Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty review: Spy thriller rages with the machine

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty review: Spy thriller rages with the machine
CDPR

Written by 

Lloyd Coombes

Published 

20th Sep 2023 16:00

Your excitement for Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty may be emboldened, or weakened, depending on when you experienced the base game - and which platform it launched on.

Initially playing close to launch, I enjoyed the game as a stealth-focused almost immersive sim, prodding at its various systems without ever diving headlong into any of them, returning with each patch for a weekend away in Night City before retreating again.

I'm pleasantly surprised, then, at just how much fun I've had with Phantom Liberty, the game's first true expansion. While it's not perfect, it completes Cyberpunk 2077's redemption arc while also establishing that the franchise has a genuine future - something that felt unlikely at best at launch.

GGRecon Verdict

From its breathless opening hours to its twisting narrative, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty would be worth the price of admission for its plot and characters alone.

That it also offers an impressive new district, open-world dynamic events and even more ways to build your own Cyberpunk mythos make it an even easier recommendation.

Starting at the beginning

Idris Elba's character Solomon Reed in Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty
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Phantom Liberty is accessible from about the halfway point in Cyberpunk 2077, and it sets the tone early with a little stealth, a little platforming, and a huge set piece that I'm not spoiling.

It's explosive and may challenge your GPU, but if you can handle it, you'll be treated to more action within Phantom Liberty's opening than half a dozen missions combined from the main game.

V's assignment here serves a higher purpose than simply scraping by in Night City's underbelly, and while it does feel bizarre that the President of the New United States would call upon a merc in her hour of need, Phantom Liberty's earliest hours help set the stakes and tie them nicely to V's growth and circumstance within the main game.

Idris Elba's character Solomon Reed in Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty speaking to President Myers
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President Myers herself is great, and an early standout for the expansion's best character - up until Solomon Reed's arrival, played by Hollywood heavyweight Idris Elba. Playing up to old-school spy stereotypes at first, Elba's performances, notably facial animations, deliver a degree of vulnerability we weren't quite expecting.

He's not alone in that regard, either, with Keanu Reeves' Johnny Silverhand shifting away from cartoonish anarchist to something more layered and nuanced. As someone who found Silverhand to be a little tiresome in the base game after his first few appearances, I was struck by how much I enjoyed this reunion.

Keanu Reeves' character Johnny Silverhand in Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty
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There are plenty of other characters that feel much more believable than those in the prior campaign. With more understandable motivations, reservations, and relationships, Phantom Liberty does well to step away from the slang-filled dialogue (for the most part) that defined its predecessor - and while there are still some instances of jargon-filled exposition, for the most part, Phantom Liberty has some of CDPR's best writing since The Witcher 3.

It's also expertly paced like the best spy thrillers are. CDPR hands out breadcrumbs of information, and while there's always an expectation for how things are going to play out, there are plenty of left turns along the way.

Gone to the Dogs

Dogtown in Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty
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That pacing extends to Dogtown, where the majority of Phantom Liberty is set. Dubbed by some as a parasitic growth on Night City's rear, it has its own visual identity that sets it apart from its host.

There are skyscrapers here, but they've seen better days. Many of Dogtown's buildings have internal pylons showing, like huge, wounded skeletons stretching to the sky. If Night City is a monument to greed, Dogtown is a cautionary tale of what happens when it's left unchecked.

Despite not being as densely populated as Night City, it remains full of opportunity - V will get the chance to work with new fixers and old friends alike, and gigs are just as enjoyable, and surprising, as they've ever been.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom liberty Kurt Hansen's tower
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In one mission, I was tasked with locating a blackmailer in a heavily guarded Voodoo Boys stronghold. Using my hacking abilities I was able to get through the majority of it unseen and unscathed before a series of robots swarmed me after I tripped the alarm. That mission even ended with multiple-choice options, and while it's not quite as diverse as those found in Baldur's Gate 3, even the more innocuous choices can have big repercussions.

Dogtown is also a great showcase of some of the updates included in Cyberpunk 2077's 2.0 patch, free for all players. Working with one fixer to steal cars is a perfect way to demonstrate the vast improvement to vehicle combat, with aiming feeling much more deliberate when driving, while the new GTA-style police system, with its own "wanted stars" can lead to some tense chases.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Libery vehicle combat against a mech
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It's not perfect, though; while roaming Dogtown I saw the police engaged in combat with a gang, and decided to step in and eliminate the criminals. Doing so saw both sides turn on me, showing no good deed ever goes unpunished.

They do often end with rewards though, and it's not uncommon to see an airdrop shot down over Dogtown, representing a great opportunity for gear, attachments, and more if V is brave enough to tackle the team sent to retrieve it.

What's old is new

Cyberpunk 2077 skill tree
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Update 2.0's shadow looms large over much of Dogtown, but CDPR has taken smart steps to make the update feel frictionless. Despite speccing into making V an Adam Jensen-alike in my main game playthrough, I was able to easily refund skill points to experiment with new skills.

Those new skills come both in the form of a fresh Relic skill tree (exclusive to the expansion) and a completely revised skill menu that jettisons the passive buffs of the prior game in favour of more active skills. It doesn't take long to create something unique, like a blade-wielding, slow-motion ninja, heavy-hitting melee brawler, or just a V that enjoys blowing things up.

It's a huge step up, and I'm so pleased that after finishing the main campaign I can enjoy additional side quests while mixing up my approach each time, rather than feeling stuck in my Deus Ex-lite build. If you're looking for a reason to return to Night City, paid expansion or not, there's never been a better time.

The Verdict

From its breathless opening hours to its twisting narrative, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty would be worth the price of admission for its plot and characters alone.

That it also offers an impressive new district, open-world dynamic events, and even more ways to build your own Cyberpunk mythos makes it an even easier recommendation.

4.5/5

Reviewed on PC. Review code provided by the publisher.

Lloyd is GGRecon's Editor-in-Chief, having previously worked at Dexerto and Gfinity, and occasionally appears in The Daily Star newspaper. A big fan of loot-based games including Destiny 2 and Diablo 4, when he's not working you'll find him at the gym or trying to play Magic The Gathering.