I felt a bit of trepidation prior to writing our Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty review. Partly, it’s due to how the base game was mired in a lot of controversy during its initial launch three years ago, along with numerous technical issues that persisted. Likewise, I debated just how I would critique this expansion, considering that one of the biggest updates, Update 2.0, vastly changes the game’s mechanics.
Still, I took note of what Phantom Liberty truly offered, as well as how new changes were implemented. In the end, I was left awestruck by what I can only consider one of the best stories in a futuristic, cyberpunk-themed role-playing game (RPG).
You can start the Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty story once you’ve progressed a bit further into the main quest. Alternatively, there’s an option to jump straight into Phantom Liberty’s arc upon starting a new game, and you even get pre-selected skills. In my case, however, I had already played Cyberpunk 2077 when it was initially released, clocking in around 70 to 80 hours or so. As such, I had a nifty save waiting for me just prior to the campaign’s point of no return.
Meet The New Chooms
Phantom Liberty’s quest begins with a call from a mysterious stranger, So Mi Song, alias Songbird, who claims that she can help the player character, V, with their life-threatening problem. From there, you meet a remarkable cast of characters, such as President Myers, the leader of the New United States of America (NUSA), a disgruntled operative named Alex, and Colonel Hansen, the de facto leader of Dogtown (more on this setting later).
There’s also Solomon Reed, played by Idris Elba (The Wire, Thor, Pacific Rim). The beefy and bulky Reed casts an imposing shadow, further bolstered by his uncompromising beliefs. He exudes a presence whenever he appears, which caused me to think twice about going against his plans. This plays off well with Songbird’s dilemma, and what you need to do with her.
Perhaps the only downside here is that there are no new romanceable characters. In the base game, I was impressed by the budding relationship between V and the chooms (Judy, Panam, Kerry, and River). In Phantom Liberty, there were certainly some quiet bonding moments, but those were simply to establish relationships among allies.
The Stakes Have Never Been Higher
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty presents a high-stakes campaign of espionage: it starts with the downing of the president’s spacecraft, before leading to a rescue deep in the seedy underbelly of Dogtown. This zone is cordoned off from the rest of Night City after being taken over by Colonel Hansen.
Compared to the bright lights and towering skyscrapers of Night City, Dogtown has been mostly left to ruin, though facilities, such as a pyramid casino and a stadium are still used as bases. All the while, Hansen’s Barghest mercenaries and mechs patrol the streets. I genuinely felt immersed in the setting, as Dogtown felt distinct enough from what you’ve come to expect from the main campaign.
The vast majority of missions, as well as new side gigs, also take place in Dogtown. V is further lured into a conflict that’s been brewing between NUSA and Hansen’s faction and, alongside that, the frayed relationship between Reed and Songbird. The performances themselves were impeccable, further encapsulated in tense main quests that had me concerned for the fates of the characters.
Objectives range from a secretive first meeting with Reed and sneaking past flying drones, to one that’s inspired by Mission Impossible and Casino Royale, complete with masking your identity as you gamble in a casino. There are even briefings where you’re given a rundown of areas that you need to infiltrate, as well as a section where Reed has to silently make his way through a facility while you take out the opposition.
Another key factor is the role of Keanu Reeves’ (The Matrix, John Wick) Johnny Silverhand. Originally, I felt that Silverhand’s appearances in the base game were important but sporadic at best. In Phantom Liberty, however, he shows up more often, and with more consistency, to the point that he truly embodied V’s conscience, a devil whispering in your ear, or just someone who acts like a total a-hole whenever he feels like it. All these interactions made for a narrative that pulled me right in, one that was missing in the base game outside of a handful of arcs (yes, I’m talking about Judy and Kerry).
The City Is Your Playground
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty’s narrative beats are greatly complemented by Update 2.0, a massive patch that overhauls many of the game’s systems. As you travel from one location to the next, you can engage in firefights with the police, right down to hacking vehicles in an attempt to control or blow them up.
There’s also a new Relic system, which grants new abilities, such as boosts to your Mantis Blades strikes and Optical Camo invisibility. Moreover, you can play around with different builds, thanks to a revamped skill system, and Cyberware implants.
Likewise, combat engagements were frantic and exciting; even though a few new weapons were added, I still relied primarily on my good ol’ Ba Xing Chong shotgun with its explosive shells. But, the Rasetsu, a high-tech sniper rifle with a charged shot that can pierce through walls, more than made up for it.
I genuinely had a few chuckles after seeing armored soldiers get blasted with clean headshots through pillars and obstacles.
Additionally, if you’ve done most of what Night City has to offer, Phantom Liberty adds repeatable airdrops and courier missions, which grant more loot.
Three years ago, we noted in our official review that “light RPG mechanics and standard fare gameplay systems” held back the base game. Now, both Phantom Liberty and Update 2.0 provide a stellar experience like no other.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty Review | Final Thoughts
Evidently, I still had a few qualms with Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty. Firstly, there were objectives that required you to “wait/do a few tasks” before you’re contacted by another character. Because the instructions weren't that clear, I had to skip time for several days in-game just to trigger the next step. More definite timeframes (i.e. wait 24 to 48 hours) would’ve been better.
Secondly, the game is still quite demanding, even on modern systems. I have an Nvidia RTX 3080, Intel 10900K, and 32 GB of RAM, and with ray tracing enabled at 4K resolution, I got anywhere from 30 to 40 fps in exterior areas (DLSS - Performance was selected).
With ray tracing disabled, though, things were more manageable, at 60 to 75 fps. Performance did sometimes take a hit, especially when opening menus or activating photo mode. But, these slowdowns also ceased after a couple of seconds.
Lastly, as has been publicly reported before, Phantom Liberty does lead to another ending for the base game. In my case, I was able to obtain two of Phantom Liberty’s endings (the details of which won’t be spoiled in our review). Unfortunately, only one of those arcs presented a new conclusion for the base game. I was genuinely disappointed with the outcome of the other decision, owing to what transpired upon completing the campaign once more.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher over the course of 26 hours of gameplay. All screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Amazing story with brilliant performances and tense missions
- One arc closes out V’s story, a satisfying conclusion for those who’ve completed the base game
- Dogtown feels more distinct compared to Night City’s other locales
- The free update 2.0 is a game-changer, with systems and mechanics that mesh well with objectives
- Minor slowdowns when opening menus or activating photo mode
- A couple of missions need more definite time frames instead of “wait until you get contacted”
- No new romance options