Top 5 Side Characters in Cyberpunk 2077
Night City is a big place with even bigger personalities, and over the course of CD Projekt RED’s sprawling epic Cyberpunk 2077, we have the privilege of meeting some of the best characters the studio has ever crafted. With all the talk about its shortcomings dominating the conversation around the game, perhaps it would be a pleasant change of pace to take a deeper look at the true highlight of Cyberpunk 2077; the choices we made along the way. Given that these characters are being examined over the entirety of their game-long character arcs, we will be spoiling multiple areas of the game, including endings.
5. Rogue Amendiares
While she’s not the most likable character, Rogue Amendiares is an excellent example of an intriguing character. She’s purposely guarded and often comes across as cold and calculated; two traits that lend themselves to her position as Night City’s top Fixer. Most of V’s early interactions with Rogue are “strictly business”, and she first comes across as nothing more than a glorified quest-giver with little else beneath the surface. As the narrative rolls along, our dynamic with Rogue begins to change as V’s relationship with the “ghost” of Johnny Silverhand (Rogue’s old flame) progresses. We see a different side of Rogue through Johnny’s memories, and her guarded exterior begins to crumble as she comes to terms with the fact that V actually houses the personification of Johnny in their head. She clearly has a weak spot for Silverhand, and when her facade lapses, we see the inklings of a woman who has more regrets in her past than she lets on. Rogue stands out as a textbook case of a character that opens up gradually over time, giving players a sense of discovery over the course of our relationship with her.
If the player allows Johnny to take control of V’s body throughout the story, we see Rogue’s character exposed not in an awkward exposition dump, but in the form of watching her genuinely interact with someone she trusts and cares for in a way we have never seen before in our previous meetings. If you elect to take the ending with Rogue and Johnny, she comes to a fittingly tragic end that sees her killed fighting at Johnny’s side; one last mission with the ghost of a man she may have loved if circumstances were different. She may not be the flashiest personality in Cyberpunk 2077, but the presentation of Rogue’s arc shows that CDPR understands the importance of restraint and pacing in terms of character development.
4. Judy Alvarez
Judy Alvarez (otherwise known as Cyberpunk 2077’s poster child) admittedly kicks off with a bit of a rocky start as she introduces players to the game’s “braindance” mechanic, turning her first major scene into a long, tutorialized exposition dump. Following the botched Dexter DeShawn gig, Judy gets her first real chance to show us what she’s all about, and once again she comes across as rather one-note as we help her track down Evelyn. She seems to care about Evelyn, though we only see one interaction between the two in the exposition-heavy braindance sequence, so their supposed relationship is left to what we’re told about them. As we continue to work with Judy, it can sometimes prove difficult to really glean anything more than “angry exposition lady” from her for large chunks of her questline, and what few moments we do see genuine emotion from her lack a certain context given her undercooked relationship with Evelyn.
In the conclusion of her personal questline, we get a great deal of information about Judy as we literally dive into her backstory for the first time. While the journey through Judy’s sunken home can feel a little BioWare-esque in terms of just having a character flat out tell us who they are and why we should find them interesting, the sequence is elevated by being couched in a fascinating bit of world-building as we explore a forgotten piece of Night City’s troubled past. It also serves to offer us a slight glimpse of Judy outside of her constant melancholy existence, which has been sorely needed up to this point. Once her personal storyline wraps, Judy comes across as someone who is clearly frustrated with her place in the world, and that “ending” can certainly seem underwhelming as far as a satisfying conclusion to her arc.
