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Cyberpunk 2077 - Getting Multiplayer Right

Mitch Gassner Posted:
Editorials 0

Cyberpunk 2077 has been out for about a month now and I’ve personally been having a blast. I’ve been pretty lucky in avoiding any major bug issues, with only a couple of mission reloads under my belt due to a game breaking bug. That doesn’t mean the game is perfect by any means. Similar to flies at a summer BBQ though, the bugs and glitches I’ve come across haven’t been bad enough to ruin my overall experience with Cyberpunk 2077. I just recently found the last few hours needed to finish my first run through as V and I found the story to be fantastic. I’m pretty sure I missed a lot along the way so you can bet I’ll get in another full playthrough before I start to tire of my cyberpunk life. 

But what’s in store when I hit the end of the road with my Cyberpunk 2077 single player experience in another month or so? Like most players, without any multiplayer component to keep me engaged, Cyberpunk 2077 will sit on my hard drive unplayed until some DLC comes out. Then it’ll be a flash in the pan as I gobble up all the new missions, followed by more down time. This will be the way it goes until multiplayer is finally a reality. We don’t really know much about the multiplayer component of Cyberpunk 2077 other than it is being worked on. Even before the fallout from launch we knew that multiplayer wasn’t slated for 2021. That doesn’t mean I can’t think about all the possibilities that multiplayer will bring.

Building A Solid Foundation

CDPR is rightfully focused on fixing the single player game right now, and that will be instrumental in providing a good multiplayer experience. Many of the single player issues revolve around the immersion breaking weak AI, and that will only carry over to multiplayer if it isn’t fixed. NPC reactions to gunfire, poor driving, police pop-in and lack of pursuit are just a few areas that need shoring up before multiple players are reeking havoc together in Night City.

There’s a big difference between something being functional and being good, and multiplayer will only further expose the weaknesses in AI. Take the cops teleporting in right next to you when you get a wanted level. It is functional, and I don’t really notice it when playing solo since I don’t run around trying to get a high wanted level all the time. But as soon as you throw other players and PVP into the mix there’s no ignoring it. The amount of criminal activity ramps up and a bunch of MAX-TAC popping up in the middle of things will ruin everyone’s day.

Cyberpunk 2077 Hall

Another area that could use some TLC before multiplayer goes prime time is the power curve players go through with their character build. It’s not as simple as a single skill line being overpowered and making the game too easy. Once you get past your first few levels they’re all overpowered. Even my crappy, slapped together netrunner is overpowered. And you know something is wrong when my netrunner can step out of his primary strengths, pull out a weapon, and still plow through most anything in his way. 

These are just two pieces of the puzzle that need to be sorted out before multiplayer goes live, and there are others. Some bugs and glitches will disappear over time; CDPR has already patched out many of them. Getting some of the core features to a condition that players feel is suitable will surely take a little longer. Some players might feel the wait will be too long but history tells us otherwise.

Shedding The Excess Baggage

I’ll say it again - getting Cyberpunk 2077 to a playable state across all platforms should be a priority. PS4 and Xbox One players deserve a decent single player experience. It’s what they paid for. 

That doesn’t mean that we need to see the same mistake happen with multiplayer that we saw with single player. What am I talking about? Every PC and new generation console player has been thinking it so I’ll come out and say it - CDPR needs to abandon all hope for multiplayer on the PS4 and Xbox One. At best, they will get single player running at a smooth 30fps on the older consoles. Trying to include them in anything multiplayer will be a catastrophe.

With the new consoles giving similar performance to a low to mid tier PC, there is no way to include the outdated hardware of the old gen without continuing to degrade the overall product. It might not be a good look for the company but I predict we’ll see more AAA games take that approach in the near future. 

Multiplayer Hopes And Dreams

With that out of the way we can now finally get to the good stuff. When it comes to player vs player I'd like to see more than the typical free for all that games like GTA and Red Dead Redemption 2 offer. Given the already volatile streets of Night City, Cyberpunk 2077 is perfectly suited for turf wars involving player run gangs. 

All it would take to start up a player run gang is to allow players to "buy" a block of territory by picking an available block and dropping down the required amount of eddies to set up shop. This would be followed by some AI attempts to recapture the block you've taken, possibly capped off by a negotiation mission. That final mission would be your chance to convince the local lieutenant to step down. You’d pay them off by putting eddies towards their retirement fund or forcing early retirement with lead to their head. Your choice would depend on whether you want to ally with or against the NPC gangs.

Your chosen resolution to your initial land grab would determine whether you have to give a portion of your positive cash flow to an overlord or spend time and resources defending against occasional attempts to knock you out. The path you choose would also determine how future expansion plans would transpire. Taking the friendly path would mean running some successful missions for your NPC affiliation to earn gang cred, finally being rewarded with more turf to control as you move up through the ranks. The violent path - the more likely choice for many - means taking more ground the hard way. Either way you choose to go at it, each gain of territory would be more difficult than the last.

Regardless of whether you take a friendly or hostile approach to the NPC gangs, using street cred as a currency has a lot of potential. Cred level wouldn’t be tied to just maximum territory size. It could also factor into things like "protection" income from Night City citizens, the frequency of NPC gang incursions, and could even go as far as determining the amount of bribe money required for corps and cops to turn a blind eye to your seedy dealings. High levels of street cred, just like in real life, would be treated with positive and negative modifiers depending on the person or group you are interacting with.

Eventually player gangs would grow their borders until they covered the entirety of Night City, and that’s where the real PVP fun would begin. Night City is pretty big, so the odds of a single group being able to hold all of the city seems pretty far fetched, so there should be plenty of opportunity for head to head clashes that could create an ebb and flow to the borders between warring gangs. Just like the NPC gang incursions, player gangs should be able to start an incursion to create general unrest among ordinary citizens, making life difficult for rivals.

