| Played on a RTX 4090 CLX Gaming PC and ROG Ally |
Warning: There’s a lot to unpack here.
When I reviewed CDPR’s Cyberpunk 2077 (PC version), I took a month to really dive into the nitty gritty of all that it has to offer at the time — I gave it a 9.5/10 for its excellent immersive factor, amazing RPG elements, fantastic gunplay and overall story. Despite its underwhelming life path introduction and Night City completely devoid of any other activity outside of gigs, it was an experience I still found to be important for gaming as a whole. Sure, it faced severe backlash regarding last-gen/performance and backend issues — some areas I found warranted, not so much in others. But that didn’t stop CDPR’s tireless effort to earn the community’s trust through damage control — and after 3 hard years of insurmountable work, their efforts elevated Cyberpunk 2077 to new heights, receiving over 550K Very Positive Reviews from gamers on Steam.
Phantom Liberty is nearly upon us, and I was lucky enough get access to a review build of the expansion. I spent last week diving into Update 2.0 and Night City’s new district, Dogtown, testing out all there is to offer and…. there’s no two ways about it — CDPR, much like their track record with The Witcher 3’s expansions, has delivered not only a fully packed expansion, but probably the best story Cyberpunk 2077 has told yet. When combining Update 2.0’s magnificent overhaul to the base game, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty feels like a proper sequel and one that’s woven so seamlessly to your progression. I loved every minute exploring Dogtown, and here’s why.
As I mentioned, Phantom Liberty integrates into the core plot of Cyberpunk 2077 seamlessly, offering a riveting espionage experience set amidst Night City. Plunging players into the heart of a treacherous mission with a closed off district called Dogtown, the orbital shuttle crash of the NUSA President triggers a high-stakes rescue operation helmed by the protagonist, V. The expansion excels in weaving a complex narrative of political intrigue and espionage, blurring the lines between power and the underground mercenary world. Right off the gate, CDPR tells an impeccable story and immerses the player into this world by means of body-language, excellent voice acting and a terrific cast of characters — making the world feel alive. Phantom Liberty stands as a testament to CD Projekt Red’s narrative prowess, enhancing the overall experience and leaving players captivated by the dark underbelly of Night City. There are some flaws here and there, like some repeated wording when characters are expressing anger and overlapping dialogue. It’s rare, but that is also the nature of games that’s built with this level of work — nothing is too perfect.
Phantom Liberty feels far more open with its choice dialogue than the base game — everything feels like it has weight to the overarching plot, and I found myself constantly second guessing. This story is told so well, it’s hard to really double down on your methods — which is a great thing and rare for a game that has a defined character such as V. Voice work has seen a significant improvement overall, my Male V feels far more entuned with his character than the base game. Idris’ character, Solomon Reed, is as bad ass as you hoped with layered trauma that seeps deeply to the core of the plot. Keanu Reeves yet again performs his best as Johnny Silverhand and newer cast brings great depth to the expansion. I don’t want to spill too much because you deserve to experience this fresh; I would set aside time to immerse in.
Phantom Liberty does not feature enhance graphical improvements — it still looks just as pristine as it did back when it launched. It has obviously been stabilized since launch, making the overall experience much more pleasant to the eyes. If you happen to have an RTX card that can handle DLSS 3.5 (DLSS Frame Generation in Graphics Settings) then you can take advantage of the Psycho RaynTracing/Path Tracing up to 4K at a stable 60fps which is something I did thanks to my CLX Gaming PC build.
The biggest draw for me is the level of detail from CDPR’s new assets for Dogtown. This dilapidated district thrives through crime and lawlessness. Remnants of a decade old war lay waste across the district, governed by a militia NCPD wouldn’t dare to combat. It is beautiful to look at as much as it is to explore. Toppled buildings and bridges that’s interconnected by torn wiring brings a sense of depth and environmental storytelling even gargantuan games such as Starfield can’t match. I must note that I was nearly glitch free until one occurrence happened where Reed was talking to me with his gun orbiting around his body during conversations — only happened twice which is a win to me. Truly a feast for the eyes and it’s a shame we won’t get more from the Red Engine after this expansion.
Cyberpunk 2077 feels utterly fresh. I mean, the overhaul regarding Update 2.0 is phenomenal at the very least. Every facet of this games components has been meticulously reworked to feel purposeful and deep. With additions like vehicle combat only solidifies this as being one of the best updates to ever hit games, for FREE. Sure, a lot of this should have been in the game from the get-go, but with the level of work put into the base game, that would be an unfair thing to assess. Everything within this update is an answer to nearly all the communities feedback and I adore CDPR for their relentlessness. Let’s highlight what Update 2.0 brings to everyone:
- Perk/Skills Overhaul: The perks system has been completely revamped, focusing on impactful choices to shape playstyles. This encourages conscious decision-making for a more immersive and enjoyable experience. New hacking mechanics, like Hack Queue and Overclock, add depth to gameplay.