Where Judy’s seemingly underbaked character arc finally sees redemption comes in one of the game’s more hopeful endings; “The Star” ending. If V has pursued a romantic relationship with Judy and chooses to leave Night City with the Aldecaldos, we see a side of Judy that completely recontextualizes everything we’ve seen from her so far. In our conversation with her on the outskirts of town, she looks to have had the weight of the world finally lifted off of her shoulders. She’s relaxed, and she even seems ready to be happy now that she has broken her toxic relationship with Night City. This shift in perspective sheds a whole new light on all of our previous interactions with Judy, and provides a conclusion to her arc that feels satisfying and wonderfully understated. Of course she was angry and bitter in all of her previous missions, she was living a life that made her miserable in a city she had a parasitic relationship with. Seeing her break away and embrace this much-needed change gives context to what seemed underdeveloped beforehand, and leaves us with a character that has undergone genuine growth and change.
3. Johnny Silverhand
Yes, it’s him. The man, the myth, the legend himself: Johnny Mnemonic. Based on the William Gibson story of the same name, this 1995 cyberpunk film was the directorial debut of Robert Longo. Set in the dystopian future of 2021, our titular character of Johnny, portrayed by Keanu Reeves, is tasked with…
Hold up a second, something’s not quite- Oh. Oooohhh…
After the disastrous early heist and a questionable Deus ex Machina that saves V’s life, we’re introduced to Cyberpunk 2077’s big-ticket attraction, Johnny Silverhand. Serving as our sarcastic narrator for a majority of his screen time, Johnny Silverhand ends up being the character we probably spend the most time with over the course of the game (not that he has much of a choice in the matter). On paper, having a rock legend played by Keanu Reeves stuck in your head doesn’t sound like the worst proposition; the main issue is that he just so happens to also be a violently radical terrorist. He’s abrasive, confrontational, and dangerously ideological. Wherever V goes, whatever V does, Johnny is always showing up and chippin’ in his two cents; an unfortunate drawback of having his cyber-ghost literally implanted into your brain. He’s certainly unlikable, but he’s not without depth. Given that he has the ability to interject at any moment in the game, we get to learn his beliefs and ideologies naturally as we play, and while he may not be the most cordial person around, he’ll present an undeniably sound argument every now and then. He is vehemently committed to his ideals, and while his attack on Arasaka was truly horrific, no one can accuse him of lacking the courage of his convictions.
V also has the option to be either diplomatic or adversarial in their interactions with Johnny, and as the relationship progresses, we begin to see two different sides of the infamous terrorist trapped in our brain. Sure, he’s not the easiest guy to get along with, but if you take a friendly approach to your interactions, Johnny gradually begins to soften over the course of your journey together. By the mid-game point, he almost seems to have a genuine concern for your well being, and by the end, he outright cares about you enough to walk away from the opportunity to take your body as his own. If you take a more aggressive stance with Johnny, he almost seems to take on a villainous role; a parasite that is actively fighting for control of its host. While the hostile approach may offer a bit more tension for the game’s climax, the pro-Johnny route provides him much greater depth and a more complete arc, giving the final missions a heightened sense of character investment. If you’re able to unlock Johnny’s ending and let him take your body willingly, we even see him grow into someone that has fundamentally changed as a person due to their connection with V in what is arguably the game’s most poignant ending.
2. Kerry Eurodyne
Some characters stand out for their believable arcs, some for their relatability, some for their well-written backstories… And then there are those characters that stand out due to sheer charisma and raw likability. It should be no surprise that the frontman for Samurai is one such person; a consummate showman and a larger-than-life personality that gives us a character that is just plain fun. Kerry Eurodyne is introduced late into the game’s storyline and unfortunately is entirely missable if the player chooses not to trust Johnny Silverhand when prompted to let him “take control” at various points during story missions. Even though his late introduction somewhat constrains the length of his questline, it still stands out given its unique nearly combat-free design (provided you freed Brick from the Maelstrom earlier in the game), giving us plenty of opportunities to appreciate the slower, quiet moments that carry much more weight than simply bringing him along for extended combat encounters. All of his quests are creative and vastly different from anything we’ve seen with the other companions in the game. Instead of car chases or gang shootouts, we find ourselves jamming with Samurai on stage and waging war against an up-and-coming J-Pop band. It’s clear CDPR had a blast tailoring Kerry’s storyline, and that enthusiasm is infectious every step of the way.
