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Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty DLC review

I’d forgotten how much I love Night City’s rain-slicked streets

“The mind of man is capable of anything.” That was true when Joseph Conrad published his novella, Heart of Darkness, in 1899. It’s even more true in Cyberpunk 2077 – a dystopian vision of a future where the human mind is melded with machines, its capacity to inflict horrors unleashed and overclocked, and where people call each other things like “chumba wumba”.

Civilization requires restraint, and the sprawling metropolis of Night City is anything but restrained.

The game’s new expansion, Phantom Liberty, takes us to Dogtown, a wartorn, no-go area of Pacifica where a former NUSA officer called Kurt Hansen has gone native and set himself up as a Colonel Kurtz wannabe. This charismatic and deadly skinhead controls the hearts and minds of the soldiers and citizens who call Dogtown home.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot

Dogtown looks how you’d imagine the aftermath of a nuke – especially when the sunset hits the smog and bathes everything in a Blade Runner-orange haze. The palm trees that line the roads hunch over like old crones, as beaten down by their surroundings as the people trapped among the shanty stacks and their grated industrial walkways.

A failed attempt to gentrify Dogtown has left its landscape scarred with monuments to corporate hubris, the husk of a giant football stadium and the ruins of a museum serving as a reminder of what almost was. A large pyramid, lit up by neon, sits at the district’s center, flanked by brutalist architecture, abandoned urban developments, and burnt-out cars.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot

You’re pulled into this world by a promise from a powerful hacker called Songbird (played by Minji Chang), who claims to have a cure for your Keanu Reeves-shaped mind parasite. All you have to do is save the President and buddy up with a sleeper agent called Reed (played by Idris Elba). Of course, nothing is as it seems in this city of blood and chrome, but even more so when you’re wrapped up in a spy thriller that takes cues from Mission Impossible, James Bond, and Apocalypse Now.

Phantom Liberty’s cast of characters are some of the most colorful we’ve seen in Cyberpunk. The main players – Hansen, Reed, and Songbird – are all multidimensional, and every actor brings their A-game. I’d even go as far as to say that I prefer Elba’s take on Reed – a complicated, depressed spy who was betrayed by everyone he’s ever known – over Reeves as Silverhand.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot

If I didn’t already know beforehand that all of this was done in voice-over booths instead of the motion capture stage, I would never have guessed. CD Projekt Red’s animators have done an incredible job of making every conversation feel dynamic as the cast moves around the scenes and chews them up. And as hard as it is to frame things in an exciting way when every conversation is seen through your character’s eyes, there’s almost always an interesting backdrop or some other context that keeps you engaged in each conversation.

It’s a classic CD Projekt Red expansion, building on top of the base game to focus on the team’s story chops, creating something additive to the main story in the same way that Hearts of Stone was for The Witcher 3. If you choose certain options, there’s even a way the expansion can spill out into your main save and impact the main game’s ending in a way that makes you see everything differently, and depending on what you choose in the second act, the third act is an entirely different mission. This city chews up and spits people out, but life moves on whether you’re there with your lofty ambitions or not.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot

Mechanically, it’s essentially the same as what came before but supercharged. Thanks to a brilliant new skill system, you can dive deeper into combat specializations and become that katana-wielding badass you always imagined, deflecting bullets back at enemies as you jump, dash, and slide around, lopping limbs as you go. If you want to go for the big guns, Phantom Liberty has them in spades, too. An early boss fight against a huge mech shows off the combat at its most hectic, highlighting how impressive the environmental destruction is. For my money, it’s the best first-person combat we’ve ever had in an RPG, and this expansion makes it even better.

The expansion also arrives alongside Cyberpunk 2077’s patch 2.0, which adds that skill system along with a host of other new features. Vehicles have been completely overhauled, allowing you to fight from them by either shooting from the windows or using mounted guns. On a bike, you can even use a blade and pull off a cavalry charge at 100mph, which is as cool as it sounds. And if you were one of the people who wanted to get into cop chases through Night City, there’s also a new police system that culminates in a chase from militarized police force Max Tac. It’s enough to make me want to start yet another new playthrough.

Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty screenshot

Between launch and now, I’d forgotten how much I love Night City’s rain-slicked streets. Just existing in this world is enough, but it’s CD Projekt Red’s writing that keeps you there. It’s one of those games that completely wraps you up and dominates your thoughts when you’re not playing. Cyberpunk 2077 has always been good at pulling you into its world, but Phantom Liberty grabs you by the collar and pushes your face right into the grimy, piss-soaked alleyways.

Score: 10/10

Version tested: PC

  • Visuals: 10/10
  • Writing: 10/10
  • Combat: 9/10
  • Audio: 10/10