Space Force One is going down. President of the NUSA (That’s New USA), Rosalind Myers, needs Night City’s best merc to help her delta the hell out of Dogtown before local warlord Kurt Hansen can cause an international incident – a flatlined President wouldn’t look good on the screamsheets. FIA Agent Songbird thinks V is the woman for the job, promising a cure for Soulkiller, but of course it’s never that simple. Dogtown might be a dangerous place, but your new chooms pose an even greater risk. So, are you a bad enough dude to save the president? Or is that cure just a bullet to the brain?
Our first trip to Night City was… less than ideal. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories, people T-posing everywhere, quests breaking, tons of glitches, flying cars – and not the fun kind – Cyberpunk 2077 (2020) released in a state no one was happy with. In fact, we didn’t score the game in our initial review, it was clearly unfinished and rushed out the door to the detriment of the people creating it. Fast forward two years and we have the 1.5 update. It was still very glitchy, but more comparable to the state most AAA games release in these days.Still not ideal, but we’re getting there. In the present day, 2077 has been completely overhauled with the 2.0 update launching alongside the first expansion, Phantom Liberty. This is not the same game that launched in late 2020, so before we get into the spy thriller DLC we need to go over what’s new in NC.
I’m loading in with the same character Ron and I did the initial review with (though you can start a new character with all of these updates baked in), so that makes it pretty easy to see the changes if more difficult to get to grips with them. All my level ups (approaching 50) had been refunded, so I needed to reallocate my stats and unlock perks from the revamped trees. Your stats will determine how much of the perk trees you can access, with the maximum 20 letting you access the top of each tree – provided you grabbed the required perks on the way up.
Individual perks are far more interesting. Not only has the best character, Rebecca, been immortalized in a perk, but they’ll unlock abilities that change the way you play. Sure there are still a few that are basic stat changes or just reduce shotgun recoil by a percentage, but something like Focus will slow down time when you aim with certain guns, letting you get that critical headshot at the cost of some stamina. Another perk will reset the timer for Focus with every headshot. Combine this with Gag Order, which delays other enemies being alerted after you’re spotted by one if you attack them, and Sensory Protocol to slow time upon detection from the new Relic tree and you’ve just made V virtually invisible – provided you can land successive headshots before being spotted.
Creating a build simply feels better now, and even ending the DLC at level 57 wasn’t enough to get me every perk I wanted to try. For example, in a future playthrough I’d really like a melee character, approaching enemies with my katana reflecting bullets and unleashing quickhacks to finish them off in one hit by the time I get there. Having played the game through about 3 times over the years with each of those runs feeling very samey, this makes the game way more interesting and more like an RPG than a looter shooter.
Speaking of, you’re not going to be getting much loot off of dead bodies anymore. You can grab their guns, progression shards from some quick EXP in a playstyle, and crafting materials, but what really matters is your cyberware. Clothing no longer determines defense, your chrome does – along with the rest of your playstyle. You can slot a cyberdeck for some handy quickhacks, or instead go with a Sandevistan OS upgrade to slow down time. You can get a burst of health on kills, turn your arms into dual mantis blades, unlock a double jump, and more. Of course, your body can only take so much cyberware without the requisite perks, levels, and street cred so this is a system you’ll be tinkering with frequently to stay on the cutting edge. It does a good job of putting in meaningful choices as you simply can’t have it all – you’ve got nowhere to put it!
The feel of combat hasn’t changed much, but the underlying systems along with everything we just discussed surrounding it has. You’ll notice that sprinting no longer consumes Stamina, and is instead used almost exclusively for attacking – both melee and ranged. Even if you’ve still got bullets in the chamber, you won’t be able to do as much damage without Stamina. You can of course mitigate this at higher levels, either with more overall stamina or just consuming less, but you need to strategize around your limitations, taking cover often and reloading when your stamina is low. You can’t just tank everything and survive on your hoard of healing items either. Alongside grenades, you have a stack of a few healing inhailors you can use on a fairly substantial cooldown. This makes Night City feel much, much more dangerous along with the drivebys, crimes, and police brutality you’ll see on most street corners.
