Espionage and noir go hand in hand. Add in a futuristic third hand, and you have Phantom Liberty, Cyberpunk 2077’s major expansion. The long-awaited expansion comes hot off the heels of the game’s overhaul update, Cyberpunk 2.0. To say Phantom Liberty works well with 2.0 criminally undersells it. Phantom Liberty, like past CD Projekt Red expansions, raises the bar for what we should expect from add-on stories.
Trust No One, Regardless of Their Incredible Performances
Phantom Liberty starts very late into Cyberpunk 2077’s main story. After completing your main business with the Voodoo Boys, V gets a call from someone codenamed “Songbird.” Songbird claims she can help V fix the Relic Chip stuck in their head. V rushes to meet Songbird in Dogtown, the reclusive, secured district of Night City.
When V arrives, a missile from Dogtown hits the New United States of America’s Presidential flight transport. V rushes to the wreckage and saves the President, Rosalind Myers. Once safe, V and Myers start uncovering why Myers was attacked. Myers specifically enlists sleeper agent Solomon Reed, played by Idris Elba, to lead the investigation and rescue.
Idris Elba shines in the spotlight just as Keanu Reeves does as Johnny Silverhand. Elba stoic performance as a loyal agent balances Reeves’ brash showing as a jaded rocker persona. Both character performances are just as important as their writing. Each character is written unflinchingly well as their actions leave you with a pile of assorted emotions.
Phantom Liberty delivers a tense narrative with tightly paced missions. These include heavy-hitting combat sequences and heart-pounding dialogue-driven moments. Each of these missions exceeds at setting reasonable stakes and continually building off them.
Most importantly, the plot delivers lasting narrative choices. There’s a choice near the end that decides the final mission. That itself has multiple endings based on your choices as well.
That said, the only issue here is pacing between missions. A handful of missions require you to wait a few days for the next instructions. Many of these waiting periods have legitimate narrative reasons, but those reasons don’t make good gameplay. Yes, the game wants you to go explore the area, and yes, you can just skip time to get to these story missions.
Regardless, those waits both real and simulated get tedious. Admittedly, it feels like a necessary compromise, but that compromise gets frustrating to deal with.
Phantom Liberty’s Relic Tree Makes You a Chrome Powerhouse
This expansion’s biggest gameplay feature revolves around a new Skill Tree, the Relic. Relic Attributes reward V with incredible new options for Tactical, Stealth, and Cyberware combat. Tactical fighters can aim for highlighted weak points for stronger critical hits. Sneaky players can completely end combat. Cyberware fighters can just decimate a person’s existence.
Players can leap with their Mantis Blades, get five rockets out of one Projectile Launch System usage, upload quickhacks with the Monowire, or a flat-out One Punch Man impression with Gorilla Arms. Admittedly, there’s a point to be made that Tactical players win biggest here since you don’t need any Cyberware to even use these skills. The ones that do require the arm Cyberware, however, are the most eye-catching.
Even with only nine different upgrades, V turns into a cyber-demi god. Relic skills alone make the combat more thoughtful and fast-paced, not to mention possible combinations with the updated Skill Trees. Most importantly, most Relic points don’t just come through main play. V must seek out Terminals scattered by Dogtown for most Relic Perk Points. This ensures at least some level of balance as many have strong enemies guarding them.
Dogtown is the Best Designed District in Cyberpunk Now
This spy thriller takes place in Dogtown, the cordoned-off District of Night Town by the Stadium. Phantom Liberty’s main location nestles right into Pacifica and has its own “official” independence from Night City. V can only enter the area through fast-travel terminals or a security checkpoint.
Dogtown’s luxurious clubs and skyscrapers starkly contrast the filthy slums where most people live. That wealth divide sticks out prominently as you go to opulent events mere blocks away from literal landfills. None of that is to say Night City has no class divide, but each district primarily maintains a type of wealth class. The City Center, where most Corpo’s live their days, shows the awe-inspiring skyline, while Kabuki has more modest building designs. You have to drive on the main freeway to really see the differences across Night City, but you only need to drive a minute in Dogtown.
So much of Dogtown succeeds on a gameplay level because it’s built to be vertical. V has dozens of ramshackle stairwells and construction scaffolding to climb around to get to higher points in the District. This area wants you to literally scale higher points and ensure you’re not just running around to see the area.
Gigs Reflect Phantom Liberty Core Themes
Like every district in Night City, V has side gigs to do in Dogtown. Mr. Hands, Dogtown’s main club’s owner, fixes them like he does much of Dogtown’s business.
These gigs are peak CD Projekt Red side quests. They have a variety of designs and stories about the local community, black market businesses, legal proceedings, and more. You investigate crime scenes, you break into secret locations, etc…
Phantom Liberty showcases the incredible storytelling that CD Projekt Red made its name on. Many of the gigs have follow-up calls from Mr. Hands about the choices you made on those missions. Those calls can really leave strong impressions on your decisions. Any time a story, big or small, leaves this kind of impression, you know it’s a good story.
Additionally, Phantom Liberty introduces new vehicle missions. These missions require you to steal a vehicle and deliver it to a drop-off point. These missions change up how to first take the car and optional objectives during delivery. You can be attacked mid-delivery, you may have a time limit, etc…
CD Projekt Red knew it got its vehicle gameplay to a good place and found a way to show it off. These missions give players fun chances to commit literal grand theft auto in Cyberpunk, but not just in Dogtown. Your fixer has a list of cars throughout Night City to nab which really helps cut down on the monotony of going in and out of Dogtown with the car.
Technical Oddities and Severe Issues
Writer’s Note: Per the review guide provided by CD Projekt Red, we were made aware of a handful of technical issues before launch. However, many of the below were not mentioned in that list.
Unfortunately, the biggest phantom in Phantom Liberty still haunts some technical issues. These range all the way from odd waiting issues to outright game crashes. Many quests tell you to go to the mission start in a time window, but it actually wants you to go there beforehand and click the “Wait” prompt to take you to the mission.
Additionally, some of the vehicle missions have odd bugs. One in Dogtown’s slum kept us from driving forward and forced us out of the car multiple times. Even though it’s a specific issue, it reminds players more of the initial launch than it would like to.
Most frustrating, however, were a slew of game crashes during story missions. The game crashed over a half dozen times when loading from a previous checkpoint. That is maddening. Game crashes are the worst technical issue possible. Crashes abruptly end the experience, maybe even cause memory loss.
In an otherwise excellent expansion, this is a major flaw.
Verdict: One of the Year’s Best Expansion Releases
Phantom Liberty delivers a top-ten experience for 2023. You can pick many facets from a stacked cast to incredible writing to break-neck fast combat upgrades to much more. Dogtown hides many nooks, crannies, and stories once you get past its security checkpoint.
CD Projekt Red delivered an excellent experience that all players, regardless of their stacked gaming schedules, must check out.