Is it possible for a video game to go through a redemption arc? Over the last few years, as the gaming industry has evolved, more games have been released in unfinished states. Some of these games, such as EA’s Anthem or Square Enix’s The Avengers, have never fully reached the prominence their developers had hoped for and were eventually taken offline. However, some games, such as No Man’s Sky and Star Wars: Battlefront 2, have managed to move past their initial broken states and include new content and features that make each game worth the price of admission. This brings us neatly to Cyberpunk 2077, which is one of the biggest culprits of this practice.
CD Projekt Red initially released Cyberpunk 2077 in 2020. They had previously worked on the third-person fantasy RPG franchise, The Witcher. However, Cyberpunk was a departure for them, as this game was an FPS RPG with character customization and a massive open city. CDPR announced the game eight years prior to its release, yet even with over eight years of development, the game was severely unfinished and had several game-breaking glitches and bugs. Additionally, the developer had promised several features, such as the ability to shout out of cars, crawl on walls, and more. Yet these features never saw the light of day. As a result, 2077 ended up as a massive disappointment to many.
It’s a shame, too. 2077 had a fantastic narrative, soundtrack, and gameplay basis. That said, with all of its issues, most people truly believed that the Cyberpunk franchise would end with its first entry. CD Projekt Red, though, had other plans. In late 2022, they announced the game’s first and only expansion: Phantom Liberty.
Welcome to Dogtown
Phantom Liberty would invite players into a new area of Night City as the game’s protagonist, V, is lulled into a massive conspiracy involving the President of the New United States herself. V must navigate an increasingly tense spy thriller landscape filled with spies, double agents, and political agendas. The expansion boasts new music, mechanics, features, characters, story missions, and even a completely new ending. Phantom Liberty even includes famed Hollywood actor Idris Elba, playing the role of FIA Sleeper Cell Agent Solomon Reed.
CDPR promised that the expansion would add several long-requested features and deliver an incredibly realized story. Despite this, leading up to the game’s launch, while some have anticipated the DLC, myself included, some have been skeptical if the DLC would be able to deliver everything the developers promised. In spite of my potentially misguided adoration of the original game, I found myself wondering if it was even worth paying $29.99 for a game that is ultimately still incomplete.
However, over the last few days, I’ve been playing the new expansion, and I have to say – if their intent was to redeem the mistakes they made in the original release, I believe they more than succeeded.
Early in the original game, as V is trying to cure himself of his fatal condition induced by Johnny Silverhand (played by Keanu Reeves), a member of a gang called the Voodoo Boys points to an abandoned area of Night City. There, corporations built the city as a pseudo-Vegas, as the rich and powerful spend their money and, therefore, create more money. However, the project fell through, and now the city’s biggest gangs all hide there. This is Dogtown, and it is where Phantom Liberty begins.
You are contacted by a hacker, or Netrunner, as they are called in-game, named Songbird. She tells you that the Space Force One has been hacked, the President and herself are landing in Dogtown, and if V saves them both, Songbird will cure their condition. It is a simple premise that is enough to put any fan on the edge of their seat. As I walked into Dogtown, I was in awe of the city’s scale. For every building destroyed by war long before your time, there were high-rise buildings straight out of the Blade Runner franchise.
Every location in Dogtown was a joy to navigate. Often, I neglected to use the game’s many vehicles, and instead, I walked from the Black Sapphire Club to the Stadium at the heart of the town to the many different merchant shops and abandoned buildings. Dogtown feels like a true labor of love from CD Projekt Red’s art department, and it made exploring the game’s numerous new mechanics and missions all the more satisfying.
Night City is Livelier Than Ever (Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty Review)
The world of Cyberpunk 2077 has been enhanced by the new updates added in Phantom Liberty and the latest 2.0 update. Several features initially promised to be in the game were added through both updates. For one, the entire user interface has been overhauled thanks to the 2.0 update. The adjustment made getting to each new story and side mission much easier and more seamless. There are also new “gigs” that you can find throughout the world. Whether it be picking up a supply drop in Dogtown or stealing a car so you can bring it to a local fixer for…some reason, everything feels more smooth and better than ever.
There are also some new mechanics exclusive to Phantom Liberty. For one, there’s a brand-new ability tree dedicated to the relic inside your head: the very same relic you’re trying to get rid of to save your life. These new abilities change the way you fight enemies. For example, one ability modifies your cyberware (such as the Monowire, Mantis Blades, Projectile Launch, and Gorilla Arms), giving it an additional utility that makes it infinitely more useful in battle. Furthermore, there are also skills you can purchase that target enemy vulnerabilities and improve optical camouflage.
You can also now purchase vehicles with missile launchers and brand-new weapons that completely change how you approach combat and stealth. As you navigate the game’s combat, it’s hard to not get lost in the beauty of the game’s visuals and sound.
The game looks better than ever with the improved hardware of the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Each building shined, especially at night. The world felt truly lived in, and I never found my immersion breaking at any point. Granted, my game crashed a few times, but I never lost any meaningful progress because of it. Plus, with the game’s fast loading times, I would re-enter the action within seconds.
Additionally, the new music composed for the DLC had me occasionally bobbing my head to the action. From the percussive beats of “Brave Foxtrot Golf,” the soft and bittersweet ambiance of “Never Looking Back,” or the emotional rollercoaster that is “Hardest To Be,” each song had me either on the edge of my seat or surprisingly emotional. The new radio stations added in 2.0 were also fun to see. It was awesome seeing different musical artists from around the world be invited to create a piece exclusively for 2077 and to then have them featured on the game’s radio. It helped to make the world feel more lived in, plus I got some fantastic new songs to add to my playlist out of it.
