Best Expansion 2023: Cyberpunk 2077 – Phantom Liberty

In a comeback for the ages, Cyberpunk 2077 is now one of the best RPGs you can play, and enhanced even further with this year’s Phantom Liberty expansion. For more awards, head to our Game of the Year 2023 list.

Fraser Brown, Online Editor: CDPR will probably never be able to escape the stink of Cyberpunk 2077’s botched launch, but what a way to end things. Phantom Liberty’s new district, Dogtown, and its cast of CIA analogues, militants and ne’er-do-wells allowed the game to go out on a high note, with a gripping yarn balanced between a slow-burning thriller and a balls-to-the-wall action movie. You get to meet the NUSA president, and much more importantly: Idris Elba.

The devs smartly weave this expansion into the base game rather than sticking it on at the end or making it a standalone romp, allowing it to elevate the rest of Cyberpunk 2077, a game that is lightyears ahead of the launch version thanks to the accompanying (and free) 2.0 update. Proper police chases, a progression system that doles out exciting abilities regularly, an overhauled cybernetics system—this is Cyberpunk 2077’s potential realised.

And while CDPR said this would be the last major update, it hasn’t been able to help itself, and just recently released yet another meaty patch that introduces yet more vehicles, repeatable races, the ability to hang out with your love interests in your pads and—finally!—a metro that’s more than just a fast travel option. For three years I’ve been waiting to sit back on a train and just watch Night City glide by, and now I can.

Ted Litchfield, Associate Editor: Despite everything, I loved Cyberpunk 2077 right from its legendarily botched launch⁠—it was an engrossing, distinctive RPG with winning characters, more than a few bugs, and some gear and ability design that absolutely stuck in my craw. Even with my firm affection for 2077, I knew it felt incomplete. I found myself dreaming of overhaul updates and a Cyberpunk version of The Witcher 3’s excellent Hearts of Stone.

Nearly three years later, we finally have both. Phantom Liberty is one of the best individual stories CDPR has told to date, while the 2.0 update fixed every one of those RPG balance gripes that dogged the game. I no longer have to qualify my recommendation of Cyberpunk 2077⁠—it’s simply one of the best RPGs out there, and it feels miraculous that the expansion to an initially disastrous RPG managed to stand tall in a legendary year for the genre.

Tyler Colp, Associate Editor: Phantom Liberty earns the confidence that Cyberpunk 2077 failed to when it launched. CDPR spent a long time refining how to tell a story in this world and it shows. Phantom Liberty has a firm grasp on the sort of bold storytelling that made the Witcher 3 great, wielding both the technical artistry of the world and the team’s strong writing to center its broken cast of characters. It’s refreshing and mature in a way I never expected this game to pull off and it has me excited to see more.

(Image credit: CD Projekt Red)

Robert Jones, Print Editor: Talk about a comeback! Cyberpunk 2077 was never a terrible game, even at launch, but the game’s actual systems and mechanics were often so badly designed and implemented that they actually got in the way of what CD Project RED does best, telling epic, cinematic narratives with engaging characters. Cyberpunk 2077’s 2.0 patch saw these in-game systems redesigned and fixed, which in turn paved the way for Phantom Liberty to go and absolutely steal the show with, just maybe, the most engaging, mature and fun narrative CD Project RED has ever delivered. In my mind, the Hollywood blockbuster experience Phantom Liberty delivers is actually better than anything in the main game, making it a worthy winner of our Best Expansion award.

Sean Martin, Guides Writer: Phantom Liberty made me actually like Johnny Silverhand. Perhaps it’s because the story doesn’t really involve him, so he can just chill out and provide witty commentary from the sidelines? Either way, I think Johnny’s characterisation is far better in Phantom Lib and it’s easier to appreciate him as a foil for your conscience rather than just some jerk you’re stuck with.

Harvey Randall, Staff Writer: I’d never played Cyberpunk 2077 until Phantom Liberty dropped—and despite the complicated feelings I have towards the state it arrived in (and what the repeat pattern of ‘game is way better after a few months’ means for the wider industry) I’m glad I waited. Killer combat matched with a compelling cast of complete disasters drew me in. Also, I became a bunny-hopping, knife-tossing nightmare, and I respect any game that makes throwing weapons viable.

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