Cyberpunk 2077 and I have a troubled history. From its disappointing launch state on console and PC back during its earliest days, I’ve had a hard time really getting into the sprawling RPG, as bugs, glitches and overall performance issues held everything back.
Since those days, I always wanted to jump back in, but never could quite shake the feeling its launch gave me, especially watching many of my friends on console struggle with even worse problems.
However, when CDPR announced Phantom Liberty, as well as the 2.0 update, which changes so many of the underlying systems and gameplay elements in Cyberpunk, this was the chance I sought. I wanted to experience this game, and it felt like this would finally provide the clean slate to do so.
And after the first time I stepped into Dogtown, I’m glad I did.
Welcome to Dogtown
After Space Force One is mysteriously shot down, crash-landing in the Night City district of Dogtown, V is tabbed to help the FIA solve who is behind this, albeit because he is going to get something out of it in return - help with the BioChip Relic that houses the notorious Johnny Silverhand.
I appreciate that Phantom Liberty doesn’t require you to have beaten the original storyline in order to start this expansion - rather, it takes place alongside the original narrative, enhancing it in a way. Callbacks to missions done before this occurs frequently, with characters referencing the events surrounding Night City as if it were a living, breathing entity around them.
At the center of it all is Solomon Reed, played by the impeccable Idris Elba. Elba brings a gravitas, yet down-to-earth quality that feels rooted in Dogtown. I get flashes of Stringer Bell, the character he played in The Wire, as both are incredibly cerebral, but also not afraid to get their hands dirty when the time comes.
Surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, from Songbird, a skilled Netrunner who works alongside the President of the New United States of America, to Alex, the rough and tumble agent who is desperate to get out of the disaster that is Dogtown, each of the performances so far have been top notch. While the original Cyberpunk story is very cinematic, it feels like with Phantom Liberty, that quality is even ratcheted up a few notches.
Dogtown itself feels vastly different than the rest of Night City. While Night City is a tapestry woven from different backgrounds, ethnic groups, levels of income and more, with all of this being reflected based on where you are at any given time, Dogtown feels like a nuke went off in the middle of it and no one cared.
It’s dusty, broken, and forgotten. Walking up and down the roads, its people are struggling to survive. It feels self-contained, part of Pacifica, yet still completely apart. The district, as a result, feels self-sufficient, with shanty markets popping up, its own culture shaping the people there.
It’s also got one of the best examples of a basketball game in a non-sports title I’ve seen in a long while.
Because Dogtown is meant to feel like it’s on its own, the district is much denser than some parts of Night City. While part of Pacifica, which has some incredible open areas and views of the ocean, Dogtown is enclosed, its citizens gasping for air by comparison.
It’s all controlled by former Militech agent Kurt Hansen, who runs the local Barghest gang with an iron fist. With no NCPD presence in the region, the Brashest rule effectively with impunity, keeping the peace, but also keeping people under Hansen’s thumb.
Ahead of the Phantom Liberty expansion dropped Cyberpunk 2077’s 2.0 update, and I have to say it makes it feel like a brand new game. Many of the changes, including the revamped perk system, make this version of Cyberpunk 2077 feel like the RPG that CDPR might have always wanted to make.
Many of the changes, such as requiring a certain number of attributes in category, make planning a build so much more deliberate, especially when you consider that you can only reset your attributes once per play through. Dumping points into Body when you might be going a stealth Netrunner build where Body is just not as important can now hurt you more than help you.
I also like that many of the Perks are reorganized to make more sense. Thankfully too, if you’ve been a longtime Cyberpunk 2077 player and dreading this change, CDPR released a handy build planner to help start getting players acclimated to the new system.
Another addition with Phantom Liberty is the inclusion of a Relic perk tree. This is a much smaller, more focused tree that uses a new resource, Relic Points, to pump into it. The new tree rewards exploration, as Relic Points are found in caches around Dogtown and aren’t earned when leveling up normally. This tree, while not as wildly varied as the regular talent tree, does allow for some specialization, further pushing players in their roles. I personally love, as a Netrunner Blade Assassin, the inclusion of things like perks for the Monowire, Mantis Arms and Blades in general, but there is something there for everyone.
Under The Radar
At its core, Phantom Liberty is a spy thriller. With 13 meaty missions to complete, each one that I’ve played so far feels even more tense than the last. From investigating the downed Space Force One to making contact with a renowned Netrunner working with the FIA to uncover the mysteries behind what happened in Dogtown, every layer of the story so far has been incredibly entertaining. It’s hilarious to me, especially as someone who is terrible at stealth in most games, that each mission starts off cautioning V to go in quiet.
Usually, when I try to Stealth, things go wrong for me, as they did when trying to sneak past some of the Barghest guards on the way to my hideout to get the lay of the land in the early goings. However, thanks in part to the new Netrunning Perks (as well as the fact that I have some killer Sai…I mean a cool Katana), I can usually get by in Dogtown. However, despite my attempt to treat this as a true spy game and really try to not go in guns blazing, Phantom Liberty doesn’t really stop you from doing that (in fact, in spots, Reed seemed to enjoy it more). So there is still the ability to play the way you want, regardless of the tone that CDPR is setting with its storytelling.
While I’m still working my way through Phantom Liberty, everything so far has been an absolute blast. This feels like the version of Cyberpunk 2077 CDPR always wanted to make, their vision unshackled and refined. We’ll have our full thoughts next week ahead of the release.