I made a post a few days ago about the ambition of Cyberpunk 2077, and it went over really well. Tons of discussion. I loved to see it.
In that post I mentioned how the game has the worst "gear" system ever. This may seem hyperbolic, "other games do it exactly like that" you may say. And you would be right, but Cyberpunk does nothing interesting with gear and levelling, fails spectacularly to capitalise on systems it does have, and doesn't do things that just seem to make sense.
This post isn't just going to pertain to Cyberpunk. It's going to focus on what I believe would be a far better gear and levelling system for the modern-day RPG. And when I say modern-day, I actually mean the setting, and not, like, our modern-day. Future too. You get the drill.
Cyberpunk is a game about stylish threads, fast cars, and next-level weaponry. Or that's what the game thinks it is. It's actually a game about a techno-gimp driving around in a minivan beating low-income slum-dwellers to death with a baseball bat. Ok, enough joking around. The actual problem is that in a game about the merc of the future, it does little to distinguish from any other RPG ever. But it could have. The hint is in the job description.
And what does a mercenary do? Do jobs and get paid.
That right there. That's what Cyberpunk's entire levelling and gear systems should have been built around.
Cash. Dosh. Moolah. Cold, hard Eddies.
But the game doesn't. Instead it has the bog-standard approach of killing guys and stealing their pants and pistols. Like The Terminator. But cripplingly uncool.
The way I would do it? There is no levelling. Shooting a man in the cock does not grant XP. You don't need to have a system where you commit a lot violence and then you gain 5 extra HP and the ability to craft better hats. It's boring, it's uninteresting, it's unrewarding, and the better system is already there in the form of augmentations. Instead the entire proposed game system revolves around cash and street cred. Oh yeah. That's right. This system changes street cred from a secondary XP bar that gives you some extra perks and locks off some stuff into something a little more rewarding.
Now what I'm going to talk about does include some things that are maybe a bit ambitious, but the things that could be considered ambitious are optional and the things that I would consider necessary for the systems forthcoming have been done before in other games, and are thus not impossible.
So. Cash. I mentioned that the entire game would center around it, because that's just fucking cool. As it stands currently, you don't really use money for anything in Cyberpunk, because guns worth buying are too expensive, and cars are nice but useless. In this systems there is no level gating, and there is no gear rarity. The only barrier to entry for anything and everything is the size of your wallet. If you want a better gun, you buy it. You no longer slaughter entire warehouses and crack houses, and scour the floor for the gun that does 3 more DPS and the wife-beater with 0.3 more oxygen. You slaughter the aforementioned areas to acquire money to acquire guns. Quite simple.
Now you read that and you probably think that's fucking boring. But I think it's awesome. The reason I think it's awesome is because it gives anything you get actual value. It's not just something a gangster used to sort coke off of, it's yours. You earned it. And it immediately makes jobs worth doing, because the money you get from it goes directly back into being better than you were before. And of course once you buy a gun you can mod it. But the modification would have to be more interesting than slapping a nebulous microchip into it, ala Cyberpunk 2077. Wait, what? Anyway, we already have an example of a game doing this successfully. You might have heard of it… It's called Red Dead Redemption 2. That game does essentially what I'm already talking about. You buy guns with hard, or violently, earned money, and then you mod them. Changing the sights, or the handle, the texture, engravings, whatever they do to the inside of the barrel.
Now a gun isn't just some shit you picked up outta the trash. It's yours. You earned it. And maybe it shoots fire bullets now. And it does that not because Jimmy Fatnuts had a 7% chance to drop it at level 27 in East Riverdale. You took it to a guy who could make it shoot fire bullets and you paid him with money you earned doing a job. Of course this being the future and not the Wild West, you can do a lot more interesting gun modification than changing what you could in RDR2, hence the fire bullets. Maybe it's a drum mag, or that kinda weird taped together mag they have in CoD, maybe it's a site that shows the health of each targeted limb, maybe it's a speaker that shouts profanities at the disenfranchised. I dunno what exactly all these different mods could be, but the only limit is your imagination and also the reality the game is set within but ignore that for now. I hope you're getting the idea here.
Now, onto gear! The clothes on your back! The blood-soaked and bullet-riddled short-shorts you nicked off that one Japanese gangster whom you shot 187 times… Now hang on. That's lame! Now, what is Cyberpunk's tagline. "Style over Substance." Because baby, looking cool has never looked as cool.
Cyberpunk 2077 does not allow you to do this. Clothes are glorified DPS-reducers. Both my playthroughs ended with me wearing the same trenchcoat stolen from a guy I killed 20 hours ago and the same Samurai fan t-shirt I bought during a sidequest I completed 17 hours ago. Because they were both Legendary and had 4 mod slots. Boring! Boring! I hate it!
In my proposed system, clothing ties right back into the street cred system. You either wear cool clothes that provide no or extremely little damage resistance but give a boost, perhaps in the form of a multiplier to street cred gain, or you wear clothes that do provide damage some worthwhile damage resistance but give you no multiplier towards levelling your street cred. These clothes could be like body armour, bulletproof vests, tactical visors. Because what would up your street cred more? A man walking into to a building wearing riot gear and an LMG and killing everyone inside, or a man walking in with a Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts with a baseball bat, killing everyone inside, and then sauntering on out. Word travels fast in Night City, and people are gonna remember one of those Street Samurai more than the other. Ok, maybe not the Hawaiian shirt. Maybe something cooler.
