Why CD Projekt Red Should Not Waste the Potential of Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City

We really don’t need a whole new map for every single game.

By Eric Frederiksen on February 4, 2024 at 6:00AM PST

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 first announced Cyberpunk 2077 in the year 2012, followed by an unveiling of the game in 2018. The final release of the game came about in 2020, and it was later updated extensively in 2023 with a 2.0 overhaul patch. The expansive and detailed Night City, depicted in the game, highlights the extensive efforts and time invested. In comparison to other first-person games such as Fallout and Elder Scrolls, Cyberpunk certainly stands out for its detail and scope. It’s only when paralleled with third-person games like Assassin’s Creed’s Paris representation and GTA V’s depiction of Los Santos that we find a match in city expansiveness and detail.

It is obvious that the development team at CD Projekt Red dedicated an enormous amount of time in the creation of Night City. Even after completing two full rounds of Cyberpunk 2077, one at its initial launch and another after the release of Phantom Liberty, which sums up to over 200 hours of gameplay, I can’t help but feel like I’ve only just begun my exploration of Night City. It was only when I started engaging in all the NCPD Scanner Hustles that I felt I was genuinely uncovering the depths of Night City. These activities lead you through the unseen and unexplored parts of the city, stimulating your curiosity to uncover what lies beyond the staggering skyscrapers. And surprisingly, there is so much more to discover.

Here’s where the paths of the two games converge: RGG Studios has repeatedly polished and retouched Kamurocho, maintaining its core structure but with altered aesthetics. Being a fervent fan of the game series, I find immense pleasure in observing the simulated evolution of this district in Tokyo is if it were a real location. We revisit every couple of years, and each time, we find alterations – newer shops, a demolished skyscraper, a flourishing yakuza business reduced to locked doors. This ongoing interaction with the city holds a certain personal touch to it, which is something I seek from the creators of Cyberpunk at CD Projekt Red for Night City.

It is of utmost practicality to make use of well-developed resources. Considering the abundant time and effort spent on creating Night City, why not put it to use more than once?

Despite the numerous elaborate locations present in the first game, many city blocks were merely passed through while heading to more crucial areas. Although a handful may have been explored on foot in the initial stages, it largely boils down to driving and quick travels later on. Night City has undergone most of its development stages already, so why limit ourselves to a one-time visit?

Night City serves as a huge hub for this franchise akin to Los Angeles in 2024, even though it’s not the only possible setting. We ought to return in the sequel, regardless of whether it becomes our constant haunt. What transformations has the city undergone post the election of Jefferson Peralez as mayor? How has Arasaka, a prime tenant, influenced the city after the new CEO assumes his role, which may vary based on your chosen path? Or suppose we travel back to the not-so-distant future in 2024, how would a 30-year old Night City appear?

CD Projekt Red could discover innumerable narratives in Night City, and similarly, it could open up opportunities for other developers to explore, much like Fallout: New Vegas. Why invest resources into creating a distinct place when we can continue to unearth the potential in the existing one?

Imagine roaming around Night City as a new character immersed in another story, while reminiscing the places you’ve been to as V. This bus stop is where I exploded a car with Kerry Eurodyne! Misty did my tarot reading 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.

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.

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