PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
September 26, 2023
CD Projekt Red
About three years after Cyberpunk 2077 was originally released, the game now has its first (and only) paid expansion, called Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty. CD Projekt Red has gone all out on this DLC, bringing in Luther and The Wire star Idris Elba to voice one of the main characters in its sprawling political thriller plot, as well as a new chunk of Night City to explore. Releasing alongside a major (and very welcome) free overhaul to many of the game’s core mechanics, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is a particularly enthralling expansion that fans of the base game will love, even with some minor pacing issues that cause it to drag a bit in the final stretches.
To start Phantom Liberty, you have to have progressed about halfway through Act 2. As the player character V is in a hopeless situation with the Relic in their brain slowly killing them, they are contacted by an enigmatic hacker named Songbird who makes V an offer: come to Dogtown, a walled-off shanty town enclave of Night City run by renegade strongman Kurt Hansen, and save the President of the New United States of America after Space Force One was shot down, in return for Songbird saving V’s life.
After entering Dogtown, V must team up with conflicted deep-cover government agent Solomon Reed, portrayed by Idris Elba, to locate Songbird and solve the mystery of who attempted to assassinate the President. As one might expect with a plot like this, it quickly becomes a tangle of divided loyalties and dark pasts as V is forced to make many hard choices in order to potentially cure their affliction.
I found myself quite engaged with Phantom Liberty’s plot, in no small part due to the performances of Elba as Solomon Reed and Christine Minji Chang as Songbird. Perhaps as a nod towards his actor’s many previous fancasts as James Bond, Idris Elba is in fine form as a stoic and loyal secret agent forced into a difficult choice between his duties to his government or to what he feels is right. Songbird also plays a very crucial role in the expansion to the extent of practically becoming co-protagonist with V, and the strong vocal performance did a lot to keep me on her side even as her more questionable actions came to light. Even Keanu Reeves, whom I’ve personally felt was a little miscast as the surly anarchist Johnny Silverhand, gets some solid moments of pathos where his origins before he became a rockstar are revealed.
There are also a multitude of gameplay changes that have been released alongside Phantom Liberty as part of the Cyberpunk 2077 2.0 update. This update will be coming free to PC and current-gen consoles, and it quite substantially overhauls how the game plays.
The perks system has been completely rearranged; instead of a bunch of nodes that offer, say, a minor 3% recoil reduction with shotguns, the new Perks system feels far more rewarding. Each level up makes me feel like I am unlocking a new ability or now able to do something I couldn’t before, from stacking quickhacks on my foes to devastating effect to deflecting bullets with a katana to substantially increasing the amount of Cyberware I can implant into my body. The Cyberware system has been similarly altered, removing stat requirements to equip bionic body parts and making the only limit the cost to buy them, and the amount you can equip at once, which increases as you level up. It is a great change that plays into the game’s transhumanist themes and makes it way easier to turn V into the cyborg supersoldier of my dreams.
There is also an emphasis on vehicle combat, with V now able to shoot at foes while driving, as well as several perks allowing V to complement their driving with cyberware, enter and exit cars in stylish ways, or remotely start and stop enemy cars with their hacking skills. I played as an ex-Corpo Netrunner V, and watching enemy gangsters take cover behind a parked car, only for me to hack the car and have it drive away leaving them totally exposed, never failed to be both empowering and kind of hilarious. Other less impactful changes were nonetheless welcome, such as making healing items and grenades unlimited, but tied to cooldown timers, or tying armour to your cyberware rather than clothing so you can dress V however you like with minimal gameplay implications.
“The side effect of including this wealth of gameplay improvements as part of a free patch is that the Phantom Liberty DLC itself doesn’t bring too much new to the table…”
The side effect of including this wealth of gameplay improvements as part of a free patch is that the Phantom Liberty DLC itself doesn’t bring too much new to the table, gameplay-wise. There is a new, somewhat small skill tree tied to hidden Relic caches hidden around Dogtown unlocking high-end cyberware abilities. A new bit of tech that allows V to take on the appearance of someone else was a fun bit of role-playing where the player must make dialogue choices consistent with the dossier they had been provided. As enjoyable as that was, it unfortunately plays a disappointingly small role in the expansion’s core storyline.
Similarly, although Dogtown, with its crumbling architecture, roaming bands of militia and numerous secrets to uncover, is an interesting enough new locale to explore, it doesn’t do much to mix up Cyberpunk 2077’s established visual palette in the same way that the vibrant Toussaint region in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s Blood and Wine expansion made its new locations feel fresh and wholly distinct from the previously visited areas. There are at least many good reasons to roam around, from the aforementioned Relic caches to crashed supply drops marked with red flares. Said supply drops are usually guarded by powerful bandits, but provide permanent upgrades to carrying capacity and other stats if you can manage to access them.
It’s just as well there is a decent amount of side content to explore, as Phantom Liberty has a tendency to stop its core plot dead in its tracks to encourage you to involve yourself in it. Many core story missions, particularly near the end, have long waiting periods of indeterminate lengths before the next section is unlocked, or just explicitly require a certain number of gigs to be completed before the next story mission becomes available. Generally, I don’t mind that it gave a good reason to tackle some of the new gigs offered by Mr. Hands, the shadowy fixer from the base game who has a lot more prominence in Phantom Liberty. However, I feel it becomes a problem when multiple members of the cast are explicitly dying of terminal illnesses and time is very much of the essence, and it caused the pacing in the latter half of the 10-hour or so long expansion to drag somewhat in the latter half when I was being sidetracked into completing random gigs so that the main plot could finally progress.
- Engaging political thriller plot buoyed by strong vocal performances
- 2.0 update brings a tonne of fantastic gameplay changes which make for a far more rewarding experience
- Dogtown is a fun new environment to explore with plenty of secrets and side quests
- Phantom Liberty itself as a DLC doesn't bring many new features to the table
- Dogtown doesn't feel too visually distinct from other areas in Night City
- Long gaps between story missions and occasional forced side content causes some pacing issues
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is a strong and very engaging paid expansion that offers many hours of new content. Idris Elba’s Solomon Reed is an excellent addition to the setting, and his movie star charisma does a lot to elevate the expansion’s tense sci-fi political thriller tale. Accompanied by the long-awaited 2.0 update, substantially overhauling the Cyberpunk 2077 base game for the better and allowing the game to finally reach its full potential, Phantom Liberty might not bring as many new gameplay innovations on its own, but what it does bring feels like a worthwhile addition to the base game and something fans of Cyberpunk 2077 will definitely want to check out.