My 2023 Game Of The Year: Cyberpunk 2077
You know what the good thing about picking your personal Game of the Year is? You can do whatever you want. So yes, my GOTY for 2023 is in fact Cyberpunk 2077, a game that was released in 2020, but has been utterly transformed by both long-term patches, but more recently a 2.0 update this year that touches essentially every aspect of the game. And of course the massive content addition of its Phantom Liberty expansion this fall.
No, I am not picking Phantom Liberty by itself, which I gave a 10/10 score this year. You could make the case that it’s practically its own game, as long as Alan Wake 2 or a brisk playthrough of Spider-Man 2, but I believe it has to be the whole package. The 2.0 update has enhanced really every aspect of gameplay throughout the entire base game. Think this still doesn’t count? I don’t care, it’s my pick!
What I’ve come to realize after now four separate playthroughs of Cyberpunk 2077, four different Vs, is that this is one of my favorite games of all time. Not just this year. Not just this past generation. Truly, all time.
While others like Halo 3 and Smash 64 are on that list, this is the only single player I have played in full this many times. Mass Effect? Incredible trilogy, but that was one Renegade run and one Paragon run. The Witcher 3? Sure, absolutely, but I felt no need to play it twice. Skyrim? Yeah, I started a bunch of characters, but finished few of them.
I had three different Vs even before 2.0 and Phantom Liberty, then took all three through the DLC. Then I did a fourth, my first male V, to re-run the entire thing to get the 2.0 experience. And that only reinforced my decision.
Night City is my favorite video game location to spend time in. It’s a brutal, grimy place but also beautiful, whether it’s the neon glow of nightlife or Blade Runner-esque sandstorms rolling in. And one of the things that’s changed since launch is that CDPR has jammed so many visual upgrades in here, culminating in “path tracing” tech, that Cyberpunk 2077 is genuinely the most graphically advanced game on the market now. On max settings with path tracing on, nothing can touch it.
V is my favorite player-created protagonist in gaming. This is mainly due to her voicework, with Cherami Leigh giving what is unequivocally the best first-person narrated voice performance I’ve ever heard. And now experiencing Gavin Drea’s male V, he’s solid as well. Then with the addition of true transmog to the game, another addition over time, one of my favorite pastimes is taking my V around the city snapping still or action shots, as you can see throughout this post.
Cyberpunk 2077 has some of my favorite NPCs of all time. The heavy hitters, I’d say, are Panam and Judy, two incredibly fleshed-out characters that are or are not love interests, depending on your gender. But it’s not just them, Cyberpunk 2077 has a whole host of major and minor characters that are memorable. Almost every role stands out as unique. Then, with Phantom Liberty’s arrival, we have powerhouse performances not just from Leigh again, but now Idris Elba’s Solomon Reed and Minji Chang’s Songbird. Even Keanu Reeves’ Johnny improved with the DLC.
If there is a weakness to Cyberpunk 2077 it may be chunks of the main storyline, as I’d argue the decaying chip in Vs brain and Johnny’s appearance isn’t as good as the major NPC quests, or some of the more memorable side missions. I can just say the word “Sinnerman,” for instance, and one of the wildest quests you’ve ever played springs to mind, if you’ve completed it.
Finally, the gameplay itself. Above all else, this was what the 2.0 update transformed. While I thought Cyberpunk’s combat and various builds were okay in its their initial form, I cannot stress enough how thoroughly things were transformed by the 2.0 update on every level. Quickhacking, melee, guns blazing, all of them, combined with wild cyberware tech and new skill trees, are an absolute blast, and Cyberpunk went from average combat at best to one of the most fun combat sandboxes I’ve ever played.
Sure, other games from COD to Destiny have better straight gunplay, but the creativity you can unleash now in Cyberpunk. My latest V just ran through the whole game with nothing but throwing knives. My samurai V can dismember a room before the first limb hits the floor. My quickhack V ends car chases by remotely exploding pursuing vehicles. My assault V is essentially a blend of Robocop and the Terminator. All of it is stunning. All of it is some of the most fun gameplay I can remember.
Yes, Phantom Liberty absolutely helped all of this come together. You play it fresh with the 2.0 update, and it just so happens that it is the singular best storyline the game has to offer. Better than the main quest, better than even the other major NPC quests. The game tasks you with making genuinely agonizing decisions inside the pit of Dogtown, one of the game’s best realized, densely packed zones. This all leads to harrowing endings including a new one for the final game that is one of the most haunting finales I’ve experienced in, you guessed it, all of gaming.
I don’t know where Cyberpunk 2077 falls exactly in my top 5 games of all time, but I do know it’s in there somewhere. It is my favorite single player game ever, at the very least, and the one I’ve devoted the most time and playthroughs to. In 2023, with the total game overhaul of 2.0 and the incredible addition of Phantom Liberty, there was no other game I enjoyed more this year. So here we are, my GOTY is Cyberpunk 2077, as strange as that may sound.
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