While the majority of the time since the initial announcement of Cyberpunk 2077 passed without so much as a peep from the developers, in the past years we've gotten several in-depth looks at the game.
Seeing the highly anticipated upcoming RPG from the creators of The Witcher games gave fans a lot to chew on, but some signs that visual downgrades were implemented cropped up, and CD Projekt Red had to announce several feature cuts. We'll look at what exactly changed over the course of development, and what to expect from the final product.
One thing that is very important to remember, and also apparently very easily forgotten, is that when games are still under development things change. Cyberpunk 2077 is a colossal AAA project with a feature-set longer than a cybernetic leg, and the harsh realities of game development mean that sometimes fluff needs to be cut. Priorities can shift, assessments can change.
Maybe making the game more accessible by allowing it to run smoothly on weaker systems is more important than cutting edge graphics. Maybe polishing and perfecting some mechanics means removing others. This is common, normal, and isn't anything to get upset about - and it certainly isn't something that justifies harassment and threats being directed at the people working on the game.
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Have Graphics Been Downgraded?
The key thing fans need to understand when considering whether the game's graphics have been downgraded is that, essentially, it isn't a simple yes or no question.
However, for the purposes of what the average players thinks this means, the answer is no. If anything, in-game graphics have been improved and polished compared to the 2018 and 2019 builds that were seen in gameplay trailers. So where are these rumors and the "this is definitely downgraded" threads on the Cyberpunk 2077 subreddit coming from?
Attentive readers will have already spotted that the Johnny Silverhand comparison image we've used above is a comparison of a pre-rendered cutscene and an actual in-game screenshot. These are two completely different things, however that exact comparison has been making the rounds and rousing the most dissatisfaction. This is how disinformation spreads, folks.
That said, there are plenty of actual in-game comparisons popping up, and some interesting discrepancies are present. They can eb attributed to multiple factors and we're going to look at a few.
Firstly, different gameplay demos are likely recorded on different systems at different graphical settings. A "downgrade" may simply be comparing a 2018 gameplay demo running on PC at maximum settings, versus a 2019 demo running on consoles. We don't know what the circumstances of the gameplay demos' recording were, so jumping to conclusions is a poor choice.
Secondly, Bullshotting - yes, with an O, not an I - is, however unfortunate, a common practice in game marketing. Some cases are pretty infamous, like Watch_Dogs, but it happens everywhere. When you are working with dev hardware, work-in-progress software and are creating a fairly scripted pre-recorded gameplay sequence, you can cheat in many ways that become impossible in the average organic gaming environment. Often games will look better in trailers than when you actually sit down to play them, but that's not because the evil developers took your polygons away.
Optimization, a development stage that occurs late in the cycle, often requires the cutting of some corners. These corners are usually the least visible ones in order to balance performance with visuals - prohibitively high system requirements would sink a game's sales figures, and this is ultimately still a business where products actually have to turn a profit.
Bullshots and preview-builds are most often intentionally altered from main builds and never intended to be the actual final version. So no, the "graphics" of the actual game CDPR intends for you to play weren't ever downgraded!
What Features Were Removed?
Feature removals, on the other hand, have been confirmed by the developers themselves. In some cases designers dream big in the early stages, and it later becomes apparent that some ambitions just aren't realistic, or collide with other features.
One of the gameplay trailers featured the mantis blades, a cybernetic augmentation made popular by the very first announcement trailer. The blades hidden in the user's forearms could activate unexpectedly for a surprise attack, but their most interesting ability was allowing V to climb and run on walls, allowing you to get the high ground and leap onto your enemies. While jumping on opponents from buildings and stabbing them to death with a knife coming out of your arm isn't a new concept in gaming, it definitely looked cool.
While the mantis blades themselves are still around, wall running had to be cut from the game due to design concerns.
Last month, Lead Quest Designer Pawel Sasko confirmed that while you can steal or otherwise acquire pre-customized vehicles in Cyberpunk 2077, the ability to actually customize them yourself had to be cut.
This was an odd removal, since subways were - strangely - somewhat prominent in the game's marketing material all this time. However, for unclear reasons the underground public transport system, which would have worked as a fast travel game mechanic, had to be removed from the game. This was confirmed in June 2020.