From the glitz of Night City to the decay of Dogtown
If Cyberpunk 2077 launched in 2023 in its polished 2.0 state, coupled with all the content of Phantom Liberty, it would be hailed as the game of a generation. Forget Baldur’s Gate 3, Tears of the Kingdom, Final Fantasy XVI and Spider-Man 2 – the components of this action-RPG approach gamer perfection in gameplay, visuals and branching storytelling. Walking or cruising through the streets of Night City (and the hellish, post-apocalyptic playground of Dogtown) evoke all the emotions of awe and wonder connected with the nostalgia we carry through childhood gaming. This article reviews Phantom Liberty, but due to the almost simultaneous release of 2.0, many elements will be discussed to form the review. Their fates are linked especially their conclusions. Phantom Liberty adds a new ending to V’s journey that may be considered the definitive ending, completing a rollercoaster three years since its initial release. The expansion also utilises the talents of Idris Elba alongside Keanu Reeves to demonstrate the power of performance in the gaming narrative. Is the DLC faultless? Perhaps not, but CDPR are the masters of additional storytelling and have delivered yet again.
Phantom Liberty is slotted into the Cyberpunk experience as though Dogtown and its characters were always there, waiting for the player to approach the stadium following contact with a mysterious woman named Songbird. Following a range of bloody, location-hopping set pieces that demonstrate the power of new hardware, our V enters a setting that would be normalised in a series such as Fallout. Where Night City is bright, populated and sometimes calming when driving through rain-streaked streets or illuminated strips, Dogtown crawls with gangsters ready to stab you from behind and steal your gear in an arena of rubble. There are some colour-soaked highlights, such as nightclubs full of dance and performance, but most of Phantom Liberty is to a backdrop of anarchy. Entering a spy-espionage narrative, players are soon introduced to Elba’s Solomon Reed and begin deciphering who to trust in this land of crime governed by the mysterious Kurt Hansen. It’s enthralling, thought-provoking and barely slips pace outside of the ‘wait for such-and-such to call’ periods that provide ample opportunity to analyse the many new side missions plotted throughout the map.
Renowned for glitches and game-breaking bugs in the base game’s 2020 release state, Cyberpunk’s Phantom Liberty is polished and graphically superb. Any open-world RPG will have the occasional man-stuck-in-wall or an NPC doing something incredibly stupid, but nothing detracts from the quality of the game. The new skills diversify playstyles, and the Relic abilities lean further into the style set by the Edgerunners show. The gameplay is clean, responsive and effective whether you choose to be a netrunner, an all-out gunner, a Wolverine-inspired Mantis Blade dicer or a full-on samurai. Each has strengths and weaknesses in combat, giving the player enough choice to remove foes. Branching dialogue options also allow avoiding combat, siding with shady characters rather than eliminating them from the game (though at the cost of not receiving their gear). Options are important in games with choice, and Phantom Liberty provides depth in decisions to inspire future playthroughs of its 12-15-hour campaign.
The sounds of Cyberpunk have always been a delight. Still, through solid performances from the main characters (emotions shine through), new tracks and atmospheric location-based additions, Phantom Liberty becomes even more fascinating and engaging. The pop performance during a mission provides a song that sets the mood for the narrative, demonstrating mastery of the audio in moments that need a lift or a punch to the guts. But combining this with the facial animations of NPCs and talent is absorbing, especially as their eyes do as much talking as their mouths. In a side mission, Johhny Silverhand (Reeves) was sitting on a chair further to the right. At the same time, a character asked for help with the intimidating Kurt Hansen learning of his insubordination. The look in his eye was analytical, trying to make me choose a certain path. In choosing the opposing path, I received his disappointment through a gaze only a mother could produce. This detail makes every decision important, for it impacts more than just V.
This review has no spoilers about the story of either Cyberpunk 2077 (base) or Phantom Liberty, but previous players would be aware of the many conclusions that derive from relationships and choices along the way. Phantom Liberty has multiple endings depending on who you betray or choose to assist, and while there is no specific ‘wrong’ choice, there is a branch that provides an alternative ending to the base game. Following my playthrough, I now consider this a cannon ending – such is how it wraps up the narrative. No more will be said, but this alone should be an incentive to purchase Phantom Liberty if you already have Cyberpunk 2077 installed.
Cyberpunk 2077 will forever be remembered as the game released in a broken state, but now it can also be renowned as the best gaming comeback of all time. In adding Phantom Liberty to the base game, the completed package is a moving action experience that rivals all competitors in a stacked 2023. If a sour taste was left in 2020, I recommend re-downloading with the expansion to enjoy the game as the developers intended. Cyberpunk may be the most potent new IP on the market in a world of remakes, sequels and prequels. Phantom Liberty adds a layer of gunpowder to the process, capable of igniting at any moment and blowing the joint to shreds.
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