Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty review — A dark journey worth taking

I didn’t love Cyberpunk 2077.

While I had fun at parts, playing when Cyberpunk 2077 first dropped in Dec. 2020 was a mixed bag, with numerous glitches and performance problems — I lost hours of progress reloading saves when T-posing NPCs would block doors or quests failed to unlock. There was also weaker writing at times than I was used to with CD Projekt RED’s past games, alongside other issues. 

That background is necessary for the next part of this review to sink in fully: Phantom Liberty is a great time. The storyline is gripping from the beginning, and integrates naturally into the main path of the base game. Protagonist V is drawn into cloak-and-dagger wetwork with a compelling cast of characters, all of which have their own agendas. This synergizes with the free 2.0 update, which brings a heavy rework to the perks, improved police chases, a new system for Cyberware, and more.

Overall, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is worth your time, and aside from a small handful of blemishes, I’ve had a lot of fun falling in love with this dark new tale of Night City. 

While I won’t spoil anything from the expansion in this review, it’s impossible to talk about how well-integrated it is without mentioning some inciting events that are early in the base game.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by CD Projekt RED. The company did not see the contents of this review before publishing.

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty — What I liked

Enter Solomon Reed. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty

(Image credit: CD Projekt RED)

Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: CD Projekt S.A.
Playtime: ~25 hours
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, PS5
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Price: $29.99 USD
Release date: Sept. 26, 2023

This is a true expansion that significantly extends Cyberpunk 2077. The way in which this game doles out quests — often requiring you to wait a day or complete some side activities before you get a call to move on — means that it’s difficult to gauge the exact length of Phantom Liberty, but I’d say the expansion’s main path will take around 15 hours, with another 10 or so for the various gigs and side quests that are available.

Phantom Liberty kicks off a dozen or so hours into Cyberpunk 2077, when V, struggling to stay alive due to the malfunctioning Relic in their head, receives a lifeline in the form of an offer that seems too good to be true: Aid the president of the New United States of America, and you’ll get fixed up. V enters Dogtown, a previously locked-off portion of Night City under the direct control of a warlord. From there, things quickly spiral out of control. 

V makes contact with a number of characters, including the mysterious Netrunner Songbird, wetwork agent Solomon Reed, and Dogtown’s chief Kurt Hansen. Everyone has their own agenda, and during the course of the story you’ll have to figure out who you’re going to help as well as who can best help you.

Phantom Liberty tells you not to trust anyone, then asks that you choose who you’re going to trust. It’s a brutal juxtaposition that perfectly encapsulates your predicament and the weight of every decision that’s led this coterie on a collision course. Some of the choices here made me pause the game and walk around my living room to think, something that doesn’t happen often when I’m playing through RPGs.

High stakes. (Image credit: Windows Central)

The personal tone of this mission and the decisions you’re required to make means that Phantom Liberty ended up resonating with me a lot more than sections of the main story. You’ve been thrust into the howling dark, forced to act on instinct and hope in a world that provides little of the former and none of the latter. 

Even the side gigs in this expansion were interesting, with some fun scenarios that accounted for my behavior in ways the main game often didn’t. At one point, I thought I’d escorted some clients to safety after talking my way through a problem, only to get caught by surprise when the guy I was trying to fool recognized I’d killed one of his enforcers. 

Phantom Liberty also gives V a new skill tree. Unlike the reworked existing trees (more on those shortly) this “Relic” tree is based around boosting combat effectiveness, and requires careful exploration to recover special data. With that data, you’ll earn Relic Perk Points that can be used to enhance the deadliness of leaping with Mantis Blades and more. 

That’s reflected in the new soundtrack, composed by P.T. Adamczyk & Jacek Paciorkowski. The tracks transform back and forth from moody spy tracks to snarling, angry tunes that perfectly capture the headspace that V and others are in. 

Who do you trust? (Image credit: Windows Central)

In a similar vein, the new district of Dogtown is darkly gorgeous, with much of the district consisting of the run-off from Pacifica, as trash piles high while the people cower in Blade Runner-esque slums.

While it’s technically free and doesn’t require Phantom Liberty, I do have to touch on the improvements brought through the Cyberpunk 2077 2.0 update. Perks have been completely rebalanced so that you unlock new “tiers” of new perks as you invest in a particular attribute. It adds additional weight to how you choose to increase your attributes, with some extremely powerful combos if you’re careful with what you pick.

The ability to use some ranged weapons in vehicles is another welcome addition, one that feels incredibly natural to the game and is used to great effect throughout some side quests. 

Cyberware has also received some changes, as you now get armor directly from some pieces, while all Cyberware contributes to the overall total strain you’re putting on your body’s cyber-capacity. It makes a lot more sense given the narrative themes of pushing human limitations and how overloading can induce cyberpsychosis. 

Fans of police chases will be happy with the new system. As opposed to having cops spawn in rapidly (often hilariously on top of nearby buildings) you’ll instead have to evade them in a manner reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto. Taking out pursuers causes things to escalate, with more and more powerful teams trying to stop you.

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty — What I disliked

The AI still isn’t anything stunning.  (Image credit: Windows Central)

One thing the 2.0 update didn’t fix is enemy AI in combat. Most enemies still don’t take cover effectively or have tactics in general, and a couple even ran around instead of actually attacking me. It feels great to mow through enemy soldiers with heavy weapons and slash them apart with blades, but I quickly found that most encounters played out fairly similar to one another.

It’s not game-breaking, but it does mean that as long as you’re upgrading V and using better weapons whenever you find new gear, it’s pretty hard to die if you’re not facing off with a boss of some kind. 

I also ran into a couple of glitches during my playtime, with enemies suddenly, randomly growing suspicious of me during an undercover mission where I was supposed to blend it. I thought maybe I’d accidentally done something to tip them off, but it turned out to just be a bug, as reloading the save caused the mission to proceed with no issues. 

Another time, I had some weird, sustained slowdown for a few seconds when running around in Dogtown, with no other sections of the game showing any kind of performance problems. Finally, there was a Ripperdoc that I got stuck in conversation with, and the dialogue options wouldn’t disappear, forcing me to reload a recent autosave.

Let me be very clear, these issues weren’t even remotely in the realm of what I saw at Cyberpunk 2077’s launch, but considering I had to reload a couple of saves, they warrant mentioning all the same. 

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty — Should you buy?

Taking a knee for the fallen. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Phantom Liberty is the culmination of the work that CD Projekt RED has put in since Cyberpunk 2077 first arrived, coming after numerous updates and fixes. New characters and a new story flesh out the existing game in a way that punches above its weight. 

Combat can still feel overly straightforward, which is a shame because the new perk system and Cyberware balancing introduced through the 2.0 update really do make character progression more engaging. I also encountered a few glitches that caused some irritation, but the polish level is still night and day compared to playing Cyberpunk 2077 years ago on the same machine.

If, like me, you were let down in various ways by the original game, then Phantom Liberty will be much more to your liking. It’s not perfect, but it made me appreciate my time in Night City and may be enough to elevate Cyberpunk 2077 to our list of the best Xbox games. I’m more interested than ever in where this studio goes with this dystopian vision of the future. 

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