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Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty - an ambitious evolution targeting today's consoles

Plus: has the 2.0 upgrade delivered tech improvements to the established game?

Cyberpunk 2077 has come a long way. First released in December 2020, the open-world RPG was saddled with technical issues, including bugs and very poor frame-rates on last-gen console systems. Sony even pulled the game from sale amidst a wave of negative feedback from early players. Some three years later, most of those initial concerns have been resolved, and current-gen consoles and PCs are getting a major expansion, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty - an impressive evolution of the core game.

This expansion promises bold new gameplay features and a brand-new storyline, alongside a substantial new playable area to explore filled with side-content. It's a major piece of post-release content, and the game's only planned expansion. So how does this new release - crafted free of last-gen constraints - run on the current-gen console systems? And does the accompanying 2.0 game update bring any notable changes to Night City?

Phantom Liberty takes place in Dogtown, a dilapidated area just outside the boundaries of Night City. It's quite open, with broad streets dotted with huge residential towers, nightclubs, and casinos. On its outskirts you can find newer settlements, composed of crudely constructed market stalls and street-level restaurants, spilling out from partially destroyed older buildings. The design of these areas is evocative and each settlement has a very lived-in character that conveys years of strife and struggle. Dogtown has a very different character than Night City, as a walled-off city with more obvious signs of decay, and has a much more open and car-friendly layout than most areas in the base game.

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty - the Digital Foundry video review.Watch on YouTube

Dogtown can be quite beautiful, especially at night, when the sparse settlements and markets become bathed in volumetric light. From a technical perspective, the new expansion areas are clearly throwing a lot of geometry around, and they are populated with dense pockets of NPCs. I wouldn't be surprised if the art budgets have been bumped up for this new expansion, especially considering the abandonment of last-gen console systems, and the PC version dropping support for mechanical hard drives. Direct comparisons against the base game prove challenging, but I never really felt that the new area was lacking at all in terms of environmental detailing, while I do think Night City is a bit more restrained.

The actual game content itself is a fun ride and basically plays like a polished action game, which is partly facilitated by the gameplay changes in patch 2.0. There's a healthy degree of side content as well, though I definitely felt like the emphasis was on the blockbuster main story missions. Unlike most DLCs, this is a mid-game addition to the base Cyberpunk story, so you'll have to progress about ten hours or so into the main game's plot before you can access Dogtown. For players who just want to jump into the DLC, there's an option to skip straight into the new content from the main menu as well.

Jumping into image quality, Phantom Liberty has two modes on each current-gen consoles - a performance and ray-tracing mode on PS5 and Series X, and a performance and quality mode on Series S. Here are the pixel counts I observed on each platform, playing through an early area of the game and trying my best to push the game. Some things seemed to have changed as of the latest update. Even when looking straight up at the sky for minimal GPU load, Series S seems to have lower maximum resolutions than prior updates, and the quality mode seems to have a basically flat resolution now. It's probable that the game could go lower than the figures I've included here of course, but these numbers should be representative of the typical run of play.

Lowest Pixel Count Highest Pixel Count Output Resolution
PS5 Performance 1008p 1440p 1800p
Xbox Series X Performance 1152p 1440p 1800p
Xbox Series S Performance 648p 900p ~1080p
PS5 Ray Tracing 1440p 1440p 2160p
Xbox Series X Ray Tracing 1440p 1440p 2160p
Xbox Series S Quality 1080p 1080p ~1440p

However, I did notice in a few shots that the Xbox consoles sometimes had very crude edge detail as I panned the camera rapidly, specifically in dark, low-contrast areas of the screen, resolving to about half the main resolution of the image. This likely indicates the use of hardware variable rate shading on those systems to conserve GPU performance. I didn't notice the same issues on PS5, so it seems likely that VRS is absent from that version. In actual gameplay, I didn't find that the VRS was noticeable.

