Why Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is my game of the year

Why Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is my game of the year
Aleksha McLoughlin Updated on by

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I think it’s fair to say that 2023 has been an incredible year for videogame releases. There have been a wealth of titles across all genres which have seriously redefined genres. With that said, here’s why Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, an expansion for a three-year-old open world RPG is my top pick over the likes of the equally excellent Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Baldur’s Gate 3, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Mortal Kombat 1, and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

CD Projekt RED had a hell of an uphill battle on its hands following the less-than-stellar release of Cyberpunk 2077 which debuted back in December 2020. The game felt unfinished and struggled to run well on even machines with the best graphics cards and best CPUs for gaming, with the less said about the PS4 and Xbox versions the better. I couldn’t imagine a reality where I’d want to spend more time than I had to on this game back then, but that’s only one side of the story.

You see, the Polish developers were hard at work behind the scenes improving the game over the years with huge patch updates bringing in a suite of new features and fixes. It was Patch 1.5, also known as the next-gen update, that I finally managed to complete a run of the game, but Patch 1.6, the Edgerunners update, is where the game was able to find its distinctive voice and feel. Something which would only be furthered by recent updates such as 2.0 and now 2.1 which leads us to where the game’s at with Phantom Liberty.

How far Cyberpunk 2077 has come since release

In the futuristic world of Cyberpunk 2077, a man in a sleek suit stands confidently in a dimly lit room, embodying the rebellious spirit of the Phantom Liberty.
Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand returns in Phantom Liberty (Image Credit: CD Projekt RED)

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty adds around 13 hours of main story missions and about 30 hours of additional content including new side jobs and gigs. It also brings in not only a new host of characters, such as Idris Elba’s Reed and Christine Minji Chang’s Songbird, but also an entirely new district of Night City known as Dogtown.

It’s in this new district that the dark and dystopian angle of Cyberpunk 2077 really gets to shine in all its messy glory, bearing a striking resemblance to The Throat from Deus Ex: Mankind Divided or Mega-City One from Judge Dredd in its oppressive nature. Lorded over by Kurt Hansen, this new area transforms the previously comparatively bright and beachy Pacifica into something more overtly sinister. For V, it means a new place to find or buy iconic weapons and cyberware, but it also opens the game up in new and exciting ways.

This is bolstered by the Cyberpunk 2077 2.0 update that launched just ahead of the expansion which completely overhauled the skill tree, perk system, police, and vehicle combat. In short, it made the base experience feel completely new and different from prior versions and Phantom Liberty wastes no time in running with it. As you explore Dogtown you’ll see characters in the world commit crimes, engage in high speed chases and shootouts with the police, and you’re able to interact with the world in ways that feel more dynamic.

Phantom Liberty adds a meaningful story

In the cyberpunk world of Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, a man and a woman exude an air of mystery as they stand in a dark room.
Idris Elba’s Reed in action in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty (Image Credit: CD Projekt RED)

What I enjoy the most about Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is how it recontextualizes the main narrative. Without giving away too much for those who haven’t played it, V isn’t exactly a healthy person after a chance encounter with a relic found in a heist gone wrong. It’s how they end up meeting Johnny Silverhand, portrayed by Keanu Reeves, who accompanies you throughout the experience. The new expansion adds a crucial potential lifeline to save V’s life and helps to build tension and purpose with the new characters.

In short, the president’s in danger and you become a spy working for the Government in order to save yourself. There’s even an entirely new ending to the base game which can be accessed and it just might be the saddest of them all. Another trip to Night City for me surpassed everything else released this year and that wasn’t something I was expecting. It’s a testament to just how strong CD Projekt RED’s writing is, as a game world that sucks you in and refuses to let go.

It creates a compelling loop of wanting to upgrade your cyberware to become a living legend in Night City, especially when you’re going for a specific player build. Do you forgo ranged prowess and run around as a shinobi armed with a top-end Sandevistan slowing down time like David in Edgerunners, or do you embrace your inner Lucy and become a lethal netrunner who relies on hacking to take down foes? That’s to say nothing of spec’ing purely around smart guns or power pistols where the combinations are endless.

Take me back to Night City

An image depicting a Cyberpunk 2077 futuristic city at night, specifically inspired by the game's visual aesthetics and titled "Phantom Liberty
Dogtown at night is stunning (Image Credit: CD Projekt RED)

The most impressive thing that Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is able to do is keep you invested in world. In any other game I find myself mainlining the main story and critical path completely ignoring side missions. However, here I am driving around, completing side job after job and gig after gig thinking about all the new cyberware I’m going to install, the bikes and cars I’m going to buy, and the apartments that I’ll soon rent. Looking at you, Corpo Plaza Apartment.

It may be controversial to say but I’m of the opinion that none of the endings of Cyberpunk 2077 are particularly good. I won’t go into detail, but I find the journey of becoming a Night City legend and the friendships and romantic relationships made along the way to be far more satisfying than seeing the credits roll.

While other games in 2023 offer rich narratives, compelling gameplay loops, and unmissable adventures, every time I picked up something new towards the end of this year, I was just thinking about going back to Night City again. No other game was so physically hard to put down that I bought it twice just to play a version on my Steam Deck OLED, of which I’ve now lost another 40 hours and counting.