Cyberpunk 2077 is one of 2020's most anticipated titles, taking fans new and old back to the dystopian future of the 30 year old franchise. While the genre does typically lend itself to a certain type of narrative - one of corporate intrigue, the dangers of unchecked technology and the human condition - it still gives writers a lot of freedom to work with.
So what, in essence, is Cyberpunk 2077 about?
Despite being the latest entry in a long-running series, it is possible to jump into 2077 without having played other Cyberpunk games and still understand what is going on. For long-time fans, there are countless callbacks and references, as well as a tabletop prequel called Cyberpunk RED that is a direct link between 2077 and the previous editions. However, enough time has passed in-universe for earlier storylines to act only as world-building, unless specifically referred to and explained in-game as well.
The setting follows an alternate timeline in which everything was identical to the real world up until 1990, when history diverges from our own. Starting with a corrupt war called the Central American Conflict in 1990, a series of events, battles and political turmoil led to an economic crisis in the USA and caused the government to practically collapse. Megacorporations seize power due to the country's reliance on them for economic survival.
These companies essentially become new governing bodies, operating above the law and gaining authoritarian power. Several "free states" which, on paper, are still part of the USA begin to operate independently in practice, while various natural and man-made disasters ravage the world. In the Free State of Northern California, pretty much all of the urban metropolitan areas along the coast merge into a single colossal unit, known as Night City.
Cybernetic enhancement becomes common place, public security evaporates, the wage gap widens and the cities ruled by the corporations become crime-ridden technological slums, with pockets of illustrious and decadent districts for the super-rich corporate class.
In Cyberpunk 2077, we take control of V. V is a up-and-coming mercenary with an undetermined past who begins to make a name for him or herself in Night City. Players can determine the appearance, sex, and background of V. The latter greatly influences the direction the rest of the story will take.
We don't know too much about the actual plot - yet - but a few things are clear. V takes on a job to steal revolutionary new cybernetic technology called "the immortality chip" from Arasaka, one of the largest and most powerful technological megacorporations. Predictably, things go awry, and V is left for dead.
Defying death, likely due to the stolen technology itself, V wakes up and is visited by the "digital ghost" of Johnny Silverhand, folk hero and global rockstar. Johnny personally fought in the 1990 conflict, but disappeared after a bombastic musical career. Many believe he is still alive (even though he'd be over 100 years old at this point - something cybernetic enhancements can make possible). Whatever his interest in V, their interactions will be a key driving force in the storyline.
We also know the three options for V's background:
The Corpo-Rat: Working for Arasaka as a low-level "fixer", dealing with whoever the corporation deems an obstacle, V's journey begins with another ordered hit, on a fellow employee no less.
The Nomad: V comes from, and has previously wandered throughout, the un-urbanized badlands and is on his or her way to Night City seeking work and a new life. After their vehicle breaks down near a mechanic in the outskirts, V tries to get back on the road quickly to avoid a meddlesome Sheriff.
The Street Kid: Running dangerous odd-jobs on the perilous streets of Night City all their lives, V is once again stealing a car for a client. During the theft another thief happens to try for the same car, causing both of them to run afoul of NCPD.
We've yet to find out what the overarching storyline will involve, but if V has Johnny Silverhand whispering into his or her ears, it definitely won't be good news for Arasaka stock.