CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most anticipated games on the horizon right now, and it seems the Polish studio are gearing up for a big reveal at E3 this year. But why wait that long to learn more?
As you may already know, the Cyberpunk videogame is closely based on a tabletop RPG written by Mike Pondsmith, and first published in 1988. The game has been through three iterations, with the first two known as Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020. Since the 2020s feel a little close, it’s no surprise that CD Projekt Red have thrown the universe forward to the year 2077 for their interpretation.
There are plenty of other tabletop games that made the jump to PC on our list of the best RPGs.
With the tabletop game providing the backdrop for the videogame, there’s much we can learn about the world, weapons, and characters of the Cyberpunk 2077 universe. So we thought we’d take a look a close look at it to let you know what to expect from CDPR’s first triple-A release since The Witcher 3.
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- Cyberpunk 2077 story and setting
- Cyberpunk 2077 megacorporations
- Cyberpunk 2077 characters and NPCs
- Cyberpunk 2077 classes and roles
Cyberpunk is set in a dystopian near-future, amid a fictional Californian city named Night City after its founder, Richard Night. Between then and now, the USA has suffered a vast socioeconomic collapse that has sent ripples around the world, throwing the entire planet - but especially the West - into chaos. The enfeebled US government has only maintained order with the aid of a number of megacorporations, some of which may seem familiar (see below).
It all starts to go wrong in 1990, when the US intervenes disastrously in a Central American war. This, together with the release of US-developed plagues targeting drug plants, stokes anti-American sentiment among powerful Central American cartels. With the backing of the European Union, who are much more competitive in this alternative universe, these cartels prosecute a savage drug war all over the Americas. In 1993, they are even able to detonate a small nuclear device in New York, killing tens of thousands.
Matters worsen in 1994 with a massive global stock market crash that hits the USA hardest, causing widespread unemployment and homelessness. A nuclear accident in Pittsburgh drives internal migration, as does a drought across the midwest, which leads to a food crisis. The family farm is essentially wiped out, so corporations come to control all US agriculture. Food exports to the rest of the world cease, which obviously causes its own problems.
In 1996, the president and vice president are assassinated, and the US government fragments - the NSA, CIA, FBI, and DEA form the ‘Gang of Four’ and collude to further their own interests. Criminal gangs are established or emboldened all over the country - one of them, the Bloods, take almost total control of Miami. Executive authority is passed down the ranks to the defence secretary, who suspends the constitution and declares martial law. By now, one in four Americans are homeless, leading to huge Mad Max-style gangs of violent ‘Nomads’.
Over the next few years, toxic spills off the coast of Seattle ravage its economy. A 10.5 earthquake shatters Los Angeles. Tensions in the Middle East escalate to nuclear exchange, reducing much of the region to radioactive slag and halving the world’s oil supply. Several states secede from the United States, including California. You get the idea: everyone has a jolly bad time.
Corporate power has been waxing across the globe as businesses exploit the opportunities created by this chaos. Corporations have been training their own armies as early as 1997, and ultimately the enfeebled US government has no choice but to turn to them for help containing the nomads, gangs, and cartels running rampant across the country. The corporations take most of what they liberate for themselves, and only grow stronger. Governments across the world - and especially in the US - are then powerless to prevent a series of corporate wars.
That’s pretty much all you need to know. Cyberpunk’s fictional timeline continues for many more years, but from here on out it’s an esoteric account of escalating inter-corporate wars that probably won’t mean a lot to you. Basically: nukes, natural disasters, everyone’s screwed. Also bear in mind that, since the last edition (v3) of the board game is set in the 2030s, CD Projekt Red will have come up with another few decades of history which no-one outside the project will currently know about. Somehow we doubt things have improved much.
Cyberpunk’s ‘megacorporations’ were spawned in the unregulated industrial cesspool they demanded in return for helping the faltering US government contain a series of domestic crises. They are presented as a vision of what might happen - and to some extent did, in the era of the robber barons - if market forces were let entirely off the leash. In the main, they are self-serving, amoral, and profit-driven, and we can expect many of them to be major antagonists in the videogame.
That said, given CDPR’s fondness for moral ambiguity - firmly established in the Witcher series - we doubt all corporations will be unalloyed evil. As you can see below, many have different and conflicting agendas. There are more shades of grey here than in an Escher sketch, and there’s no way CDPR will squander that to tell a boring, easy story about goodies and baddies.
Imagine picking the lesser of two evils as megacorps compete for your services. There is also plenty of role-playing potential as your character’s class, background, or other tendencies might shape your loyalties. Perhaps some corps might not even be so bad? Many of the so-called robber barons were noted philanthropists, after all.
