CD Projekt Red Shouldn’t Waste Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City

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When it comes to open-world video games, we’ve been all over the world and across the multiverse, from the relatively small cities of Skyrim to the vastness of Los Santos and Assassin’s Creed’s take on Paris. One of the biggest games in this space, though, needs to take a page from one of the most compact. That is, as CD Projekt Red looks to the future of the Cyberpunk series, it should look to Like a Dragon–formerly called Yakuza in Western territories–and its hyper-detailed world of Kamurocho.

Sega and its RGG Studios team have been developing this series since the release of the original entry in the early 2000s. They looked at Tokyo’s red light district, Kabukicho, and brought it to life in startling detail–you can quite literally navigate your way around Kabukicho if you know the Kamurocho map well enough. Including the Like a Dragon main series, its spin-off games, and the two Judgment games, there are at least 15 games set primarily or partially in Kamurocho.

CD Projekt Red announced Cyberpunk 2077 in 2012, and then unveiled the game–or something intended to look like it–in 2018. The game finally released in 2020, and received its massive 2.0 overhaul update in 2023. When you look at the resulting game, it’s easy to see where a lot of that time was spent. Night City and its outlying areas make for some of the most expansive and detailed areas you can explore in a video game. In terms of first-person games, Cyberpunk makes its next-nearest siblings like Fallout and Elder Scrolls look sparse in comparison. If we factor in third-person games, it’s only when we look at Assassin’s Creed’s version of Paris and GTA V’s Los Santos that we see comparatively vast and detailed cities.

Night City

The team at CD Projekt Red clearly spent a massive amount of time developing Night City. Even after two playthroughs of Cyberpunk 2077–one at launch and one after Phantom Liberty’s release–totaling over 200 hours, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of Night City. It was only when I began to complete all of the NCPD Scanner Hustles in the game that I felt like I was truly exploring Night City. Those miniature distractions will take you into the deepest and darkest corners of the city, giving you an excuse to see what’s behind and underneath the city’s towering skyscrapers. And you know what? There’s a ton of stuff there.

Here’s where the two games meet: RGG Studios has reused Kamurocho, tweaking its look and feel but keeping much of its structure. As a longtime fan of the series, I feel like I’ve been able to watch this little district in Tokyo evolve and change as if it was a real place. Every few years we come back, and a few things have changed. Some shops are different. Maybe a skyscraper blew up. A building that once housed a flourishing yakuza business has locked doors. It’s allowed me to develop a real ongoing relationship with the city, and I want CD Projekt Red to do exactly the same with Night City.

Efficiencity

Kamurocho

First and foremost, it’s just smart use of resources. With a place the team has spent so much time building, why use it only once?

For all the bespoke areas available in the first game, there are entire city blocks that you just pass through on your way to something important. You might visit a couple of them on foot early on, but after that, it’s all driving and fast travel. In Night City, the brunt of the work has been done; the city is there. Why should we only visit it once?

While it’s not the only location for this franchise to take us to, Night City’s certainly a massive center of this world in the same way that Los Angeles is in 2024. We should be going back in the sequel, even if that’s not where we spend all of our time. What does the city look like after Jefferson Peralez is elected mayor? How does Arasaka, a major tenant in the city, change Night City after its new CEO–who could change depending on which path you take–takes their seat? Or if we went back in time, to the distant future of 2024, what does Night City look like when it’s just 30 years old?

There are countless stories that CD Projekt Red could explore in Night City, or that other developers could explore, Fallout: New Vegas-style. Why re-do all the work of building a new, different place, when so much of this current one is ripe for additional development?

Thanks for the memories

Night City

As you explore Night City with a new character, inside a new story, you’d remember the places you visited as V. I blew up a car with Kerry Eurodyne at this bus stop! Misty read my tarot here!

That’s part of what makes Kamurocho such an important place for Like a Dragon fans. As Kiryu, Majima, or Ichiban, we’ve made countless memories. We remember when Majima popped out of a manhole cover on Tenkaichi Street. We remember when Kiryu got talked into acting in a commercial around the corner from a Smile Burger. Or when he ordered literally everything on the menu at Kanrai.

While some will cry foul at the idea of re-using an existing map as being “lazy,” fans of the Like a Dragon series know that revisiting a city like this transforms it from a simple backdrop and into a living, evolving place. You don’t have to shoehorn in recurring characters when they would already be there. You also get to have emotional moments that you’ve earned with your players just by placing important story moments around the city. Who isn’t going to find an excuse to revisit the rooftop above Misty’s Esoterica to see what kind of memorial there might be to Jackie Welles? Who isn’t going to visit Afterlife and order a drink called V?

Of course, we want to go elsewhere, and the Like a Dragon games do that, too. We’ve spent time in Okinawa, Osaka, Nagano, Yokohama, and elsewhere throughout the series, and those places, too, have grown with time. In Cyberpunk 2077, we get a glimpse of a very different East Coast in one ending, for example. We get references to cities like Tokyo, countries like Brazil. It would be fun to explore these! But Night City should act as the center of the Cyberpunk world: a place we return to over and over.

More. Now. Please.

Kamurocho

There’s also a greedy element to this. We had to wait eight-plus years to play Cyberpunk. In the time between the 2012 announcement and the 2023 update, we got Yakuza 5, 6, 0, Kiwami, Kiwami 2, Like a Dragon, The Man Who Erased His Name, and Ishin, among others.

More and more, the video game market is showing that long development cycles on mega-sized games are unsustainable. Cyberpunk 2077 itself was a victim of this. Developers inside knew the game wasn’t ready, but between continuing development costs and pushes from investors (and executives eager to please those investors), CD Projekt Red released the game too soon. Now, though, CD Projekt Red has a popular IP established in Cyberpunk 2077. It has a great sandbox in Night City.

Instead of taking another eight years to bring us the next game, it should focus on telling us new stories about new characters in a familiar, evolving space.