Thanks to Phantom Liberty, Cyberpunk 2077 is closer to the game CDPR promised it would be. On its own, however, these features would be meaningless and would be better reserved for a patch. Above all, what makes this expansion worth the $29.99 admission are its story and characters.
A Cyberpunk Story, Through and Through
The FIA, or the Federal Intelligence Agency, is the newest faction introduced into the world of Cyberpunk 2077. They work akin to the real world’s CIA and NSA and are comprised of dozens of intelligence officers, Netrunners, and sleeper cells. V comes into contact with them after saving the President of the New United States of America, Rosalind Myers. Characters such as the aforementioned Songbird and Solomon Reed are all a part of this agency.
The new faction, and by extension, new characters, provide an interesting contrast to the many mercenaries, fixers, and corporations that you would meet in the base game. These characters are entirely within a specific gray area: keeping secrets, betraying allies, and even killing innocents just for the sake of the country. It’s a point that Johnny Silverhand, a former soldier turned rocker boy-anarchist, constantly beats you over the head with. “How many times are you willing to get burned before you stop trusting someone?” he says. “How many times you gotta take a bullet for these motherf#$%!&# in the name of empty promises?”
The vocal performances of the game’s many characters always shined, but in Phantom Liberty, they are taken to a completely new level. Songbird, played by Minji Chang, delivers a character that is simultaneously one of the most powerful in the game while also being the most vulnerable and desperate. Both Male and Female V, played by Gavin Drea and Cherami Leigh, respectively, continue to bring life to the player character that is seldom seen in the genre.
Of course, Keanu Reeves continues to impress as Johnny Silverhand. However, the character that surprised me the most was Idris Elba’s Solomon Reed. In a genre notorious for celebrity voice actors delivering half-baked performances, you can tell Elba was deeply invested in the world of Cyberpunk 2077. His character is one you can’t help but sympathize with, even as he continues to make dangerous compromises for the sake of the country.
Even the characters initially introduced in the base game are given more to do, as a few missions have V mention the character that the player romanced and involve them in some side missions. Speaking of missions, undoubtedly, the best part of Phantom Liberty is the new story.
The story of Cyberpunk 2077 has always been a tragedy. The genre’s very origin is designed to show the worst possible future. Sure, the buildings look pretty, but pollution and corruption are at an all-time high, and even if you think you get an individual victory, it is often crushed at the hands of the world’s many corporations. Even in the base game, Cyberpunk 2077 honored that, as each of its four endings was bittersweet at best and depressing at worst.
Phantom Liberty is no different. As you tiptoe around Dogtown’s many conflicting political interests and continue to work with the FIA, you end up seeing the worst of the city, the world, and the people around you. Even in the last few minutes of the expansion, you are continuously betrayed by characters you thought you could trust. Despite the expansion luring you in with promises of a “happier resolution,” CDPR punches you in the gut with a simple reminder: this story does not warrant a happy ending. When the credits rolled, I found my jaw firmly on the floor as I felt betrayed, emotional, and satisfied simultaneously.
Rather than feeling like a self-contained expansion, Phantom Liberty instead feels like an extra fifteen hours added to the game. Which, personally, is exactly what I was hoping for. As I mentioned prior, Cyberpunk 2077 is a game rife with potential. Everything felt well-rounded, and there was a great balance between self-contained content and moments that are dependent on you having already put twenty or so hours in the base game. Still, though, I can’t help but feel like there is some missed potential at the heart of Phantom Liberty. Or at least what it represents.
Give Me More
Unfortunately, despite how much I adored Phantom Liberty, one thing always came back to haunt me when the game continually reached a high note. It’s not the fact that the game was initially incomplete; I believe that Phantom Liberty added enough features to make up for its broken launch in 2020. No, what bothers me is that this is the first and last expansion in Cyberpunk 2077.
The many characters in both the base game and Phantom Liberty that I have grown to love? Their story ends here. All the further gameplay enhancements and features, new cyberware, and even new romances I had hoped to see? We won’t get them until the next entry in the franchise. With CD Projekt Red currently working on The Witcher 4, who knows how long it will be before we see the next entry in the franchise simply titled “Project ORION.”
This, to me, is a huge missed opportunity. So much more can be told with the story and world of Cyberpunk 2077. I would love to see DLC that takes an in-depth look at everything that happens after each of the five endings. I want to see more features and characters related to the game’s lifepaths. With how expansive the universe of 2077 is, it’s just sad to think we won’t return to this world for quite some time. Combine this expansion with the fact that the series just got an original anime by Trigger in 2022 called Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and it is honestly disappointing that it could be years before we see how Night City and its inhabitants continue to evolve. While Cyberpunk 2077 is now more of a “finished game” than it was in 2020, Phantom Liberty feels more like a new beginning than an ending.
Till Next Time, Samurai
As a whole, Phantom Liberty surprised me. It surprised me how much I loved it, how much I enjoyed the mechanics, and it surprised me in how much I missed the game. Yet, the best and worst part of the experience is that, at the end of the day, I wanted more.
For now, then, all we can do is wait to see where the story of Cyberpunk 2077 goes next. However long that wait is, I’ll be ready and eager to pick up where I left off.
Disclaimer: CD Projekt Red provided Final Weapon with a PlayStation 5 copy of Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty for review purposes.