After almost 3 years since its considerably disastrous launch, Cyberpunk 2077 has received a major content expansion, Phantom Liberty. While CD Projekt Red has been busy fixing every aspect of the game since release and delivered some smaller free content updates, like the Edgerunner update, Phantom Liberty marks the first time they have done a paid expansion for Cyberpunk 2077, similar to The Witcher 3’s Heart of Stone or Blood and Wine expansions. That’s not to say that Phantom Liberty is the only new addition to the game. With the expansion also comes the free 2.0 Update to base game which dramatically overhauls pretty much every gameplay aspect of Cyberpunk 2077, minus the missions and locations.
So does this paid expansion, Phantom Liberty, finally everything that was wrong with Cyberpunk 2077 and deliver a satisfying story? Is Idris Elba as the secret agent Solomon Reed enough to redeem Cyberpunk 2077, which arguably might have been CDPR’s weakest RPG offering? Well, that depends on what you were expecting from the expansion. For better or worse, Phantom Liberty is a very tight-knit Cyberpunk 2077 story, providing about 12 hours of content for its main storyline. When I say tight-knit, I mean it.
Out of the 10 main jobs in Phantom Liberty, the first four are extremely linear levels where you are jumping from one firefight to the next. It feels as if you are playing a Call of Duty game rather than an RPG like Cyberpunk 2077. It is only after some progress in the fifth mission that you get to go out and experience Dogtown, your playground for the rest of the expansion. And while the playground still exists, the last few missions once again blink away in a flash due to how short and linear they are (except for the final quest Killing Moon).
While a short expansion isn’t a bad thing, given the scope of Phantom Liberty and how many new characters it introduces, this mission structure and story length ends up failing most of these character with little to no development. It’s fine that the new characters can’t be romanced but there should have been some more depth between their relationships and more bonding moments with V, after all, you are risking your neck in their fight.
Every major new character introduced in Phantom Liberty; Songbird, President Myers, Solomon Reed, Alex have a history with each other but that history is barely touched upon. Just because they are all spies, their past is kept shrouded in mystery for the bulk of the expansion.
Phantom Liberty takes a lot of inspiration from Bond or Mission Impossible-style spy movies. These show up as conversations between characters where you have to weigh your every dialogue and use spycraft and gadgets to master espionage. There is even a face-swapping tech from MI, a blackjack game where you have to gather info about your marks that is reminiscent of Casino Royale. It is in these moments that the Phantom Liberty expansion for Cyberpunk 2077 truly shines. It feels like a proper spy thriller at those moments instead of delving into insane gunfights. Unfortunately, such instances are quite few in the game.
My biggest problem with Phantom Liberty’s storytelling was its inability to commit to being a proper politico-spy thriller. While you are working as a “special agent” for the NUSA, it would have been nice if the entire expansion had played out with that angle, making it a perfectly cut-off story from the main game. Unfortunately, a big aspect of the main theme of Phantom Liberty is woven into the narrative of the base game which ends up ruining the overall experience, as you already have a pretty good idea of how things are going to end since the expansion takes place in the middle of the main game’s story.
Without going too much into spoilers, the story of Phantom Liberty basically follows the events of the cinematic trailer for the game. President Myers’ plane with her and Songbird aboard gets shot down and crashes into Dogtown. Songbird contacts you to help them out and in exchange, she promises to fix your biochip with Johnny in it.
Now you should see what the problem with this narrative is considering the base game will resume once you finish Phantom Liberty. However, given your ending of the DLC it is possible to get an alternate ending in the base game. Despite that and predictable twists, my playthrough of the expansion did end with a pretty heartfelt and bitter-sweet moment.
On top of the awkward placement of the storyline, Phantom Liberty introduces too many players in the campaign which leads to most of them not getting the development they are due. Which brings me to another big issue.
While Idris Elba plays the hell out of Solomon Reed, his character is just too damn straight-laced and comes off as a government lapdog, despite being betrayed by that same government many times. Ethan Hunt anyone? But unlike Ethan, Reed lacks the disregard for rules and such which make him a pretty one-note character for me. Reed knows it was Songbird and Myers who allowed him to “die” in the cinematic trailer but is for some reason okay with it as it is part of the job and wholeheartedly throws himself in the ring to serve Myers again.
Where there should have been tension and friction between these old allies, there is just acceptance, leading to a lack of any proper drama. That ultimately turns the expansion’s story into just one big rescue mission. While Songbird or So Mi does get a pretty tragic backstory and even Alex, despite a shorter role, gets her fair share of somber character development, Reed feels like a missed opportunity, especially with the assassination attempt on his life, which he always refuses to talk about in detail.
One stand out for me was Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand. While in the base game, he is a really annoying git (part of the story I know) it doesn’t help matters that the written material for him left a lot to be desired. For Phantom Liberty, he has a surprisingly decent-sized role and sees a lot of character development that I did not expect considering this story isn’t about him. Keanu’s performance also improved a lot for the expansion so I will take Phantom Liberty’s Silverhand over the base game any day.
Coming to the side content, Phantom Liberty doesn’t really shake up the formula. There are a number of Gigs and Side Jobs in Dogtown but they are pretty much the same affair as the base game. Most of them are pretty bland and not something I enjoyed in the base game either. However, there are a few pretty enjoyable ones that overall make up for those interested in completing them all.
The DLC does introduce a new skill tree, Relic skills, which are a welcome new touch to further specialize your builds. Speaking of builds, we can’t ignore the build freedom introduced to the game with the Update 2.0. There is a lot more flexibility now with the new skills and perks system, inching the game closer to an Interactive Sim than the failed RPG it was at launch. Unfortunately, that build freedom is also mostly squandered in Phantom Liberty as most missions do play out as all-out gunfights with few stealth or netrunning opportunities.
Dogtown is a good place to look at, especially at night with its neon pyramid and a skyscraper-sized holo projection, but ultimately the area is pretty much like any other region of Cyberpunk 2077 but with fewer opportunities and even worse when it comes to driving around.
From a technical standpoint, CDPR and Nvidia continue to make Cyberpunk 2077 a tech showcase with new and new RTX-powered features. While previous updates brought Path Tracing, a high-end and taxing ray tracing implementation, Phantom Liberty and Update 2.0 added Ray Reconstruction to improve performance. While on the surface it is an amazing tech but in its infancy, it isn’t really suitable for regular gameplay. Luckily, while the launch version of Cyberpunk 2077 was a broken mess with performance issues and bugs, all of that has been pretty much fixed in its entirety. So if you have been holding out on playing the game, Phantom Liberty is the best time to dive in as this is the first and last content expansion that Cyberpunk 2077 will receive, so V’s story is now fully complete.