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Known for expansions that lean towards full-course meals in themselves, CD Projekt Red is back at it once more with Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty. One of Cyberpunk 2077’s trailers called Night City ‘an illusion that keeps you going.’ Based on what version of the base game you played, that line had varying degrees of truth to it. Some wondered if the game would get buried alongside its bugs and narrative flaws. Others held on to the glimmer of hope that the game would have its ‘“No Man’s Sky moment. This little spark was helped by the stellar reception to its anime adaptation, Cyberpunk Edgerunners.
My 20 hours in Phantom Liberty are best described by how I felt as I sat in my car and the radio started playing a familiar tune. I listened to the entire song before proceeding with a mission. Underneath all that shiny chrome and reworked internals, it’s still Cyberpunk 2077. So keep those expectations in check.
Phantom Liberty’s new spy-thriller experience is just one part of CD Projekt Red’s redemption arc. Alongside it comes Cyberpunk 2077’s 2.0 update, a massive overhaul to the game’s RPG systems. Most of the technical problems that plagued players on PC, and especially next-gen consoles, have now been resolved. While Phantom Liberty is a paid expansion, the 2.0 update is free for Cyberpunk 2077 owners. After double-jumping and driving across Night City’s new locations and old haunts, I spotted major upgrades across the board.
The lackluster perk trees have been streamlined, granting powerful build-altering abilities. From using cybernetic arms to throw enemies to deflecting bullets with a katana, there’s a lot of room for experimentation. Fashion is no longer tied to armor, instead the latter depends on updated cyberware that finally restricts how much chrome you can wield. New weapons and gear feel satisfying to use, particularly those with sweet powerup and reload animations. Stealth is still a mixed bag but new perks do spice things up a bit. Your grenades and healing items are now infinite with a cooldown, letting you focus on implants and tiered weaponry instead.
After the outcry over the abysmal police system, Cyberpunk 2.0’s revamped system does a better job of responding to threats. If you choose to fight, tussles can escalate from cars to armored trucks and finally MaxTac’s chrome-heavy sluggers. That extends to the freshly implemented vehicle combat, letting you take potshots at militant or cop cars to puncture their wheels or their drivers. Outside of combat, previously cluttered interactions like the phone and job journal are now clearer to understand. All these refinements greatly sweeten your time with Night City but Phantom Liberty takes you to places well beyond the base game.
The expansion kicks off after a couple of hours into Cyberpunk 2077. Players can choose to dive right into Phantom Liberty, with the game placing you at a level to tackle its threats. Songbird, a netrunner spotted next to President Myers in the game’s cinematic trailer, contacts you with a potential solution to the debilitating condition V is saddled with in Cyberpunk 2077. These two characters conveniently crash into Dogtown, a new district exclusive to Phantom Liberty. Once you sneak into Dogtown, you’ll spot a new faction in charge. Serving under Kurt Hansen, the Barghest are former soldiers who abandoned their earlier roles, making them handy with weapons and mechs.
This crumbling post-Unification War ruin presents an even sharper divide between the poor and the ultra-rich, with exotic locations like the Heavy Hearts nightclub and the high-rise Black Sapphire paired with the dingy sights of Longshore Stacks. The fixer Mr. Hands sends you around Dogtown and beyond on gigs and side missions that also present you with choices and consequences.
While some of them are your usual ‘kill or retrieve however you like,’ others feature a twist or two in the narrative department. Dynamic events like intercepting airdrops or stealing fancy cars are good companions to Phantom Liberty’s story missions. Better performance also meant that I could finally put raytracing to the test, letting me experience one of the most visually striking in-game districts in recent memory.
As returning protagonist V, a mercenary for hire, it takes a while for the true premise of Phantom Liberty to unfold. Over time, you begin to chip away at the layers of politics and false promises from corporations and governments alike. The expansion does a great job of translating these larger-than-life struggles into deeply personal stakes for its characters. Grizzled Solomon Reed (Idris Elba) delivers a solid performance alongside characters like Alex, Songbird, and President Myers. Keanu Reeves is back on the menu as well as the Johnny Silverhand that was lodged into your brain back in Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a short list, making for some personal relationships that dabble in heavy themes and affect how the endings play out.
In true spy-thriller fashion, the game channels the spirit of blockbusters while spacing things out with more somber moments. Phantom Liberty handily delivers in its infiltration and heist-like portions, packing them with tense stealth sections and bombastic shooting sequences. As with the base game, dialogue choices are seldom more interesting than variations of yes and no. But just like Cyberpunk 2077, its defining choices had me pondering well into the final mission. While I chose to do things a certain way, another choice would have opened up entirely new gameplay segments and resolutions for the game’s band of weary FIA agents.
Phantom Liberty leans into the narrative moments that swept me off my feet in Cyberpunk 2077. One particular moment where you disguise yourself with next-gen cyberware had me sweating as my controller vibrated in sync with my heartbeat. Another dialogue puzzle of sorts tasked me with distracting two bizarre French twins over a game of poker, throwing in money as I stalled and stole their identities. Dropping off your gear before entering a high-rise hotel and roleplaying as another character once more delivered both emotional stakes and unexpected payoffs. The nods to the base game couldn’t be clearer and as someone who thoroughly enjoyed Cyberpunk 2077, grime and all, it felt nostalgic. There’s plenty of little callbacks for returning players.
Cyberpunk 2077’s ending-altering choices are alive and well here. In Phantom Liberty, it wasn’t just the present that gnawed at me, it was the eventual choice between the goodwill of one companion and the will of another. There was no right answer and I can’t say I did justice to every character I got to know over my time in Phantom Liberty. It’s an unsettling feeling, one that reminded me of the base game’s endings. Should you choose to revert the changes done to your body in Cyberpunk 2077, you’ll get to see some rather concerning consequences play out. While this can tie into the relationships you forged in the base game, the expansion is mostly siloed away from it. Sitting between bittersweet and gut-wrenching is a tough ask but Phantom Liberty pulls off a heist on your emotions.
While Cyberpunk 2077 tackled corruption and capitalism under the gritty neon underbelly of Night City, Phantom Liberty sets its sights even higher to state secrets and bending international laws. But like before, it doesn’t dive deep enough into these themes. Despite that, its flawed and messy characters make for top-tier storytelling that lets Phantom Liberty sit among the very best in the role-playing genre.
It’s a satisfying return to form from the developer behind The Witcher 3’s excellent expansions. And while Phantom Liberty isn’t as meaty as those, it gets Cyberpunk 2077 back up on its feet with a booster dose of refinement and heart. Back with a vengeance, it delivers a gripping storyline packed with both heartfelt moments and refined RPG systems. While it’s a standalone experience, I can’t help but feel like Phantom Liberty is a welcome sequel to V’s Night City adventures.
Reviewed on PC. Game provided by the publisher.