6th December 2023 12:41 pm
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Phantom Liberty Review – What Should Have Been

Can you revamp a nearly three-year old AAA RPG that by any measure had a disastrous launch?

Some, in fact many, would say no, but the team at CD Projeckt RED (CDPR) has done exactly that with Cyberpunk 2077. A title surrounded by an inordinate amount of hype and destined to redefine the genre, the launch of the game was so poor that calling it dead on arrival would have been a mercy.

To CDPR’s credit, however, 34 months later and Cyberpunk 2077 is a wholly different beast, now delivering much of the promise that it was originally intended to. Add to that the massive overhaul and improved stability that Update 2.0 brings to the table, and there truly is no better time to get stuck into the world of Night City.

This brings us to Phantom Liberty.

Whether you call it a DLC, expansion, or sequel, Phantom Liberty packs roughly 30 hours of action into its affordably priced package (R539 on PS5). That’s more than most AAA titles tout, and while the developer has not stated as much, it’s clear that Phantom Liberty serves as both a thank you to those players who have stuck with the title during its growing pains, as well as a signal of intent that CDPR knows who to make great RPGs.

Having poured 30-plus hours into the expansion ourselves, here’s why we wholeheartedly recommend Phantom Liberty, regardless of what your Cyberpunk experience has been like to date.

Mercs of Dogtown

One of the first questions we had about this expansion was how it fit into the main storyline of Cyberpunk, especially given the different endings that players can journey down.

As it turns out, it’s a bit of a moot point, as the expansion pretty much picks up before the mission requiring players to meet Hanako at The Embers in you’re in the endgame. The expansion also wastes little time in getting straight into the action, as well as choosing not to explain why this large inaccessible part of Night City is now open to us.

While we’d normally be sticklers for something like that, the storyline uses the lure of a potential Relic cure in order to avoid players, and by extension V, from asking too many questions.

As for the cordoned-off portion of Pacifica, Dogtown is an interesting mix of lawlessness and heavy militant presence, while the buildings are even more decrepit than any other rundown part of Night City than we’ve encountered before.

In fact, Dogtown feels like the region of Night City that time forgot.

While being a completely unwelcoming section of the map, Dogtown is rich in terms of areas to explore, places to loot, eddies to make, and street cred to earn. Regarding looting, there are now mini gang strongholds that players are able to raid, taking out a few waves of enemies in order to access stashes filled with iconic/legendary weapons, clothing, mods, and more.

Along with the stash zones, Dogtown introduces a number of different fighting mechanisms. These include the vehicular kind, as you’ll be able to take out enemies while behind the wheel of your car. There are also missions to “relieve” vehicles of their previous owners in order to help the fixer El Capitan with his burgeoning chop shop.

One of the other key fixers in this expansion is Mr. Hands, who is vying to gain more control of Dogtown. You also get to meet the man behind the hands face-to-face, as V starts to take more of an interest in the politics of Night City.

Rock and a hard place

As for the other key players in Phantom Liberty, you are introduced early on to So Mi Song (Songbird), an elite edgerunner who is fighting for her life, much like V. We also interact heavily with Songbird’s former team at Federal Intelligence Agency (FIA), led by Solomon Reed, who is played by Idris Elba.

Throughout the expansion, V is placed in the middle of the tension-filled relationship of Songbird and Reed. It is this dynamic that drives much of the storytelling and decision-making that V needs to do in the game. As such, you’re often left with picking between what’s the right thing to do and what’s the best thing to do.

Like the original game, there are no small decisions, and the spy thriller nature of Phantom Liberty is etched into nearly every line of dialogue.

Looking at some of the other notable characters in the expansion, Alex completes the trio of exiled FIA members that V interacts with. Much like Songbird and Reed, she’s jaded with Dogtown and is looking to escape. One of the antagonists for the expansion is Colonel Hansen, who runs Dogtown for all intents and purposes, using it as his personal playground and port from which he supplies arms to military leaders across the globe.

We had initially thought that he was Phantom Liberty’s Adam Smasher heel, but the way our playthrough panned out, that was sadly not the case.

If you’re expecting boss battles, Phantom Liberty is a little sparse in this department, although there is a “fun” encounter with a massive robot called the Chimera in the opening few stanzas.

Shifting to some of the intangible aspects of the expansion, most of which were included in the aforementioned Update 2.0, and the game as a whole is far more stable. Having played Cyberpunk prior to the update on PS5, every so often freezing would occur, requiring a restart of the console.

Since said Update, that has not occurred once (knock on wood).

The Perk system has also seen a significant overhaul, and for the better in our opinion. The number of perks has been reduced by a third by our count, and identifying perks needed to access specific features is now far easier. Streamlining this system, and adding a perk tree for the Relic, makes things far easier for those wanting to go for certain types of builds.

Final verdict

Cyberpunk 2077’s Phantom Liberty expansion is one of the best we have played for an RPG game in quite some time.

Not only does it include quality-of-life improvements to the base game, but brings new ways to play, while refining elements to make customisation and tailoring the gameplay experience far easier. Add to that a compelling storyline, some truly difficult decisions for players to make, and a number of visual improvements, and Phantom Liberty gives more bang for your buck than most DLCs.

We’d even go so far as to say that it has breathed new life into this game, and makes the prospects of future expansions all the more enticing.

FINAL SCORE: 9 OUT OF 10.

FULL DISCLOSURE: PHANTOM LIBERTY WAS REVIEWED WITH A DIGITAL DOWNLOAD OF THE EXPANSION PURCHASED BY HYPERTEXT.

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