Cyberpunk 2077, the latest effort from CD Projekt Red, has been a long time in the making. The very first teaser trailer showed up way back in 2013. But the franchise itself goes back even further, to the 1980s, with a pen-and-paper RPG from the ambitious team at R. Talsorian Games.
Here’s what you need to know about the Cyberpunk universe, alongside everything confirmed about the next epic RPG from the skilled team behind The Witcher series.
Welcome to Night City
Cyberpunk 2077 is set in the free state of Northern California. Specifically, the action takes place in Night City, a coastal metropolis lodged smack dab between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Night City is a fictional place, but it has a rich history all its own. It was the setting for Cyberpunk: The Roleplaying Game of the Dark Future, the franchise’s original tabletop RPG product first published in 1988. A second edition was released in 1990, titled Cyberpunk 2020, along with a detailed sourcebook called Night City. Today, it’s also the setting for Cyberpunk Red, the official tabletop prequel to CD Projekt’s video game set some 30 years before the events of Cyberpunk 2077. Everything that happened in those games is canon, so far as we’ve been told, so if you’d like to head straight to the source you can visit R. Talsorian Games and start downloading PDFs right now.
The most recent, and likely the most relevant, bits of lore come from the World Book included with the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, released in August 2019. It tells the story of a world rocked by waves of revolutionary new technologies, nations hollowed out by generations of intractable corporate greed, and a populace utterly chained to cybernetics, drugs, and violence.
According to its timeline, by the year 2045 the entire West Coast of the United States has more or less become unmoored from the traditional democratic union we live in today. While what’s left of the federal government still maintains control over portions of the East Coast, the interior of the country is more or less a wasteland. That means the residents of Night City are on their own.
The city itself could have easily fallen many times over, but the biggest danger came in the 2020s when a tactical nuclear device went off under mysterious circumstances. The air bursting munition took the tops of some buildings, while a colossal shockwave leveled others. But not even that could stop its vibrant people from bouncing back.
By 2077, Night City is once again a thriving place, according to CD Projekt.
Who is in control?
The video game’s playable world — according to the developers, a place geographically smaller than The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but with more narrative and gameplay density — is to be divided into six districts.
The City Center is your standard metropolitan commercial sector, complete with massive skyscrapers. Expect a thin veneer of aristocratic dwellings on top of deep subterranean dungeons, leftover vaults filled with ruins locked off by the nearly fatal nuclear blast.
Moving outward, the Watson district is the discarded shell of a once prosperous mega-corporation. Now populated by immigrants, it’s a mix of Asian cultures filled with bazaars and markets. Westbrook includes a touristy Japantown, as well as the city’s wealthiest citizens. Heywood is another wealthy district, predominantly Latino but with a budding gang problem. Pacifica serves as the city slums, which are abandoned and overrun by gangs. That region featured prominently in the demo showed at E3 2019 and, later, at Gamescom in Germany. Finally, there’s the industrial sector of Santo Domingo.
According to R. Talsorian Games, one of Night City’s last remaining municipal services is the Night City Police Department. You’ll remember their grim enforcer from the Max-Tac “Psycho Squad,” led by the ruthless Commissioner J. Hammerman, seen in that first trailer from 2013. That faction also plays a significant role in world of Cyberpunk Red. But, aside from that brief teaser posted nearly a decade ago, we haven’t seen all that much from the NCPD in 2077.
Meanwhile, CD Projekt Red has pushed several other powerful factions to the fore.
The E3 2018 demo introduced Militec, the largest purveyor of military hardware in the private sector. Their sharply-dressed representatives are clad in three-piece suits wrapped in fashionable body armor. Escorted by heavily-armed body guards and backed up by an even more heavily-armed airborne quick response team, the faction will be a source of intelligence and monetary support throughout the game.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Maelstrom “Psycho Gang,” an underground group of criminals that trade in drugs and other forms of contraband. Members of the Maelstrom believe heavily in body modification. Some have the top halves of their faces removed entirely, replaced with an articulated camera. Part eyeball, part eyebrow, the camera moves to follow objects and react to the flow of conversation.
First revealed during a private screening for the press at E3 2019, the Animals are a nomadic group rarely found in any major concentrations around the city. They’re a faction of muscular bodybuilders who modify themselves with illegal drugs rather than cybernetic augmentations. CD Projekt says you’ll likely see them as hired help, holding key positions outside secure facilities and exotic clubs around Night City.
In the lore of the Cyberpunk world the internet as we know it no longer exists. Smaller networks and databases are still commonplace, but they’re all isolated from one another. Since the 2020s the majority of the network infrastructure in the world has become so polluted with exotic AI and viruses that it simply can’t be saved. Now the Netwatch spends its time trying to keep the horrible things inside from getting out. In the flesh, Netwatch agents come across as buttoned-up office drones who got lost on their way to a cubicle farm.
A large number of Haitian immigrants were originally brought to Night City by mega-corporations to construct the Pacifica district as a cheap labor force. Environmental disasters have wiped their native island off the map, while corporate disasters have turned Pacifica into a war zone. As a result, their descendants have had to fight to keep their foothold in Night City.
