Phantom Liberty is Cyberpunk 2077’s final shot to get it right.
Following a much-publicized launch back in 2020 that was marred by significant bugs and the conspicuous absence of several promised features, developer CD Projekt Red has worked to optimize the game’s performance and realign some of its finer details. Nothing can erase the past, but Phantom Liberty and the accompanying version 2.0 patch come pretty damn close.
Phantom Liberty is an unmistakable bullseye, an explosive spy-thriller adventure that not only opens up a host of opportunities for replayability and rewarding moment-to-moment excitement, but serves as a fitting swan song to protagonist V’s laborious journey from the gutters of Night City to the heights of legend.
The expansion, which becomes available shortly after the “Transmission” gig in Act 2 of the main campaign, opens with V being contacted by Songbird, a mysterious netrunner working for the Federal Intelligence Agency and a right-hand advisor to Rosalind Myers — the president of the New United States of America. The president’s plane has been remotely hijacked and is set to ground in Dogtown, a militarized section of Night City’s Pacifica district ruled by Kurt Hansen, a former Militech soldier turned warlord, and his private army of Barghest mercenaries. The deal itself is simple: Rescue Myers from the crash site and secure her safe passage back to Washington; in exchange, Songbird will offer V a cure to the prototype Relic chip that threatens to erode their mind and kill them in the process.
Nothing, however, is simple in Dogtown, and from the moment you manage to sneak your way into Night City’s most fortified and inhospitable compound (second only to Arasaka Tower), you find yourself caught in a web of tangled allegiances, volatile personalities, and opaque motivations. Who can you trust? Who shot down the president’s plane? And can Songbird really offer you a second chance at life? These questions propel Phantom Liberty toward its grand finale.
Dogtown’s environmental design is one of the most impressive aspects of the expansion. Walled off from the rest of Night City for the better part of seven years, Dogtown feels like a whole other city unto itself, presided over by a power-hungry mogul with an ironclad grip on its inhabitants. From an illicit bazaar built out of the remnants of a half-demolished football stadium to a bustling nightclub housed inside a shining neon-lit pyramid, Dogtown is an exotic palimpsest of greed and decay, a ruinous sprawl of excess set against the destitution of Pacifica just outside its borders. Every structure in Dogtown is haunted by the ghost of a promising future deferred by economic blight and the pernicious whims of thieves, murderers turned power brokers, and politicians.
Apart from the Myers-focused main quest line, Dogtown is littered with colorful and cunning new characters touting weapons as dangerous as their attitudes. Mr. Hands, the anonymous “fixer” for Pacifica, makes a reappearance, offering you a steady stream of mercenary gigs alongside your mission to take down Hansen. Dogtown’s status as an autonomous zone free from the taxes of Night City’s various megacorporations means that the region has cultivated a bustling black market for cutting-edge weaponry and military-grade cyberware.
You can intercept any of Hansen’s cargo drops throughout the city, which are marked by a plume of red flare smoke and filled with troves of high-level weapons and shards that upgrade V’s inventory capacity, among other stats. You can also accept vehicle-hijacking missions on behalf of Muamar “El Capitán” Reyes that net generous rewards. Both of these activities appear randomly throughout the course of your time in Dogtown. These emergent opportunities, among others, create a welcome sense of spontaneity and variety in an otherwise extremely focused sandbox.
It all adds up to make Dogtown the perfect setting for Phantom Liberty’s taut spy-action storyline. Although it initially borrows heavily from John Carpenter’s sci-fi action film Escape from New York, it later morphs into an espionage heist thriller by way of James Bond meets Michael Mann’s Heat. Carpenter looms over the expansion’s musical score as well, with a thrumming synth track that recurs as an ominous leitmotif beneath the danger, grime, and squalor of Dogtown. It’s a morally dubious interzone rife with exploitation, desperation, and deception, the perfect place for a spy like Idris Elba’s Solomon Reed to be holed up in.
A seasoned FIA spy and saboteur living in Dogtown as a sleeper agent, Reed is one of the most impressive and memorable characters in Cyberpunk 2077, Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Silverhand included. Elba embodies a living cipher of a man whose sordid history of covert infiltration, wet work, and betrayal have culminated in a lifetime of silent regrets.
Equally fascinating is Songbird, voiced by Christine Minji Chang, whose own guarded demeanor and extraordinary hacking ability give off the impression of a character who is finessing multiple factions while furthering her own personal agenda. At one point, Phantom Liberty’s plot bifurcates according to your decision during a pivotal make-or-break moment, opening up one of two parallel paths with their own unique missions and opportunities. It all builds up to a pulse-pounding climax.
Yes, Phantom Liberty offers multiple endings separate from the main game’s original ones. Given the length and variety of choices in the expansion’s final act, I haven’t been able to see every one of those endings during my time with Phantom Liberty so far. But I can say that the one I chose was a satisfying conclusion to my particular playthrough as V, a beautiful albeit bittersweet finale that ruminates over the question of what it means to be a “legend” while living on to build a new life in the aftermath.
A quote from Mike Pondsmith, the creator of the original tabletop role-playing game upon which Cyberpunk 2077 is based, popped into my head often while playing through Phantom Liberty. “Cyberpunk isn’t about saving humanity,” he said. “It’s about saving yourself.” In Phantom Liberty, everyone, in one way or another, is out to save themselves. That goal of freedom may come at the cost of another’s. Cyberpunk 2077’s expansion forces you to consider, as V, the price you’re willing to pay in order to survive, and all the choices and paths you might have taken otherwise. In other words, it’s the perfect incentive to start a new game.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty will be released Sept. 26 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. It was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by CD Projekt Red. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.