Skip to main content

Cyberpunk 2077's Phantom Liberty expansion totally transforms the game's combat

Idris Elba is top tier, too

V fires a gun at a mech while on a motorcycle in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
Image credit: CD Projekt Red

I've spent around an hour with Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, the one and only expansion for Cyberpunk 2077 starring your boy Idris Elba. Yes, I saw him in the game, and yes, he fits in great. But what really struck me about the new DLC was how it had morphed the overall combat into a chunkier, more flavoursome affair. Whereas before your guns had about as much impact as the buzz of your phone in silent mode, they now feel like they've got some real weight behind each trigger pull. The new area of Dogtown is pretty sweet, too.

Not long ago I watched Netflix film The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker (which was actually pretty sad by the time the credits rolled), where Kai, the hitchhiker who wields the hatchet, says he's come straight from "Dogtown" to a bemused reporter. Dogtown is in fact where Phantom Liberty takes place as well (and judging by some of the locals there, Kai would probably fit right in). After being guided through some linear story stuff that culminated in a timeskip, I was able to explore a very small slice of its open world.

Watch on YouTube

From the off, I found myself in the doldrums of an old stadium, repurposed to fit a chaotic community of grifters and copious stalls. Songbird, a companion beamed from my skull like Johnny Silverhand, guided me up and out of the stadium. It's revealed that she's actually in a plane with the President - mostly because the plane gets shot down and her AI self ominously blinks out of existence while I'm speaking to her. Without spoiling too much else, I end up shuttling the president to a safe location in a fairly linear sequence of story beats and explosions.

For the most part, the DLC's opening is what you'd probably expect from Cyberpunk. A lot of chatter, some fights, the odd moment where you either "talk it out" or beat a couple of dudes into submission (I ended up getting too close, they panicked, I panicked, then I bludgeoned them to death). None of it's going to bowl you over, but it's certainly a strong setup for what's to follow.

The exterior walls of Dogtown in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
A crowded social area in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty
Image credit: CD Projekt Red

And what's to follow involved a bit of a timeskip on the demo's part, as I left the confines of the linear and entered Dogtown proper, getting a first whiff of the new open world space. And I'd say the bits I saw - which wasn't much at all during my preview session - had a very different feel to Cyberpunk's usual offering. I saw an overgrown city, one left undisturbed by the corpos and able to crumble into a relaxed mixture of old and futuristic, with a lazy golden sheen of sun blanketing it all. It couldn't have seemed further away from Arasaka's sharp, obsidian towers and I'd say in that regard it's got the hallmarks of what a good DLC location should be: an in-game city break.

It's a bit further into the DLC's intro where you'll meet Idris, a sleeper agent assigned to protect the president. Where Keanu Reeves' Johnny Silverhand is abrasive in every aspect of the character, Idris struck me as far more believable. Like, he's voice acted well, and it didn't take me long at all to get over the novelty of Idris Elba being in Cyberpunk and accept him as a key part of the main story.

Idris Elba talks to another character in Cyberpunk 2077's Phantom Liberty DLC
Image credit: CD Projekt Red

The most impressive parts of the demo were CD Projekt's obvious efforts to improve the base FPS experience. While it wasn't exactly Halo's shotgun levels of oomph or Call Of Duty's perfectly balanced ratio of arcade to military sim, Phantom Liberty genuinely elevates Cyberpunk's shooting to trigger pulls which finally feel like the guns each spit bullets with some venom behind them.

And while I didn't really have time to sit down and have a proper nosey at the menus, I got the sense they'd reworked the levelling system and its perk distribution. From a brief skim read, I'm pretty sure they've made the branching point trees a little more meaningful with clear pillar abilities you're to aim for, like a Lv.3 adrenaline boost that you can then bulk out with extra points if you'd like, either leaving it at that, or connecting it with another pillar in some capacity.

Just as the freedom of Dogtown's open world began to kick off, the demo came to a close - gah. But just from the brief time I spent with it, I think it's shaping up to be a strong plot with a gorgeous new zone, an impressive Idris Elba, and with tweaks to make Cyberpunk's combat hit a little bit differently. Dogtown, baby, get me back out there.

NotE3 and Summer Game Fest 2023 is over for another year. You can find out all the latest news by visiting our E3 2023 hub, or you can catch up with our round-up posts of everything that was announced at Summer Game Fest, the Xbox Games Showcase, the PC Gaming Show, Day Of The Devs, and our top highlights from the Wholesome Direct.

Read this next