But now we’re speculating. Here’s a list of some of the megacorps that have been established in the Cyberpunk universe:
- Arasaka - a huge Japanese zaibatsu dealing in corporate security, whose megalomaniacal CEO is obsessed with turning Japan into a superpower. Along with EDM, Microtech, Orbital Air, Network News, and Militech, they are one of several megacorps shown in the news ticker during the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer, so their presence in the game’s world is confirmed.
- Biotechnica - an Italian megacorp specialising in biotechnology and genetic engineering.
- Dakai Soundsystems - an Asian corp known for cybernetics that aid communication, such as vocal enhancers (or scramblers).
- Dynalar Technologies - a cybernetics corporation native to Night City. One of their storefronts appears in the Cyberpunk 2077 teaser trailer, so we know they’re in the game universe.
- Euro Business Machines (EBM) - an information technology and electronics corporation headquartered in Germany (and a likely nod to IBM). They are one of the more influential megacorps, with a huge private army and workforce.
- Infocomp - a commercial think tank and information broker based in Los Angeles.
- International Electric Corporation (IEC) - a European conglomerate involved in many industries, from FMCG to heavy construction, corporate finance, and insurance (likely based on General Electric).
- Kendachi - a Japanese advanced arms manufacturer. Noted products include flamethrowers and monoblades.
- Kiroshi - a cybernetics company that specialises in optics. An advertising sign for them appears in the Cyberpunk 2077 teaser trailer.
- Lazarus Group - an American private military contractor (mercenary army) with close ties to Militech.
- Merril, Asukaga & Finch - financial and investment services firm based in New York (probable allusion to Merrill Lynch).
- Microtech - a computer and electronics manufacturer based in Texas and a clear reference to Microsoft.
- Militech - American arms manufacturer, distributor, and mercenary contractor with ties to the US Government, police, and military - the 2077 teaser trailer suggests they make guns for the Night City PD. Their CEO wants to halt the decline of the USA, and they compete with Arasaka for influence and market share.
- Mitsubishi-Sugo - a major transportation manufacturer.
- Network News 54 - an American 24-hour news network based in New York. If they make it into the videogame, Media class characters can probably expect some quests here.
- Orbital Air - a Kenyan aerospace corporation. They maintain commercial orbital facilities and transport passengers to and from them.
- Petrochem - a petrochemical energy and agribusiness corporation based in Texas.
- Raven Microcybernetics - a market-leading cybernetics company.
- SovOil - a neo-Soviet oil giant that controls a vast percentage of the petrochemicals market.
- Trauma Team International - a private medical firm from Los Angeles providing ambulance and paramedical services. They also deal in medical insurance and prepaid disaster relief.
- World News Service - a global news conglomerate based in London, comparable to the Associated Press.
- WorldSat Communications Network (WorldSatCom) - a satellite communications company based in Paris.
- Zetatech - a computer hardware and software design company based in California, and one of the newer megacorps in the market. Another specialty is ‘wetware’ - computer tech that interfaces with the human brain.
In the finest traditions of tabletop RPGs, Cyberpunk lets you create your own character, but it also has NPCs. However, unless they have artificially extended their lives - which, to be fair, is entirely possible, given the world’s tech - many of those characters may have died in the decades between the board game and 2077. We note a few of the most important ones below, and those that are most likely to have survived - they may be your quest-givers, class mentors, faction leaders, and so on.
Richard Night is the man behind Cyberpunk’s major setting, Coronado City - later renamed Night City in his honour. In 1990, he left the construction firm in which he was a partner to plan Coronado City. He secured corporate funding from Arasaka, EBM, and Petrochem in exchange for handing over large slices of the city for their development.
Coronado City was incorporated in May 1994. It rests on the central California coast, a little ways south of San Francisco. The megacorporations are heavily involved in its development from the beginning, and their influence upon it is greater than any other city in the USA. Night himself is killed in his penthouse in 1998, after which Coronado City takes his name. His killer is never caught.
The devious and megalomaniacal head of the Arasaka megacorporation, which dominates much of Japan and the third world (a label now commonly assigned to America). He brought elements of the Japanese government, military, lesser corporations, and even crime groups under his control, and is/was determined to establish Japan as the new global superpower.
A netrunner and ex-girlfriend of famous rockstar Johnny Silverhand. She invented a program that could digitally copy a netrunner’s mind. For this, she was kidnapped and interrogated by the Arasaka corporation. They used the information to make a deadlier version that would torch the netrunner’s mind after copying it - and Alt was its first victim. The copy of her mind managed to escape into the net, however, so she continued to ‘live’ as a digital ghost - and may indeed still be alive in 2077.
On that note, we should mention that a poster made from her artwork in the tabletop game appears in the Cyberpunk 2077 teaser trailer - this could just be an easter egg, or a hint that she is indeed still around.
