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What Cyberpunk 2077’s Sequel Could Learn from Netflix’s Edgerunners

To become a Night City legend.

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What Cyberpunk 2077’s Sequel Could Learn from Edgerunners

The Edge of Redemption

Cyberpunk 2077 is back and better than ever. And it owes much of that renewed success to a little Netflix anime called Cyberpunk Edgerunners.

After almost eight years of being hyped up to the moon, Cyberpunk 2077’s disastrous launch left it seemingly dead on arrival. Overnight, developers CD Projekt Red went from one of the most beloved studios in the industry to one of the most reviled. Stocks plummeted, fans abandoned ship, and it would have been very easy–sensible, even–to cut all ties with the game and move on to something new. Instead, CDPR stuck with it, and after two years, dozens of patches, and thousands of bug fixes, Cyberpunk 2077 finally plays as it should have played at launch.

This is great news for anyone who skipped it at launch or was put off finishing it due to its many bugs and glitches, as Cyberpunk 2077 really is a great game. While it probably wouldn’t have won everyone’s game of the year even if it had been released in a properly playable state, it still has satisfying combat, a richly detailed world, likeable and realistically written characters, and an intriguing story of redemption and trying to overcome one’s fate. However, when compared to its anime counterpart, all of those points start to fall a little flat.

Image: Netflix - Character and emotion drive the story.
Image: Netflix – Character and emotion drive the story.

Getting to the Heart of it

Cyberpunk Edgerunners debuted on Netflix on September 13 2022 to a barrage of perfect reviews. With very little hype before its release, it essentially pulled off a reverse Cyberpunk 2077 – going from a side note in one of CD Projekt Red’s Night City Wire announcement videos to the must-see show of the month.

For those who haven’t yet watched it, Edgerunners follows the story of a boy named David Martinez. A street kid who loses everything in a senseless drive-by shooting, David dons an illegal cybernetic implant known as the Sandevistan, and strikes out on his own. But such a unique mod on such an unassuming boy starts to draw attention, and David finds himself drawn into the rougher side of Night City as he befriends a misfit group of edgerunners. From there, his life twists and turns further and further from the path his mother had tried so hard to set him on.

It’s an engaging story, and one that will get its hooks into you and won’t let go until long after its emotional climax.

Being set in Santo Domingo, Night City’s poorest district, and just a year or two before the events of Cyberpunk 2077, Edgerunners draws its art and world-building directly from the game. Seeing this dystopian cityscape, with its colourfully augmented citizens, neon-drenched alleys, and towering megablocks, so lovingly and vividly brought to life on screen brought with it feelings of nostalgia. Suddenly, players across the world felt drawn to Cyberpunk like never before, and they came back in their droves. Before long, Night City had a daily player population over one million strong.

And CDPR capitalized on this new-found love by lifting weapons, vehicles, cybernetics, and clothing straight from the anime for players to find in-game. And while this went over very well with fans, there’s one very important thing the developers left out: the show’s heart.

Image: CD Projekt Red - Cyberpunk 2077 does character well. But it could do better.
Image: CD Projekt Red – Cyberpunk 2077 does character well. But it could do better.

Friends and Family

Despite the series’ runtime only being made up of ten 30-minute episodes, Edgerunners manages to get its viewers so much more invested than Cyberpunk 2077 ever could in the full 20 to 100 hours players can expect to spend with it. V’s story is a fascinating one–and one filled with some truly memorable characters like Judy Alvarez and Jackie Welles–but despite the stellar writing and wonderful performances, it simply cannot hold a candle to David and his gang’s. 

The characters in Edgerunners are fantastically well-rounded. David may start out as the outsider, a surrogate for the viewer, just learning about what life is like in Night City’s underbelly, but that doesn’t last long. He has his own fears, his own dreams, and nothing will stop him from achieving his desires. Not even those he loves. Maine is the classic tough guy ringleader, but he’s both the brains and the brawn, and he gladly takes David under his wing and protects him like an older brother. Rebecca is crass and abrasive, but hides a softer side beneath her brash exterior. Similarly, Lucy is cold and aloof–a typical lone wolf, “just in it for the Eddies” kind of character–but it’s a cover to hide her insecurities and the fact that she truly does care deeply for David.

The characters in Cyberpunk 2077 were just as well realised and three-dimensional, but they lacked something Edgerunners has in spades–compassion. Night City is a horrible place to live, there’s no denying it. Poverty, crime, addiction, and greed suffocate its citizens and create a vicious cycle that’s all but impossible to escape. But where such conditions have led many of Cyberpunk 2077’s characters to become isolated, insular, and only out for themselves, it droves Edgerunners’ to embrace each other.

The gang is a family, and while they might not all get along (which family does?), they stick together and support each other, even in the darkest of times. Players get a little taste of this in Cyberpunk 2077 with Jackie right at the start of the game or with Panam and the Aldecaldos later on, but the former is taken away from them far too soon and the latter doesn’t play a significant role in the rest of the story. The majority of people V meets in the game feel entirely too separate from each other. Cyberpunk’s sequel should embrace the found family feel of Edgerunners, because by drawing people in, by getting them to really know and care for their gang right from the off, it can create some truly beautiful moments later down the line. Either that, or some truly heartbreaking deaths.

Image: Netflix - In Edgerunners, your crew is your family. Never forget that.
Image: Netflix – In Edgerunners, your crew is your family. Never forget that.

