Future Imperfect: A Cyberpunk 2077 Primer, Part III

Seven years ago, as CD Projekt RED was coming towards the completion of its highly anticipated RPG, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt,  a trailer was released for the next big project, Cyberpunk 2077. For gamers of a certain bent, the possibility of Cyberpunk being brought to PC and consoles was incredibly exciting, though there was a hefty dose of skepticism. The title indicated it would be set almost sixty years after Mike Pondsmith’s dark future setting, which brought forth visions of the tortured setting of Cyberpunk v.3 somehow being the source for this new endeavor. Subsequent details seem to have put those fears to rest. More interestingly, the deal worked out nicely for R. Talsorian Games, since they had the opportunity to retcon and refine the Cyberpunk setting, as well as putting out an official pen-and-paper Witcher RPG, the company’s first new setting in years.

Chip in one more time, and get ready to paint Night City red.

Rolling Back The Dark(ish) Future

Part of the ethos of the cyberpunk genre as a whole is trying new things with established technologies and concepts. William Gibson’s observation that “the street finds its own uses for things” assumes a certain level of experimentation, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, a hacker’s willingness to take things apart and put it back together. Mike Pondsmith and his merry band tried something new with Cyberpunk v.3 and it didn’t quite work out like they’d hoped. Was it a total disaster? Not necessarily. Sometimes, you have to throw a small apocalypse or two at your setting to help make room for new history to be written.

However, rather than throw it all out there at once, R. Talsorian Games has opted to test the waters a little bit. Instead of simply releasing a new edition wholesale, they released a “Jumpstart” edition which covers the basics, the more common character archetypes, and a somewhat stripped down combat system. The full core rulebook is expected to be released sometime in June.

Naw, Choombatta, Wasn’t Like That At All

Even in The Time of The Red, you can have the blues.

While the Jumpstart doesn’t have all the details, the chronology it presents is the “official” one at this point. Some of it is going to sound familiar.

The Fourth Corporate War properly started in 2021, but didn’t end officially until 2025. The unofficial end, however, was almost immediately after the Night City Holocaust occurred with the tactical nuclear destruction of Arasaka Towers on August 20, 2023. Within hours of the nuke going off (the only nuclear weapon used during the entire conflict), the US Government stepped in. Despite Night City being effectively cut off from Federal control, Washington D.C. still had some teeth and they bit down hard, nationalizing Militech (one of the two combatant megacorps) and threatening a nuclear strike on Arasaka HQ in Tokyo if Japan didn’t bring the megacorp to heel. Japan ultimately repudiated Arasaka and forced their submission, but almost collapsed in the effort due to the deep influence the megacorp had in Japanese politics and society. August 20 is also considered the official start of “The Time of The Red,” alluding to the red tinge in the sky generated by atmospheric debris from orbital kinetic energy strikes, burning cities, and various other conflict related pollutants.

The Net officially went down in 2025, the result of Rache Bartmoss’ DataKrash virus and RABID hunter-killer AIs. Alt Cunningham, freed from Arasaka imprisonment inside the Soulkiller program during the raid which set off the Night City Nuke, found a haven in the ruins of Hong Kong. The city had fallen victim to a bioweapon attack during the war and was left completely empty. But because of the lack of people, the technical infrastructure survived DataKrash’s depredations. As the Chinese government walled off the corpse of Hong Kong, Cunningham established Ghost World, a sanctuary for AIs looking to avoid the RABID overrun portions of the Net.

The last half of the decade experienced tremendous upheaval throughout the world. Large groups of people, displaced from cities destroyed during the war, move into urban areas which had been abandoned prior to the conflict, and begin the process of rebuilding. The United States becomes an effective dictatorship under the regime of President Elizabeth Kress. Meanwhile, the “free states” of the Pacific coast which had long ago distanced themselves from federal control form a new nation: the Pacifica Confederation. The nations work on building and rebuilding infrastructure, but make it clear to the various megacorporations who are still around that the old games are not going to be tolerated. Any corporation who starts thinking they might be the next Arasaka is likely to get a visit from one of the many Combined Operations Groups the US military has established in bases around the country, both in US territory and on leased military bases in the Pacifica Confed. Speaking of Arasaka, with the death of patriarch Saburo Arasaka and Japan’s fumigation efforts, the corporation broke up into what can only be described as a three cornered dynastic struggle between the two children of former Arasaka CEO Kei Arasaka and their aunt, Hanako Arasaka.

The 2030s are marked by rebuilding efforts hitting their stride, particularly in and around Night City. The Corporate Center of the city remained highly contaminated, but the outer suburbs and smaller city complexes surrounding Night City are built up to handle the influx of refugees and laborers looking to start afresh. The decade is also marked by Netwatch’s efforts to try and clean out the RABIDs from the Net while others work to cobble together some sort of practical replacement. Netwatch, unfortunately, failed in its objectives. After three years of efforts to get rid of Rache Bartmoss’ lethal digital clones, Netwatch called it quits and sealed off every Old Net access point they could get to. Both CitiNets (a sort of local VPN) and DataPools (analogous to YouTube or Twitch) are built up, the former with limited corporate assistance, the latter through community efforts. These efforts continue throughout the 2030s and into the 2040s.  By 2045, all-in-one arcologies known as Mega Buildings have sprung up, housing large numbers of people in relative safety. New corporations rise up from the ashes, partnering with bands of Nomads who serve as logistical support, initially rebuilding and refurbishing older factories before building new factories, and turning out new technologies. Things are not quite the same as they were a quarter century earlier, but life in Night City is still dangerous, and still an adventure on the edge.

