Cyberpunk 2077 is a complicated game, and an even more complicated game to review.
In its current state, Cyberpunk is a game worth admiring. A video game that inspires you to stop and smell the smog-scented roses in the dystopian Night City, the main setting of the game. Stop everything that you’re doing and appreciate all the moving parts that make this game work, the countless characters in this game feel like living, breathing human beings, with their own dreams.
It’s almost impossible to not get distracted by the dizzying amount of side content on offer. From stealing cars to helping the police stop criminal organizations, Night City always has something to keep you immersed and entertained.
It’s even harder to not get lost in thought as you ride your car down the highway, the continuous purr of your engine becoming background noise as you space out and just let the flashing street lights fly past.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Rewind three years ago: CD Projekt Red, developers of the acclaimed video game The Witcher 3 just released Cyberpunk 2077 on December 10th, 2020 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. It released to collective disgust and disappointment regarding the lack of polish and care that was not only promised, but ostensibly guaranteed through an overconfident marketing campaign.
Three years later, on September 25th, 2023, CD Projekt Red launched a brand new expansion for the game named Phantom Liberty that promises; “dozens of new story quests & gigs”; “a dangerous new district”; hundreds of new weapons, cyberware and clothing items, “endless’ dynamic missions, and more.
The expansion starts off strong with a phone call from an unknown caller. A woman by the name of “Songbird” needs your help and she needs it fast. She requests your character, V, to come meet her in Dogtown, the new exploreable region in the game. It quickly becomes clear this was never going to be a simple mission, because the ship she was contacting you from is about to crash land right in the middle of Dogtown.
Even bigger problem: the person on board the ship with her is the president of Cyberpunk’s version of the United States of America, NUSA.
From there, it’s off to the races. You’ll meet British actor Idris Elba’s character, Solomon Reed, a dark and mysterious NUS sleeper agent. Songbird, a witty and sly hacker who isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to finish the mission. And of course, Rosiland Myers, the capable president of NUSA.
Phantom Liberty, the spy espionage thriller that takes place in the gutters of Night City contains a tightly woven story, leaving very little room for wasted space and instead keeps the train going full steam ahead with sharp dialogue and captivating new characters.
“You’re up against seasoned players, whereas you… just stumbled onto the court.”
But Phantom Liberty is just half the package. Phantom Liberty came the 2.0 update, the final major update for the game that added a slew of new features. It contained so many changed or added features that even the update itself couldn’t include all of them on the update page. Some notable improvements are a complete perk overhaul, enemy level scaling, a new police system, better AI, and new radio stations.
The overhauled perk system is a particularly amazing change. During my playthrough, it felt like every perk I chose to improve added an element of variation to the way I would, or could play. For example, the ability to sprint while crouched changed the way I tackled stealth encounters in a tangible way, and a perk that changed my charge attack into a dash attack is just plain fun.
The 2.0 update offers an impressive overhaul to the game’s systems that were largely lacking, and Phantom Liberty gives players who fell off the hype train after a disastrous launch a compelling reason to come back to the game.
“Every grunt gets a rifle, flak jacket and a bunch of promises. Comes a time you’re outta ammo, Kevlar’s tattered cardboard and what’s left of the promises…?”
As I played through Cyberpunk 2077 and Phantom Liberty, I found myself grateful just to be a part of this world, to experience the gripping story that left me at the edge of my seat, and the fleshed-out characters whose history you can see in their eyes when they talk to you.
Also, the game still looks gorgeous. I played it in 1440p on a slightly modest PC build with the AMD Radeon 7800XT, and the visuals were enough to leave me breathless. I have no doubt the game looks just as inspiring on a PS5 or Xbox Series X, and even more so with a more powerful PC than my own.
Night City, and by extension, Dogtown inspire pure awe as you drive your car across the many roads, or whenever you take a walk through the crowded streets and dirty alleyways, brushing past the crowds of the city’s diverse population, either lost in their own world or their own conversations. Cyberpunk 2077 is an endlessly immersive experience, one that reminds you that you’re just a cog in the machine that is Night City.