A Hard Life, and a Short One

Death is a part of Night City. Life expectancy is short, and every day is a fight for survival. In Cyberpunk 2077 the player is introduced to this early on with (Spoiler) the untimely death of their best choom Jackie Welles, but this tragic loss has unfortunately little bearing on the rest of the story. Characters go through some horrifically trying and tragic ordeals, but the player never has to fear for their lives. Chances are, everything will be solved by the end of the quest–you are the hero after all, it’s your job to fix things.

Conversely, no one is safe in Edgerunners. And the anime is not afraid to show it. Every episode sees the gang’s numbers whittled down one by one–sometimes from a big shootout or betrayal, sometimes for no good reason at all. Wrong place, wrong time. And perhaps even worse than the deaths themselves, are the holes they leave behind. These characters mourn for each other and despair over every loss, as a true family should.

If Cyberpunk’s sequel wants us to care about its characters, it needs to do the legwork. It needs to think smaller, with a more concise cast. It needs to put the player in the shoes of a lowly gang member like David, introduce them to their new family, let them grow and learn and love alongside them, and not be afraid to kill them all off without warning.

Night City is a terrible place to live. And chances are, you won’t be living there long.

Going Cyberpsycho

The future is not a bright one in Night City, and one of its worst aspects may initially appear to be a blessing–the prevalence and ease of access to cybernetic implants. Want to jump higher, sprint faster, or take more damage? Want to tear your enemies to shreds with retractable blades that burst forth from your forearms? The ripperdocs of Night City have you covered.

In Cyberpunk 2077, cyberware and cybernetic upgrades amount to little more than typical in-game upgrades to V. They gain extra armour or the ability to double jump, and that’s that. There’s no cutscene to show the operation taking place nor any real change to their character model. It’s as simple as picking a new perk with a level-up, and there are absolutely no side effects or long-term consequences.

Edgerunners, however, doesn’t shy away from the true cost–the true horrors–of trading your flesh for chrome. For David and his crew, every upgrade is an ordeal. Ripperdocs aren’t high-end surgeons, they are back-alley quacks, and it seems many consider anaesthesia optional. In receiving cyberware, Night City’s inhabitants are literally having sections of their bodies removed–from vital organs to entire limbs–and installing crudely wired lumps of chrome in their place.

Image: Netflix - Implants hurt. Getting upgraded should not be for the faint of heart.
Image: Netflix – Implants hurt. Getting upgraded should not be for the faint of heart.

Such invasive surgery leaves scars. Both physical and mental. Most obviously, these implants drastically change the way a person looks–new eyes glow and change in size as they refocus, new arms can be considerably larger than the fleshy ones they replaced. But then there’s also the fact that the human body rejects anything it did not grow itself. This is bad enough with donor implants in real life, but metal implants? Without heavy doses of immunosuppressants, the body would tear itself apart trying to remove them. And this is precisely what happens in the anime–the more a person alters their body, the stronger the drugs and the higher the dosage. In the end, the human body simply cannot keep up.

But as terrible as the physical side is, it’s nothing compared to the mental. The more parts a person replaces with metal, the more of themselves they start to lose. Before long, very little is left to tie them to the person they once were, to tie them to their old lives, or ground them in reality. It doesn’t take much to go too far, to finally snap over the loss of self and identity–to go cyberpsycho.

Cyberpsychosis exists in the world of Cyberpunk 2077, but only as something that can happen to other people. Or, more accurately, something that already has happened to other people. There are only a handful of cyberpsychos to be found in-game and every single one of them has already lost their humanity long before V arrives on the scene. In Edgerunners, going cyberpsycho is a real threat, and a reality that every cyberware-enhanced citizen has to deal with every day of their lives, never knowing when it might happen to them.

Image: CD Projekt Red - Fighting a true cyberpsycho would be terrifying. Especially if they were once someone you loved.
Image: CD Projekt Red – Fighting a true cyberpsycho would be terrifying. Especially if they were once someone you loved.

Cyberpunk’s sequel needs to lean into cyberpsychosis just as hard. It needs to show the long-term effects of cyberware, the everyday struggles, and the loss of humanity when it goes too far. It should show the careful line the characters have to tread in order to upgrade themselves to stay competitive, and the toll it takes on their minds and bodies. Friends who thought they were doing the right thing, who thought they were helping and making things better, by getting one more tiny upgrade, should eventually be lost to cyberpsychosis. And the player should be given the choice as to whether or not to put them down. And, of course, players should be forced to keep an eye on their own upgrades, never really knowing which one might tip them over the edge.

Actions Have Consequences

Last but not least, player choices should have more immediate emotional consequences. David Martinez may start as a naïve, fresh-faced street kid but he doesn’t stay that way for long. He learns, and he grows, and he changes. He makes decisions that save his friends’ lives, he makes others that horrify them.

By setting the sequel in the confines of a small gang, CD Projekt Red would have the opportunity to craft tighter, more meaningful bonds between the player and the other characters, so that, when the player inevitably makes a decision they will later come to regret, they can feel the ramifications of that choice everywhere they turn.

Image: Netflix - In the end, it's the emotions that stick with us.
Image: Netflix – In the end, it’s the emotions that stick with us.

Instead of the industry trend of bigger equals better when it comes to sequels, CDPR should think smaller. A more centralised and tightly crafted story with a close-knit group of characters, that the player comes to think of as family, will resonate with far more people and be remembered far more fondly than an explosion-filled epic about tearing down megacorporations ever could.

Max Longhurst is a keen gamer, avid writer and reader, and former teacher. He first got into gaming when, at the age of 8, his parents bought him a PS2 and Kingdom Hearts for Christmas, and he’s never looked back. Primarily a PlayStation fan, he loves games with a rich single-player experience and stories with unexpected twists and turns.

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