In 2020, Cyberpunk 2077 was a disaster. Despite years of hype, its reception was catastrophic, with a mess of bugs and performance issues leading to widespread refunds and an apology from developer CD Projekt Red. Three years and many improvements later, Cyberpunk 2077 is in a far better place – and its latest expansion, Phantom Liberty, is the best shooter we’ve played in 2023 so far.
Phantom Liberty begins with a bang. The President of the New United States (NUSA) is shot down while flying over Dogtown, a lawless district of Night City ruled by soldier-turned-dictator Kurt Hansen. Our mercenary protagonist, V, is sent on a desperate mission to rescue the president in return for a cure to their Relic – a biochip that’s been killing them since an ill-fated heist in Cyberpunk 2077‘s opening hours.
Besides destroying V’s brain, the Relic also houses the consciousness of dead rockstar Johnny Silverhand (Keanu Reeves). Silverhand isn’t a huge fan of working for shadowy organisations – after all, he died blowing one of them up – and suspects this job isn’t as it seems.
He’s right, and the guns-blazing rescue mission soon transforms into a dystopian spy thriller. One moment, you’re rescuing the President from a fiery shootout, blasting Dogtown soldiers and fighting a hijacked war machine. The next you’re undercover and playing a high-stakes game of roulette, in a mission suitably named after Chris Cornell‘s James Bond theme for Casino Royale. Paired with a fantastic performance from Idris Elba as fellow secret agent Solomon Reed, V’s crash course in espionage makes for a gripping plot, and if you liked the original game’s main story, you’ll love this one.
Though it’s hard to pull yourself away from Phantom Liberty‘s grander conspiracy, it often makes players wait several in-game days to proceed during certain missions. Exploring Dogtown during this downtime is encouraged, which led to it becoming our favourite district in Night City. The divide between the haves and have-nots has never been so open: ramshackle slums are built against the walls of opulent clubs, and the city’s power brokers enjoy lives of luxury while everyone else fights for scraps.
Phantom Liberty‘s side gigs – optional one-off missions – feel like a big step up from the rest of Cyberpunk 2077. One job tasks you with rescuing two woefully inept cops from a drug lord’s den, silently choking out their captors as the blood-spattered buddy-cop duo follow behind you, bickering and loudly knocking things over. Another client only agrees to give you a job if you take hits of a powerful psychotropic drug, which leads to playing out their flashbacks while an unreliable narrator rewrites Dogtown dictator Hansen into an approving father figure.
Even if you return to Night City without buying Phantom Liberty, an expansive “update 2.0” has tackled many lingering annoyances from 2020. Teleporting police have been replaced with a persistent Grand Theft Auto-style justice system, modifying your body with cyberware is now much more consequential, and skill trees have been significantly expanded. expansive. Cyberpunk 2077 is finally the role-playing game that was originally promised, which leads to even better action: if you want to deflect bullets with a katana, or hack cars to send them careening into oncoming traffic, now you can.
In tandem with this update, Phantom Liberty is the crowning jewel of Cyberpunk‘s three-year redemption arc. It’s a shame this will be 2077‘s first and last expansion, but it’s a hell of a swan song to close out on – and with Phantom Liberty‘s director tapped to create a full-blown sequel to Cyberpunk 2077, it promises good things for the series’ future. Tell your chooms: Night City’s back, and it’s better than ever.