Kerry might lack the depth of someone like Johnny or Judy simply due to having less time to spend with him, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less compelling. He’s struggling with his own identity, and rumors of attempted suicide (which he hastily denies) cast a certain shadow of sadness over his charismatic demeanor. His story seems somewhat open-ended by its conclusion; his search for who he wants to be never quite comes to fruition in our time with him, but he’s in a better place than where he started, and his relationship with V appears to have made a positive impact. Even with a curtailed storyline and an unresolved arc, Kerry makes up for his shortcomings purely through his electric personality. He’s immature, he’s full of energy, and he’s absolutely hilarious; he’s just fun to be around, and sometimes being a good character can be as simple as that.
1. Panam Palmer
Of all the wonderful characters CDPR has crafted for Cyberpunk 2077, Panam Palmer sticks out as exceptional for a few reasons. She doesn’t have much of an arc, per se; she falls more into the category of “well-defined.” She doesn’t change much over the course of the game, instead, she defines herself and reinforces her character traits through her actions. Oddly enough, she’s very similar to Johnny Silverhand in this regard; she has a rigidly defined mindset, an unshakable resolve, and an unwavering commitment to her ideals. Luckily, her ideals aren’t as problematic as Johnny’s, but that level of troublesome devotion to what she thinks is right parallels Johnny to a fault. Combine this with her impulsive and reactionary nature, and you’ve got a character that is constantly given the opportunity to back up her bravado with tangible actions and results. Is she right? Not as often as she thinks she is. Does she deserve the criticism she receives from Saul? Sometimes, yes. She’s passionate, she cares for the people around her, and she’s often blinded by her own ideals, and this makes her feel remarkably genuine.
More so than any other character in Cyberpunk 2077, Panam comes across as a real person. Her mannerisms seem incredibly human, right down to her flaws and shortcomings. When the game slows down and gives us time to just sit and talk with her, the conversations are natural and grounded. She tells bad jokes, she’s awkward when discussing personal topics, she’s quick to flare her temper, and she’s sometimes too blunt with her opinions; all personality quirks that seem minor by themselves, but help build that illusion that we’re talking with a real, flawed human being. She’s not a perfect archetype, and that’s part of what makes her so interesting; she’s not supposed to be.
Even with how well executed Panam is as a character, the presentation of her storyline as a whole is problematic from a game-design perspective. Her ending (the aforementioned “The Star” ending) is probably the “happiest” Cyberpunk 2077 has to offer, and her impact on the finale carries noticeably more weight than most of the characters we meet in Night City (Judy, River, Kerry, etc). She’s the first major character we’re introduced to outside of the prologue, and her questline is basically essential to get not only the most satisfying ending for V (debatably) but for Judy as well. Her significance feels practically by design, which can lead to her importance feeling a bit artificial on the part of CDPR; it certainly feels like Panam is their favorite character, too. While this criticism is completely fair and understandable, it’s unfortunate because she really doesn’t need that artificially inflated role in the story; she’s a compelling enough presence as written. This isn’t an issue with the character necessarily, it just would have been nice to see CDPR have the confidence in their work to let it stand on its own. Panam is an excellent example of thoughtful character writing; you don’t have to bend your narrative to make us see that.
With such a rich cast of characters, it’s no wonder Cyberpunk 2077 has found a home in the hearts of so many willing to look past the rough edges. Gameplay might need some work, bugs need fixing, mechanics might need fine-tuning, but it’s these characters that we’ll remember and reminisce about when we talk about Cyberpunk. We don’t replay Mass Effect for the decade-old shooting mechanics, we do it to recapture those moments we love with Garrus and Mordin and Tali. A strong crafting system and solid gunplay is a bonus, but nothing beats connecting with a well-written character, and Cyberpunk 2077 has them in spades.