You’ll hear Idris Elba’s Solomon Reed before you see him in Cyberpunk 2077. Reed’s introduction is understated yet effective, and the perfect primer for what CD Projekt Red aims to do with the open-world game’s DLC. From testing update 2.0 and Phantom Liberty itself for this Cyberpunk 2077 Phantom Liberty review, it’s clear CDPR has added a plethora of small but welcome changes that sneak up on you in their importance while also delivering a unique spy-thriller experience with a narrative to match.
“Spy-thriller” is the term CDPR has been using to describe Phantom Liberty, and there’s a good reason for it. Espionage action permeates all of Dogtown, the DLC’s new explorable zone, including its missions, characters, and narratives in a way that connects them thematically, giving the DLC a singular and well-explored focus.
Between both the main story and side gigs, CDPR has baked the lowlife and high-tech promise of the cyberpunk genre into the secret intelligence narrative it wants to tell. CD Projekt Red knows Mike Pondsmith’s universe inside and out, and the team uses this knowledge to weave an intricate web of narratives that genuinely surprised me and left me perched on the edge of my seat on multiple occasions.
Phantom Liberty’s narrative throws intriguing developments and set pieces at you in rapid succession, while the leads of Solomon Reed and Song So Mi slowly unravel before your eyes, building to one of the most nuanced conflicts in a CDPR game to date.
Much like the base game’s campaign, Phantom Liberty features branching paths, moral choices, and multiple endings. That said, having played through all that the DLC has to offer, it’s clear that one route is the best.
There will come a point in Phantom Liberty when you need to make a key choice. Neither is signposted as correct, as you instead need to decide from your own interpretation of events and moral compass which side of a conflict you’d like to fall on. The problem is that one route clearly has better missions, character development, and a stronger narrative resolution than the other. The payoff and emotional beats feel much more relevant and purposeful during the preferred route, and even the extra choices you need to make within this narrative branch hold extra weight.
That said, each major narrative branch only takes up around the last quarter of Phantom Liberty’s main story, so it’s easy to reload and try all the options, which I’d recommend anyway.
Thankfully, I found my original ending to be a poignant conclusion – one that reinforces just how Cyberpunk 2077’s troubled future doesn’t have any real winners, even if you manage to survive.
Where Phantom Liberty’s narrative design really shines, though, is in the side gigs. Like the main story, each also requires that you make some sort of moral choice steeped in a dystopia that commodifies even the most innocent of ideas. One particular gig has such a harmonious setup and rug pull moment that it’s been on my mind for weeks. I enjoyed the entire mission after this point so much that it pains me not to talk about it – that’s how good it is.
It’s missions like these that make the moral choices even more difficult in Phantom Liberty, and while some side gigs have much more complex moral ideas than others, each one lets you peer into Dogtown’s stomach and decide if it should be allowed to continue digesting the stories within.
Outside of narrative ties, all of Phantom Liberty’s missions are mechanically varied and engaging. One mission’s conclusion feels suspiciously like Ghost in the Shell, while another channels James Bond’s Casino Royale, meaning the melding of cyberpunk and spy-thriller is on full display here. The DLC’s standout mission feels like a Night City take on Alien Isolation, taking a simple concept and making it sing.
There’s a delicate balance between sleuthing, combat, and infiltration to keep you on your toes too. Every mission has a set piece that reflects at least one of these three ideas, with smaller choices available throughout that add even more variety to how you can approach what’s going on. None of the mechanics are necessarily groundbreaking, but every mission here has a good amount of variety featured in environments you’ll want to explore.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their overall quality in the base game, the characters of Phantom Liberty are superb. Idris Elba’s Solomon Reed takes some time to open up, but his penchant for cryptic metaphors and unwavering loyalty help give the overall narrative, and even your own choices, more weight. Compared to the rest of Phantom Liberty’s cast, Elba’s performance might seem sedated, but it’s this aspect of his overall presence that helps everything feel grounded.
Keanu Reeves’ performance as Johnny Silverhand once again makes me think he was born for the role, even if he does take a back seat. The rock star turned eco-terrorist perspective, and his many quips, are welcome in any situation, as Reeves chews the virtual scenery and makes curses sound cool. Considering So Mi and Reed are the driving force behind Phantom Liberty’s story though, I can see why Silverhand has less of a narrative impact, but this does create an odd disconnect when he becomes a key player right at the end.
Minji Chang’s performance as Song So Mi is the standout in Phantom Liberty. Your choices will impact So Mi wildly, and Chang sells all of it. I can’t say much for fear of spoilers, but So Mi has a lot going on that slowly gets unraveled as you progress through the DLC, and Chang brings such a visceral humanity to the character while pulling double duty depending on what choices you make. While Elba’s Reed is the poster child of this expansion, Chang’s So Mi is undoubtedly the star of the show.
With Phantom Liberty closing the book on Cyberpunk 2077 as CD Projekt Red works on the sequel, codenamed Orion, the brand-new ending you get that’s tied to the DLC feels like a definitive reflection of the studio’s time with the game. There’ll be no plot spoilers here, but it’s V’s most positive outcome of the bunch, and I can’t help but feel like it’s CDPR’s way of moving on from Cyberpunk 2077 in a way that actively fights back against the oppressive hold Night City has on its people.
The new ending is surprisingly hopeful for V too. While it’s not a perfect end for the character, it arrives at a convincingly bittersweet place, and it is definitive, which I appreciated.
Cyberpunk 2077’s 2.0 changes also deserve mention here because many of the extra features, like a new police system and vehicle combat, play a role in Phantom Liberty’s design. While 2.0 does add new mechanics, I found its more muted improvements to existing systems to be the most effective.
The relationship between attributes and Cyberpunk 2077 perk points is much clearer thanks to some UI changes, and it’s now easier to understand certain perks and the relationships they have with each other. Having cyberware determine your armor, and not the clothes you wear, did take some getting used to, but the freedom to dress exactly how you want and not look like a fashion Frankenstein ‘because of the stats’ is a godsend.
Cyberpunk 2077 build choice has also exploded thanks to the cyberware changes, and I think this alone is worth coming back for. There was already a lot of choice in the base game, but the 2.0 update combines the overhauled perk system with the new weapons and cyberware of Phantom Liberty to extend your options, pushing Cyberpunk 2077 to its full potential.
Despite some stumbles in its branching narrative, Phantom Liberty is a tremendous addition to Cyberpunk 2077. With strong characters, meaningful additions to player choice, and a dense new region to explore in Dogtown, Cyberpunk hasn’t just become a better game through its inclusion but finally a complete version of what CDPR sought to deliver all those years ago. Phantom Liberty is a powerful send-off to what is undoubtedly among the best RPGs on PC.
Phantom Liberty is a fitting send-off for V, Night City, and Cyberpunk 2077 as a whole. CD Projekt Red has delivered a dense and impactful expansion to one of the medium’s best cityscapes, even if its branching narrative structure stumbles.