Few games have been released to as bad a reception as Cyberpunk 2077. But now, 3 years after its initial catastrophic launch, the team at CD Projekt Red has attempted to pull the game from the grave with all-new DLC and a huge 2.0 patch. This update is being released with definite trepidation on both the fans’ side and the studios, but is it enough to revive the original game, and does Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty deliver on what was promised all those years ago?
V’s new venture
The first thing to really bring up is the plot and storyline of Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty. The blurb of the expansion advertises it as a high-octane spy thriller delving you deep into the world of spycraft and espionage. Many games have run this route before, a lot of them really nailing it. However, I feel Phantom Liberty misses the mark.
Now, I am a fan of the gritty crime fiction genre. Raymond Chandlers Philip Marlowe was always featured on my shelves. The smokey rooms, lit by half-open blinds, playing host to damsels in distress. Hopeless Femme Fatales leading our boozy heroes’ quest into dark alleys and the extraction of information that would never stand up in court due to its violent methods.
Cyberpunk tries all too hard to capture this essence, even featuring the cliche unlit office and underhanded information gathering. Despite their best efforts, the attempt at mirroring the dark underworld just gets buried under the sheer amount of exposition.
Oh so predictable
I was expecting some long, drawn-out conversations at the beginning of the expansion. The game is introducing new characters and a whole new situation, and the team at CD Projekt Red obviously wants to make the most of Idris Elba’s dulcet tones. I didn’t expect 90% of the expansion to be me listening to the characters talk at me. The storyline is predictable, uninspiring, and due to its obscenely wordy nature, hard to focus on.
There is a clear case of betrayal in the game, as there always is in the gritty crime fiction genre, but it comes from such obvious angles that I chose to walk into it just to see if would surprise me. The twists and turns are simple meanders, as your choices seem to have little to no effect on how the plot thickens. This is a problem the original game also suffered from, as players felt they had less choice in the way the game played and instead had only the illusion of choice, ending up with the same outcome anyway.
However, the Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty expansion does offer a new ending for the game, which will certainly have some players coming back. The option is an interesting one that is the main justification for the expansion, I feel. I think CD Projekt Red is trying to encourage payers to try again with the game now they have freshly revamped it with the 2.0 update.
The expansion promises personal playthroughs, and the idea behind Cyberpunk 2077’s original release was a huge plethora of freedom and choice. One of the larger gripes of the community is the way the game kettles players into very few outcomes, and few of the choices made any difference. The expansion doesn’t fix this, nor does the 2.0 update.
I didn’t want to play as a pawn to the government, my character is anti-establishment to the core, and there looked to be some much cooler bad guys out there I could side with. However, Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty gives you no choice as to the direction you take, and instead, I ended up fighting against a foe I considered more of a friend. The sides V is forced to take don’t feel fitting for the renegade they are.
I understand that the Phantom Liberty update has a story to tell, and being able to give too much choice in that would, well, take a lot of work. Phantom Liberty gives small choices you can make and a few large ones near the end, changing the final result. However, I really felt that the new characters and situations could have given much more than the rather linear and basic story that was played out.
With games like Baldur’s Gate 3 setting all-new highs for RPGs and choice, I think it can be expected that other huge studios step up to the mark. However, not all RPGs are created equal. If you are expecting diversity and choice in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, look elsewhere. If you want a straightforward, single-thread story with a choice at the end, you won’t be disappointed.
A celebrity selling point
I love Idris Elba, his role in The Wire as Stringer Bell is one of my favorites of all time, so finding out he was the latest celebrity Cyberpunk 2077 had roped in was not a disappointment. It’s a good thing the man has a voice like smooth peanut butter, too, because goddamn does he talk a lot.
Both Elba’s likeness and voice have been used in the expansion, and it is used constantly. As I mentioned before, the amount of time talking in this game outweighs the time actually playing the game 4 to 1. A lot of this time is spent clicking through rather vapid conversations intended to flesh out a story that needs less flesh and more bones. By hour 10 of listening to Idris explain exactly what is happening, you kind of want to ask, “Could this have just been an email”?
However, I am very pleased they used Idris Elba in the Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty expansion and not some like, let’s say, Gilbert Gottfried. My ears would have bled.
The Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty expansion has an interesting pacing. I am inclined to believe that it is done on purpose and styled to suit an audience that prefers bumping gums to firing guns. There is a huge amount of creeping around in corridors listening to exposition, standing in admittedly well-designed rooms listening to exposition and driving around in now easier-to-handle cars, you guessed it, listening to exposition.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is 75% waiting for a character to explain the plot to you, 15% waiting for ‘So and So to call you,’ and 10% actual action. Of course, if you’re a player who enjoys a lot of plot, this is ideal. However, the forced waiting between missions is very clearly just a way to drag the game out and encourage players to delve into some of the samey go-here-and-shoot/grab-this side missions.
There are a number of nice set pieces, such as the Chimera at the beginning, that get the blood pumping. It’s nothing new from the base Cyberpunk 2077 game, but that was one of the best bits of it anyway. The build-up to each large confrontation takes hours, and the payoff rarely takes more than 2 attempts to get right, even played on hard. I found that there were more quick-time events than the game called for in situations where it would have been much more fun actually to play through it myself.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty promised lots of new weapons, along with cyberware, gigs, and missions. They certainly delivered, but in a world already so full, it’s hard to pick out the gold.
