You jump in your sleek silver car with neon lights and drive around Night City in the rain as bright corporate billboards illuminate the ground around the dark future. Maybe you’re running down an alley as you investigate another heinous crime next to a brutalist wall. Either way, Cyberpunk 2077 has always pulled off one of the best culminations of the stunning imagery we see in movies like “Blade Runner or The Matrix. But the apocalyptic aspect of the Cyberpunk genre has always been left out. Phantom Liberty finally finishes the detailed puzzle that Cyberpunk 2077 started, and that puzzle is much more than the imagery.
This expansion doesn’t just add a final storyline that provides that “Escape From New York” version of Dark Fantasy. Phantom Liberty is an integral piece to the overall vision of Cyberpunk 2077 that seamlessly joins the narrative of Night City as if it has been there all along. A flashback to the year 2023 marks a significant paradigm shift in Johnny Silverhand’s life. Much like its in-game counterpart, the year 2023 for Cyberpunk 2077 is revolutionary. This isn’t just a fantastic expansion, but one that very well could shake the baggage that 2077 has been carrying for the past three years.
Escape From Night City and Enter the Dark Dystopia of Cyberpunk 2077
The early hours of Phantom Liberty are some of the most action-packed in the entire game. As soon as you even attempt to enter Dogtown, your Arasaka Relic is used by a Netrunner named Songbird to communicate with you. Your old Choom Johnny is thrown away for the time being, Space Force One is about to crash, and now you need to save the President.
Just like that, you’re a grizzled merc with a ticking time bomb stuck in your body, and now you have an opportunity to save yourself by helping the president. If you’re a major fan of the Cyberpunk genre or anything neo-noir, this is just the plot of “Escape From New York,” and it’s really not far off in the game. CD Projekt Red manages to take all the interesting apocalyptic imagery of a ravaged city that was once booming and meld it with the basic plot found in the movie. They even did me a favor and left out all the questionable acting and eighties cheese.
The synopsis of “Escape From New York” matches the first few hours of your time in Phantom Liberty, but the game becomes so much more. Within minutes you are introduced to an entirely unique part of Night City that has been ravaged by war and left to rot due to government and corporation hijinks. Police are nowhere to be found; all kinds of criminals fight for control of this lawless landscape, and it’s precisely the kind of dark fantasy the game has been missing.
But once you complete the initial hours, the Phantom Liberty becomes more of a spy thriller and less of an eighties action movie. You and Johnny Silverhands are continuously thrown into more intricate spy games under the FIA and the New United States. It’s on you to figure out who is hiding the truth while also swaying the political games in Dogtown.
Phantom Liberty is One of the Most Seamless Expansions Around
Most expansions released for single-player games are detached from the overall game. Of course, some connections need to be made, but they largely exist in a vacuum. They are meant as late-game content with entirely new sections to explore.CD Projekt Red’s previous work, such as Blood and Wine for The Witcher 3, fit this description entirely. It’s one of the best expansions ever made and essentially exists independently.
What sets Phantom Liberty apart is how well the expansion was melded into Night City. You can’t play immediately, so it still has substantial story ties. However, you can start the dark future spy thriller in the middle of Act 2. Depending on your choices, you can even change the final ending for the main story in Cyberpunk 2077. Characters from previous story missions can take an active part in your Dogtown side quests. This isn’t just another chunk of content; it feels like the piece of the Cyberware puzzle that has been missing for so long.
Update 2.0 also releases shortly before Phantom Liberty, and though it’s free for everyone, the overhauls it brings finally realize what many fans wanted from the game back in 2020. I started a character from scratch and played all the way to the end of Phantom Liberty. The change in perks, stamina systems, Cyberware, and enemy AI have completely changed the entire game. I was enthralled with progression every step of the way, and combat finally clicked.
To make progression feel even better, an entire Relic Tree with some incredibly powerful upgrades has been added in Phantom Liberty. Most of them are geared toward arm upgrades like the Gorilla Arms or Mantis blades, but there are a couple based on projectile weapons alone.
Car combat has also been added, and Phantom Liberty brings optional car heists on a chrome platter. These are fantastic missions for earning eddies in the mid-game and testing out those new vehicle perks.
What makes the release of Update 2.0 and Phantom Liberty so impressive is that seamlessness. After starting from scratch, these additions feel like they have been in the game the entire time. The Ripperdocs at CD Projekt Red have finally cracked the Matrix on most of what Cyberpunk 2077 has been missing and convinced me those changes were intended the entire time.
