Here we are in the dystopian future where major game announcements aren’t made in front of crowds of cheering fans at a packed E3 but in some Twitter slides of a group strategy update for long-term product outlooks. Instead of feeling goosebumps on your arms as the orchestra swells for a bombastic teaser trailer, maybe you can hear the sound of a stock ticker reporting marginal daily gains. Feel the rush, videogame fans!
That’s how we learned today that another Cyberpunk 2077 game (opens in new tab), codenamed Orion, is in the works. Or at least it’s going to be in the works. We honestly don’t know much more, except for this statement: “Orion is a codename for our next Cyberpunk game, which will take the Cyberpunk franchise further and continue harnessing the potential of this dark future universe.”
If the announcement itself lacks drama, at least the timing is excellent: Cyberpunk 2077 is experiencing an upswell in interest, praise, and player numbers following the arrival of the Cyberpunk Edgerunners anime series. The game has also received some pretty big updates to over the past year that have squashed bugs and added long-requested features.
But we can’t forget the absolute toilet of a launch Cyberpunk 2077 experienced when it was released in 2020. I don’t mean in sales—it sold a ton, and continues to. I mean in CD Project’s decision to say the game was done and then sell it in an unfinished state after forcing its workers to crunch and then blaming them for the glaring issues.
How can CD Projekt avoid all that with Orion? Here’s a few lessons to be learned from the original Cyberpunk 2077.
Just call it an Early Access game
Most of the rage, disappointment, and unhappiness stemming from the original Cyberpunk 2077 could have been alleviated by two simple words: Early Access. That’s what Cyberpunk 2077 was: an unfinished game that needed at least another two years of development. I’ve said it before, and I guess I’ll keep saying it because I’m still annoyed that CDP wasn’t just upfront about it.
I’m sure truthfully labeling the original Cyberpunk 2077 as an Early Access game would have meant fewer sales initially, since many gamers are skeptical (and rightly so) of Early Access. But it would have solved a lot of problems: CD Projekt could have started making money from a game that had been in development for almost a decade, everyone’s expectations would have been tempered, impatient fans could have had a chance to play it immediately, others could have happily waited for the 1.0 version (coming in mid-2023), and it would have taken a great deal of pressure off the people working on the game.
Also, y’know, it would have been honest.
And when I was playing a mission where I was pursued by the cops and those cops instantly vanished the moment I turned my head, my reaction wouldn’t have been “Wow, this game is trash.” It would have been, “Haha, early access!”
Build a smaller world with more in it
The world of Cyberpunk 2077 is huge. Huge! It’s also startlingly empty. There is definitely something alluring about a massive open world where the borders feel like they stretch for miles, and I remember feeling deeply impressed by just how much Cyberpunk 2077 was in Cyberpunk 2077. I spent a lot of time just hitting the road and exploring.
But that was very rarely rewarding. Cyberpunk 2077 turned out to be a world with a lot to look at but not much to really do. I had a good time while I was playing quests, but taking a break to see what else the world offered rarely resulted in anything tangible. The city is full of robotic NPCs and random activities are nearly all identical gang fights, but I found very little that didn’t feel completely artificial. You know why your phone rings constantly while you’re driving around? Because if it didn’t there’d be nothing to do but drive. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, and Cyberpunk Orion should feature a smaller world but one with more to do in it.
Create a compelling main character
I realize that “Just write a great character!” isn’t useful advice. But I shouldn’t have to open photomode and apply poses to V just to have some fun with him. V isn’t a great main character—at least in comparison to CDP’s other leading man, Geralt (of Rivia). When the Cyberpunk anime series was first announced, was anyone clamoring to see V in it? Did anyone cry “Who is going to play V?” I don’t think so, and maybe that’s a sign your main character is a forgettable dud. I mean, imagine if The Witcher TV series didn’t bother featuring Geralt. The world would have burned.
I guess just about anyone would be overshadowed by the presence of Keanu Reeves, but that’s not an excuse for writing a boring and underwhelming main character, especially since there were a lot of interesting and well-written characters in the game. Choosing your background turned out to be entirely inconsequential as players were funneled into the main story within minutes of the introduction. With Orion, spend more effort making your player feel like they’re the star, instead of just giving them a star to hang out with.
Don’t tack on multiplayer unless there’s a good reason
Multiplayer was announced for Cyberpunk 2077, and then later we were told it would be a post-launch feature, and… well, we haven’t heard anything since. As far as I can tell it wasn’t officially canceled but CDP hasn’t mentioned it ever again. This tells me it’s probably canceled, but also that it wasn’t all that important to the game to begin with. It’s too bad: I could definitely see the appeal of multiplayer, particularly with the invasion-like systems you see in Watch Dogs or Dark Souls, or co-op shenanigans like the Far Cry series or Dying Light 2.
But multiplayer isn’t essential for an open world RPG, and if there’s not a great reason for it don’t tack it on just to add a bullet to the feature list. An underwhelming or uninteresting multiplayer mode isn’t going to do much for the longevity of an RPG, and Cyberpunk 2077 is fine (and currently flying) without it. Multiplayer an easy promise to make, but don’t make it and then have to break it.
On the other hand, we don’t know anything about Orion and probably won’t for several years. Maybe Orion is a multiplayer Cyberpunk game, full-stop? In that case, ignore what I just said.
Play to your strengths, right? The shooting in Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t particularly good, you weren’t confident enough in the driving to make it first-person-only, third-person worked great with The Witcher, and since Cyberpunk is sort of trying to be GTA anyway, you might as well go all the way. And frankly, in a game about looking cool and stylish, it’d be nice to actually see my character once in a while without having to hunch over the bathroom sink.