It has been a long, difficult few years for Cyberpunk 2077 and developer CD Projekt Red. It began with a disastrous launch on last-gen consoles that even saw the game get de-listed by Sony from the PlayStation Store for several months, and it now culminates with the game’s one and only expansion – Phantom Liberty. For those like me who bought into the promise of the game all the way back in December of 2020 only to walk away disappointed, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty finally makes good on that promise after nearly three years. Combined with the substantial 2.0 update for the game at large, what we have now is one of the best open-world RPGs in recent memory, and if you’re someone who has been holding out all these years, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for.
As with the base game and Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand character, Phantom Liberty enlists the talents of Idris Alba to play the main character of Solomon Reed, a covert government agent that works for the FIA – Cyberpunk’s version of the CIA. The story opens with the NUSA President’s plane (Space Force One) getting hacked and forced to crash land in the new district of Night City called Dogtown. You are contacted by the President’s net runner Songbird, who pleads for your help saving and extracting the President in exchange for assistance with the ticking time bomb in your head, the piece of shard technology known as The Relic. The story of Phantom Liberty is an excellent one, weaving a tale of government spies, sleeper agents, presidential assassination attempts, and technology too powerful for our own good. I felt like I was caught up in a cyberpunk twist on a Mission Impossible movie, and the whole spy thriller motif fits Cyberpunk 2077 like a glove. In fact, after my 20-ish hours with it, I walked away feeling that Phantom Liberty’s story was better than the base game. It’s also packing some nice set pieces and boss fights, with an especially intense final act that surprised me by pulling in gameplay elements from an entirely different genre.
The story is anchored by a cast of interesting characters and strong performances from Idris Elba, Keanu Reeves, and others, including the actors for Songbird and the male version of V, who I thought turned in great performances on par with the Hollywood stars. Elba’s tone and gravitas are well-made for the role of covert spy, while Reeves delivers equal parts of comedic relief and existential dread. I stayed enthralled with the story throughout, never knowing who to trust, or who exactly was the “good guy”, which is owed to the great writing and performances. There are also a lot of new side quests added with Phantom Liberty, and in typical CDPR fashion, they are some of the best content in the game. If you appreciated the depth of The Witcher 3’s side quests, I would say that some of Phantom Liberty’s are on par with those, and they should not be slept on. Not to mention, they award some excellent loot upon completion.
On the gameplay front, there have been some big changes under the hood, mostly thanks to the 2.0 update. Perks, cyberware, crafting, upgrading, and abilities have all been re-worked, with a new Relic skill tree added in for the expansion that boasts some powerful new abilities. Booting up the game following the 2.0 update, returning players will find that all your perk points have been reset and will need to be re-assigned under the new hierarchy. It’s a much more straightforward system now (which is true across the board) and allows you to refund your perk points at any time, should you decide to change your playstyle. You can also do a one-time refund of all ability points if you want to completely overhaul your character build, or perhaps if you’ve forgotten what build you were going for. New players will get the benefit of a fresh slate, which is probably why CDPR has been recommending starting a new game in the lead up to 2.0 and Phantom Liberty. Though, as someone who put 45 hours into the base game, there was no shot that I was starting from scratch, and I encountered no issues picking up where I left off since last playing a year ago.
There have been other gameplay improvements as well that are not specifically a part of the Phantom Liberty expansion, such as vehicular combat and a revamped police system akin to Grand Theft Auto, among other changes. Categorically, Cyberpunk 2077 has never felt better to play; combat feels more fluid and has a knack for making you feel like a cyberpunk god of war, with a wide array of playstyles to choose from. Since I had a fresh slate with my perks, I spec’d my V as a handgun and blade-wielding mad man (complete with Mantis Blades) to stealth around as much as possible with silenced pistols and throwing knives. Even so, I still found myself engulfed in plenty of guns-blazing firefights, and I must say, the haptic feedback and adaptive trigger support for PS5’s DualSense controller is fantastic. From the recoil of the various weapons to the directional rumble you feel when walking by a power generator, it is very well done.
With all the improvements to the gameplay, we’re fortunate to also have revamped playground to enjoy it all in. Night City has never felt more alive following the 2.0 update and it remains one of the coolest video game worlds in recent history. The Phantom Liberty expansion added a new district to the world, the aforementioned Dogtown, which feels even more dynamic than the rest of Night City. Rival factions routinely got into shootouts and car chases in the streets, and a junkie randomly attacked me in a back alley, for example. Dogtown quickly became my favorite part of Night City and feels more fleshed out than the original part of the map. Dilapidated, grimy, and lawless, Dogtown is a walled-off part of the city under the control of a former NUSA Marine colonel named Kurt Hansen. Without a doubt, Night City is rough, but Dogtown’s status as a cut-off city state can be seen everywhere. Buildings are collapsing, vehicles are torched in the middle of the street, and people are throwing up on sidewalks or getting robbed at gunpoint. It’s a nightmare vision of the future, but Dogtown is full of soul in a pointedly dystopian way – a downtrodden, hopeless kind of soul.
CD Projekt Red has proven once again they are the kings of DLC, producing an expansion in Phantom Liberty that outclasses most full-scale AAA games in every way. It weaves an engrossing spy thriller web with strong performances and writing throughout. The new story and Dogtown district are more than worth the $29.99 price of admission on their own, but combined with the wealth of gameplay improvements afforded by the free 2.0 update there has never been a better time to experience Cyberpunk 2077. This insanely strong year of RPGs is the gift that keeps on giving, and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty quite definitively makes its mark on 2023.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Hello! I'm Jason, the newest member of Gaming Nexus. My favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports games, RPGs, and shooters, but I don't limit myself to those. My favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2 and I have somehow played it for nearly 1,000 hours. I also co-host a weekly PlayStation news podcast called The Dual Sense Podcast, so I stay pretty well versed in that ecosystem. Before that, I co-hosted a basketball podcast.View Profile