CD Projekt Red reveals to us what the future of digital entertainment looks like with its epic new RPG experience
We are locked in a room with Patrick Mills, arguing about the bathroom facilities installed around Night City. In 30 minutes an alarm will sound, interrupting us; the windows of the room will polarise, flooding it with artificial light; the door will swing open and we will be ushered out into the world, left to contemplate all that we had seen and heard on one of the industry’s most anticipated upcoming releases. And here we are, arguing lavatory semantics with one of CD Projekt Red’s quest designers.
But let’s back up for a minute. It’s important for you to understand how we got here before we can take you any further. We had just spent the better part of an hour utterly entranced, watching with baited breath as the future of interactive entertainment flashed before our eyes; a fresh look at Cyberpunk 2077, one that is yet to be revealed to the public.
Given the ambition behind the damned thing, perhaps it’s no surprise that every developer, publisher and journalist in the room walked away with wildly different reactions and interpretations to what they had seen. Some are in a state of shock, convinced that they had just bore witness to an early glimpse at the next generation of gaming. Others are in awe, mesmerised by the scope of the vision and mastery of the execution. Many are steadfast in their concern over the depiction of minority voices and presentation of ‘mature’ content. A handful are, frankly, unconvinced that the demonstration was little more than an in-engine exercise in smoke and mirrors. That’s an opinion that is tempered only by the actions of the developer controlling the action – he was sandwiched in among the audience, occasionally making unintended movements with the character as the small crowd hustled either side of him to make notes throughout.
Truth be told, we felt all of this. It was swirling around in our head, percolating as we sat down across from Patrick Mills, a veteran quest designer of CD Projekt Red. As we tried to make sense of it all one thing became perfectly clear, that for better or worse, the studio is working to create something that far outstretches our understanding of what a first-person RPG, in the traditional sense, can be – even if the studio is hesitant to admit it.
“Cyberpunk 2077 is not an immersive sim, but there is a lot of influence in there from those types of games…” Mills will tell us with a smile as we begin to probe the scope of the studio’s ambition. As far as denials go, we’re not buying it, and you shouldn’t either; Cyberpunk 2077 has the potential to be genuinely evolutionary. You may be wondering why we believe that it is important whether or not the game is classified as an immersive sim or not. Thankfully, we’re here to help you navigate through this minefield of delineations.
When Mills mentions “those games” he’s referring to the likes of Bioshock, Dishonored, Deus Ex, Prey and System Shock. The aforementioned are but a handful of series’ in existence that have the capacity to transcend genre entirely, existing instead within the illusive bracketing of the ‘immersive sim’.
The immersive sim is not a genre, per se. It’s a malleable collection of unwritten design directives that a few games, largely driven by the alumni of Looking Glass Studios, follow to help propagate a certain sense of expression and immersion within their worlds. Design that is heavily focused on creating gameplay that will provide a player with a vast array of different opportunities to complete objectives and overcome challenges.
This is achieved through a vast array of interactive tools and in the manipulation of a complex web of systems, all of which are designed to interplay with one another in a way that feels logical to the world that they unfurl within. That world and all of the levels contained within it are designed to be simultaneously functional and atmospheric, purpose-built to support choice-driven gameplay in spaces that feel believable, real. All of this grounded and bound within a narrative that tackles difficult and mature themes by way of means that would be considered unconventional to the standards of the wider industry. Does that sound a little like a certain upcoming open-world first-person RPG to you?