After completing a certain amount of the story, you’ll receive a call from Songbird. She’ll get you into Dogtown to rescue the President in an adrenaline pumping opening, but after that you get to simmer in the mystery for a bit. Songbird loses contact part way through the mission, and your next job as an FIA recruit is to find her – she still has your cure afterall. Alongside your fellow agents Solomon Reed (Idris Elba) and Alex Xenakis (characters aren’t linked to actors in the credits), you need to pick up So Mi “Songbird”’s (Christine Chang) trail. There’s a ton of twists and turns along the way that let the self-described Spy Thriller Expansion put its eddies where its mouth is, but it’s still distinctly Cyberpunk.
The characters are really at the center of Phantom Liberty, with my most pressing questions less about where Songbird is and more about whether these incredibly likable people are going to stab me in the back for their country. It’s impossible to know who to trust, and every choice I made had me second guessing myself well past the expansion’s credits and even the new ending to the main game. (Which feels like a kick in the teeth and a pat on the head at the same time. I will never emotionally recover from this.) If there’s one thing I regret writing in that initial review of Cyberpunk, it’s saying that the game had no meaning or message. It just took a while to sink in. Phantom Liberty, while self-contained, feels like an extension of those themes and ideas and is very powerful as a result.
Of course not everyone is an artsy fartsy type like me, and Phantom Liberty’s events and gameplay will still keep you enthralled regardless. You’ll be playing high stakes roulette, trying to keep a pair of netrunners talking without arousing suspicion, and assuming someone else’s identity to pull the wool over Hansen’s eyes without him even realizing. It’s just a ton of fun and makes you feel like you’re…well, a spy.
The new area, Dogtown, may be small but it’s fairly dense and offers a more unique aesthetic than the Japanese flavor bordering on fetishization that most cyberpunk media offers (2077 is more guilty than most here). Instead, Dogtown feels like a futuristic Vegas complete with casinos, hotels, and neon. Unfortunately, it’s very flat outside of the stacks and the stadium which can make traversal less interesting than the multilayered city in the rest of the game, but it’s relatively tiny so you won’t be driving for long stretches. Still, I love the aesthetic, and the quests here feel a lot more substantial than gigs you’d find elsewhere. Mr. Hands is instantly my favorite fixer just because the jobs he gives me are actually interesting. I’ve impersonated an international hitwoman at a funeral, helped some Brazilian spies unearth a conspiracy, helped a rando out of a BD induced personality change, and more. Every bit of Phantom Liberty feels crafted with care which makes each second remain engaging.
There are still some kinks to iron out, however. After all, what would Night City be without the occasional cyberpsycho popping head and shoulders out of the ground to kill you? It’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be – I’m able to get a steady 60 fps with the gorgeous path tracing cranked up to maximum on an RTX 4070 Ti at 1440p, but you may go to a ripper, install a new cyberdeck, and be unable to get your software back because the button that should open that sub-menu closes it instead. At one point I picked up a unique sniper rifle but it only showed up in my inventory after quick saving and reloading. Ron also had a persistent issue with the Mantis Blades where there would be weird blue ghosting in the corner of the screen, making an outline of V’s arms. As much as I love the story, I did notice that River was weirdly missing from the new ending even though every other love interest and companion is there. As great as the acting is, you’ll still get weird pauses between lines or multiple characters talking at once. And why does stuffing someone in a closet kill them now? You get the picture.
There are many minor problems that will take you out of things, but the biggest issue that crops up in the main quest here is that there’s a lot of waiting. Sometimes it’s nice to have the story tell you to go do side quests for a bit, but I ran out of those pretty quickly. One quest near the end had me wait about 5 in-game days for things to progress and that’s just too much. Still, the frustrations pale in comparison to the highs. I don’t know if this will be 2077’s only expansion, I’d love to see more but this is a high note to go out on. The story surrounding Cyberpunk 2077 finally feels done here. From the roughest of starts to a fully reworked and more complete game, it’s been quite a ride with CDProjekt Red. Ya did good, cyberpunks.
David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty represents the best the game has to offer. The main quest is tense and thrilling, with amazing characters played by fantastic actors and twists around every corner. Every quest gives you something unique and interesting to do, including side quests. Dogtown is gorgeous, deadly, and deep.