4 Important Things I Want to See In Project Orion (And 3 I Don’t Care About)
Yesterday, developer and publisher CD Projekt Red announced their plans for, presumably, the next decade. While we’ve known that there was more Witcher on the way for a while now, and the first expansion to Cyberpunk 2077 is due next year, there was one big surprise on the roadmap – which would have been even more of a surprise a month ago.
Project Orion is the working title of a full sequel to Cyberpunk 2077, currently in pre-production. Presumably, the subsequent two releases will be the 2077 expansion and The Witcher 4, putting this next full title somewhere past the midpoint of this console generation.
I’m guessing that the massive success of their respective Netflix series was exactly the boost CDPR needed to continue utilizing these properties. The Cyberpunk: Edgerunners anime got the game up over, according to CD Projekt Red, one million concurrent players each day across all platforms.
That being said, in my review of the “definitive” 1.5 version of Cyberpunk 2077 that launched earlier this year on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, I had a lot to say about the unfortunate remnants of a turbulent, unpredictable, and poorly-managed development cycle that still lingered in the “finished game.” I have since effectively one-hundred-percented 2077 and had many more thoughts about what could and couldn’t have been. Now, this team has a second chance to get it right out the gate. Here’s what I want to see improved in Project Orion and what I don’t care about.
I Want to See: More Impactful Character Choices
When you create your version of V in 2077, you are offered a choice of three different backstories for your character – the corporate, the nomad, and the street kid. This will determine the version of the prologue you play through…and then a few assorted dialogue choices for the rest of the game.
The backstory system feels like it was intended to make way more of a difference. Still, it really isn’t ever followed up on and has absolutely no bearing on any potential experiences V can have. No quests change based on your decision; you can romance all the same characters and get all the exact same endings. While I would disagree with tying entire possible endings to decisions made during character creation, at least tweaking them to be thematically appropriate to your version of the player character would have gone a long way, and this is a step that could be easily taken in Project Orion.
I Don’t Care About: Going Overboard on a “Living World”
For generations now, various open-world games have boldly declared that their particular open world is so alive that every individual NPC you see can has their own schedule. Some games have used this to significant effect – Radiata Stories featured over a hundred recruitable party members with unique personalities and would be found in a different place depending on the time of day. Deathloop’s core narrative revolves around the player determining each mastermind’s daily routine to figure out how to kill all of them in a single day.
But the idea of an open world populated by thousands of NPCs with individual routines sounds like a quality assurance nightmare. This marketing buzzword sounds cool and immersive on paper, but when the first game in this franchise was legendary for being a buggy, broken mess, trying to actually implement this would be far more trouble than it’s worth.
I would much rather the team for Project Orion prioritize the people with whom the player is meant to interact. Giving a few dozen people a fleshed-out routine and personality will go about 95% of the way towards immersion that giving everyone a daily schedule would accomplish.
I Would Like To See: A Larger Cast of Romantic Partners/More Gender Options
While Night City is openly sexual to an almost comical degree (that poster of the woman with the bulge appears in many public places, there are brothels and prostitutes everywhere, and lots of people dress in revealing clothing), this isn’t really reflected in its cast of potential partners for V. While there are two men and two women, they also each have a specific kind of V they will consider for partnership, to the point of verging on accidental transphobia.
When you create V, you choose their body type and voice type separately from each other. Their pronouns, unfortunately, are tied to their choice of voice, so if you want to have a transgender V, you will have to give them a voice that matches their target gender rather than their assigned-at-birth one, which can end up removing much of the point of this option.
But while River will romance any V with a female body type, and Panem can fall for any V with a male body, the two that are intended to clearly be “gay options” will only become romantic partners with a V whose body and voice match. This shuts down any ability for the player to create a non-straight transgender avatar, and while that sounds like a very small demographic, CD Projekt Red famously has struggled with LGBT+ gamers. The steps taken in Cyberpunk 2077 are a start, but there’s still a long way to go.
The two things I suggest to fix this problem are to expand the potential cast of partners (to give the player more than a single option) and to remove the restriction of voices matching body type. For example, if Judy, a lesbian, won’t date a female V whose voice is designated “masculine,” it ends up creating the unfortunate implication that she (and Kerry, the gay male romance option, by extension) are transphobic queer people.