Role Players Won’t Find Refuge in Dogtown
Phantom Liberty manages to get so much right in one compact expansion. The new soundtrack is fantastic, the visuals are a perfect representation of a unique Night City dark future, the performances are enthralling, and the storylines had me forgetting I was playing a videogame at times. But one part of Cyberpunk 2077 still hasn’t necessarily been changed with the latest update: the actual consequences of choice.
I had a great time with the main story in Phantom Liberty. I wish it would have trusted me to figure out the story without holding my hands in some cases. However, the characters were well written, and the story had my attention at every turn, and that’s what matters. What I couldn’t get past, though was how linear that story truly was.
Sure, you can change the outcome of the final aspects of Phantom Liberty and the main Cyberpunk 2077 story by extension. But most of the narrative in Dogtown is on rails. Plot armor almost feels mandatory for a majority of Songbird and Reed’s narrative. I was just along for the ride, and while I still had a blast, I won’t ignore that most of it was only the illusion of choice. Small crumbs for decisions are given at most turns that don’t truly translate to exciting outcomes. I found myself choosing whether I wanted broccoli or carrots for a snack. Either way, I was eating vegetables. You can always slightly change the means, but the ends tend to remain the same.
Side quests, on the other hand, seemed to have much more choice involved. Most of them involved at least two outcomes that were part of a self-contained story. I was able to freely role-play in these cases and truly bring on consequences based on how I was feeling. Now that doesn’t mean they were all significant, but it’s still fun to mold how these storylines end up.
At the end of the day, there is still plenty of choice to be found around Phantom Liberty. I would even go a step further and say it’s better than many of the choices you’re given in the base game. That doesn’t mean this will satiate fans who were turned off by the lack of RPG decisions. After completing the expansion, I would still say that Cyberpunk 2077 holds onto the emphasis on action as an action-RPG. For me, it had just enough to let me continue having more fun than I thought was possible in this world.
Sometimes One Quality Piece of Cyberware is Better
Dogtown is all about the quality of content rather than the quantity. The district itself is smaller than nearly every base game part of Night City. Don’t get me wrong, though, the expansion is still full of content, and I will probably spend another 15-20 hours in the expansion after I finish my review, which already took me over 20 hours in Dogtown alone. So, how did I manage that much time in an area that barely requires me to drive?
Well, the whole place is filled to the brim with gameplay opportunities, and the buildings that populate the area are more important than ever. In my time playing, it seemed like each structure had at least one quest tied to it. Unlike the rest of Night City, each section of Dogtown felt useful, even with the appearance of a ravaged city.
Even when I wasn’t completing another engaging Gig for Mr. Hands that led to me helping Brazilian spies or busting a ring of sports scouts that essentially use children as chromed-up slaves, I was caught up in the loot cycle. Dogtown is full of cars to steal and airdrops to take over, which happen to basically be Tier 5 loot pinatas. Then once you’ve had enough of running around as a Merc in Dogtown, you can return to the main story.
After the main story has come to a close, Phantom Liberty still offers up plenty of sidequests that only open up as a result of the collapse. I really couldn’t ask for more as an expansion.
The Final Verdict
Phantom Liberty is that missing piece of Cyberware that Cyberpunk 2077 has needed for so long. It’s a fully realized expansion with some of the best storylines in the entire game, and you can jump right in within Act 2. It’s not part of a vacuum at the end of your fight with Arasaka. It’s not some rushed DLC that gives you one last ride in Night City. Phantom Liberty is now part of the upgraded Sandevesitan that holds Cyberpunk 2077 together. Night City has never felt more alive and without Phantom Liberty, there is a chunk of the saga missing in my eyes.
Along with the release of Update 2.0, which overhauls every important system in the game, Phantom Liberty has made Cyberpunk 2077 the game we all imagined. What so many players heard about or played in 2020 is effectively different than what Cyberpunk 2077 is in September 2023. If you’ve been on the fence about playing for a long time or want a reason to jump back in, now is the perfect opportunity. Don’t leave Johnny and Songbird hanging in the Relic and get back in.
- The main story is action-packed, well written, and sold with great performances
- Dogtown is seamlessly added to the game with plenty of unique quests and Gigs
- Side quests really shine and offer up the chance for more choices
- The main story feels linear until the final act
- Choices could use more consequence