CD Projekt Red has a bit of a knack for crafting DLC adventures. The Witcher 3 was blessed with two outstanding expansions, and the Polish developer can now add Phantom Liberty to its list of incredibly high quality excursions. Cyberpunk 2077's first (and last) expansion is an emotional rollercoaster, and features some of the best, most memorable moments and missions in the entire RPG.
Phantom Liberty unlocks once you're done with the Pacifica storyline in the base game's campaign, so you can take it on quite early if that's your preference (or you can start it cold from the main menu). However, because of its penchant for callbacks to characters and events from the main story, we're tempted to say that it's best enjoyed as a late-game journey. What's more, a number of tricky boss fights and combat encounters suggest that it's best to come equipped; the fresh setting of Dogtown feels like it's built for players who know what they're doing.
A short call with a mysterious woman named Songbird is all it takes for V to get involved. The initial hours see our beloved merc blast his or her way through a series of linear missions, each of them pushing big set pieces and surprisingly cinematic chaos. It's a barnstorming start — like the opening scenes of a good action movie — and once it's over, you're free to explore Dogtown proper.
Essentially cut off from the rest of Night City, Dogtown is ruled by Barghest — former soldiers who simply stuck around following an abandoned invasion of the larger city. Free from the law and unwilling to answer to the officials of its neighbour, Dogtown almost feels post-apocalyptic outside of a handful of locations that cater to the district's elite. Given its lack of political positioning, it's also a place where Night City's key players seal their dirtiest deals — and that kind of stuff ties straight into the expansion's well-paced plot.
CDPR has dubbed Phantom Liberty a "spy thriller" and that description ends up being pretty accurate. Beyond the explosive opening, the story slows things down and steadily introduces a cast of intense characters. This includes the grizzled Solomon Reed (played by Idris Elba), who ends up stealing the show with a typically charismatic performance, packed with the kind of cynical swagger you'd expect from a semi-retired secret agent.
Teaming up with Reed, V is tasked with digging below Dogtown's dusty surface and uncovering the plans of its overlord, the intimidating Barghest commander Kurt Hansen. A web of intrigue and deception is quickly spun between all of the central characters, and there are moments of genuine moral conflict as V falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. It's an often gripping narrative, and the impressively varied mission design holds up throughout the expansion's 30-ish hour runtime.
That said, there is one specific section that feels a bit... out of place. It's certainly creative in concept, and engaging in execution, but without spoiling anything, it sticks in the mind because of how fundamentally different it is compared to the rest of Cyberpunk 2077. It perhaps drags on just a little too long, but it's not enough to distract from otherwise engrossing storytelling. And yes, there is a new ending to V's tale that's unlocked through Phantom Liberty.
But if you want to take a break from said story — which does tackle some heavy themes at times — you can always take a tour of Dogtown. The hellhole is roughly the same size as one of Night City's other districts, but it's densely packed with eye-catching landmarks and gameplay opportunities. There are a number of weird and wonderful side quests to track down, while dynamic events add some spice to exploration.
Arguably something that's missing in the base game, these endless dynamic events pop up on a frequent basis, providing an optional objective. Airdrops are exclusive to Dogtown, and basically give you an excuse to murder a bunch of punks and grab the loot for yourself. Meanwhile, carjacking jobs are unlocked throughout Night City via a side quest, with everyone's favourite mullet-sporting fixer El Capitán asking you to klep a nearby vehicle and drive it to a safehouse in one piece.
Both activities inject some additional life into Cyberpunk 2077's world. The carjacking tasks in particular can lead to some brilliantly hectic car chases, which naturally spotlight the car combat system that's part of update 2.0.
Moving on to more minor inclusions, Phantom Liberty boasts plenty of crunchy new weapons and cool clothing items. Fresh vehicles are also up for grabs — some come equipped with mounted armaments — and there's even a brand new skill tree that takes advantage of the relic chip that's stuck in V's head. The tree doesn't have many branches, but it can greatly enhance the abilities of your chosen cyberware, potentially pushing your character build to a whole new level. All of this makes for a very rewarding DLC in terms of V's progression.
Phantom Liberty is often Cyberpunk 2077 at its very best. A gripping narrative complete with great characters adds another dimension to the open world RPG, while the main mission and side quest design remains top notch throughout. It's a tremendous expansion that delivers a truly memorable experience.