Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty review – The reborn identity

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is a strong spy thriller expansion that leans heavily into dense character work and political intrigue.
cyberpunk 2077 phantom liberty review

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty is not what you’d expect, upon first glance. It’s a chameleonic expansion, of sorts. Where Cyberpunk 2077 leaned heavily into the futuristic sci-fi genre, treading ground paved by films like Blade Runner and The Matrix, Phantom Liberty leans the opposite way, directly into the fertile ground of the spy thriller – most notably and surprisingly, into James Bond territory.

It’s a refreshing switch, and one that allows Phantom Liberty to live on its own terms. While the shift in flavour feels like a firm departure from the game’s main plot, strong characters and a tension-heavy tale elevate Phantom Liberty as a standalone adventure.

Read: Cyberpunk 2077: What’s coming in Update 2.0 and Phantom Liberty?

A new mission

Phantom Liberty begins by unleashing a cavalcade of questions. As dying hero V, you’re approached by a mysterious hacker named Songbird, who promises a fix for the corrupted Relic occupying your brain slot – in exchange for aid.

That aid turns out to be a double-edged sword, as it embroils you in a dense political plot involving the President of the New United States of America (NUSA), Rosalind Myers, and her nearest rival, Kurt Hansen, who looks to supplant command of the NUSA and encourage a new world order. That effort emanates from Dogtown, a new locale riddled by poor socioeconomics, and dissatisfaction with the game’s political environment.

cyberpunk 2077 phantom liberty review
Screenshot: GamesHub

While Songbird (aka Song So Mi) reaches out to V with the promise of a cure, what eventuates is an unwilling induction into spy organisation FIA, and an impetus to establish order as enemies threaten the peace of the NUSA, and Myers’ control.

Whether you act willingly or not, your mission pushes you along as So Mi and Myers attempt to manipulate their power to their own political gain – and you must work alongside (or against them) to neuter Hansen’s hostile takeover.

In the recruitment process, you’ll also revive the thought-to-be-dead Solomon Reed (Idris Elba) and bring him back into the fold as an FIA agent, working with him to formulate a new plan, infiltrate the upper echelons of Hansen’s campaign, and determine the future of Dogtown.

It’s a strong, cinematic story, and across 15 hours, CD Projekt Red hauls you along its journey, layering every character with a human motive, giving you ample time to learn more about your crew, and ruminate on the very nature of politics – what it means to follow orders, and who’s really pulling the strings of power.

Fresh faces, fresh look

phantom liberty gameplay
Screenshot: GamesHub

Phantom Liberty dances along a tight string, taking clear inspiration from the world of film, both in its portrayal of new characters, and in how the action flows. Tightly plotted, Phantom Liberty feels like it’s designed in the same vein as a Bond thriller, complete with action set pieces and a mid-narrative heist that features a full mission briefing, in classic spy film style.

In that regard, it makes sense that the expansion leans heavily into the talents of Idris Elba as Solomon Reed and Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand – both trained actors with ample experience in action cinema. Elba is particularly good as the solemn, regretful Reed, who acts as a form of conscience in the expansion.

He gets the biggest moments to shine, too, leading the charge on missions, acting as backup in the penultimate fight, and functioning as the narrative lynchpin and emotional heart behind the political machinations that determine the future of Songbird, Myers, and Hansen.

While the expansion kicks off without his presence – and as a result, the opening feels slightly overlong and bland – the moment you meet Reed, the action sharpens and speeds up.

Likewise, the return of Reeves as Johnny Silverhand aids the more dialogue-heavy moments of Phantom Liberty, providing a sense of dogged rebellion and biting, bitchy wit that helps to balance the expansion in its more dour, serious moments. While Silverhand only has a small amount of material to bite through in Phantom Liberty – as opposed to the base game, where he’s essentially a main character – Reeves (and the dialogue) makes those moments count.

Choice, at last

cyberpunk 2077 fia
Screenshot: GamesHub

Making moments count is a core tenet of Phantom Liberty. It’s an expansion that’s all about moments. Decisions. Choices. Unlike the base game, it feels like there is genuine choice behind many of the expansion’s biggest twists, as Phantom Liberty embraces Cyberpunk 2077‘s roots as a tabletop RPG more so than the base game does.

The overarching narrative remains distinctly linear, with a clear plot that threads eye-catching moments together – an entire set piece taking place in a grand ballroom, a heist-like journey underwater through inner tunnels and up a giant tower, a face-off with a towering spider-machine – but as you travel, you can make choices that determine who your version of V will become.

Beyond the decisions provided by Cyberpunk 2077‘s Update 2.0 – which allow for complete character re-speccing that gives you options for stealth, hacking, and heavy combat – as you travel through Phantom Liberty, you’re frequently presented with moral quandaries. Do you accept the support of the FIA, and pledge away your freedom in desperation for a Relic cure? Do you trust the president of NUSA to do right by you? Do you grant the wishes of a dying comrade?

cyberpunk 2077 phantom liberty lizzy wizzy
Screenshot: GamesHub

These decisions carry ample meaning, and are referenced throughout Phantom Liberty and in its closing moments, changing the course of your mission and the consequences it carries. Given the rigidity of Cyberpunk 2077, it’s a welcome change – a small tweak that has a simple, but major impact on your personal experience of the plot.

It’s your choices. Your consequences. It makes you care more deeply about every character you encounter, and wonder where an alternative path may have taken you by the expansion’s end.

Read: Cyberpunk 2077 and how I learned to stop worrying, and be an optimistic nihilist

The future of Cyberpunk 2077

By its conclusion, Phantom Liberty paints a gorgeous picture of Cyberpunk 2077‘s world – a form it perhaps should have enjoyed in the weeks following the launch of the original game. It’s a culmination of CD Projekt Red’s stellar, ambitious vision, particularly in its approach to storytelling and characters with clear, well-written, motivations. It’s a breakdown of the foibles of capitalism, and of the power afforded within the political system. It feels intimate, personal, and player-driven.

While it leans heavily on spy genre tropes, and appears to be determined to separate itself from the wilder, futuristic ideas of its base game counterpart by focussing on more familiar, socially relevant political themes, Phantom Liberty is a compelling, cinematic story that expands the world of Cyberpunk 2077.

With a nifty genre change, it presents a world of new possibilities for the franchise, providing hope for a stronger future.

Four stars: ★★★★

Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Developers: CD Projekt Red
Publisher: CD Projekt Red
Release Date: 26 September 2023

The PlayStation 5 version of Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are scored on a 5-point rating scale. 

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.