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Phantom Liberty is a remarkable expansion, and a bittersweet end for Cyberpunk 2077


Cyberpunk Phantom Liberty official screenshot showing Idris Elba's character sitting across from a bar looking at the female bartender in a hazy brown room.
Image credit: CD Projekt RED.

Everything seemed to be going well until the President of the New United States crash landed in front of me. Only an hour earlier I had snuck through the mile-high walls of the new district of Dogtown and suddenly I found myself battling through hordes of faceless goons to protect POTNUS and escort her to safety. Together we fought flocks of drones and a giant robot, stopped to investigate a ruined museum, and then paused to secure a safehouse and recruit a spymaster played by Idris Elba.

Once again, CD Projekt RED shows how an expansion should be done. Phantom Liberty slots seamlessly into Cyberpunk 2077, introducing new characters, new stories and a vibrant new district to explore. This arrives alongside a comprehensive, free suite of updates that overhaul the game's skill trees and cybernetic augmentations, enhance vehicle combat, and make the police an actual concern when doing crime. Considered together, the expansion and the long series of Cyberpunk updates have finally brought the game close to its full potential.

You play as V, with all of your equipment and upgrades. About two thirds of the way through the main game you receive an innocuous call from a stranger claiming to be able to solve your Johnny Silverhand problem. Keanu Reeves returns as Johnny, the domestic terrorist turned computer virus gradually corrupting V's mind. Together you journey through mile-high walls into Dogtown to save President Myers and, of course, become embroiled in a deeper conspiracy.

Digital Foundry takes a deep dive into Phantom Liberty's visuals in their roundtable.Watch on YouTube

I can't think of another game that can match Dogtown's bustling markets and busy streets. The Metro series' underground towns come close, but it's rare to slowly walk down a street in a game and hear so many conversations, see NPCs hustling, arguing, fighting, or stumbling around in a synth-drug high. The district itself resembles a crumbling Vegas made up of fallen monuments overtaken by gangs and Cyberpunk's all-powerful Corps. It's a place of bleak cracked concrete and gorgeous graffiti.

The bright days and long sunsets create the sense of a long hot summer, full of tension. It's worth visiting just to wander around the block, fend off some bandits, and soak up the heat. Sometimes a roaring sound overhead will announce the arrival of a crashing ship. If you fight your way to the crash site you can loot some valuable salvage from the rubble. Or you can admire the red flare smoke from a distance and find one of the surprisingly involved sidequests. One moment I was waiting for a call to progress the main quest, and stumbled upon a pair of guards offering a huff of hallucinogens. Minutes later I was teleported into one of their memories, battling a criminal gang in the rain.

Cyberpunk 2077 screenshot showing President Myers recovering from a combat encounter in the new district of Dogtown
Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot showing a busy market in the new district of Dogtown
What are you buying? It's easy to lose an hour in this market. | Image credit: CD Projekt RED/Eurogamer.

Dogtown is a remarkable place full of fascinating people. I spent a while sitting on a worn couch chatting with an NPC about the neighbourhood. He wasn't a main character, or essential to the story, but he sat forward to excitedly talk about connections he had made in the town, frowned to warn me about going too far south unprepared. Keanu Reeves and Idris Elba deliver star power to the cast, but great incidental performances and intelligent choreography throughout make Cyberpunk a landmark achievement.

Cyberpunk made the bold decision to force you into a first-person perspective with a story that requires you to sit down and absorb a lot of exposition and banter. I would normally find myself skipping ahead, but thoughtful framing helps every conversation along. Sometimes the game restricts your view, letting you glance away a little from side to side. The HUD vanishes for some conversations that are more important than others. Sometimes you can move around freely, unchained. When Cyberpunk does fix your view in place, it's always beautiful, whether it's Silverhand recounting his past on a street basketball court, or film noir moments moonlight illuminating conspirators through window slats.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot showing combat with a swarm of drones
Be sure to bring your best weapons when you cross the wall. | Image credit: CD Projekt RED/Eurogamer.

