Hands On: Cyberpunk 2077 Is A Noticeable Improvement On Xbox Series X

Well, after plenty of frenzied speculation over the past 48hrs or so, CD Projekt Red has finally dropped update 1.5 for Cyberpunk 2077, unleashing the much-anticipated next-gen version of their sci-fi RPG, a version which was initially planned to launch back in 2021.

It's certainly been a rough ride for the developer over the past 13 months, with a fairly horrific original launch on consoles, but it seems this is one cybernetically enhanced ship which is now on course for a somewhat brighter future if our initial impressions of the next-gen upgrade are anything to go by.

Yes, version 1.5 of Cyberpunk 2077 is an immediately noticeable and genuinely impressive improvement right out of the gates on Series X; it looks much better, runs far more smoothly and, most importantly, has seen a bevvy of crucial adjustments and additions made to NPC behaviour, driving mechanics and combat AI that make for a more engaging and convincing gameplay experience. This now feels like a game that's actually ready for release!

We jumped right back into Night City as soon as the next-gen upgrade dropped yesterday, playing through the game's opening and well into Act 2 and have, for the most part, been very pleasantly surprised with the changes that have been made.

We kicked off our playthrough utilising the new Ray Tracing mode which limits the game to 30fps and adds all manner of graphical bells and whistles but, after switching over to the 60fps Performance mode, we absolutely advise that you give Ray Tracing a miss for now, as the game feels noticeably less responsive, almost sluggish at times, at 30fps and shootouts with enemies were far more hit and miss as a result, the added wow factor just isn't worth the framerate hit in our opinion.

In Performance mode there are still a few small framerate dips here and there but, for the most part it sticks to that 60fps/dynamic 4K target and is a night and day difference over the game as we experienced it back in late 2020, when we gave it a rather average review due to its myriad bugs and gameplay issues. Night City is a truly impressive sight to behold in this new update then and, more importantly, it feels more alive than ever thanks to massive improvements in NPC behaviour.

The streets here are no longer patrolled by unresponsive dullards, clones and pedestrians who dematerialise as soon as you turn your back. Now crowds react to your presence, go ahead and unholster your weapon and watch them run for cover or even become hostile towards V, there's far fewer instances of the same character models trundling along beside one another, and all-in-all it makes taking in the sights and sounds of this sprawling dystopia a far more engrossing and convincing affair than what we experienced in 2020. Yes, we still came across one or two T-poses here and there, but it's such a huge improvement overall that we're more than happy to turn a blind eye at this stage.

As showcased in this week's livestream, the driving mechanics have also been updated and again it's a big improvement. It still feels a tiny bit floaty to us if we're being really picky, we'd like to see a little bit more weight added to the vehicles, but in terms of overall handling and how traffic in general behaves, CD Projekt Red has done a great job. The driving aspects of the original release were one of our biggest peeves with the game, it was something we weren't sure could be fixed to a satisfying degree and we honestly actually loathed using cars to get around, but they've genuinely managed to rectify it and patrolling the city streets, engaging in chases with the cops and handbraking around corners just for the hell of it feels much closer to how we'd always hoped it would here.

The biggest change though, the most dramatic improvement we've experienced so far, is absolutely with regards to the combat mechanics. Forget about buying apartments and changing your appearance in your bathroom, its chaotic, bloody running gunfights we're here for and the new enemy AI improvements make for battles that are a delight to get stuck into. Skags no longer run towards you like headless chickens, get stuck in scenery or entirely fail to notice that someone is trying to kill them with a gun. Instead, enemies now react intelligently, taking cover, flanking, repositioning themselves and making good use of grenades at long range and blocking attacks up-close, resulting in a far more rewarding combat experience.

Some ten or so hours into this next-gen revamp, then, and we're pretty delighted. None of this stuff should really be cause for celebration, we're well aware that almost all of the improvements we've detailed above are things that should have been there from the start, things that have been staples of this type of open world action-RPG for years, but we'll take it given the absolute shambles that was the original console launch of this game. Yes, we've still encountered a handful of visual glitches, the framerate can dip slightly in performance mode now and again and we experienced one full crash back to the Series X dash, but this is all small beans compared to the mess that came before.

CD Projekt Red still has plenty of work ahead, we wanna see further improvements to the police, for example, areas outside of the city itself need bulked out with reasons to go explore, and New Game+ is still AWOL, but Cyberpunk 2077 is now in a place where we can at least start looking forward optimistically. This is now a game that functions as it should have done all along, a far cry from what we were originally promised with regards to a genre-defining, choice-driven epic, perhaps, and still not really in a fully acceptable state for players on last-gen consoles, but certainly in a place where we're now looking forward to what's next in terms of story DLC and expansions. For the first time since November of 2020, we're just a little bit excited about Cyberpunk 2077.

We'll be continuing to plug away at the game over the coming days and our original review will be updated and added to accordingly once we've wrapped up our latest playthrough.

Have you been diving back into Cyberpunk 2077 or just beginning your first run through the game? How are you finding the next-gen upgrade? Let us know in the comments!

How Are You Finding Cyberpunk 2077 On Series X So Far?