Outside of those key changes, the other notable tweak is a change to the basic rendering setup of the game on PS5 and Series X. In the performance mode, Cyberpunk 2077 now has an 1800p FSR 2 output resolution, down from 2160p. In stills, the game just looks a little bit less defined now, with a slightly blurrier rendition of fine details. Actually playing the game with any sort of reasonable distance from a 4K television, it seems very hard to tell the difference. The FSR 2 resolve also has very similar characteristics to before, with a mostly smooth resolve complicated by some shimmer and breakup on fine details. And in a few of the spots where the FSR 2 failed to resolve stable detail before, the exact same issue recurs on the new patch.

In terms of performance, Dogtown does seem a touch heavier than Night City. I noticed substantial frame-rate issues during open-world traversal on all current gen platforms in their respective performance modes. This was most pronounced on the Series S, which can see extended dips into the 50s, though the more powerful current-gen consoles also take some hits here. Basically any time you are walking or driving through Dogtown - especially at speed - the game can't seem to quite keep up. I suspect that these issues are primarily related to CPU performance, given the game's performance profile on PC. Combat also takes occasional hits with some momentary pockets of dropped frames, though this is less intrusive.

The ray tracing modes on PS5 and Series X and the quality mode on Series S run at a stable 30fps for the most part. The game can definitely still drop frames here, specifically during fast traversal. I also noticed an extended issue in the market area where frame-rates tumbled while sprinting through it at times. I think the game plays a lot better at 60fps - and the limited ray tracing features on PS5 and Series X don't add much to the presentation - so I'd advise sticking with the performance modes, even though the FPS dips can annoy.

The new Dogtown content isn't the only new thing in Cyberpunk this month. Patch 2.0 overhauls the base game, with major updates to the police system, the addition of vehicle combat, improved on-foot firefights, reworked perk trees, snappier car handling, and retooled cyberware and clothing systems. Those are the key developments in this patch, and on the surface any technical adjustments seem pretty minor. If you load up the same shot across patch 1.63, the patch immediately preceding this one, and the new patch there are some notable differences between the two.

Most of the new changes essentially amount to minor aesthetic tweaks that seem very artist-driven. For instance, the vignetting around the corners of the screen, which was pretty subtle before, has been increased quite a bit. Individual tastes on this may vary, but I'm quite sure this has nothing to do with underlying technical changes. The camera angle while driving has also been tweaked, with update 2.0 displaying a slightly more claustrophobic view of the back of the player car by default. There are plenty of interface tweaks as well, which are obvious in the menus as well as the in-game HUD.

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is a technological marvel on high-end PC, as Alex discusses in our PC tech review.Watch on YouTube

There are some subtle changes to in-game assets, but nothing I could reasonably identify as a meaningful performance-driven change. I did notice some tweaks to the way Cyberpunk 2077 is colour-graded across the two patches and some occasional tweaks to detail, though I found it hard to identify any basic tweaks to underlying visual settings that may have produced those changes. Performance in Night City isn't perfect, but curiously it does seem quite a bit better in some scenarios, which is intriguing.

The new patch on Xbox Series consoles doesn't seem to run quite as consistently as the PS5 code. The test driving sequence you'll see in the video above hits frame-rate snags on Series X and has some issues on Series S as well. I definitely felt the game suffering from performance issues somewhat more often in typical play than on the PS5 code, though none of the current-gen consoles are immune from frame-rate issues in their performance modes.

RIght now, Cyberpunk 2077 is a much better game than the title that shipped some three years ago and this month's updates represent a high water mark for the title. The gameplay changes in 2.0 make Cyberpunk feel like a substantially more polished experience, and the new Phantom Liberty expansion is a high quality addition I think fans will be happy with. Console players miss out on the ray reconstruction-driven splendor of the updated PC release, but still get a pretty solid experience on the whole.

For any players who have been holding off on playing Cyberpunk, it does seem like now is a very good time to jump in. I didn't encounter any noticeable bugs while playing, and the general flow of gameplay feels much better than the launch game. It's unfortunate that Cyberpunk - and its impressive Red Engine tech - are seemingly getting a bit of a send-off with this expansion, but I'd say CD Projekt has essentially achieved the vision for Cyberpunk that excited players all the way back in 2018.

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