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Inconsistent time-sensitivity requirements in quests can ruin an RPG’s immersion

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Minor side quest spoilers for CyberPunk 2077 ahead. So I’m playing this game and kind of having reluctant fun with it. You’ve all read about the bugs and missing features and all that, so I’ll move past that part. I enjoy the world and the quests but have a hard time looking past the flaws, because they’re oftentimes of the in-your-face quality. In particular, I had a moment yesterday that was totally jarring, to the point I put the game down—for at least a while. I got a side quest (Happy Together) about a depressed neighbor. I had to go visit him and talk to him on behalf of his coworkers. The neighbor’s friend died, so I go check out the resting place, gather info, and then I’m told to speak to my neighbor again “in a few hours”. Now, I’ve received a bunch of quests in this game with language like this, telling me to go do this or that “in the evening”, “in a day”, or with some other cryptic time description. I’ve only seen one other quest—a main quest—actually require that I go start the quest in a certain amount of time. So I treat this quest like any other RPG side quest of vague interest and I head out to do other shit. When I finally come back around to this one, a few in-game days later, the neighbor has literally committed suicide. “QUEST FAILED”. His friends are outside his apartment sobbing. Jesus Christ…what?! Which brings me to the central issue here:

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CyberPunk 2077 has completely inconsistent time-sensitivity parameters across its quests. For a game in which you can’t control when you receive quests because characters can call you with them while you’re in the middle of other quests and even conversations and there’s no “send to voicemail” feature, this is egregious. It creates an environment in which I’m constantly pulled out of the immersion. Characters are always using language like “meet me there tonight”, and if that only matters for certain quests, without some indication as to which ones, that’s a broken mechanic in my opinion. The rules of the world don’t make any sense because they aren’t consistent. And when I get two “urgent quest” calls over the course of an in-game day, I’m forced to remove myself from the world to look up the god damn quests and see if I’ll fail them for fucking off somewhere else, or even choosing between multiple quests. There is no indication as to which quests are actually time-sensitive and which ones just have dialogue written in a way that, from what I can discern, attempts to seem believable and/or conversational. And then the player is actively punished for not picking up which ones are which. It’s especially upsetting and cruel when these inconsistencies punish a player with something as upsetting as suicide. It’s jarring and unfair. I get CDPR’s whole thing is their dark atmosphere and brutal world. But you can build that within the confines of a world with meaningful rules. A game that requires the player remove themself for guidance should not tout itself for immersion. This is world-breaking and immersion-ruining. It creates a situation in which I’m reminded over and over again, “I’m playing a video game right now”.

Instead, create plain temporal standards for completion of quests. If timing only matters for some of them, take the language of urgency out of the others and actually create some baseline rule, made obvious in an early intro quest or even a tutorial dialogue. Don’t barrage me with characters telling me to come help them immediately and then keep me guessing as to which ones mean it, because then I have to either rely on guides online or force myself to not give a shit about the characters or world.

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