In the future, we may be stuck under the cruel boot of capitalism, but people are not going to care nearly as much about gender. So any role-playing game set in our future will only be better for reflecting that.
I Don’t Care About: Celebrity Stunt-Casting
Obviously, the involvement of Keanu Reeves drove a lot of excitement for Cyberpunk 2077. His appearance at the game’s full reveal and memetic presence on stage re-invigorated his career for a millennial audience, and his performance in the game as Johnny Silverhand was a highlight of the experience.
But I don’t think this is a trick that CD Projekt Red should attempt to repeat. They can’t use Reeves again due to Silverhand’s story being entirely wrapped up in 2077, and any other famous actor or actress will only draw comparisons and distract from the game itself. If a high-profile performer would fit well into the game’s world, I’m not against seeing them in Night City, but bringing them onstage at E3 or making them a considerable part of the marketing is a recipe for trolling.
Project Orion will already have the advantage of being the sequel to a game that shipped twelve million copies in its launch window and then came back to cultural relevance two years later. So it doesn’t need another celebrity to succeed.
I Would Like To See: A More Interesting Skill Tree
Despite purchasing it at launch, I didn’t touch Cyberpunk 2077 until the 1.5 update came with the current-generation upgrade. One of the big selling points for that update was a fully-revamped perk and skill tree due to complaints about the original…but whatever was wrong with that original, the new one can’t be that much better.
The current version of Cyberpunk 2077’s perk system is lousy with meaningless and absurdly specific point dumps. Most meaningful perks can be acquired with very little investment, and by the end of the game, I was seriously struggling to find anything to spend my points on that would make any difference to my gameplay. Furthermore, nearly the entire thing is built on passive upgrades to various actions, and if you didn’t use those actions, those points would be essentially wasted.
The character progression in Project Orion has to be more deliberately constructed than this. If adding more bespoke actions isn’t possible, then the development team needs to take a more structured Fallout New Vegas approach by giving the player fewer individual options but having them each makes a more meaningful difference. Making my knife-throwing skill reload 5% faster isn’t an exciting way to strengthen my character.
I Don’t Care About: The Net…As It Exists Now.
In almost every terminal you use in Cyberpunk 2077, V can access the in-game internet in addition to the practical functions. The idea of creating a fake internet was popularized by the Grand Theft Auto series, but most games that have involved a mechanic like this simply don’t make good use of it, and Cyberpunk 2077 is no exception. The in-game internet really functions as a method of dumping information about the universe onto the player when it could be so much more enjoyable.
Rather than an in-game encyclopedia that the vast majority of players will never bother with, this feature needs a retool into something actually integrated into gameplay. You could have an assassination target you research by looking up their social media accounts or need to find info on an organized crime ring by figuring out where their front is based on information about local businesses.
The omega-level way of integrating this would be to (optionally) let the player use their real phone for this rather than an in-game interface. Creating a companion app or simply a browser app that is connected to your console would add a lot to both the usability and immersion level of this kind of feature.
Just don’t give me another encyclopedia I can ignore, and move these infodumps into organic world events, please.
I Would Like To See: The Developers Take As Much Time As They Need
Here’s the big one. To briefly recap, most of the development team of Cyberpunk 2077 found out about its (initial) release date at almost the same time as the general public. From many corroborated accounts, the team had figured that the game would be launching in 2022 based on their progress level at the time. Unfortunately, upper-level management tried to speedrun three full years of full-scale development, lied to the public about their crunch policy, and didn’t take the common-sense step to cancel the PS4 and Xbox One versions. In fact, they actively lied to the public, saying that those versions of the game were “surprisingly good.”
After several delays that pushed the game back by eight months, we got the final product, and everything about Cyberpunk 2077 at the time screamed that it was a rush job created by stressed, overworked developers. As a result, the last-gen version was unacceptably awful, a buggy disaster that couldn’t even hit 30fps, and the PC version was still full of obvious compromises, shortcuts, and hanging threads.
The key here for CD Projekt Red, not only for Project Orion but the future of their entire development department, must be ethical management of its team. The moment that the public starts to hear stories about crunch behind the scenes of The Witcher 4, all recent goodwill earned by the publisher will be flushed down the toilet. They have no choice but to do it the right way this time or become forever synonymous with awful company culture and lying management. I personally want to see this studio rise to its former glory…but they’ll only get there by doing the right thing.
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