- Cyberware and Armor Changes: V now has a limit on cyberware, tied to their level and expandable with progression. Careful consideration of cyberware choices is crucial. Armor is now integrated with cyberware, enhancing its significance in character development and gameplay.
- Ripperdoc Changes: Ripperdoc visits are now more immersive with an overhauled UI for streamlined cyberware selection. V must physically undergo surgery for each piece of cyberware, adding depth to the experience with new SFX and interactive elements.
- Police System: Improved AI behavior and escalated response based on your actions. Heat levels influence police behavior, with increased aggression and deployment of stronger units. This creates a more dynamic and believable police interaction.
- Vehicle Combat: Focus on chases and combat between vehicles. Allows for free-firing while driving, targeting weak spots on enemy vehicles, and high-speed ramming. Some cars feature externally mounted guns for intense street combat.
- Quickhacks in Vehicle Combat: Options include Emergency Brake, Self-destruct, and Floor It, adding strategic elements to vehicular combat.
- Stamina System: Sprinting no longer depletes stamina; instead, it’s drained by firing guns and dashing, intensifying combat sequences.
As you can see, there’s a lot of significant additions and changes you should look forward to, and it’s amazing, truly. When you start your Phantom Liberty run, you have a choice to start free, replay the entire game from scratch or continue with your previous save. All of your skill points will be refunded according to your level due to the overhaul, which you can use to experiment with all of the reworked perks. You can freely refund skills to add to another to experiment further which should really brighten the eyes of build crafters.
Reading through the perks once again may sound daunting, but I assure it’s organized. After spending some time re-learning the perks, I found myself knowing what my build would look like — nearly identical to my previous Monowire/Quickhacks but far more potent in return. The overhaul allows for some slick implementation such as adding Deamon software per hit with the Monowire which left me flabbergast honestly. Alongside the emphasis on overkills like dismemberment and obliteration, combined with improve status affects really heightens the overall flow of combat. The addition of Stamina being affect by gunplay/melee induces more thought to my approach and further immersed me into combat few games does so well. It’s a subtle tactical change that challenges the players without overbearing them — much like the Souls games.
With Update 2.0 CDPR introduces a long-awaited feature: vehicle combat. It only took me a few minutes to fine tune how I want my sensitivity to be for steering to realize this is one of the best gameplay mechanics CP2077 has to offer. You will feel like you’re pulling off all the driving action sequences from every John Wick movie ever with ease. The reworked perk adds new ones which allows for vehicle damage, defense and acrobatics. On controller, double tap or hold B button (or O on PS) to either hop onto the hood of your vehicle and jump off for some slow-motion devastation or slide off the vehicle to then ram into another with style. Some vehicles have mounted weapons too and if you’re skilled enough, attempt a donut while shooting tracking missiles, then jump off and slam your heavy hammer onto a group of enemies. It’s possible and that’s fucking awesome.
The Shadow Organization
Phantom Liberty is not a DLC, heck its jam packed with so much stuff to collect and do that it damn near obliterates being an expansion. You can expect to experience these during your playthrough:
- Main Quest: 13 missions with a new ending for the base game.
- Side Quests: 17 new side quests and gigs.
- New Location: Dogtown, a walled-off district in Pacifica with cyberpsychos, stalkers, gang conflicts, opponents, and surprises.
- New Relic Skill Tree: Introduces fresh perks and a new method for gathering perk points.
- New Items: Weapons, tech, vehicles, potent consumables, and a range of clothing options.
- New Open World Activities: Engage in courier missions and airdrops with infinite replayability.
- New Boss Fights: Face powerful adversaries in main quests, side quests, and gigs.
- Three New Radio Stations and Soundtrack: A substantial collection of music from CD PROJEKT RED and international creators.
- New Minigame “Trauma Drama”: Playable in arcades across Night City for added entertainment.
Let’s talk about the new addition to the reworked perk system, Relics. Shortly after booting the game, you are met with a mysterious figure called Songbird. The enigmatic netrunner uncovers a concealed Militech combat program within V’s relic, introducing a new skill tree in the Character menu known as the Relic tree. This tree provides a diverse range of abilities customizable to various playstyles, including stealth-oriented approaches, critical-hit marksmanship, mastery of cyberware, and more. Unlike conventional skill trees that rely on Character Points for advancement, the Relic tree utilizes unique Relic points obtainable through exploration within Dogtown. Additionally, Songbird may grant you these points as rewards during the campaign.