You Seem Familiar…

“Is it really rigging the Body Lotto if I make the bodies?”

Because the RED setting happens twenty-five years after the events of Cyberpunk 2020, including the events of the Firestorm arc, some of the characters players are likely to run into were smaller than the iconic characters who made the suicide run on Arasaka Towers. This doesn’t mean they haven’t made a name for themselves since, however.

Kerry Eurodyne: No mention of him is listed in the Jumpstart. Given the way he basically sat out the Fourth Corporate War, it’s possible he’s been doing the equivalent of Live Aid concerts, trying to get help rebuilding the ravaged cities left behind. Or perhaps he’s said ‘to hell with it’, and retired from the stage for good.

Alt Cunningham: If you’re going to build a place where AIs and other disembodied Netrunners can find sanctuary, the depopulated ruins of Hong Kong seems like a decent enough option. After getting yanked out of Soulkiller v3.0, and rather rudely tossed out into the Net, Alt somehow managed to pull herself together and escaped to the Hong Kong subNet. Ghost World isn’t easy to get to, but she’s keeping at least one beacon burning amid the ruins of the old Net.

Rache Bartmoss: Still dead.

Morgan Blackhand: For the last ten years or so, there’s been some crazy rumors that “The Solo’s Solo,” Morgan Blackhand himself, has been seen wandering around the First Wave Cities, the ones which were the first and the fastest to be rebuilt after the war. On the surface, it seems crazy. He was already pushing middle age when the Night City Nuke went off, so he’d be a bona fide senior citizen by this point. On the other hand, he didn’t reach middle age by playing it safe, and if anybody could have figured out a way to survive the destruction of Arasaka Towers, he might just be that guy.

Hanako Arasaka: Saburo Arasaka’s youngest daughter, now in her early 40s, managed to survive the Fourth Corporate War only to see her father’s company shattered, her niece and nephew fighting over the remains, and her own position in serious jeopardy. While she has no desire to emulate her father or recreate his vision for the company, Hanako isn’t likely to go down quietly.

Michiko Arasaka: Kei Arasaka’s youngest daughter, only recently naturalized as a US citizen, holds what is quaintly referred to as the “Princess Faction” of Arasaka. Feeling that her best chance for survival and (ultimately) domination over the company is by doing the opposite of what her father and grandfather wanted, she’s allied herself with the US government. Only time will tell how that will play out.

Yorinobu Arasaka: Kei Arasaka’s son, possibly named in honor of his uncle, and heading the “Rebel Faction” of Arasaka. If Hanako is simply making a philosophical change, and Michiko is making a complete change of the company’s traditional allegiance, then Yorinobu may be up to something even more radical. He’s clearly not cashing out for some fast eddies, but what he might be after is anybody’s guess.

Johnny Silverhand: By all accounts, Johnny Silverhand died to save his comrades during the raid on the Arasaka Towers on the night of the Holocaust. But starting in the early 2030s, rumors began to circulate around the time of Night City’s initial reconstruction effort that Silverhand’s body had been found, tucked away in a body bank and kept in cryo, much like Rache Bartmoss had been before the rock came down on Bartmoss’ apartment. It could just be a rumor (people probably still claim to see Elvis in the Time of the Red), but the truth sometimes really is stranger than the fiction.

Beyond The Red

“So, what have I learned after all this time? After all the sleepless nights, lying to friends, lovers, myself? Playing this crooked game in this crooked town filled with boostergangs and biosculpted liars? I’ll tell you what I’ve learned… I fucking love Night City!” (Apologies to Atomic Blonde)

A bit of quick math shows there’s a big gap between 2045 (when Cyberpunk RED is set) and 2077. Thirty-two years, bigger than the one between Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk RED. We know from last year’s E3 presentation and a subsequent deep dive video that Johnny Silverhand (or somebody purporting to be him) is an important element of Cyberpunk 2077, though whether it’s the Rockerboy’s digital ghost sustained by a copy of Soulkiller that somebody missed, or simply a very well made ROM construct, we have no idea. We’ve gotten a look at what might be the Mega Building arcologies, thirty odd years on, in those same videos. And for all the terrible events of the Fourth Corporate War, and the events that preceded it, it seems likely history is in the process of repeating itself and the megacorps will once again rival nations in terms of power and influence. The events of Cyberpunk RED, and any subsequent adventures for it, will possibly set the stage for a fifth global conflict between corporations. And Cyberpunk 2077 might be the opening salvo of that conflict.

But tomorrow is going to take care of itself. Tonight’s all you’ve got, choomba.

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