Cyberpunk 2077 had an interesting launch. It was massively hyped ahead of its release, having had a huge spotlight at E3 2019. In fact, the E3 announcement gained viral popularity due to a meme of Keanu Reeves saying “You’re breath-taking” in response to a fan. Fun fact, my husband was actually there in the audience for that moment!
However, the game became plagued by behind-the-scenes issues. Initially, the game was set to be released in April 2020, but that didn’t happen. It was first delayed until September, then November, until Cyberpunk was finally released in December 2020.
However, all those delays clearly still hadn’t given the developers enough time to polish the game, as it launched with a whole host of glitches. In fact, there was a funny meme going around. Bugsnax had launched around the same time, so people joked that despite the former being focused on creatures, Cyberpunk had more bugs than Bugsnax.
Still, once they got the kinks worked out, Cyberpunk 2077 ended up being an excellent game. Fans loved the vast and interesting world coupled with an engaging story that evolves the more you play. As such, we were all thrilled when CD Projekt Red announced that they were releasing an expansion called Phantom Liberty, set for release on September 26th.
The demo was available at Gamescom 2023 in Cologne, and I was lucky enough to get the chance to play it. At the start of the demo, you’re given a choice between 3 options that will determine the experience you have. This preview is for ‘Long demo, medium difficulty’. It definitely felt like the demo skipped a few introductory scenes, as it just throws you right into the action. Usually, expansions will have some transition moments that set the scene for what you’re about to experience.
Anyway, now you know the backstory, let’s get into the details of the demo!
The demo takes place in a new area of the Pacifica District. This anarchist combat zone gives off rundown, lawless vibes that create a tense atmosphere. Although the Pacifica District exists in the base game, it’s not really developed, whereas Phantom Liberty looks set to bring it to life.
For the demo, you’re in an area of the district called Dogtown. It still has those gorgeous neon color schemes that Cyberpunk is well-known for, but there’s also darkness everywhere. The shadows are a visual cue as to the kind of area you’ve found yourself in. Dogtown is occupied and run by the Barghest, a private army formed of mercenaries and ex-military. Although not much is known about them currently, they’re sure to play a large role once the full expansion is released.
The Phantom Liberty trailer introduced a new character called Solomon Reed, voiced by Idris Elba. Elba has a strong fanbase and his announcement garnered a lot of attention. Sadly, we didn’t get to meet him in the demo, so he must be introduced further into the storyline.
It seems like Phantom Liberty is set sometime before the end of the base game. This would be pretty obvious to those who’ve completed Cyberpunk 2077. Not to give away spoilers, but although the base game has many endings, none of those endings would create continuity with your situation in the Phantom Liberty demo.
Unfortunately, you couldn’t customize your character in the demo, which is always one of my favorite parts of a game. However, it makes sense since the demo is intended to showcase new things, and you don’t want to spend all your time on a character creation screen. Well, technically I do, but I’m aware that I’m an outlier.
Besides, when the expansion’s released, you’ll presumably just continue with your character from the base game. Still, it would have been nice if they gave you a couple of different character models to choose between.
You start out in Dogtown talking to a hacker named Songbird. She’s on board the president’s plane, beaming her image and words straight into your brain. You see the avatar in front of you, but she’s not really there physically. She’s telling you that President Myer’s plane has been hijacked and is going down, and she tasks you with saving the president. She says “If you save the president, I can fix your problem”.
If you haven’t played the base game, the problem she’s referring to is the erasure of your identity. You play as a character called V, and there’s a chip in your brain containing the ghost of Johnny Silverhands (Keanu Reeves). V is being overwritten by him in the main game, with more of Johnny taking over, and V’s identity fading away. You don’t actually see Johnny Silverhands in the demo, but we can assume it’s still a thing.
Once the mission is explained, you go through the district, with no combat in this first section of the demo. You find yourself walking through a marketplace, which allows you to buy guns. Although there were several on offer, I figured a shotgun would best serve my interests.
