Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is the only expansion that CD Projejkt Red is producing for the controversial but well-loved Cyberpunk 2077. Many fans were hoping it would be akin to The Witcher 3′s Blood and Wine with the size of a whole new game added. Others believed it would be closer to Heart of Stone, which was a single campaign that was entertaining but not exactly groundbreaking. The truth is that Phantom Liberty is somewhere in the middle and an excellent addition to the game but also something that doesn’t feel like so much an entirely new game but filling out some of the failures of the base game.
The plot is the President of the New United States (NUSA), Rosalind Myers (Kay Bess), has been hacked out of the sky and forced into the Combat Zone of Pacifica. A Combat Zone is a territory where there are no police, and the criminals directly rule. Called “Dogtown”, this new area of the map fills in a very empty region of Night City with new quests, buildings, NPCs, and activities to broaden the enjoyment factor of the game. It mostly succeeds and combined with Update 2.0, is now an almost entirely different feeling game.
The main questline is an excellent one with strong character-driven storytelling supplemented by the characters of Songbird (Minji Chang), Solomon Reed (Idris Elba), and President Myers. All three of them join the ranks of Johnny Silverhand, Panam, and Judy for characters that are incredibly memorable with their acting doing the heavy lifting to get us to care for them during the story. The story would not work if you didn’t come to like and sympathize with all three before being forced to make some troubling choices. The Cinematic Trailer for Phantom Liberty depicts Songbird burning Reed as a spy and sets the stage to know someone is betraying someone else when you see all of these individuals “allied.”
The villain of the game, Kurt Hansen, isn’t really much to write home about. A local petty warlord, he is the ruler of Dogtown and has a private army under his command, but this doesn’t really add much to the story. He’s a bad guy, he’s got trained soldiers, and you must carve or shoot your way through them until you face him down. His one-dimensionality doesn’t particularly hurt the story, though, because he’s a well-executed example of the character type. You understand why he’s top dog in Dogtown (no pun intended) due to his speeches on the sound system that promise security for Eddies. Even so, I feel they could have done more with him.
The main quest and side content equal about thirty hours’ worth of content or not quite long enough. Frankly, I feel like the inclusion of Phantom Liberty lengthens the “main quest” of Cyberpunk 2077 to about where it should have been originally if you consider it the “Militech” story arc. Even so, it does have a very different feel from the other storylines because V is no longer working as a street merc but as a government agent for the merged FBI/CIA equivalent. It even has an extended homage to Casino Royale.
Interestingly, Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves) has as large a role in this DLC as Idris Elba and it expands on the character a great deal. Arguably, it does a much better job of making you sympathize with his anarchist philosophy than the main game where he seemed like a poseur. Phantom Liberty explores Johnny’s past as a veteran of Militech’s foreign wars and how it left him suffering PTSD as well as surrounded by dead friends while being told it was all for a greater good. I know many people in RL who came out every bit as cynical as Johnny following their service and he works very well as a contrast to Solomon Reed who needs to believe it’s all worth it somehow.
The storytelling for the Side Gigs is also a lot deeper as well with most of them being for Mr. Hands, who only had a single Pacifica Gig in the main game but gets an entire questline now. The game also relates a lot more to your in-game activities so that if you’ve completed certain quests, you’ll get different ways of resolving them. For example, I could use River’s help to steal some generators to replace a private’s stolen ones or I could get Panam’s help to smuggle the guy out of Dogtown with his girlfriend.
There’s also some “radiant quests” that pop up in the game as well with the option of stealing cars for El Capitain as well as raiding supply drops for the Barghests. These are the kind of quests you have in Grand Theft Auto and The Division but add a lot of fun. Certainly, stealing cars and being chased by enemies makes it so the addition of vehicular combat rules in Update 2.0 isn’t completely worthwhile. There’s also the addition of the “Relic” perk tree that gives you a large number of new cybernetic abilities.
Fans of big epic set pieces will enjoy the game because a lot of attention went into making action scenes that are far and removed from most of the game. V will have to do a lot of first person scaling of Dogtown’s many towers and buildings. There are also some fantastic boss fights like V battling against a spider tank straight out of Ghost in the Shell. I felt very satisfied being able to finally use my V’s weapons and cyberware to their full extent.
Perhaps the biggest change to the game is that it adds an entirely new ending to the game. For many people, this ending will be unsatisfactory compared to the other endings. It is not a, “V lives happily ever after and you should always choose this over the other ones.” However, it is bittersweet and will offer an alternative to the darker endings that I think will be satisfying for fans dissatisfied with the others. Certainly, it’s worth experiencing and happier than “The Devil” ending that was so infamous.
In conclusion, I think this is an incredibly strong addition to Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a good thing that Update 2.0 exists as a lot of the story would not be nearly so enjoyable without the level scaling, new perks, and vehicle updates. The storytelling, characterization, and acting are extremely well done. Dogtown is a place that I think probably should have existed in the main game but the polish that went into its release here is very good.