Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty - A Review of Dog Eat Dogtown
In the time leading up to its release, Cyberpunk 2077 occupied a unique place in my mind. It wasn't just a highly anticipated video game. I had been e...
In the time leading up to its release, Cyberpunk 2077 occupied a unique place in my mind. It wasn't just a highly anticipated video game. I had been eagerly looking forward to video games before - even twice this year when I eagerly awaited Half-Life: Alyx and The Last of Us Part 2. Cyberpunk 2077 had the added weight of being heavily hyped and released after a year of pandemic-induced isolation.
It wasn't healthy, but as this terrible year agonizingly approached its end, Cyberpunk gained exaggerated significance in my mind. Sure, the fact that I couldn't meet anyone in person was bad. But at least I would be able to play Cyberpunk by the end of the year. It was a promise of next-gen escapism at a time when I needed it the most (and CD Projekt Red's marketing took every opportunity to fuel the hype even more).
I think we all know that it didn't live up to its promises. The first and only expansion of the game, "Phantom Liberty," can't make Cyberpunk 2077 the game I envisioned. Nothing could. However, it does make the game as good as it ever was by improving many of the things that held it back during its heavily criticized launch. I can confidently say that Cyberpunk is now good. Just not good enough to put all your hopes and dreams into it.
For most improvements, you don't even need to buy "Phantom Liberty." The 2.0 update, released a few days before the expansion, is free for all owners of the game, and it thoroughly overhauls the entire game. Although CD Projekt Red didn't address my biggest concern - the buildings in Night City remain mostly decorative and don't provide exploration opportunities - it adds enough that you won't spend as much time fixating on the remaining shortcomings.
It can take a while to recognize the vision. Update 2.0 radically revises the game's skills and perks system, which caused some initial difficulties when I first started playing. If you join at a certain level, as I did, you have to completely realign your character. Initially, I didn't realize this and instead wondered why my character was extremely overwhelmed. It took a few minutes, but I figured it out, and the changes to the skill tree are among the best things offered here.
Specializing in body attributes has unlocked some cool new perks, such as the ability to regenerate HP by running around, which helped me finally master the Beat on the Brat boxing tournament in the main game. Combined with my new ability to sprint multiple times in a row, this encouraged a hyperactive, kinetic playthrough that perfectly suited my preference for katanas in the game. The DLC also adds a new branch to the skill tree, introducing several new abilities to further customize V. All of this contributes to making Cyberpunk 2077 a more dynamic and exciting game, even when playing missions that have been available since the beginning.
The missions that were not available since the beginning don't make a particularly good first impression either. This approximately 20-hour-long expansion starts with V receiving an invitation to Dogtown, a previously inaccessible area of the map. If you follow the call, V gets involved in Call of Duty, as the DLC begins with a long series of linear action missions where V sneaks into the district, chases after a crashing airplane, fights against a giant robot, and meets Rosalind Myers, the President of the New United States of America, and Songbird, a hacker who communicates with V through her construct. This action-packed opening sounds exciting in theory, but it prevents you from seeing what the game is actually about for approximately two hours, and in practice, it mainly consists of boring platforming and mediocre first-person shooting. The expansion ends on a similarly weak note with a frustrating cat-and-mouse sequence that lasts too long and leaves little room for role-playing.
However, in between, there's plenty of good things. Once the game opens up, you quickly realize that Dogtown has a lot to offer. It still has the same issue as the base game - many doors don't open, and skyscrapers towering over the outdoor area are often completely inaccessible - but the smaller size of Dogtown means that space is utilized much better. By the end of the expansion, you become familiar with the map, and it is cleverly designed with memorable buildings (like a black and neon-green pyramid) that can be used as landmarks while driving.
And Phantom Liberty gives you even more reasons to care about how well you can navigate in space. Once you reach Dogtown, you have the opportunity to start missions where you escort cars back to the garage, and depending on the speed of delivery and the damage the car takes along the way, you receive better payment. There are plenty of these missions, and it's a clever way to highlight the new vehicle combat added in version 2.0.
In the original game, you could either drive your car or engage in combat, but these were completely separate mechanical experiences. The addition of vehicle combat means that there is always a possibility of violence breaking out, which adds more weight to exploration. When you also consider the significantly expanded police system, there is much more mischief to engage in within the open game world that is not directly tied to a quest or job.
The story content is generally quite good - especially the new ending that Phantom Liberty adds to the main game, which I won't spoil, except to say that I found it surprisingly moving. I was glad to see Keanu Reeves' Johnny Silverhand and enjoyed the opportunity to hear his cynical comments on each new mission. Although Johnny returns, the biggest addition to the ensemble is Solomon Reed, a local fixer played by Idris Elba. Most main missions have you working alongside Reed in the same way you did with Takemura in the base game, waiting in between as he prepares the next assignment - a narrative device that I always liked as it gives you a future goal and a sense of urgency in the main story while also allowing time for exploring side content.
On both sides, the missions in Phantom Liberty are mostly solid. I particularly enjoyed two quests involving a French twin pair who mingle in high circles, as well as one where V assumes the identity of a stranger from the city. There are some moments of repetition, such as a mission where you have to accompany Reed from a distance with a sniper rifle and the cat-and-mouse level at the end, but there is also a lot to like. There are many new side quests assigned to you by the recurring character Mr. Hands, and many of them - like one where a guy gives you drugs before telling you a story that allows you to vividly experience his encounter by playing one of the characters in the narrative - are worth pursuing. Overall, the missions keep you engaged at a pleasant pace and showcase what the game does well.
That is crucial because with the 2.0 update, the game succeeds in many ways. It's still not an RPG for the ages, but there are fewer stumbling blocks that prevent you from enjoying the many things it excels at. Phantom Liberty is good, but 2.0 is the rising tide that lifts all boats. It unequivocally makes Cyberpunk 2077 a journey worth taking.