Cyberpunk 2077 is most likely one of the biggest turnarounds of any AAA game since its release on December 10th, 2020. A huge part of the game’s appeal was the element of choice players could make and how that would impact the story. The most deliberate example of this is the player’s initial choice to pick their starting off point either as a Nomad, Street Kid, or Corpo. While these certainly offered some varied experiences a number of players felt disappointed at the game’s lack of choice as they felt more was promised in the game’s marketing.
Paweł Sasko, a Quest Designer at CD Projekt Red was asked about his thoughts on this decision in a live stream he did on Twitch recently. One viewer asked, “How do you feel about players criticizing the game for being linear?” In response to this Sasko said that the criticism was “completely justified” before continuing to say:
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 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.Paweł Sasko – Quest Designer at CD Projekt Red
Sasko also continued on to talk about elements of the game that while presented as non-linear if players had made certain choices up until those points they would almost be shoehorned into picking specific options. Pointing to an example, Sasko mentioned Takamura.
[This choice] is such a big gigantic branch that actually influences so many things along the way and was so much work to make it work both those ways… But for the players, at the moment they learned how to do it, they sort of ran to save him. So, in a way, it almost became a non-choice… So something that was designed to be non-linear… wasn’t really a choice. When everyone learned how to save Takamura, everyone started doing that, and in the player’s mind it became linear, even though it’s not.Paweł Sasko – Quest Designer at CD Projekt Red
To close off on the question Sasko pointed out that players and developers sometimes have different opinions when it comes to defining “non-linearity” in games. He noted that “players just go down to ‘can I make completely different choices and see completely different content’,” while he also acknowledged that the game didn’t meet players’ expectations at launch. He concluded by saying: “we do know how to make it better and I would expect more from us.”