Tons of guns
Cyberpunk never had a problem with the sheer amount of weapons they had crammed into the game. With a base of a decent swathe of guns and melee weapons, it was rare you wouldn’t find some new, named, legendary every half hour or so. This hasn’t changed, and it does add a good element to the Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty expansion.
I picked up a precision weapon quite early on in the new expansion called Hypercritical. It has explosive bullets, and the final shot is always critical. It has no scope and no option to add one, but it absolutely slaps and stuck with me from the beginning to the end. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
But, in this praise also lies the problem. Although they have added a vast amount of new guns to the pool, a lot of them simply don’t weigh up and just end up as another gun thrown into your stash for later. Of course, you can give each of the guns a try and see how each one compares, but with the sheer amount of new unique weapons thrown at you, it’s hard to pick.
This may be a problem with my playstyle. Perhaps I’m not adventurous enough, but the sheer number was overwhelming. That being said, the guns I did use felt fantastic, and each one felt totally unique, with equal boons and bonuses. The variety of weapons does mean that no two players are likely to end up with the same arsenal, although I’m sure I’ll be writing an article on the most overpowered Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty guns in no time.
Airdrops and side missions
New to Cyberpunk 2077 are the airdrop side missions, introduced by a side character early in the game. Now I think of it, they existed only to mention the air drops, then completely disappeared from the plot. I hope they’re okay…
The airdrops come flying down from the sky to land somewhere in Dogtown; the new area opened up on the map. The red smoke will be a target for gangs all over the city to get their hands on whatever is inside the cache. It’s up to you to get to it and hack it open before they do, or you die.
However, I didn’t once find an airdrop I couldn’t just walk up to, access, repeatedly fail to crack, finally get it right, and loot the whole thing. You can’t be hurt while hacking, and the AI is so bad at shooting that it is very easy to just stroll up to it. They’re hardly a challenge and a great way to get your hands on a load of new gear.
The driving missions are another retrieval mission that is the bain of every RPG, I’m looking at you, Far Cry. Around the map are a few cars that need picking up and delivering to a spot. The variety of cars is fun, and some of the chases are amusing, but again, the AI lets it all down. Car chases are more of a challenge to stay in than escape from. So the mission becomes a simple case of driving to a location and leaving the car. Sometimes, there is a little extra to do, such as shooting a few bad guys, but nothing too original.
The shining star of the Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty expansion is the relic system. This whole new skill tree focuses primarily on your augmented arms. You can improve Mantis blades, Monowire, Projectile Launch systems, and Gorilla arms straight from the get-go and then further boost them with more Relic points.
The Relic system is a nice addition and encourages the use of your arm augmentations. They featured heavily in the animated series on Netflix, and now with the latest expansion, they can be used properly.
The other two branches, which cost significantly more to unlock, focus on either stealth or combat, giving room for either build. And don’t worry; all points can be refunded depending on how you want to destroy Dogtown that day.
A whole new world
Dogtown and its residents are the exclusive new area for you to explore in the Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty update. Although locked off from the rest of the world, it doesn’t offer all that much more, visually or culturally, to the base game.
Entering through some heavily guarded gates lands you in another part of the map, equally drenched in concrete and neon as the rest of it. Of course, the tannoys are blaring pro-Hansen propaganda, and there are a few more buildings, but the city isn’t all that inspiring.
The idea is that the area was captured and locked off by Hanson in a power grab, turning it into his own mini kingdom, and that’s all it really looks like. Hanson is a military man, not a designer. This being said, the Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty expansion does have a number of rather nice set pieces. You’ll know what I mean when you witness a certain casino-based musical number.
Mr Hands shows his face, Hanson features heavily, and Idris Elba talks your bloody ear off. The characters are nothing to write home about, and I found myself siding much more with Hanson than the government side. However, the choice to ride alongside the big man in Dogtown isn’t an option, so you’ll have to stick with the government stooges and Songbird, the eternally weak Femme Fatale.
For characters that spend, quite frankly, far too long talking, they come across as very one-dimensional. Perhaps there is more depth hidden within the 18,000,000 lines of dialogue, but if there is, it missed me.
To sum it all up
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is trying to build higher on a foundation that is unstable and crumbling. Even with the 2.0 update, the game was already a soulless, neon-drenched failure. The problems with Cyberpunk 2077 lie so much deeper than broken coding and poor optimization, and it really becomes glaringly obvious in the Phantom Liberty update.
The problem with the original release, for those who could run it, was that it didn’t feel like an RPG; it felt linear, scripted, and kettled. The Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty update feels no different. This is a straightforward action game with one or two small choices to make. Don’t go expecting the huge, sprawling web of options that could be found in something like Baldur’s Gate 3.
The 20 or so hours I buried into the expansion felt more like I was playing a text adventure as I trawled through hours of exposition. However, my replies made little to no difference to how the actual story played out, and I had very little choice as to how the narrative moved. It felt like I was sitting outside of the game until they had the need for me to shoot some bad guys, and even these moments were few and far between.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty isn’t the expansion that is going to earn this game any awards, and certainly isn’t the reason to start playing again. It’s a crying shame, as the studio can absolutely nail it sometimes.