Cyberpunk 2077 is here and it is without a doubt the most highly anticipated game of 2020.
Pre-orders have been double that of CD Projekt Red's previous title, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
The game has also done phenomenally well when it comes to reviews, scoring a 90/100 on Metacritic.
But are we seeing developers try to push boundaries for the sake of it and actually hurting the end product?
The Future of Video Games
Cyberpunk 2077 has been in development since 2012 and over the last eight years has generated a lot of hype for the game.
It has reached the point though where the game will almost struggle to live up to expectations set by players.
Cyberpunk 2077 has been designed to be a standard-setting game, pushing the boundaries for what video games can be as the industry is looking towards gaming becoming bigger and more realistic.
Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick has said that he believes that video games will look photo-realistic within the next 10 years.
Speaking at the UBS Global TMT Virtual Conference he said,
"Some of what we do now looks a lot like live-action, but it's still animation. In 10 years, you'll have the option if you want to make things that look completely realistic, all done inside a computer, never mind all the other advances technology will enable."
Where we're at
It isn't completely far-fetched to believe what Zelnick is saying will become reality.
There are many games, such as Forza Horizon 4, Red Dead Redemption 2, and games with Ray Tracing, such as Watch Dogs Legions, where some parts of the scenery look as close to a photograph as we have ever seen.
I have seen some side-by-side pictures of Forza Horizon 4 vs the real-life location and struggled for a few seconds to figure out which is which, spoiler alert, look at the road as that still seems to be something that developers have struggled to make look realistic.
As of right now, character models are the hardest thing to look realistic, but they can still be made to look very realistic.
Hair physics and appearance is still something that is difficult to make look realistic, but developers are getting closer with every new AAA title released.
2019's Resident Evil 2 Remake overall looks fantastic, with the RE Engine showcasing why it is a premiere engine in modern gaming.
But the hair physics and appearance really let down the overall appearance, with the outline looks very fuzzy at times.
However, when compared to games from even 10 years ago, it is clear to see how far graphics have come.
So add another 10 years to technological advancements and we will likely be much closer to photo realism, if not already there.
Open World Games
Cyberpunk 2077 is a huge open-world RPG, much like CDPR's previous game The Witcher 3.
Open world games aren't new, with games such as the Grand Theft Auto and The Elder Scrolls series' of games being the gold standard for the genre.
As time goes on, open-world games have become bigger and better.
As technology advances, developers have been able to create bigger worlds that are full of life and are as vibrant as our own world.
To fill the big world, and give players a reason to explore it all, there is often a very long main campaign and an abundance of side quests to keep players busy.
There are usually multiple ways that the game can be played, whether it is as a warrior, a mage, a thief, or trying to set your own rules such as a pacifist run.
This adds incredible value for money as they are games that never end, or at least don't for a very long time.
Looking at Steam reviews for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, one user has clocked 4,686.9 hours of playtime on the game, that is incredible value for money.
A pal of mine has played The Witcher 3 for over 1,300 hours and he still regularly plays it.
For a $60 purchase that equates to costing him 4.6 cents per hour.
Very few entertainment industries have the ability to provide the value for money that video games do.
Assuming he paid full price, the Skyrim reviewer has paid just 1.2 cents for each hour of playtime, that is mind-blowing.
Is Bigger Always Better?
So while large open-world RPGs can provide incredible value for money, is bigger always better?
Plenty of games are incredibly short in comparison but are hailed as masterpieces.
The average first playthrough of Resident Evil 2 Remake is around 4 hours.
It does have four different scenarios, although the B scenarios are pretty pointless outside of getting the true final boss.
But even with all four, which players will likely play the other three quicker, that is 16 hours of playtime for a complete playthrough.
Resident Evil 2 Remake also has a 91/100 score on Metacritic, the same score as Cyberpunk 2077.
Obviously, the two games can't be truly compared because they are different genres, but it shows that games don't need to be endlessly long to be good.
Do Games need to be scaled back?
With larger games comes the increased possibility of issues, glitches etc being present.
At launch, Cyberpunk had a 40+GB patch to fix a lot of the issues in the game, or at least the ones they had time to fix.
On a 70GB game that is a massive update, meaning so much was overhauled and fixed.
This does pose the question, does Cyberpunk 2077 show that it is time to scale games back and focus on quality over quantity.