Commissioner J. Hammerman
Hammerman is referenced in a newscast in the Cyberpunk 2077 teaser trailer, commenting on the massacre committed by the augmented woman. Presumably, he’ll be commissioner of one of the emergency services, the police being the obvious guess.
Cyberpunk calls its character classes ‘roles’, of which there are nine in the main rulebook. Later supplements added many more but we’ll list the core nine here. Some map approximately onto familiar RPG archetypes (cops sound a bit like paladins to us), but one of the coolest things about Cyberpunk is how much it rewrites the traditional rulebook - some of these could play like nothing else we’ve seen.
- Cop - lawmen equipped to handle the especially unruly streets of Night City’s dystopia. Their special ability in the tabletop game is ‘Authority’, which basically gets people to do what they want, whether through intimidation or respect for the badge. Career skills include perception, athletics, interrogation, street knowledge, and brawling, while the default weapon is a handgun. The Cyberpunk 2077 teaser trailer shows a Max Tac Agent - a specialist officer of the Night City PD, judging by his badge - putting a gun to the head of the augmented woman.
- Corporate - spoiled yuppie businesspeople, both agents and beneficiaries of the megacorporations’ conquest of the American economy. And in Cyberpunk’s corrupt, cutthroat world, ambition isn’t enough to climb the greasy ladder - Corporates deal in bribery, blackmail, sabotage, and even assassination. But to keep their hands clean, they often use their charisma and stupendous wealth to get others to do it for them. Their special ability is ‘Resources’, which - depending on their seniority - allows them to leverage Corporate perks, such as company cars or private security.
- Fixer - the people who ‘know how to get things done’, Fixers are dealmakers, middlemen, fences, smugglers, and information brokers. They are intimately connected to the beat of the street, with contacts in circles high and low, reputable and deplorable. Skills include forgery, intimidation, persuasion, and the picking of both locks and pockets. Their special ability is setting up a Street Deal.
- Media - journalists in an RPG? Believe it. The megacorporations regularly engage in information warfare - which is looking stunningly prescient in the era of ‘fake news’ - and the Media are out to stop them. Though there are plenty of crazy conspiracy theorists in Night City, this class focuses on the credible reporters. Hence, their special ability is ‘Credibility’, which enables them to convince people of the truth of horrible scandals. It checks against the other party’s intelligence - make of that what you will.
- Netrunner - the superhackers of the future, Netrunners roam the internet using brain-computer interface implants, rooting out information to sell (typically to Fixers). Skills relate to different branches of hacking, programming, electronics, and cybersecurity. Their special ability is ‘Interface’.
- Nomad - unemployment is even crueler in Cyberpunk’s world than in ours, as it is generally permanent. Nomads have been blacklisted by the megacorporations and so have no way to earn a living. Instead, they roam the highways, scavenging for supplies in motor-gangs so large they’re practically mobile towns. It is very Mad Max. Skills include driving, rifles, endurance, and survival. Through their special ability - ‘Family’ - Nomads can call on their crew for hospitality, protection, or other assistance. The catch: they must reciprocate, or else lose standing.
- Rockerboy - bards are lame, but rockstars are cool, and /that/ is the word for Cyberpunk’s Rockerboys (or girls). They are charisma incarnate - literal cyber/punks/ who express through music the tortured soul of the streets. They live to hearten the oppressed and resist authority, and poetry is their weapon. Skills include persuasion, seduction, street knowledge, and performance, and their special ability is ‘Charismatic Leadership’.
- Solo - Solos are mercenaries, taking work as hitmen, bodyguards, and whatever else, for whoever can pay. Many have military experience, perhaps in a corporate army, and those who don’t die may replace lost limbs with cybernetic prosthetics. They are the fighters of Cyberpunk’s world, with skills in a variety of weapon and combat proficiencies, as well as stealth, perception, and athletics. Their special ability is ‘Combat Sense’, which enables them to perceive danger, notice traps, and generally sense harm.
- Techie - a catch-all term for the tinkerers of the future, Cyberpunk’s Techies are typically the clandestine sort, who do ‘off-the-record’ engineering for a variety of clients. They make their living by building, fixing, and modifying technology - a much-demanded proficiency in Night City. Skills relate to many different types of tech, as well as weaponsmithing, teaching, and electronic security. Their special ability is ‘Jury Rig’, which governs this proficiency for improvised engineering.
While we expect the Cyberpunk videogame to adhere closely to the board game in general, this fidelity has been all but confirmed with respect to classes specifically. Last year, Pondsmith said that the tabletop game’s Cyberpunk classes are “all going to be there, but you’re going to find some surprises about how we’ve done it, and I think you’re really going to like it. There’s a lot of subtlety going on there.”