They're lining up good ideas to be castrated on a multi-billion dollar assembly line. Cyberpunk itself is a victim of that. The world of big open-world games is actively hostile to deeper novelty. It simply is not permitted by the commonly prescribed formulae.
Don't know about this, you're right when its about the 'commonly prescribed formulae' I think, because somehow, open world has become synonymous with a big map filled with map markers and you're left picking out one of choice to go to said place and collect or kill something. I mean, that is the gist of what 'open world' games do.
But then you find, say a multiplayer oriented open world game like the Division; or one like Guild Wars 2, and you notice where the draw of an open world is really at. GTA, has that quality too: its 'alive'. And the more alive it feels, the more it makes you feel like you're there and can do stuff in it that somehow matters or is interesting to do. Deeper novelty in open worlds, or I'm misunderstanding what you mean, but I think that definitely happened. Just not in Cyberpunk.
Its the immersive factor that makes an open world game more than the sum of its parts
. GTA for being what it is, is immersive. You're the badass, and you want the city at your feet. It deploys numerous mechanics to make that feel real. From training at the gym to pimping cars. None of it is prescribed
. But it damn well fits.
Now on to Cyberpunk, I think you're right when you say it shouldn't have been an open world game in the state it was (perhaps originally) intended/delivered. But at the same time, the game did have, and still does have, every potential to feel like its more than just a story line mission chain and some cutscenes. The world inspires to get immersed in, doesn't it? And I think that is the key driver that made this project go open world. It should have added something. In the end - and still today - it really didn't and we conclude the opposite... but that really lies first and foremost in the execution. The project was mismanaged and revamped along the way, probably getting caught in the squeeze of feature creep and delivery requirements.
I mean honestly. The most immediate memories I have of the game are the open world sequences of those beautifully crafted city streets. Where you're literally gaping at all the detail they put in. And then I have almost nothing 'active' to remember it by, at the same time. What did I do, in all those beautiful shitholes of future reality? I honestly don't know - because there wasn't much there. They made scenery, plus the eternal mapmarker fiesta, and that's as far as they got. But what if you could engage in gang wars that truly worked mechanically as a game inside the game (San Andreas); what if you could do more than farm cars, except driving in the same streets with it; what if there were actual random/interactive events going on, like the odd police chase, instead of eternally standing police barriers with static officers? What if those medical teams actually did randomly interfere with your day-to-day like they did in the opening sequence? Why can't I even get a drink at the bar if I want to?
A specific bug that underlines all of this 'intent, but not execution' of ideas, is how police used to be before they got patched to normality. They would insta kill you. Why? Because you were treading outside of the scope of the project, while walking the walk in the world they present themselves. That just says it all, right there.
There is just SO. MUCH. low hanging fruit here they didn't pick, its painfully clear what happened here. And I still hope they'll make it happen, because honestly, I would go back, and I would stay a while. They have everything already. All the assets/actors... the scenery... the locations... the map build. And they wasted months on repetitive shit quests we find through markers... The most impressive activity I found in the city were the camps of bad guys doing their 'random stuff' that wasn't random but one scripted scene, no more than a creep camp really. The lost potential here just does not cease to amaze me to this day.
And I mean yes, even in this desolate place you can conceive your own 'story' in your head, but that only works for so long and it has a distinct sadness factor to it when the game supports that in no way whatsoever. Exploring builds, I mean honestly... what's the point? The game never really requires you to, in much of a meaningful way. Its 'you can', but its also 'why go through the effort'? Again, it highlights the lack of mechanics/real systems underneath the game. They plopped some utterly silly AI down, and they used some numbers to make things different. Similar things happened in their first take on character progression. It might be a little different now, but what it was, was devoid of any kind of balanced gameplay or progression. You mentioned Deus Ex and all the similarities I think - I see them too, but did you also identify the differences between it and Cyberpunk? The 'open' is much more condensed, first off, but also, and more importantly: Deus Ex doesn't rain constant loot over your head as if it somehow matters to anything. It doesn't want to clone Borderlands in some mismatched way, like Cyberpunk (and to the same degree: The Witcher 3!) try to do. You said it right, these stats and vertical progression don't really matter - or shouldn't matter so much - but rather the horizontal progression called adaptation. It highlights the same fundamental problem: mismanagement, not properly scoped, features crept in and fought popularity contests!
Another way (the last, promise...) to underline that perspective is how much you've (-we've
) replayed Fallout or TES games and tinkered with them. Why is that so much fun? Because the core of those games is not the open world, but all the systems underneath and inside of it that you can play with.
The presence of the systems and the fact its an actual system (to master, to work with, to create with), is what gives depth to the open world and makes it fun to stay and figure stuff out. And it gets even better when there is a tight connection to those systems and character progression. In Cyberpunk, that is represented by Street Cred. That stat you might level to cap before you even get halfway through the story or character levels
- again something they totally f'd up.