. A better way of conveying your choices would be to have your relationships or playstyle affect who lives or dies on the raid on Mikoshi. If you choose to go with Panam, a bloodthirsty playstyle could lead to her death or something like that. Instead, you get some arbitrary options to select what cutscene you want.

It feels like a game on rails. No matter your choices it feels like you’re on a straight path to the end. Sure, it diverges sometimes but you always come to the same conclusion no matter what. That isn’t how you do choices. Consequences give your choices meaning. You should have an effect on the world at large. The game rarely does this. Cyberpunk 2077 only gives you the illusion of choice. This has the unfortunate effect of making the world feel lifeless and static. After all, what difference does it make if you play as a stealthy netrunner or an absolute bloodthirsty maniac if you both reach the same conclusions?

Cyberpunk 2077 and The Illusion of Choice NC

The world of Night City is left untouched by your time there and it feels static because of it

Conclusion

I suppose what I am trying to say is that Cyberpunk 2077 rarely makes your choices matter. Despite this, there are exceptions to the rule that I haven’t talked about here, though they’re few and far between. There are more opportunities throughout the main story and side missions to fundamentally change your playthrough but, as it currently stands, these are opportunities that CD Projekt Red has missed. This next-gen RPG should have done more. However, all that aside, it doesn’t take away from the great character work. There are some genuinely poignant moments throughout your time in Night City and some examples of stellar writing. Just don’t expect the choices you make to leave ripples throughout the game world. Think of your time with the game as a train ride. Your choices can change the track you’re on but not the destination, just the scenery. 

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