Cyberpunk 2077’s Free Trial Is An Admittance Of The Game’s Failure

Remember when Cyberpunk 2077 was the biggest game in the world? After the unparalleled success of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt it seemed CD Projekt Red was unable to fail, sitting atop the world with a pompous confidence that would inevitably be its downfall.

The original launch in December 2020 was a disaster. Sure it sold millions of copies and the PC experience was masterful with the right hardware, but the console versions that the majority of players had been waiting for performed terribly and were riddled with so many unforgivable bugs that wading through the mediocrity just wasn’t worth it. Some soldiered through, while others decided to wait for patches and the inevitable next-gen version.

I’ve written before that a comeback on PS5 and Xbox Series X/S to rebrand the game is already far too late. Gamers are fickle creatures, and having them change their spots is something that only happens once in a blue moon. Cyberpunk 2077 remains a meme, a stain on the legacy of CD Projekt Red that will haunt the studio forever. And so it has, because the long-awaited update’s release arrived with an unexpected whimper.

Yesterday saw the company hold a stream which was essentially a Zoom call alongside a continuous stream of live gameplay. I appreciate the honesty on display here, largely because Cyberpunk 2077 doomed itself to failure thanks to a marketing cycle defined by misleading demos and overblown trailers as opposed to allocating resources to actually finishing the game that was subject to continuous delays.

It’s a refreshing perspective to take, but one that only serves to highlight what this RPG should have been at launch, and how the development team was forced into hurling a product out the door that was far from ready.

This should have been a big moment for the game, but instead it just felt a bit sad. The presenters did all they could to make it seem exciting, talking up the presence of a throwing knife that actually works alongside customisation options and believable open world systems that any other game in this genre worth its salt would have launched with. It was a constant reminder of what Cyberpunk 2077 should have been all along, only serving to pop a plaster atop a gaping wound of disappointment. It wasn’t enough, and I imagine CDPR is perfectly aware of that bitter truth, because it actively invited everyone watching to try the game out and kick it to the curb if all the improvements introduced as part of this new patch aren’t enough to satisfy them.

All players across PS5, Xbox Series X & S can now download a free trial that provides them with 5 full hours of gameplay. There’s no barrier to entry, you can do whatever you like right up until the timer reaches zero. This is awesome, and arguably the best way to invite doubters who were burned before to test the0 game and see if it’s now in a state they deem as passable. If it doesn't just walk away, the studio is aware of the trust it has betrayed and that winning us back is never going to be easy.

Free upgrades mean that millions will download the new version out of curiosity anyway – much like I did – just to see if the subsiding flames have left behind something more than a pitiful pile of ash. The next-gen versions now resemble a high-end PC experience with a dynamic 4K resolution, strong performance, and even ray tracing to help the world of Night City feel believable. Cyberpunk 2077 is finally finished, which is a rather damning statement given it came out 14 months ago. The game is here, and nobody really cares.

I wish this wasn’t the case. Recently I talked about how Elder Scrolls 6 and similar RPGs in the years to come could actually learn from Cyberpunk 2077. For all of its flaws, the way in which it depicts character dialogue and certain story moments from a first-person perspective is immaculate, and the finest example of such exchanges we’ve ever seen in the medium. Yet this brilliance is buried beneath so much tedium, and the surface reputation of being a broken, bug-ridden mess means that the majority of people will never see it.

The chance for a relaunch has now passed us by, so there’s arguably no way to address this problem unless you’re willing to give the game away for free or spend millions on a marketing campaign seeking to rebrand the game. That won’t work, so what else is there for CD Projekt Red to do beyond ride out the rough waters and win us back with The Witcher 4? We know that major expansions in a similar vein to Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine are coming to Cyberpunk 2077, likely set to encompass a comprehensive amount of new story content while also building upon many of the improvements introduced as part of Patch 1.5. I enjoy the game enough – and probably more than most – that I’m in it for the long haul, eager to see where V’s story will go now there is so much feedback both mechanical and narrative to build upon. I want to spend more time with Judy, Panam, and all the characters I came to love in Night City, even if such adventures are months away from coming to fruition.

Yet asking players to build something out of the free trial or let Cyberpunk 2077 burn away into nothing feels like an admittance of failure from CD Projekt Red. You won’t catch the higher-ups bowing to these failings, that responsibility falls to the quest designers and community managers responsible for hosting livestreams and delivering news to an audience who are known for being hostile and overly expectant. We’ve seen comebacks in this medium before that perhaps even rival what this game hopes to achieve, but I can’t help but feel it’s too little too late, and a generous free trial won’t help matters.

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