When we talk about mammoth RPG games that offer us lots to do, the wor of CD Projekt Red almost always comes into the conversation. The developer behind The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 also tends to put quite a few choices in their games that help with branching narratives and non-linear storytelling, and now one of the studio’s developers has talked about how Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t meet player expectations with its non-linearity, despite the work of the studio.
This comes from Cyberpunk 2077 quest director Paweł Sasko, who regularly streams themselves playing the CD Projekt Red open-world game on Twitch while answering fan questions about design, development, expectations, and more.
Sasko was asked by a viewer how he feels about Cyberpunk 2077 being criticised for how linear it is (or more accurately, how linear it was compared to what was presented ahead of release), saying “well I think it’s completely justified.”
Cyberpunk 2077 does have three drastically different opening options, plenty of external quests that impact the main story, branching main quests, and five different endings, all of which are acknowledged by Sasko, who still adds that “players expected more.”
Sasko says that there are enough systems to have two playthroughs that aren’t identical but adds “that’s not enough,” before explaining how they think this came to pass.
“There are many things that happened. First of all, players expected more, they expected more because of how The Witcher 3 is built, and I think that Cyberpunk has an insane amount of non-linearity, but I think expectations were higher.
“Second thing is, the expectations were specifically regarding big branches [in the narrative]. And again there are a bunch of big branches in Cyberpunk […] but you are thinking about branches in a different manner.” With Sasko later adding “I think smaller branches were not satisfactory enough.”
The Twitch clip is embedded below, starting at 1:17:15 during the stream.
The example Sasko highlights here is Takamura, explaining how while you have the choice to save his life in the game, the relationship the game helps you build with him almost makes it a non-choice, with most players wanting to save him either way.
“We as devs, we interpret non-linearity [in games] in a much broader fashion than players do. Players just go down to ‘can I make completely different choices and see completely different content?’”
To be absolutely clear, Sasko is not blaming player expectations of Cyberpunk 2077 here, they acknowledge that CD Projekt Red could have done better, but are taking the opportunity to explain how the dev team and players both see the game’s approach to non-linearity differently, and what that meant for the game when it released.
“I think it’s fine, I think it could have been better,” Sasko says at the end of the discussion. “We do know how to make it better and I would expect more from us.”
Maybe CD Projekt Red’s approach will change for Phantom Liberty – the studio’s biggest budget DLC to date – and we’ll see even more non-linearity in the decision-making that reflects Sasko’s concerns, but we’ll have to wait and see.
I really appreciate how open of a developer Sasko is here, taking the time to communicate with players about their thoughts on his and the team’s own work while not putting the blame squarely on one party. Game development is hard and plans change, and sometimes what a developer has planned doesn’t meet the expectations of the players they want to entertain, and that’s okay.
If you want to know more about the game’s upcoming DLC, we have all the current information on the Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty release date, story, and trailers in one place. We also have a guide to all the Cyberpunk 2077 endings, if you want to experience each one crafted by CD Projekt Red.