Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, Update 2.0 Deep Look
Phantom Liberty is streamlined and packed up to make the most of Cyberpunk 2077′s strengths, and it pays off incredibly well.
Much has been made of the troubled 2020 launch of CD Projekt RED’s Cyberpunk 2077. Victim of a mixture of its grand ambition, release pressures, and extreme expectation, the game clearly launched before it was ready to deliver on its promises. However, CD Projekt RED has admirably stuck with the game past its launch troubles, offering patches and upgrades in the two years following as it looks to finally near towards its full potential. That work has reached full fruition through the arrival of both its vaunted Update 2.0 patch and full story expansion Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, which combine to give the game an excellent new lease on life.
Phantom Liberty is unlocked roughly two-thirds into the Cyberpunk 2077′s main quest, and sees player character V contacted by a hacker named Songbird, who needs their help in Night City’s Dogtown district. Dogtown is outside of the authorities’ control, run by Colonel Hansen and his own private security force. Players can leap straight into the beginning of Phantom Liberty with a new game, but given how much it builds on V’s experiences until this point, it makes much more sense for players to have either started a new game — an option made more appealing with Update 2.0’s changes — or load an existing save. Either way, an exciting opening mission has players rescuing the President of the New United States, before saving Songbird herself. These missions put players in contact with FIA agent Solomon Reed, portrayed by Idris Elba.
Before getting into Phantom Liberty’s content, it’s worth diving into Update 2.0 and its major impact on the game overall. Having personally started with its PlayStation 4 release, things are remarkably different from the game’s launch woes, with two years of bug and technical improvements ensuring that the performance problems have been dealt with. However, with Update 2.0, CD Projekt RED has been able to turn its attention to the game’s systems and though there’s nothing that overrides the game’s underlying fundamentals, all of the touches and adjustments make Night City so much more engaging.
The biggest systemic changes with Update 2.0 focus on character builds. Skill progression and perk trees have been fully reworked; it’s more an indictment on the previous system that I have no memory of how it worked, but the new system is clear in how everything functions and the perks offer significant enhancements to their build to make things rewarding. There’s much more incentive to using cyberware, as well as hacking into opponents, and players no longer have to choose between looks and functionality with their clothing thanks to new wardrobe options.
Other major changes include enemies scaling to the player’s level, which fits much better with the open world nature of Night City and the game as a whole. Driving is notably improved; bikes are still superior to cars if players are in a hurry to get somewhere, but the traffic actually feels like traffic rather than sporadic roadblocks, and that goes for the much more natural foot traffic as well. Meanwhile, the new police and vehicle systems may not be anything outside of what one would expect, but do their own little bit at making Cyberpunk 2077 what it should’ve been. The biggest credit that Update 2.0 actually makes one feel like they are in an inhabited city; one can enjoy and be immersed in getting from one place to the other — be it on foot or wheels — and appreciate the immense level of design that’s gone into everything. It certainly feels like a much fresher experience that will reward players looking to start anew.
Phantom Liberty goes full on spy thriller with its storyline. V is effectively recruited into the FIA to join Reed and his small group of contacts as they investigate the attempt on the president’s life and the machinations of Hansen. This leads to plenty of subterfuge with the missions, which are often accompanied by an appropriate briefing complete with 3D maps and informational pop-ups. The subterfuge gets its own setting-appropriate spin with fancy technological tools and assistance, but there’s still plenty of time for pitting of talkative wits. Naturally, betrayal is a key element within everything, both past and present, as duty and trust come into conflict with past decisions. Every one of the characters has their own dark secrets, making it hard to judge whether anything is what it seems.
Phantom Liberty is streamlined and packed up to make the most of Cyberpunk 2077′s strengths, and it pays off incredibly well. The expansion is primarily focused on providing players with interesting missions. The repetitive and procedural elements — trying to get to equipment airdrops or picking up and delivering selected vehicles — are there for those who want the rewards but are otherwise easy to ignore. Both the main missions and its side quest gigs given by Mr. Hands showcase the best bits of the game, making great use of the setting to give players interesting stories and areas to explore. The main and side quests are all nicely linked together as well; with plenty of choice and interactions to be found. There are also plenty of nice little touches and follow-ups to that make working through them thoroughly rewarding.
Without wishing to spoil any specifics, the endings offered by Phantom Liberty are well worthy of attention. In true spy thriller fashion, its story features plenty of twists and betrayal, but builds into a spectacular final sequence as everything comes to a head. Each of the potential conclusions packs a strong emotional punch and speak to the difficulty of many of the decisions in the expansion. In addition to the expansion’s own endings, the game offers an additional potential conclusion to the main story that follows directly on from Phantom Liberty’s final choice. Given how it plays out, it’s likely best done after finishing one of the base game’s regular endings beforehand, but it offers a staggeringly emotional and bittersweet final possibility to V’s story that feels like it fully encapsulates Night City.
The endings are naturally enhanced by the fact that the vocal performances throughout are excellent. As one might expect, Idris Elba puts in a superbly measured performance as Solomon Reed, a tired but loyal agent haunted by his past and what has befallen those under him. Cherami Leigh and Keanu Reeves continue being standouts as the female V and Johnny Silverhand, and all of the new and returning cast members do their job of maximising the writing. Perhaps the best character from Phantom Liberty, however, is Songbird, and Minji Chang offers a great layered performance that really brings home the expansion’s emotional ending. The musical aspect of Phantom Liberty is fantastic as well, helping to rise the tension and get the blood pumping during its tense moments.
One can always point to the circumstances of the game’s launch, but it’s staggering how CD Projekt RED has turned Cyberpunk 2077 around. Even ignoring the technical hiccups, there was still something lacking in the game when it launched. However, the continued work the developer has put in has ensured that those who come back to it will be rewarded with a considerably more immersive experience, while Phantom Liberty works to add more of what the game demonstrated it could do at its best, packing a follow-up emotional punch on top of everything.
Disclosure: This article is based on a copy of the expansion provided by the publisher.