Does Phantom Liberty deliver a satisfying conclusion to the Night City of Cyberpunk 2077? Our review will answer that for you.
Nearly three years after its notably troubled launch, Cyberpunk 2077 has unveiled a substantial content expansion known as Phantom Liberty. CD Projekt Red, in their relentless efforts to rectify the game’s issues since its release and in offering smaller complimentary content updates like the Edgerunner update, has introduced its inaugural paid expansion for Cyberpunk 2077, akin to the acclaimed expansions Heart of Stone and Blood and Wine for The Witcher 3. However, it’s important to note that Phantom Liberty isn’t the sole addition to the game. Alongside the expansion, players are treated to the free 2.0 Update, which fundamentally transforms virtually every facet of Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay, save for the missions and locations.
The question now is whether this paid expansion, Phantom Liberty, successfully addresses the previous shortcomings of Cyberpunk 2077 and delivers a gratifying narrative. Can Idris Elba’s portrayal of the secret agent Solomon Reed redeem Cyberpunk 2077, which some argue may have been CD Projekt Red’s least impressive RPG offering? Well, the answer hinges on your expectations for the expansion. For better or for worse, Phantom Liberty is a tightly woven narrative within the Cyberpunk 2077 universe, offering approximately 12 hours of content in its primary storyline. When I say “tight-knit,” I mean it.
Among the ten principal missions in Phantom Liberty, the initial four are notably linear, with players transitioning from one firefight to the next. It feels reminiscent of playing a Call of Duty title rather than an RPG like Cyberpunk 2077. Only after making progress in the fifth mission do you get the opportunity to explore Dogtown, the expansive playground for the remainder of the expansion. However, even though the playground is still there, the last few missions once again pass by swiftly due to their brevity and linearity, except for the final quest, “Killing Moon.”
While a brief expansion isn’t necessarily a drawback, given the ambitious scope of Phantom Liberty and the multitude of new characters it introduces, the mission structure and length of the story often leave these characters undeveloped and lacking in depth. It’s understandable that these new characters may not be romance options, but there should have been more attention given to building their relationships and fostering bonding moments with V, especially considering the risks involved in their shared struggle.
Each of the prominent new characters in Phantom Liberty—Songbird, President Myers, Solomon Reed, and Alex—shares a history with one another, yet this history remains largely unexplored. Despite their common roles as spies, their pasts are shrouded in mystery throughout most of the expansion.
Phantom Liberty draws significant inspiration from spy movies in the style of Bond or Mission Impossible. These inspirations manifest in dialogues between characters, where players must carefully consider their every word and employ espionage techniques and gadgets. There’s even a face-swapping technology reminiscent of MI, and a blackjack game that involves gathering information about your targets, akin to scenes from Casino Royale. It’s during these moments that Phantom Liberty truly excels, delivering an authentic spy thriller experience rather than focusing solely on intense gunfights. Unfortunately, such moments are relatively sparse in the game.
My primary issue with Phantom Liberty’s storytelling lies in its reluctance to fully commit to being a political spy thriller. While you function as a “special agent” for the NUSA, it would have been preferable if the entire expansion had maintained this angle, creating a self-contained narrative separate from the main game. Regrettably, a significant aspect of the central theme of Phantom Liberty is interwoven with the base game’s narrative, ultimately detracting from the overall experience, as you already have a fairly good idea of how events will unfold, given that the expansion occurs in the midst of the main game’s story.
Without venturing into spoiler territory, the narrative of Phantom Liberty essentially follows the events depicted in the game’s cinematic trailer. President Myers’ plane, with her and Songbird on board, is shot down and crashes into Dogtown. Songbird reaches out to you for assistance, promising to address the issue of your biochip, housing Johnny, in exchange.
The narrative’s predicament becomes apparent when considering that the base game resumes once you complete Phantom Liberty. However, depending on your choices in the DLC, it’s possible to achieve an alternative ending in the base game. Despite some predictability in the plot twists, my playthrough of the expansion did conclude with a poignant and bittersweet moment.
Moreover, the introduction of numerous characters in Phantom Liberty’s campaign without ample development poses another significant issue. This leads to the underutilization of many characters, which brings me to yet another substantial concern.
Idris Elba delivers an exceptional performance as Solomon Reed, but his character comes across as excessively obedient and government-centric, despite having been betrayed by the government multiple times. Anyone else reminded of Ethan Hunt? However, unlike Ethan, Reed lacks the rebellious streak and disregard for rules that would have added depth to his character. To me, Reed feels somewhat one-dimensional. He is aware that it was Songbird and Myers who orchestrated his “death” in the cinematic trailer, yet he accepts it as part of the job and willingly re-engages in serving Myers without any apparent conflict.
Where there could have been potential for tension and conflict among these former allies, there is instead a surprising level of acceptance, resulting in a lack of genuine dramatic depth. This ultimately reduces the expansion’s narrative to a mere rescue mission. While Songbird, or So Mi, is granted a poignant backstory, and even Alex, despite her limited screen time, experiences meaningful character development, Reed feels like a missed opportunity, particularly given the assassination attempt on his life, a topic he consistently avoids discussing in detail.
One standout element for me was Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of Johnny Silverhand. In the base game, he’s an exceptionally irritating character (I understand it’s part of the story), and the written material for him didn’t do him any favors. However, in Phantom Liberty, he assumes a surprisingly substantial role and undergoes significant character development, which was unexpected considering that the story doesn’t primarily revolve around him. Keanu’s performance also notably improved for the expansion, making me prefer Phantom Liberty’s Silverhand over the one from the base game.
When it comes to the supplementary content, Phantom Liberty doesn’t deviate significantly from the established formula. Dogtown features several Gigs and Side Jobs, but they largely adhere to the same patterns as those in the base game. Most of them come across as rather uninspired, much like their counterparts in the base game. Nonetheless, there are a handful of enjoyable ones that can make up for it, particularly for those interested in completing all available content.
The DLC introduces a fresh skill tree called Relic skills, which is a welcome addition that further enables players to fine-tune their character builds. Speaking of character builds, we can’t overlook the increased freedom introduced with Update 2.0. The new skills and perks system enhances flexibility, bringing the game closer to an interactive simulation than the RPG that struggled at its initial launch. Unfortunately, much of this build freedom goes untapped in Phantom Liberty, as most missions unfold as full-blown gunfights, with few opportunities for stealth or netrunning.
Dogtown is an intriguing location to explore, especially at night, with its neon pyramid and colossal holographic projection. However, ultimately, the area resembles any other region in Cyberpunk 2077, albeit with fewer engagement opportunities and even more challenging navigation when it comes to driving around.
From a technical perspective, both CD Projekt Red and Nvidia have continued to elevate Cyberpunk 2077 as a showcase for cutting-edge technology, featuring a series of new RTX-powered enhancements. While previous updates introduced Path Tracing, an advanced and demanding ray tracing implementation, Phantom Liberty and Update 2.0 have now incorporated Ray Reconstruction to enhance performance. While this technology appears impressive on the surface, in its early stages, it may not be entirely suitable for everyday gameplay. Fortunately, the initial issues that plagued the launch version of Cyberpunk 2077, including performance problems and bugs, have been comprehensively resolved. If you’ve been holding off on playing the game, Phantom Liberty presents an ideal opportunity to dive in, as it marks the first and final content expansion that Cyberpunk 2077 will receive, concluding V’s story in its entirety.