Do you get what I'm trying to say here? It's more interesting to have clothing function not as a bullet-not-hurty, but something that allows you to both roleplay and be unique without making you look like a total twat. Now, I haven't worked out all the fine details. How can you look cool? Who decides that? Maybe it's just as simple as the item's "class." A "Style Class", comprised of streetwear that boosts your street cred multiplier, and a "Substance Class" which provides actual benefits to survivability, comprised of tactical military gear or maybe even exo-skeletons. Maybe an even better bonus for matching sets, like The Surge 2. Stay on model and receive a 20% discount at all Little Japan stores! Fun to think about. Perhaps benefits beyond simple defense. Like Style having higher speed and Substance being slower but, as stated, stronger. You buy these at stores too.
So, who cares about street cred. Now I can get new Mantis Blades for 100,000 that do 4 extra DPS. Boring. Yeah. That is boring. Instead, lookey here, street cred ties right back in to the former 2 systems described. Street cred can, as before affect job availability. Makes sense. You do want the right merc for the job. It can also lock off cars for purchase, maybe even guns too. But the biggest benefits it's gonna have is store discounts. Remember, progression is tied to money, and thus progression is tied to stores. Who gives a fuck about street cred as a gatekeeper, but when it's now fundamental to your ability to better equip yourself? Now we're getting somewhere. Perhaps still not ground breaking, but it does give you something to work towards, and gives you reasons to wear different "classes" of clothes. I think it's very cool.
Now. Cars. Cars should give you a bonus to street cred too, I think. Gives you a reason to buy them. Again, I'm always gonna remember the guy who pulls up to a gang war in a €$250,000 sports car than the guy who pulls up in a stolen minivan.
But I also want it to function like the horse from RDR2. No. I'm serious. Wanna swap guns? Open the trunk. Wanna change shirt? Open the trunk. Wanna refill on grenades and healing items? Open the goddamn trunk. Now you could get into the nitty gritty of different sized cars having different sized trunks therefore different sized inventories. Maybe in a sports car you can carry 100 items and in a jeep you can carry 300. Resi 4 style Tetris inventory? Maybe.
This means that prolonged battles are more dangerous. Going into a "big job" means you gotta think about what you wanna take in with you. Let's say you can still hold 3 guns, but now only 3 grenades and 3 heals. Not 3 different types. 3 each. Now you need to think. Will there be robots? Better bring EMP grenades. Are their weapons gonna hit hard, or hit less hard but more frequently? Should I bring healing items that give me 100 health instantly or 200 health over 10 seconds? Now with just a small change you've opened up a wealth of tactical options the player must consider.
An ambitious change I do think you might need to make to the core game is add more apartments. That way you have a place with a central inventory you can use to edit your car's inventory, and you need more apartments because that means less travelling further and further distances to restock supplies. And of course more apartments could mean a flat street cred boost, or a permanent multiplier per apartment regardless of clothing. Cars, too. Buy multiple cars for a permanent street cred multiplier! Or something like that. You get the point.
And finally, levelling. But how do the cool stuff? Like the double jumping and the better sneaking and the cool slow motion dodging!? Augmentations. It's right there. It's like the main selling point of the game. And it's diluted as fuck because they've gotta put a bunch of stuff into skill trees to make that worth anything. No. Bad. Dumb. Wasteful. I hate it.
Again, money and augs, hand in hand. I'll save you the pain of reading 8 paragraphs of text and say you just make it similar to the way guns will now work. Wanna punch hard? Muscle aug. Wanna punch harder? Better muscle aug, or mod the currently equipped aug? Hacking? Aug. Double jump? Aug. You get the picture. Distribute the stuff from levelling into augs, and ditch the overly gamey stuff. No "shoot more damage because you shot enough people or crafted enough crowbars."
And I think that about covers it. This was all spurred on because I thought about how mechanically and thematically uninteresting the current system is and how well other games do similar systems. A big example is Yakuza 7. At the start of that game, you feel poor in a way I've never felt in another game. Enemies drop like ¥50 per battle and weapons cost like ¥5000 and you can feel a wicked strong sense of power and accomplishment as you earn and purchase better weapons. That trickles out as the game goes on and as weapons become rewards for missions and the coliseum, but it still starts out hella good.
There's some stuff I didn't go into here, and maybe some stuff I've forgotten or overlooked. I didn't mention how I think a DMC-esque Style Meter for doing things like getting headshots, or dodging, could contribute towards street cred, could work and be really cool.
This is a lot. I've written a lot. It's a lot to digest, I know. I also know that these systems couldn't really work in Cyberpunk as it is now. You'd probably need stuff like radiant quests to do a system as deep as what I've described here any justice.
But I also don't think this is a system that could uniquely be used for Cyberpunk, just one I think would work best. Because you can justify increased damage for guns and not them instantly killing enemies by using the same logic you apply to yourself, that being augs making them stronger. I think you could probably use similar systems here for a game like Destiny or who knows, like a whole new IP. What I have described is pretty much a selling point for a non-existant IP.
And hell, maybe you don't care. Maybe you think what I've described it straight up bad. But I think it's fucking awesome. I think it's a wildly unique system that could work so well in the right hands.
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