Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty Review
When CD Projekt Red announced that Idris Elba would be one of the stars of Cyberpunk 2077 - Phantom Liberty, any hype that I had for the expansion to one of my favourite RPGs was immediately killed. Celebrity castings in video games are rarely done well, and I will forever hold the opinion that casting Keanu “so wholesome it hurts” Reeves as bad boy punk rocker Johnny Silverhand in 2020’s buggiest but best title was a mistake. Although the actor of John Wick did a great job at humanising an NPC who could have easily been nothing more than a walking ex-soldier stereotype, I could never get over the idea that a man who is known for his love of puppies was voice acting a man who shamelessly slaughtered hundreds of corporate security guards in-game. I was worried, then, that once again I would have to spend hours with a figure who looks and talks like someone who just doesn’t belong in Night City regardless of their actual dialogue. However, thankfully, Poland’s preeminent developer has clearly learned from their mistakes (that may or may not have been mistakes in the first place depending on who you ask), because Elba and the character of Solomon Reed embody everything right about the depressing den of depravity that is Cyberpunk’s setting, and so does the game’s first and final expansion.
Unlike Cyberpunk 2077’s main questline, Phantom Liberty’s story has very little to do with getting K-man out of your protagonist’s head, and instead is a quick burn spy thriller. When the president of the New United States’ spaceship crashes in the outskirts of Night City, you’re contacted by a Federal Intelligence Agency operative and asked to save one of the leaders of the corpo-run world. Surprisingly, that task is easier done than said, but after you complete it, you’re forced to unravel a conspiracy that’s tangentially related to the base game’s narrative but focuses heavily on a new set of characters in a newly added area in a tale that takes about 20 hours to beat.
It almost goes without saying, given CD Projekt Red’s reputation, that doing the not-CIA’s wetwork in the militarised suburb of Dog Town is superbly enjoyable. Although not every one of the DLC’s many missions is perfect, and its overarching narrative leans a bit too heavily on intelligence book and movie tropes, all of the expansion’s writing is fantastic and has levels designed to make the most out of the various new weapons you’re given access to. Cyberpunk 2077’s recent 2.0 update, which is free for all players, refined and retooled the title’s gameplay to the point where it’s properly fun, and added a few new neat elements like vehicle combat and a proper police system. The DLC makes full use of all the various new tweaks to what had been a generally middle-of-the-road first-person shooter at launch but now is genuinely fantastic to ensure that Phantom Liberty is, from a narrative and shooting perspective, one of the best paid content drops since The Witcher 3 - Blood and Wine.
However, for as great as it feels to play with properly balanced cyberware or sit through expertly-crafted cutscenes, the stars of Phantom Liberty’s proverbial show are the people you interact with in it. Solomon Reed, your main contact in Dog Town, shines as a spy who has been perpetually dealt bad hands in life, and his character arc and dialogue rival those of other amazing video game confidantes like Charles in Red Dead Redemption 2 or Dina in The Last of Us Part 2. Almost every other supporting character you interact with in Phantom Liberty, too, has interesting tales and backgrounds, and the way in which they help or hinder you is intriguing to say the least. It’s impossible to explain exactly what sets Phantom Liberty’s NPCs apart from those in other roleplaying games without spoiling pivotal plot moments, besides how well-written their dialogue is, but we can say that it’s absolutely worth completing the DLC to see how everyone you meet interacts with one another.
The same was true for the main story in Cyberpunk 2077, which should be all the reason you need to buy Phantom Liberty, then. If you didn’t enjoy the core gameplay or character-driven plots of the base game, you’ll likely hate the game’s one and only DLC. But if you did, and are looking for an excuse to dive back into Night City, this is it. Although the expansion doesn’t change up the title’s gameplay, even though it is now seriously improved thanks to Update 2.0, and its main story follows a somewhat predictable spy-based plot structure, its NPCs and the interactions you have with them are fantastic to say the least. CD Projekt Red has long since cemented itself as being the definitive RPG developer, and the company’s latest and greatest piece of paid content doesn’t do anything to change that status. In a game filled to the brim with excellent quest lines and unique areas, Phantom Liberty presents yet another deeply personal and very depressing look at what the future may very well look like if corporations continue to control the government.
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