Someone Else May Get it Right
Years have passed since a realm of science fiction has captivated us in the vein of Citadel space. I’m talking about an IP with enough commitment to couple rich concepts and intellect with immersive realism. Now Anthem is on the horizon but is less likely to scratch the narrative itch gnawing at fans since before the arrival of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Thus, much like The Witcher 3 built on the Fantasy benchmark set by Dragon Age, I’m convinced that Cyberpunk 2077 will parallel Mass Effect’s ingenious creativity and bring back a brand of storytelling BioWare has practically abandoned. Here are several reasons why I think CD Projekt RED will scratch the Mass Effect itch.
A Character Legacy
The Mass Effect Trilogy started with an essential identity in the form of Shepard, a standout POV in a sprawling sci-fi universe. Shepard, whether he or she, served a surrogate for the fusion between player and narrative; our morals and our intentions spilled into the variables of gameplay, which took a bit of creative prowess and design flexibility on BioWare’s part. For Cyberpunk 2077, we see a similar surrogate in the character of V. Regarding the protagonist of their story, I’d say that CD Projekt RED has taken a BioWare stance. Like Shepard, V is a polymorphic vessel for the player’s fantasies and their conduit to the visceral open world. As such, there’s a player-character symbiosis reflected in the world itself. Night City’s response to your personal touches will help the environment feel alive. The permutations that factor into V’s reputation, your decisions, are like a mirror to the player’s inner artist, which leads me to another important RPG element.
BioWare engineered the witticism that character creation absorbs the first few hours of an RPG, maybe because their customization menus were the most appealing. As a result, in-depth customization has become normal, even expected in AAA RPGs. I think Cyberpunk 2077 is emblematic of a BioWare game because, for V, CD Projekt RED has reimagined the backstory algorithm that cultivated every player’s Shepard in the Mass Effect trilogy. Moreover, Cyberpunk 2077 looks like it will champion the in-depth and insightful customization system we lost after Mass Effect 3. Greater detail with which we can craft our unique character typically improves our investment, allowing us to imagine and reimagine the face of the hero’s journey ad infinitum. Whether fashioned out of the player’s own likeness or originality, what’s crucial is the aesthetic signature; it’s the skin to a full-fledged escapist tale.
BioWare understood the importance of interactions in a story, therefore created characters with above average staying power. On the surface, Mass Effect relationships linked back to a variety of rewards in the form of knowledge, character powers, story unlocks, etc. The devs gave us enough agency and influence to solicit loyalty from companions or untether them from the world surrounding us. Decisively, however, the bonds we forged had a sweltering impact on the campaign, without which the narrative would have been hollow. I caught a glimpse of the same bonds in the Cyberpunk 2077 demo, companions with personalities and gravitas in Night City. They were brief, but the little snippets between V and companion Jackie teased an interesting past and malleable future. If the game contains a few more companions with personal stories interwoven with and shaped by V’s decisions, I’d call that the beautiful next stage of Mass Effect-type relationships. And speaking of companions, I cannot neglect to mention the latent power of romance.
Without kidding ourselves, romance in RPGs is the catalyst between casual and sweaty playthroughs. We don’t know the extent of romance in Cyberpunk 2077, but we know that CDPR takes it seriously. By the end of Mass Effect 1 and Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare became synonymous with vicarious love stories, a fact which probably drove a few sales. I’m not here to sell you on in-game romance, however; I’m here to sell you on immersion. The best open world RPGs are seamless and natural, therefore must include romance because, like reproductive organs, romance is natural whether you acknowledge it or not. Because of Cyberpunk 2077’s sophistication and mature themes, I’m all but convinced the game will bring the evolution of love stories as popularized by BioWare.
By now, everybody knows that gameplay routes without consequences are the illusion of choice. Cyberpunk 2077 is all about branching paths, a fact the demo highlighted when it showed scavvers attack V in an epic car chase. The demo could have shown us the different paths instead of telling us what might have happened, but my point is that judging by how the game is branded, Cyberpunk 2077 may quell our hunger for branching narrative in a sci-fi action game. Mass Effect’s trick to storytelling lay in stage development. The formula included side-quests and the main quest whose completion progressed the story and the world. When the world jumped ahead in time, the player could find a multitude of references to their previous exploits in some form or another. Consequences meant new character interactions, new quests, mementos, emails or even an impact on the overall plot. This happened on a grand scale when a sequel incorporated all of the player’s past decisions. The beauty is in how BioWare convinced everyone that their choices mattered. We need that back.
The Dance of Death
You cannot tell me that Cyberpunk’s Krasnikov (the drug-induced slow-mo effect) doesn’t remind you of Mass Effect’s Adrenaline Rush. Though neither game mechanic is unique to either franchise, their similarities are my first indication of yet another parallel in the realm of combat design. You have two games that revolve around weapons with damage types – One uses ballistic, thermal, EMP, and chemical, while another has incendiary, biotic, tech, and other forms of damage expertly weaved into a gameplay architecture. Mass Effect’s unique ammo and ability types, when combined, constitute a deadly dance of sci-fi action goodness, while the Cyberpunk demo showed us a glimpse of the same destructive potential when V used weapon variety to defeat the boss Royce. If the latter game’s skill tree can be nurtured like Mass Effect’s party skill tree, then it’s safe to say that fans of BioWare’s tactical gameplay will find a home in CD Projekt’s new property.
Good Ol’ Sci-Fi Lore
Arguably, a worthwhile sci-fi tale can answer all the questions about its lore. Every curio, concept, and piece of tech within Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay demo came with a practical explanation, like how the Kuroshi implant allows V to scan items and see ammo count. Then there’s the brain chip, which lets you exchange data and forego a lengthy mission briefing. There’s an attention to detail for every nuance and gameplay feature, and I love it. Like the implant chips, Mass Effect and its comprehensive codex of information explained everything from Mass Effect fields to Krogan and their love-hate relationship with Varren. I’m sitting on my hands, waiting to be enthralled by another world of insanely fun gameplay and info bombs, where futuristic technology is married to the customs and culture depicted.
But if I really had to pin down a creative intersection between BioWare and CD Projekt RED’s world-building, it’s in the depiction of Night City vs Mass Effect 2’s Omega. Where the two games are concerned, I found that the two cities invite a keen comparison. Beyond the gritty neon sprawl, the lawless character of Omega—its gangs, violence, and teetering infrastructure—parallels the bustling anarchy of Mike Pondsmith’s world. The landscapes just ask the player to make questionable decisions, and that immediately evokes a sense of freedom. So I look at Night City and think, “Yea, all it needs is Aria T’Loak, the Blue Suns, Eclipse, and Blood Pack, and we’re in business.” Cyberpunk 2077 offers the right location; now all we need are villains to root for, morals to ignore, and stories to explore.
So here we are, six years after Mass Effect 3, five years after Dragon Age: Inquisition, and there’s an N7-shaped hole in my heart. Though I don’t see a traditional BioWare story on the horizon, I’m looking for the next promise. I’m still searching for a personalized narrative, compelling characters, and meaningful gameplay, but I’m searching in the realm of Cyberpunk 2077. I place my hopes in CD Projekt RED, to do for me again what they did with The Witcher 3.