It’s A Merc Life For Me

What about those who don’t want to engage in PVP 24/7? Well, I think there’s still plenty of mercenary action available in a multiplayer Cyberpunk 2077 world. CDPR has already shown their ability to weave interesting story arcs into their side missions, and going solo or co-op in a multiplayer world doesn’t really change that formula. Regular content updates via DLC or expansion packs are expected and could keep PVE players happy for a long time. I’d be willing to pay for these but free content goes a long way towards mending the relationship between a developer and its player base (that’s a topic for another day but there’s no need to look any further than Hello Games and No Man’s Sky if you don’t agree).

Playing as a solo merc for hire in a multiplayer world doesn’t have to exclude you from the gang warfare mentioned above. Gangs will always need some outside help to pull off missions and all it would take for solo players to join in would be to accept a temporary affiliation with a gang. When they were done helping out, a cooldown timer would start. 

The cooldown timer, based on the amount of street cred they gained while affiliated, would slowly tick down, representing the amount of time it would take before they were clear of any gang rep they have. This cooldown would cover two bases. First, until the timer ran out they would still be affiliated with whatever gang they were helping, prohibiting them from joining a rival gang. Second, it would keep them flagged for PVP, but only against any gang that they had committed transgressions against. This type of system would allow a player to reap the rewards of PVP while not treating gangs as a faucet that is simply turned off and on without at least a short term risk.

For players wanting to keep their fighting strictly in the realm of PVE, lucrative trade deals could still be struck with player run gangs. In the perfect world, CDPR could even add in a system that allows for player gangs to create their own contracts for goods and services instead of relying on ad hoc deals. These contracts could be as simple as a merc patrolling and completing NPC gigs in a specific area. Completing gigs will never hold a player’s attention forever, so as to keep these mundane missions alive as the game matures, gangs would have to be able to modify the basic in-game rewards. There could be symbiotic payoffs where the gang gets the street cred while the player gets the eddies from the mission reward, with an extra bonus paid out in the form of cash or goods from the gang’s coffers. 

Mission parameters like stealth or an extreme amount of violence could be built in, allowing solo players to gobble up the missions they’re interested in. Individuals could actually build up a rap sheet in the game with gangs being able to send preem contracts out to individual mercs that meet their set criteria. This could even evolve into a fixer type of scenario where players could set themselves up as a middle man between the PVP and PVE players, gambling their personal street cred as insurance against the merc failing the mission with the potential gain being a percentage of all rewards from a successful mission. 

If roleplay servers from other games have taught us anything, it’s that players are always willing to take on what most would consider boring roles. Like the fixer example, ripper docs, gun shops, clothing stores, and god knows what else, could be taken over by players, giving a whole new layer to the crafting system for those that wish to pursue that type of life. Additional perk lines could even be added for those that want to specialize in an entrepreneurial role on a server.

Netrunners - The Differentiator

It doesn’t matter whether you go PVP or PVE, Cyberpunk 2077 has a lot of potential for multiplayer missions. Sure, the same old missions available in single player as well as other multiplayer games will be a staple. Drive to a spot, kill some NPCs, gather up the required intel, get out alive. It’s all standard fare. What Cyberpunk 2077 has that other games don’t is the netrunner. In single player the netrunner is just another name for spellcaster. Instead of using guns they throw out a few insta kill or damage over time quickhacks, then move to the next room and repeat. And that’s assuming they didn’t use one of the game-breaking combos at their disposal to clear out a whole building from the front door.

In multiplayer netrunners could be used in a support role instead. I’m talking about the guy in the van that every spy movie ever made has. The eyes and ears of the team. The woman that is pulling up building blueprints in real time, shutting down cameras, and yelling, “Go NOW!” when the guards have their backs turned to the rest of the group. You know, just like T-Bug did for you and Jackie.

That’s just the beginning of the complexity a Netrunner could bring to the show. Imagine the netrunner having multiple cameras hacked at the same time, leading an assassin through the vents while watching over a couple team members tasked with creating a diversion at the entrance. Being jacked into the net and defenseless, a couple more from your gang have hung back as defense, and are now engaged with a rival gang intent on taking your netrunner out of the picture. Now we’re talking Mission Impossible level stuff.

An adept netrunner might be able to handle all of this and still get a few quickhacks off, so we can’t stop here. CDPR could expand the net beyond what we saw in the single player game, taking it beyond just a single construct to allow Netrunners to duke it out in the virtual world. Do you fill up some of your precious RAM with ICE for protection or load in some diversionary daemons to keep that enemy runner busy? Just don’t forget your team is running blind while you are engaged in net battles, so whatever you plan on doing, do it quick or everyone’s gonna end up in a body bag.

Final Thoughts

CD Projekt Red needs to use the sci-fi setting of Cyberpunk 2077 to differentiate its multiplayer from the other RPGs on the market. Just like Night City itself, multiplayer has the ability to be a multi-layered affair. It’s a city that allows for players to join in with their friends and focus on what they want to do. Roleplay, solo and group PVE, and gang PVP, it’s all possible. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is possible given the setting, lore, current and future skill sets, and a bunch of eager players. I believe the team at CD Projekt Red is fully capable of tossing ideas like these, or whatever else they have in mind, into the mix when multiplayer finally comes to Cyberpunk 2077. Please, please, please, just take whatever time you need to make sure it is done right.


Mitch Gassner

Part-time game reviewer, full-time gaming geek. Introduced to Pac-Man and Asteroids at a Shakey's Pizza in the '70s and hooked on games ever since.