Here are all the new perks introduces in the Relic tree:
New Perks in the Relic Tree:
- Jailbreak (Applies to Mantis Blades, Gorilla Arms, Projectile Launch System, and Monowire):
- Mantis Blades: Dismembering or performing a finisher charges the next leaping attack, dealing massive damage with extended reach.
- Gorilla Arms: Normal attacks charge up for a powerful strike, causing a shockwave and sending enemies flying.
- Projectile Launch System: Overcharge for larger area coverage.
- Monowire: Install control quickhacks, allowing direct uploads with charged strong attacks.
- Launch Capacity Override: Increases Projectile Launch System charges.
- Emergency Cloaking: Activating optical camo in combat causes enemies to lose track, enabling a smooth exit.
- Sensory Protocol: When crouched, being detected triggers time slowdown for evasion and immediate exit from combat.
- Vulnerability Analytics: Analyze enemies for weak points in armor and cyberware, providing critical damage chance and increased armor penetration. Weak points explode upon deletion.
- Machine Learning: Destroying an enemy’s vulnerability increases the chance of creating another one, along with increased crit damage against vulnerabilities.
- Limiter Removal: Gorilla Arms shockwave attack knocks down all nearby enemies.
- Spatial Mapping: Leaping attacks with Mantis Blades cripple enemies and boost dismemberment chance.
- Data Tunneling: Monowire quickhack-affected enemies spread the effect to others upon further attacks.
On top of your overall build, you will have access to these especially heavy set of Relic skills. It may sound OP, but with the threshold limitation on Cyberware having a negative impact on your health and sanity, there’s a balance to explore.
When CP2077 launched, my biggest and practically only gripe was the absence of any open-world activities, whether it be mundane task like bowling or dating to randomly generated criminal activities to keep the players engaged in the world. Thankfully, Phantom Liberty rectifies that to some degree with a range of new activities post-campaign. There are two new open-world mission types in Dogtown that are able to be tackled infinitely with multiple variations:
In Dogtown, AVs regularly air-drop cargo for Dogtown’s militia personnel. However, these deliveries often contain valuable weapons and supplies sought after by more than just its members – including you. As you approach the drop zone, you’ll have the opportunity to secure airdrops for yourself. Be prepared for a potentially intense firefight. The following are the various airdrop scenarios:
- Retake: A small encounter with a few enemies.
- Shootout: Enemies have already swarmed the drop zone. To claim the supplies, you’ll need to eliminate them.
- Ambush: The drop zone initially appears empty, but enemies will emerge once you grab the loot. Take them down and make your escape to secure the cache.
- Grab: Your lucky day; you’ve arrived before anyone else. Enjoy your loot without any strings attached.
- Custom: These drops feature dedicated narrative elements and backstory, providing insight into the players of Dogtown and immersing you further into its seedy dealings.
El Capitan, a prominent fixer known for operations in Santo Domingo, presents V with a business proposal. This proposition involves acquiring and transporting specific vehicles to Capitan’s garages. However, the vehicles in question are already claimed, making the task of acquiring and safely delivering them a challenge. Much like airdrops, courier missions are dynamically generated and offer limitless possibilities, with various iterations to keep each mission distinct and engaging. Additionally, there are two distinct, one-time story missions within the courier mission category. Here are the different mission variations:
- Chase: Enemy vehicles appear nearby and initiate an attack.
- Timer / No damage: These missions test your driving skills, emphasizing speed and precision. You must either meet the delivery time limit or ensure the vehicle remains undamaged to earn a bonus.
- Hacking: Utilizing specialized tech, you’ll be tasked with hacking the enemy vehicle to retrieve it.
Each of these yields extremely great rewards based on your level. I started this expansion at lv50, and I was getting a ton of ICONIC weapons to fool around with. Courier Missions is the only activity that can be played outside of Dogtown whereas Airdrops is limited to only Dogtown I found. Let’s hope a future patch implements it across Night City for even greater immersion. I really hope CDPR doesn’t abandon the game and instead add more to this formula before their sequel. These missions serve as great distractions during my 30hr playthrough and I found myself neglecting other games to come back for more.
And to think there’s still more for me to uncover.
REVIEW SCORE: 10/10
CDPR has delivered the best expansions across their entire portfolio to date. It’s damn near a standalone game, enough to be nominated for Game of the Year in my opinion. It looks and plays phenomenally with impeccable writing and plot along its characters. Phantom Liberty is packed with meaningful content that respects the players time with a level of detail that is rare to find outside of this company. I didn’t suffer from anything game breaking during the course of my 30hr playthrough aside from a couple visual glitches that’s so minor, it’s weird to mention it. I can easily find myself replaying this game once again before finally putting it to rest. Here’s to another 100hrs.