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CDPR wanted to split players ‘in a way that’s almost 50/50’ with Phantom Liberty’s hardest choice, and drew on the toughest decision in Witcher 2 to do it

Cyberpunk 2077’s Phantom Liberty expansion was great—87% great per PCG’s Ted Litchfield in his Phantom Liberty review—and gruelling. CD Projekt Red is no stranger to tough decisions in its games, but the fork in Phantom Liberty’s road is a truly tough one. And hey, CDPR says that was the whole point, and one that built off the studio’s other great Sophie’s choice moment: Choosing who you’ll side with in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Spoilers ahead for both, naturally.

In a chat with PC Gamer at this year’s GDC, Phantom Liberty’s quest director Paweł Sasko said that the expansion’s key decision—choosing whether to side with Song So Mi or Reed in one of its climactic final missions—was “almost like an initial thought” that the studio then structured the rest of the DLC around. “We kind of work backwards from that. So we knew what choice we want to make, and then we were like asking ourselves, ‘Okay, what is the scene that introduces you before to make sure that’s as hard as possible?'”

The goal was to balance the choice “in a way that’s almost 50/50” in regards to the number of people siding with So Mi and those siding with Reed. That meant a lot of rewrites, with some scenes rewritten as many as “five [or] six times” and scrapping several iterations of the plot that would make too many people pick one character over the other.

I’ve gotta say, I think they succeeded. I spent a very long time agonising over the decision when I played Phantom Liberty before eventually settling on siding with So Mi (smash the state and all that), a decision that apparently puts me in the slim majority of Phantom Liberty players: “We’re still not completely happy,” said Sasko, “because people are still pointing out that more people are going with So Mi than Reed.”

Which is honestly surprising to me. I would’ve guessed more people would go Reed than So Mi. For one thing, you spend more time in his company during the DLC, and for another he’s played by Idris Elba. You’d think that star power would count for something.

CDPR took that into consideration. “The fact it’s Reed who is, you know, Idris Elba, who’s a star, versus our So Mi, that factor matters,” said Sasko, “Their gender matters… their look and appearance, how appealing she is and how appealing he is” all had to be accounted for when it came to crafting the perfect choice to utterly flummox players.

But at least the studio had experience. Specifically, the So Mi/Reed choice was pretty similar to choosing whether to side with Temerian special agent Vernon Roche or Scoia’tael terrorist/freedom fighter Iorveth in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. Sasko said that CDPR asked itself during Phantom Liberty’s planning if “Maybe we should do The Witcher 2 structure in this expansion, and this is what we did.”

Hearing that, I can really see how far CDPR has come as a developer since the Witcher 2 days, and I say that as someone who adores The Witcher 2. But for me, its central choice was never too difficult: Iorveth’s path seemed clearly superior to Roche’s, being that the latter was a hatchet-man whose job was to suppress a subjugated underclass while Iorveth was an extremist in pursuit of an actual ideal.

The So Mi/Reed choice felt a lot harder, although I still opted for the shady idealist over the straightforward cop. Then again, there are plenty who’d disagree with me in both cases. I suppose that’s kind of the point.

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