The community leaders in Pacifica are known as the Voodoo Boys. That’s a name that dates back all the way to Cyberpunk 2020 in the 1980s, where the team at R. Talsorian Games envisioned them as “a terrorist gang with ritual magic overtones,” mostly comprised of white people with a Caribbean-inspired affect. Years later, CD Projekt has recast the Voodoo Boys as spiritualists whose unique form of worship involves hacking and trips through cyberspace. They have a passion for black leather and powerful computers.
For those who can afford medical coverage in 2077, medical aid arrives in the form of the Trauma Team. This heavily-armed group of first responders will arrive at a moment’s notice to pull their client’s fat out of the fire. At E3 in 2018, they were shown arriving by air to the top floors of a posh apartment complex, asking victims of violence to throw their weapons and their insurance cards onto the group. CD Projekt has said players will eventually be able to take on missions with that faction.
Who is the main character?
In Cyberpunk 2077, players will take on the role of a character nicknamed V. It’s not a stock avatar as in the Witcher games. Instead, players will have the ability to customize their appearance. They won’t be asked to choose a gender. Instead they’ll be able to pick and choose from body types, voices, and other physical features.
Developers haven’t shown the final system in motion, but in interviews with Polygon and other outlets they maintain that it is their intention to allow players to create their own unique expressions of the human form. Then, they’ll present them with a myriad different ways to alter it via cybernetic enhancements. Expect issues like transhumanism — the belief that humanity can transcend its current mental and physical form with the help of technology — to be a throughline for the entire game.
That same sort of fluid customization also extends to Cyberpunk 2077’s skill system. There will be no traditional classes in the game. Instead, players will be able to add abilities and perks to their character as they see fit.
What is the gameplay like?
Players will experience Cyberpunk 2077 almost entirely from the first-person perspective. Third-person views will be limited to the occasional cinematic sequence, while driving, in mirrors, and in the inventory screen. The game will include both two- and four-wheeled vehicles, including motorcycles. CD Projekt has described Cyberpunk 2077 as an open-world game, so expect to be able to take a break from the main quest line to drive around looking for trouble.
Cover plays an integral role in Cyberpunk 2077. Demos have shown characters and enemies ducking down behind desks and furniture while gunfire rattles off the walls behind them. At least some of the walls and other objects in the game are destructible, with high-caliber rounds piercing through sheetrock and explosives leaving gaping holes, clearly exposing the enemies on the other side.
High-level gunplay is an acrobatic affair. Demos have shown players sliding into cover, only to leap out and around enemies to shoot them in the back. At least one player skill will allow for a “bullet time” slow motion effect, while another allows you to see the silhouette of threats hidden behind walls. Some builds can rip doors open or pull mounted weapons off their gimbals and fire them from the hip. Still other skillsets will allow the player to hack into connected devices and turn automated systems into weapons or traps.
Close range and melee combat will play a role in the game. One ability allows players to conceal massive, scythe-like blade weapons inside their forearms — just like the original trailer shown in 2013. Those can also be used to scale walls or leap up and remain stuck in place above unwary enemies before dropping down to carve them up. Decapitation and dismemberment will be included.
Players won’t be alone in Cyberpunk 2077. The E3 2018 demo included a bilingual companion named Jackie who mixed Spanish and English with techno-futuristic slang. He was shown charging through doors to take down enemies, wielding massive support weapons and, at one point, lifting a sedan up on two wheels to provide improvised cover during a boss battle.
A scene from the 2019 E3 demo showed Jackie being shot to death, but he won’t be your only companion. You’ll also get to hang out with rockerboy Johnny Silverhand, played by Keanu Reeves. Johnny has been a big part of the Cyberpunk lore from the very beginning — he may have even played a role in nuking Night City. In the current iteration of the tabletop game it’s rumored that his remains were kept on ice well into the 2040s. In Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt says he will only inhabit the player’s consciousness as a cybernetic ghost, not a physical being.
What about cyberspace?
The biggest unanswered question about Cyberpunk 2077 is what it will be like to explore cyberspace, which is referred to in-fiction as the NET. In the tabletop game, the NET is a fantastical space where security subroutines can just as easily present themselves as dowdy receptionists or slavering hellspawn. The latest demo shown at E3 2019 showed only the briefest glimpse of that world — V stepping into an ice bath to cool herself down, connecting a terminal from her wrist to a Voodoo Boys mainframe, and then fading, Matrix-like, into a world that resolved from lines of code.
From what little we know about the game’s plot, expect to spend a significant amount of time in this alternate world. We’ll likely learn more about what CD Projekt’s interpretation of the NET will look like in the months leading up to the game’s release.
How about multiplayer?
Cyberpunk 2077 is a single-player game. CD Projekt has said publicly that it’s exploring potential multiplayer applications of the combat system. Whether or not that means the studio is working on an expansion, a second game, or anything else at all in the world of Cyberpunk is a closely guarded secret.
What’s the release date? What are the platforms?
Cyberpunk 2077 is due out on April 16, 2020 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. It’s expected to arrive on CD Projekt’s GOG platform as well as Steam, the Epic Games Store, and Google Stadia.