This is a form of direction unique to video games, and it is realised wonderfully in Cyberpunk. That villainous Vaas monologue in Far Cry 3 has turned out to be a hugely influential moment, but instead of being lectured by a psychopath while stuck in a cage I'm driving around with Idris Elba and chatting with the President about thwarting assassination plots. It is hard to go back to other RPGs after playing Cyberpunk again.

Naturally, everyone is out for themselves. Silverhand is a devil on your shoulder, mistrusting everyone, and there is plenty of intrigue to unpack. There's an exciting sense of purpose to Phantom Liberty that the main quest sometimes lacks, but that familiar Cyberpunk nihilism is still here. In an imperfect, violent world what do you have to become to change things? It's a city where drinks are named after kids who lived fast, died young, and became legends - what is the point of loyalty in this city, especially in Dogtown?

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot showing some gun-based combat in a dark room
Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot showing Keanu Reeves’ character Johnny Silverhand
Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot showing handgun combat in the sunny streets of Dogtown
Image credit: CD Projekt RED/Eurogamer.

To secure the President's safety you do have to blast a lot of bad guys. Whether you've completed the game, and especially if you're going in on your first playthrough of the main story, it's best to build a strong, reliable arsenal before taking on main expansion missions. There are a few prolonged horde encounters and the occasional bullet sponge boss that warrant some big guns.

Relic skills are the best addition to combat. You can earn relic points by scanning terminals scattered throughout Dogtown, and they are well worth pursuing. As a handgun wielder, my favourite path is Vulnerability Analytics, which highlights enemy weak spots during firefights. Blasting these weak points a few times causes an explosion that proves quite unhealthy for your target and anything nearby. Emergency Cloaking improves your mid-combat stealth abilities, and Jailbreak gives you a huge melee boost if you're rolling with mantis blades or gorilla arms.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot in a car talking to Idris Elba’s character Solomon Reed
Idris Elba is as charismatic as ever in his role as Solomon Reed. | Image credit: CD Projekt RED/Eurogamer.

I have restarted Cyberpunk multiple times hoping that it might one day become the game I was hoping for. As a whole it's a lavish imagining of Mike Pondsmith's pen and paper RPG that depicts a cruel world full of exciting characters. Though Night City is a place of ruthless, deadly competition, the game is somehow less cynical about human nature than GTA, Saints Row, Yakuza and most other big city games. Night City's kingpins, ripperdocs and shady dealers are ambitious, flawed, funny, but never a joke. The main reason to play the game is to become tangled up in their lives.

When the guns and katanas do come out, it's also a complex sandbox that brings together stealth, hacking, and first person shooter systems to chaotic effect. Remote hacks behave like magic spells that let you set enemies' implants aflame with a thought, the weapons are satisfying to fire, and fun to collect. You can sprout swords from your forearms and leap across the battlefield. It's an absurd but entertaining vision of what augmented near future combat might look like.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot showing an industrial district in the new area of Dogtown
Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot showing a busy, sunny district in the new area of Dogtown
Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot showing someone sat on a couch outside in Dogtown
Image credit: CD Projekt RED/Eurogamer.

I wish these toys were less expensive, in terms of the skill points needed to unlock abilities, the cash cost of components themselves, and the cybernetic augmentations that boost your chosen playstyle. It's a hard game to recommend on the basis of combat alone. With their subdermal implants and titanium skulls, it's still too tough to bring down your average thug. Though I have played hundreds of hours of Destiny and Borderlands, RPG systems and critical hit rolls still sit uncomfortably in a first person shooter where a perfect headshot with a high tech hand cannon really should mean instant defeat for your enemy.

This is only a bother when combat encounters occasionally drag on too long. I'm always happy to fight through entire buildings full of augmented gangs to reach the next conversation. I'm already looking forward to my next playthrough, to be lectured by Johnny Silverhand again, hang out with Jackie, visit the President, and to explore Dogtown's amazing markets. The expansion is an instant recommendation if you enjoy the universe, and a strong invitation to replay Cyberpunk 2077 from scratch. It has taken years of major patches to finally get here, but in its final form, CD Projekt RED's Night City is really quite special.

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