Among the sea of 10/10 review scores, one stand out review is from Gamespot, perhaps the most honest of the bunch.
In the review tag line it says the games “buggy, superficial world and lack of purpose bring it down.”
The review does go into greater detail and it shows the broken state the game is currently in.
Kallie Plagge, the reviewer of the game, shed some light on the issues faced while playing saying,
“I played a pre-release build that was updated during the review period, and there's a day-one patch planned as well, but the scale of technical issues is too large to reasonably expect immediate fixes.
I encountered some kind of bug on every mission I went on, from more common, funnier ones like characters randomly T-posing to several complete crashes.
I didn't notice much of an improvement after the update, either. In a very late-game, very important fight, the game froze on me--twice. I ended up taking a break out of frustration before attempting, and finally succeeding, the third time.”
Games weren't broken in my day
Issues arise with virtually every modern game released today and it has sort of become expected.
As games grow in size, there is more room for glitches to happen, but it seems we are reaching the point where they are too hard to ignore.
It is very easy to say that “Well games back in the day didn't ship with these issues, Super Mario World wasn't a broken mess when it launched in 1990.”
Well, the size of Super Mario World is just 512KB, half of a megabyte.
Going back even further, the original Super Mario Bros was just 31KB in size.
Cyberpunk 2077 uses approximately 70GB of storage space, making the game around 143,360 times larger than Super Mario World.
So that makes the argument pretty void, the size of games in 2020 is something we couldn't begin to imagine back in 1990.
Some games are even exceeding 100GB, such as Read Dead Redemption 2, Microsoft's Flight Simulator, and Destiny 2.
But is it all getting a bit much?
Are Games offering quantity over quality?
I think it is, perhaps, time to stop trying to make games bigger and focus more on making the games play great.
We all know the saying “Don't run before you can walk.”
We also know that CD Projekt Red know how to walk, The Witcher 3, despite being another broken mess at launch, is one of the greatest games ever made.
But do CD Projekt Red have the scope, and the ability, to go beyond their accomplishments with The Witcher 3? Perhaps not.
The Witcher 3 was a broken mess at launch and didn't really become the game we know it to be today for around two years.
It seems that Cyberpunk 2077 may be going the same way.
I have seen many people on social media say they are waiting at least a year to purchase Cyberpunk 2077 to let all of the kinks be ironed out first and so it isn't a complete mess when they play it.
Is that really how you want the general public to view your products?
It can't be denied that CD Projekt Red can make huge and expansive games.
That makes Cyberpunk 2077 one big game, but would it be better to play a 30-hour experience that is polished and a joy to play, rather than a 100+ hour game that is a complete chore to play.
There is no reason why a 30-hour polished experience couldn't be released with regular content updates to eventually give us the 100+ hour experience that wasn't a mess.
Video games continue to blow our minds and exceed expectations every year.
But I think it is time to slow down and scale back games until developers can comfortably reach this level of expansiveness while still delivering a solid and complete experience.
It has been incredibly difficult to write this piece without coming across as being negative towards CD Projekt Red or Cyberpunk 2077.
CD Projekt Red are a top development studio in the world and are highly regarded among players and for good reason.
It also goes without saying that the company know how to develop a great game.
But this is a general look at where the industry is right now and the direction it seems to be taking.
None of my favourite games of 2020 have been huge open-world games.
Instead, they have been games that are much shorter but have offered an amazing time where I have been thoroughly entertained and engaged by the story, the characters, and the world that encompasses all of it.
Resident Evil 3 Remake, despite feeling a bit rushed, was a fun but short experience and one I enjoyed from start to finish, even if it was a one and done deal.
And most recently was Spider-Man Miles Morales, a game that offered around 10 hours of play time but it was filled with non-stop enjoyment as I explored New York City and watched an incredibly fun story play out in front of me.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is an exception, that was a gigantic game considering it's based on just 4 hours of content from the original PS1 game.
But, FF7R is also just part 1 of an incredibly long story.
Had Square-Enix tried to release the whole story in one go, perhaps we would have been having this same conversation back in April instead.
And of course, The Last Of Us 2 is a true video game masterpiece, however, it is not open-world in the same way that games like GTA, The Elder Scrolls or Cyberpunk 2077 are.
But they have one thing in common, they told an amazing story through polished gameplay.
Next Gen consoles open up the possibility for even larger games, but with cloud gaming the likely step after that - perhaps less is best.