I’m currently working my way through Cyberpunk 2077 after years of waiting to get the all-clear that its issues had cleared up. And while it does a fantastic job of allowing you to lose yourself in its dystopian setting, I do have one major, roleplaying-related issue: V, the main character, is kind of an asshole, sometimes in ways you can’t even control.
Now, look, I’m fine playing a jerk-y video game character. Most video game characters are jerks! In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, it’s totally understandable why V isn’t soft and cuddly in many of their interactions. Night City is a hellhole of biblical proportions, a sprawling, corporation-ruled metropolis in which the average person is in constant danger of dying amid the crossfire of constant gang wars. V is very much a product of this environment, and while they are capable of being sweet and gentle, their first reaction to any situation is likely to be sarcastic or blunt.
One less-than-satisfying interaction I keep running into, however, is an issue of gameplay mechanics rather than writing.
Afterlife is an exclusive Night City bar that serves as a meeting ground for only the most respected mercenaries. I’ve visited the establishment regularly, both to move Cyberpunk 2077’s main story missions forward and to pick up side jobs. During one such mission, V and best friend Jackie Welles chat with Afterlife’s bartender, a charming woman named Claire Russell, about what it takes for someone to get a drink named after them.
Claire says there’s only one requirement: “Snuff it in a mind-blowingly spectacular fashion.”
Upon returning to the bar after a disastrous caper ends in Jackie’s death — which was less mind-blowingly spectacular and more depressingly meaningless — V learns that Claire has not only remembered his favorite (and final) drink but also added it to Afterlife’s menu in his name. And although Claire becomes a close confidant of V’s further into the game, it was in these opening hours with this small act of kindness that she endeared herself to me.
Claire is designed to welcome Cyberpunk 2077 players every time they return to Afterlife, acting as a merchant who sells a variety of alcoholic beverages. I try to check in with her from time to time as a personal role-playing exercise, but I feel like a scumbag every time I mindlessly rush through the neon-lit dive and hear her fading voice ask me if I want a drink. And even if I were to stop, the game limits my interactions with Claire — at least during these Afterlife visits — to hanging out at the bar and engaging in limited small talk. It kills me that I can’t acknowledge her with a simple, “No, thank you!” en route to whatever random objective is currently on my docket. I’ve even tried to avoid activating Claire’s greeting by sneaking, but her proximity to the front door makes it impossible.
I get that this is a very “me” problem. I don’t expect a bunch of people to have had the same qualms while playing Cyberpunk 2077. Claire is, after all, an NPC. She’s not a person. I do think, though, that what I’m feeling is a testament to the game’s writing, which is full of similarly captivating moments of genuine humanity.
It’s no secret that Cyberpunk 2077 had a rough launch. It was so bad, in fact, that Sony pulled the game from the PlayStation Network completely, only allowing its sale again after six months of bug fixing and performance improvements. Playing it for the first time in 2023, with the added benefit of the more powerful PlayStation 5, has opened my eyes to the achievements of a game I thought hopelessly broken and way too reactionary just a few short years ago. Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t quite the revelation it was made out to be during its pre-release hype cycle, but it is special — if only for its ability to make me feel like a minor NPC bartender is my friend.