Once you’ve made your purchases, Songbird once again gives you an instruction, in this case, she orders you to climb to the roof of a tall building. But disaster strikes! When you make it to the top of the roof, you see the president’s plane go down. With no time to waste, Songbird hacks a crane to create a bridge for you to walk along. You drop down a gap between cranes, and we finally get some real action.
A catastrophic scene unfolds around you. You’re in the street, surrounded by blazing fire and plane debris. The graphics and sound effects are intense, really immersing you in the devastation of the scene. Unidentified enemies are swarming around, trying to get to the president, and it’s your duty to intercept. It feels quite daunting at this stage, but exciting as well.
The hacker advises you to use stealth rather than jump into combat, given how vastly you’re outnumbered. But as you get closer to the epicenter, there’s a godsend. The plane has automated defenses, so I felt I could safely take out the enemies since I now had assistance. I’m really glad they gave you this help, as the combat wouldn’t have felt fun if it were too difficult.
Even with the plane’s defenses, fighting your way through the enemies was no easy feat. You have to really think through your attacks, making sure to be both efficient and deadly. Using a combination of mantis blades (epic cybernetic enhancements that come with the character), the purchased shotgun, and some grenades that were already in the inventory, V safely made it through.
Finally, you get to the plane, where a horrifying scene awaits. You see dead bodies and debris, but at the end of it all is a thick door at the back of the plane. This turns out to be a safe room where the president is hiding. Songbird remotely opens the door, but the president doesn’t know who you are and attacks you.
You’re presented with dialogue options such as telling her who you are or that Songbird sent you. It feels like they would all result in the same outcome, though, as she already seems to know to expect you. The demo ends with you preparing to take the president out of the plane, a fittingly heroic ending after all the heavy action.
Honestly, it’s hard to make too many comments on the gameplay given the nature of the demo. Ultimately, it was an action set-piece, so there wasn’t much to promote in terms of new gameplay, it just set the scene for what to expect from the storyline of Phantom Liberty. The movement felt smooth and responsive, exactly like the base game, so in terms of gameplay, the demo felt basically identical to what I’ve come to expect from Cyberpunk.
Phantom Liberty is releasing around the same time as a major update for Cyberpunk 2077. This new update will bring many exciting features. These include (but aren’t limited to):
- A redesigned skill tree
- Limiter Removal Relic (You’ll be able to yeet enemies into the air with a single punch)
- An overhaul to the police system with new AI that makes them behave more realistically
- Updated user interface
- More balanced economic system
- Vehicle-to-vehicle combat
CD Projekt Red have described Phantom Liberty as a ‘spy thriller’, so alongside all the new updates, it’s an exciting time for Cyberpunk fans. Although the old gameplay is fun, particularly riding your motorcycle around with pure freedom, I’m excited to test out my stealth abilities in the secret missions that Phantom Liberty is sure to offer.
- Stray – Although there are major differences, the glaringly obvious one being that you play as a cat, Stray actually feels pretty similar in terms of vibes. The underground city bears a lot of similarities to the neon districts of Cyberpunk 2077. There’s also a focus on story and lore, with a futuristic setting. Very short and very cute.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution/ Mankind Divided – This offers a similar tech-based futuristic world. Although it’s smaller in scope, this leads to tighter gameplay. It’s still open-world, but you have clear missions. The stealth-based gameplay is more prominent than in Cyberpunk, but this may change with the release of Phantom Liberty.
- Witcher 3 – Although it’s a totally different setting, Witcher 3 is another open-world title by CD Projekt Red. If you like the gameplay concept of Cyberpunk 2077 but can’t get behind the futuristic setting, Witcher 3 may be more your speed, as it’s a medieval fantasy.
All in all, Phantom Liberty seems set to give fans a really exciting experience. It keeps what’s great about the main game, but adds in a spy aspect that will definitely appeal to many players, myself included. Spy films are one of my favorite genres, so it’ll be really cool to play something that feels like a movie.
It’s a shame the demo didn’t give us the chance to experience any of the new features promised, but I understand that they only had so much they could show us. Either way, it was enjoyable to learn about the new plot, and to meet a couple of new characters. I would’ve liked to see Solomon Reed, but at the same time, I understand why they’d want to keep a major character like that until the full release.