I’ll come right out and say it: I really enjoyed Cyberpunk 2077. Despite its litany of technical issues and overpromises, the game had a compelling world, memorable characters and, at its core, a surprisingly emotional story about legacy.
For that reason, I’ve been excited to see more from Phantom Liberty, CD Projekt’s one — and supposedly only — current-gen expansion to the game. The potential to take the studio’s strong framework of The Witcher 3’s incredible expansions to deliver a tighter and more focused Cyberpunk experience is titillating, to say the least. Now, after having gone hands-on with Phantom Liberty at Summer Game Fest in Los Angeles, that interest has only increased.
I should begin by saying that I got a significantly shorter demo than what was shown to some others at Summer Game Fest, so my impressions are only based on what I saw. As a result, I still have a lot of questions, but my preview at least planted some interesting seeds. First and foremost: who is Songbird? In place of Johnny Silverhand (Toronto’s own Keanu Reeves) was this new netrunner (and presidential ally) to give V instructions. I wasn’t able to glean anything from their interactions, but I don’t yet know whether she’s trustworthy, and given that CD Projekt is pitching Phantom Liberty as a “spy-thriller,” that certainly helps with the intrigue.
After exploring some wreckage with her, we see the president’s plane get blown out of the sky, leading V to race through a new district, blast her way through enemies and reach the fallen airship. Gameplay-wise, nothing major here really stuck out as new, especially considering a lot of major gameplay changes have already come in post-launch updates. That said, CD Projekt has added a neat new ‘Relic’ path on the skill tree which gives you perks like Emergency Cloaking for a last-ditch option to escape a firefight and an improved shockwave for the pincer-like Gorilla Arms.
Overall, though, it was the new setting, Dogtown, that really grabbed my attention. Immediately, it reminded me of the base game’s run down Pacifica, but instead of being overrun by the Haitian Voodoo Boys, there’s a mysterious overlord named Colonel Hansen. “In Dogtown, I keep your business safe as long as you abide by my rules,” he proclaims as chaos runs rampant in the streets amid the downed plane. “Taxes? Who gives a fuck!” he declares. I only saw a bit of him on the giant displays in the area, Joker in Batman: Arkham-style, but he definitely made an impression, and I’m curious to learn more about him and Dogtown.
I’m especially glad I got a glimpse at Hansen because the expansion’s primary new character, Solomon Reed (Luther‘s Idris Elba), was nowhere to be found. (Again, the longer demo included him, but not my condensed version.) Considering he’s an agent of the government, I don’t know if he can be trusted, but I’m curious to see how he factors into the story. Likewise, Johnny was absent from my preview, and I’m looking forward to seeing what sorts of delightfully bitter commentary he brings to the mix.
The level design also felt more engrossing than what I remember of many of the areas in Cyberpunk 2077. The opening section with Songbird involves some light platforming amid a giant debris-filled area, and it led me to wonder just what’s been happening here. And later, when I was approaching the airplane, I appreciated how there was a nice degree of verticality to the area so I could sneak by enemies entirely.
My only real hangup is the fact that the demo ended rather abruptly when I board the plane and meet the president. Before we get properly acquainted, explosions start to rock the ship, leading the demo to cut to black. It was a somewhat frustrating place to end, considering it didn’t really tee up what’s to come besides a cheap cliffhanger. But the combination of CD Projekt’s steady stream of improvements to Cyberpunk 2077, the compelling setting and the one-two punch of Reeves and Elba have me excited to see more.
We’ll learn more when Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty launches on September 26th on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S and PC. It will be sold for $40 CAD.
Image credit: CD Projekt