No Man’s Sky, Cyberpunk 2077, Halo: Master Chief Collection, Fallout 76: I’m not just listing unquestionably good games, but these are all games in which we should think back to their initial release.
Met with poor reviews – and even poorer experiences for players – these games suffered at launch. But, they all managed to turn things around, and are in very healthy places now.
All are still receiving updates of varying degrees too, helping push further improvement. Which brings us to Phantom Liberty, the sole expansion for Cyberpunk 2077; an expansion limited to current-gen consoles as well. CD Projekt RED already have a huge task on their hands; their previous DLC offerings for The Witcher 3 are often regarded as two of the best in the business. So how does Phantom Liberty compare, and does it take Cyberpunk 2077 from a very good game into something even better? And, more importantly, where does Idris Elba fit into all this?
Well, choom, like a good braindance, it is time to jack in.
Phantom Liberty takes place during the events of the main story of Cyberpunk 2077, rather than extending the narrative after the conclusion. That means you have a few options with how to proceed. If you have a previous save where the mission ‘Transmission’ has been completed, load that up and you can start it straight away. Or, you can create an entirely new save from the beginning and play Phantom Liberty when it unlocks. Alternatively, you can even start a new game at Level 20 and play it that way. You’ll know you are onto the expansion when a character called Songbird contacts you with something urgent.
Songbird needs you to infiltrate the new area of Dogtown in Night City, to rescue the President of the New United States of America, Rosalind Myers. The NUSA is a shadow of the superpower that the USA once was before its collapse, but she is still a major player and her survival is of the utmost importance.
Songbird is Myers’ right hand woman, and an accomplished Netrunner. For example, she is able to contact V via the Relic chip; the same chip that V has implanted that has the conscious being of Jonny Silverhand uploaded, AKA Keanu Reeves. As a result, you are the only one Songbird can contact to help save the day.
What follows is a breathless opening couple of hours into Phantom Liberty as you firstly try to infiltrate this walled off city-within-a-city, and then get the President to safety. Those of you who have previously played Cyberpunk 2077 as a more stealthy affair will find little use for those skills here. You are being hunted, and must fight fire with fire.
There is little opportunity to explore Dogtown during these first few missions, but there is plenty of time once you manage to get to relative safety. Dogtown represents a pretty unique area in Night City; you need to sneak in initially, but after that, Mr. Hands is able to pull some strings to grant you access in and out of Dogtown. He will also be your primary fixer in Dogtown; expect to hear from him frequently.
Dogtown was designed to be a paradise for the ultra-rich, and that is immediately obvious from some of the gorgeous architecture visible in the skylines. However, it has become its own entity, governed by the militant Kurt Hansen. It is somewhere that even the NCPD will not go. Such is the lawlessness of Dogtown, it makes the rest of Night City seem like a truly preem location.
Dogtown isn’t the biggest expansion in terms of size of real estate. But it packs a lot into that small area, with a host of hidden areas away from prying eyes. And, like the main game, it is full of a city that feels alive like no other open worlds can. Visit an area called The Moth – where people are drawn to it like a moth to flames – and see a more friendly side to Dogtown, or take in some of the unique architecture. Just don’t stand around for too long near the Barghest troops; the closest thing to law enforcement in Dogtown.
You will have plenty of opportunity to explore it after the opening moments, and it is here you will finally be introduced to Solomon Reed, AKA Idris Elba. A former FIA agent, he has been acting as a sleeper agent for some years in Night City for reasons that will be revealed as you play. Let it be known though; Phantom Liberty goes deep.
As you explore Dogtown and the story in this spy-thriller, there are some truly fantastic missions to play through. And as with any good spy-thrillers, expect plenty of twists and turns. One moment you could be shooting your way through an area, the next swimming through another, before sitting down for one of the most tense games of roulette you will have ever witnessed. Then it is back to shooting again, searching for clues, espionage, a little bit of dancing and just playing through generally some of the most memorable quests in Cyberpunk 2077 – and indeed open-world games for many years.
Such is the impressiveness of some of these moments within the quests, you are given braindances of specific moments afterwards for you to enjoy any time you like.
The top notch writing also extends to some of the side-quests as well. One inadvertently hilarious gig introduces you to the two most inept cops in Night City. They’ve somehow managed to become prisoners in their old police station, and it’s up to you to free them. Only, when you finally reach them, what you’ll uncover leads to a brilliant conclusion depending on how you approach that mission. I don’t want to spoil it, but you should definitely search this quest out in Dogtown.
Like many of the other gigs, they continue after the initial quest, and the writing is just as excellent as the main Phantom Liberty story.
Mr. Hands also has a ton of other work for you, and sometimes the narrative pushes you towards completing them in an attempt to elongate the Phantom Liberty playtime. A couple of times you are told to wait for Reed to call you whilst he comes up with the next stage of the plan, but I’d much rather be involved with these conversations than sat doing some generic car fetch quests. When you are having these conversations with Reed, Songbird and others, the writing and voice acting shines, more than the gameplay itself at times.
Then there are also repeatable missions such as claiming airdrops and procuring/stealing cars for El Capitan. These car missions are in a similar vein to finding the Delamain cars in the main game, only without the humorous AI for company. They can be a good introduction to the new vehicular combat with some good loot for completing, but there is little variation in between them.
Phantom Liberty also brings with it update 2.0 for all players of Cyberpunk 2077. This includes revamped skill trees, cyberwares and – if we’re being honest – some things that should have been in there at launch; the likes of better policing and vehicular combat. It still isn’t perfect though; within five minutes of me starting Phantom Liberty I saw a woman seated in a car driving along, only the car wasn’t there and she was floating along the road. Just let it be known that Cyberpunk 2077 is still in a far better state than that infamous 1.0 release.
A word of warning though, to avoid something I did. Loading an existing save into Cyberpunk 2.0 will cause all your skills and cyberwares to be reset. The skill tree was easily rectified but will likely result in you losing some skills depending on what level you are; it now seems to lock off many traits until you reach a higher level. The cyberwares though, can only be re-added at a ripper doc, and it was a few hours into returning to Night City that I visited one. After that however, the game felt much fairer and I managed to survive most encounters.
Phantom Liberty for Cyberpunk 2077 takes the Mission: Impossible films and slams them right into Night City. But the earlier films mind you, not the ones where Tom Cruise throws himself off every building, ledge and vehicle you can imagine. What you are left with is a tonally perfect spy thriller with thrills, spills, double crosses, triple crosses and more espionage than there are dishonest people in Dogtown. The more action focussed moments can be tense, but the sit down and suss out your acquaintances in a battle of the vocabularies can be equally tight, if not more. Phantom Liberty shies away somewhat from the human enhancing element of Cyberpunk 2077, but it is no less of an expansion for doing so either.
Some legacy issues remain in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty and Update 2.0, and I have had to load a previous save up on a couple of occasions due to various bugs. And the pacing for Phantom Liberty can be a bit questionable as you sit and twiddle your thumbs for the next story mission. But that’s primarily due to the writing and plot being of such a high standard. Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty grabs your attention instantly, and refuses to let go until the conclusion.