In late 2020 I reviewed Cyberpunk 2077 at launch. As I’ve said many times since, I’m not going to rehash the issues and debate from that time. I’ll simply say that I put over 130 hours into the game with very few issues. And if you couldn’t tell by the amount of time I just quoted, I loved it.
However, it was clear that, like The Witcher 3 before it, Cyberpunk 2077 was going to benefit from additional refinement and updates. Over the past couple of years, CD Projekt Red has done just that, culminating with update 2.0 and the release of the first full expansion, Phantom Liberty. And, just as the updates and Blood and Wine did for The Witcher 3, update 2.0 and Phantom Liberty escalate Cyberpunk 2077 from an excellent RPG to a timeless one.
Phantom Liberty introduces a lot to the player right out of the gate. With the pre-launch cinematic setting the stage, you are introduced to Song So Mi, AKA Songbird, an expert netrunner who recruits your aid in rescuing Rosalind Myers, the President of the New United States. To do so means infiltrating Dogtown, a segregated area of Pacifica run by ex-military Colonel Kurt Hansen. It also means working with a new team that includes Solomon Reed (played by Idris Elba) and Songbird (played by Minji Change), among others. Got all that?
Being immediately thrust into a high-stakes operation with new characters is an excellent way to invest players into the story, and I found myself fully engaged in no time despite having not played Cyberpunk all too recently. Simultaneously easing returning players back into Night City while also making it easy for new players to feel invested isn’t an easy task. But it’s one that Phantom Liberty nails without fault.
Phantom Liberty develops into a full-fledged spy-thriller, and, because of that, it’s important that the character-building be a strong point. And is it ever. Every main character feels well-developed with excellent voice acting and motion-capped performances. Most impressively, as the narrative developed, I truly felt as though I was playing a direct role in a large, big budget production rather than simply being along for the ride. That feeling is further complimented by Idris Elba’s fantastic performance as Reed. There’s a familiarity there due to his fame, but he nails the specific role of Reed extraordinarily well. And, of course, Keanu Reeves returns as the awesome Johnny Silverhand with new performances as well.
There are many riveting conversations and tense scenarios throughout, fueled by story-telling that is not only intriguing and well-paced, but has you second-guessing every step of the way. I was enthralled and spent multiple mornings dreary-eyed as I lacked sleep from not being able to put the game down the night before.
Welcome to Dogtown
After a few hours of initial setup with the main narrative, you are free to explore Dogtown more widely, and, in-fact, the game encourages you to do so.
Dogtown is a wonderful addition to Night City. It has its own identity thanks to its back-story and, because of that, is dripping with personality as well. Hansen’s soldiers are everywhere and keep residents in-line with a dystopian fist under the guise of “freedom from the oppression of the NUSA.” It’s a familiar tale but one that adds a nice contrast to the core of Night City’s corporate overlords. It also leads to interesting situations with NPCs, unique conversations in side quests, and, of course, new activities.
In particular I really enjoyed the new gigs and storylines for the Fixers along with some of the dynamic events that now occur in the world. There’s also a larger focus on targeted activities, which is welcome. Being able to hunt down tough groups of enemies to acquire skill shards and high-level loot is a blast, and it makes the environment feel more alive around you.
Along those lines, CD Projekt Red did an amazing job at making Dogtown and Phantom Liberty feel like a natural extension of Cyberpunk 2077 rather than a stand-alone expansion. From Johnny Silverhand and V’s relationship picking up where it left off to the many tie-ins and Easter eggs I discovered that harken back to my original playthrough, it all works to enhance both the returning and overall experience, leaving me grinning ear to ear. And, naturally, I’m sure there are many other details I’ve yet to discover.
All of this is complimented by the 2.0 update that released relatively in parallel to Phantom Liberty. The revised systems enhance the moment-to-moment gameplay in a number of ways. By far my favorite is the more intuitive character building thanks to the revised Cyberware and Skill Tree designs. As someone who loves to min/max in games and experiment with different builds, it’s a welcome improvement. And, of course, there are new abilities, guns, cyberware, and more to discover.
Car combat is also exhilarating, and it’s quite funny seeing the absolute carnage that can ensue as you’re battling through traffic. Though I wish there would be a simplified way for vehicles to auto-drive while shooting and hacking (other than slowing time), it’s still a lot of fun, and some of the new gigs play into it directly as well.
Phantom Liberty is spectacular. Very similar to the beloved Blood and Wine expansion for The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red’s ability to vastly expand upon the core game while simultaneously implementing a wealth of quality of life features is impressive. The fact that they also added a story that could be sold as a stand-alone game on top of it is legendary. Phantom Liberty is easily in the running for my favorite expansions of all-time.
Here’s Your Crown, King
All of that said, I would caution people thinking that Cyberpunk 2077 is now a “new game.” While it’s easy to say things like, “This is how it should have launched,” or, “It’s a good game now,” it’s also reductive. I mean, who among us doesn’t want every game to launch with years of updates intact? The fact is that the vast majority of Cyberpunk 2077 today is what was there at launch.
Simply put, Cyberpunk 2077 was always an incredible game. It’s just even better now. It’s a game that I will likely play for many years to come, and, more than anything, I’m happy it’s finally getting its rightful time in the sun. It is also a testament to CD Projekt Red recognizing their mistakes, owning them, and walking the difficult path to redemption. Whether you’re playing for the first time or returning, Cyberpunk 2077 is a sensational game. I hope to see you in Night City, choom.
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