Over the past few weeks, Cyberpunk 2077 has been back on everyone’s lips. I got home from Summer Games Fest and immediately started downloading CD Projekt Red’s controversial RPG on my PlayStation 5, because – after what I saw in Phantom Liberty – I need a save file ready to go on my console.
Some context: at Summer Game Fest, the CDPR booth let journalists, creators and other attendees choose which version of the game they wanted to play. You could opt for PC, Xbox Series, or PS5. Given the myriad issues (both legal and performance-wise) the base game suffered on PlayStation consoles at launch, I opted to demo the title on Sony’s machine. And I am really glad I did.
From the opening of the demo – where V and their new pal, Songbird, watch a presidential shuttle tumble dramatically out of the sky into the woebegotten, walled-off borough of Dog Town – you can see the work the studio has done on making this game console-friendly. As Alex has already rightly pointed out, the various patches and updates to the game have made it one of the best console RPGs on the current generation already, but now – with all the bells and whistles Phantom Liberty adds – it’s looking and feeling even better.
For demo purposes, there’s a ninja build you can choose from that prioritises fast movement, snapshot gunplay, and sprinting. Because I wanted to live the proper Edgerunner fantasy, this is the V I went for, and let me tell you… it feels superb on the pad. Shooting has been overhauled massively in Phantom Liberty, so now it actually feels a bit more like a proper first-person cover shooter, rather than some tacked-on afterthought. Aiming down sights and popping headshots put me in mind of Bulletstorm, of all things – something the attending developer on my station agreed with.
Haptic feedback and resistance on the triggers makes shooting feel as mechanical as it should, and hot-swapping your assault rifle for your pistol results in the exact shift in recoil and impact as you’d expect. Shooting in Cyberpunk 2077 is never going to feel like Destiny, but what’s happening in Phantom Liberty is a marked improvement from what happened in the game at launch.
But why would you want to shoot when you can rip and tear, instead? Doom this is not, but the rhythmic, rampant slashing and dicing you can do to that wonderful clubland backing track feels amazing. New abilities have been added to your Mantis blades, a new skill tree allows for more utility when it comes to being mobile in the combat arena, and the addition of cyberwear – giving you armour – grants you the option to be more aggressive and get in your enemy’s face before cutting them down to size.
You might not even need to rely on that replenishable bit of shielding, though; players gifted with timing will be able to parry bullets – yes, bullets! – if they stack enough points into the right ninja-esque traits. My pre-built ninja V got into a very satisfying pattern of airdashing, dropping onto hired goons, cutting them open, parrying a bullet back into another goon’s head, stealthing up, and getting to a vantage point before repeating the whole grim ballet once more.
When the DLC drops, you’ll be pleased to know, a lot of these system-side changes will be applied to the whole game – not just the bit you have to pay extra for. That’s the real appeal of Phantom Liberty, I think; it reframes the game as Cyberpunk 2077 2.0, and issues a really strong argument for you booting up the game and starting another save file.
But aside from how it feels to me, and the other creators that have had a chance to play it, the fact that CD Projekt Red is out here showing off Phantom Liberty on PS5 at all is a masterstroke. It demonstrates the developer is not scared of the DLC’s reception on console, it shows that there is an actual playable, cromulent build of the game already out there, and it shows the studio is actively proud of it – proud enough to let people at Summer Games Fest and Xbox FanFest play it, at least.
Given the studio wouldn’t even let reviewers play the console version ahead of reviews, this transparency we’re seeing in the run-up to Phantom Liberty’s launch feels like it could denote a sea change for CD Projekt Red: keen to shake off the reputation it gained from the botched base game launch, its tact and technique with Phantom Liberty may suggest what the developer has up its sleeve in the future, as we edge into the new Witcher era, and whatever comes next once this one-and-done Cyberpunk 2077 DLC is out the door.
Cyberpunk 2077 is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Phantom Liberty launches September 26, and it’ll set you back £24.99.