What a rollercoaster ride we've been on with Cyberpunk 2077. After a hugely disappointing experience with the borked original console release, which resulted in a much lower scored review than we ever expected to dish out, we were then pleased to report on patch Hotfix 1.4's litany of incremental improvements that made a notable — if not game-changing — difference to the core experience.
However things still weren't where we'd have liked them to be, this still wasn't the dystopian cyberpunk RPG we had dreamed of, and nowhere near touching the level of greatness CDPR had previously reached with The Witcher 3. In our humble opinion Cyberpunk 2077's biggest problems, the deeper issues that lay beyond the mess of bugs, could never be fully corrected.
And yet, the maestros at CDPR have dug in, they've stayed the course and, with Update 2.0 and the Phantom Liberty DLC, have managed what we genuinely thought was impossible. Cyberpunk 2077 in its 2.0 form is an experience that finally lives up to pretty much all of the hype. Anyone who knows this particular writer knows I've whittled on and on about my disappointment with this game, now I'm only too happy to say it's everything I wanted back in 2020, and maybe even a little more besides.
Let's start with the enormous 2.0 update here, easily the biggest and most important aspect of this new phase in Cyberpunk 2077's life. The devs have got busy in the bowels of this beast, ripping out and replacing the disappointing and fiddly systems that so stank up the RPG aspects of the OG version of the game. We've now got meaningful, fun and exciting upgrade paths, skill unlocks and powers to play with. There are recognisably different paths to take with your version of V here, pumping your skill points, perk points and relic rewards into distinct and easy to parse trees that allow you to create builds that will feel wildly different on repeat playthroughs.
You can go full beast mode, create a V who can blast around battlefields like some sort of foul-mouthed, tattooed Sonic the Hedgehog, barreling at electric speed into enemies with your blades, performing enormous leaps into the air that end in savage melee attacks or focusing on sword combat that now feels exactly as good as it looks. Wanna deflect bullets with your Katana as you charge at an enemy? You can do that. Fancy lifting a thug above your head before flinging them at a wall so hard they turn into a bloody mist? Go for it. Or maybe you'll take a totally techy/stealth route, putting all your points into the "Cool" skills tree, giving yourself the ability to skulk around and pick off your prey. There's also, of course, a ton of gun-related options that turn V into an absolutely unstoppable bullet-blasting behemoth.
These new skill and perk options have a huge impact on moment-to-moment gameplay, and it'll take a good long while to see all options on offer as there's a ton to unlock. All of this is then layered on top of combat and traversal that's been tightened up, refined and made to feel far more satisfying and impactful.
Your hacking abilities have been boosted too, and they feed into this intoxicating mix in lots more immediate ways than the vanilla version of the game. Choosing to focus on hacking as you upgrade allows you to queue up hacks on a single opponent, for example, totally overwhelming them, and environments now give you a more satisfying number of ways in which to toy with your foes. With tweaks to enemy AI also making for improved adversaries, Cyberpunk 2077's reworked combat is just an absolute joy as of this latest update.
There's also been work put into vehicular traversal and car-based combat. You can now partake in chaotic running gun battles from the comfort of your Thornton Colby, some vehicles even come with mounted weapons to play with, and the police who give chase as a result of the carnage you create are finally clever enough to provide a challenge. There's no more blinking into existence from the bacon boys here, with a reworked wanted system giving us the cops we expected from day one, police who are fun to toy with and who respond to your violence much more appropriately.
On a more general note, we hated the floaty feel of cars and bikes when Cyberpunk 2077 first released, everything about driving in this game felt off, and that's no longer the case. We still reckon bikes feel better than cars overall, but there's no doubting that the hard work has been put in here to give vehicles more weight, to make them feel more responsive and connected to the world they're moving through. There's also more NPC traffic, traffic that behaves as though it understands how roads work, making for a much more believable city to traverse.
The game's messy loot system has been overhauled, cleaning up the constant glut of guns that cluttered your inventory, you can now easily see what level of rarity a dropped weapon is and you'll get a detailed breakdown of its specs before you decide to pick it off the ground. Menus have been streamlined for easier navigation of your inventories, the journal is 100% less of a nightmare to browse, the phone isn't a constant annoyance anymore, and there are countless smaller fixes and balances here that make for an experience that's just better in every way.
We could spend ages picking out other little improvements, stuff like how you no longer have finite health or grenades, with these now working on cooldown timers that make for far less fiddling in menus, how you can freely re-spec your character, the way clothes are now just for aesthetics (and there's absolutely tons of cool outfits to find) but let's move on to Phantom Liberty itself. This 20 hour slice of DLC is, quite simply, jaw-dropping stuff. We won't reveal a single spoiler here, but just know this is a super slick and streamlined thrill-ride, one that funnels you through a bunch of tense set-pieces and effortlessly cool scenarios in which to deploy all of your brand new skills.
Phantom Liberty kicks off with a spectacular crash (thankfully not to your console's dash this time around), with a president in peril, a talented netrunner fighting for survival and a situation that draws V into an espionage thriller setup that bangs along at a cracking pace and suits the vibe of this world perfectly. It's a new slice of narrative that bounds from one mad situation to the next, rarely letting up in terms of its action whilst also managing to introduce a bevvy of excellent new characters into the mix.
Idris Elba is, as expected, excellent as Reed, totally overshadowing Keanu's Johnny we reckon. He's a complex character, a brooding figure who you want to be around, want to gel with, to get to the bottom of, and this has the knock-on effect of making decisions that you take down the line all the more difficult and thrilling. Beyond Reed you've got a very strong lineup of memorable new associates and enemies in the form of Songbird, Kurt Hansen, Alex and more, who manage to imbue this new story with real urgency and emotion.
Of course, the narrative aspect of the base game was never the issue, the original campaign story is immensely entertaining, and we can't wait to get back into it with Update 2.0's improvements, but Phantom Liberty really does stand out as a truly shining example of CDPR's abilities. This DLC delivers the Cyberpunk experience we dreamed of back in 2020, it lets you play with crazy future tech in life or death situations, it can stand toe to toe with anything in The Witcher 3 in terms of its writing, and it's made us giddy to restart Cyberpunk 2077 with a fresh new save. We want to roll through the whole thing again with our brand-new version of V, taking our time to mop up every side mission, see every ending and just exist in a Night City that, with Dogtown added to the mix, finally lives up to everything we hoped it would be.
Yes, we're being very vague on the details here with regards to Phantom Liberty, but only because all you really need to know is that the game's core mechanics, its combat and RPG elements are now in a place where you can dive in and enjoy this world without concern. There's no inconsistencies or niggling annoyances to ruin the flow or fun as you indulge in 20 hours of CDPR hitting some serious high notes. Don't spoil the surprises or the drama for yourself, dive in unsullied and enjoy the ride.
In terms of performance on Series X, this is the only area where we have any remaining issues, and these issues relate to the quality graphical setting only. In performance mode we've had zero problems with Cyberpunk 2077 2.0, it runs super smoothly, we've seen zero bugs (unbelievable!) and it looks outstanding, even without ray-tracing and at a reduced resolution. However, at the time of writing, we can't recommend anyone opt to play in the game's quality mode. It feels jittery and juddery right now, noticeably slower, stodgier and less responsive than its 60FPS counterpart. You can see the graphical difference as soon as you switch quality mode on, it really does look incredible, but there's no way these bells and whistles are worth the drop in responsiveness as things stand right now.
With that one negative out of the way though, what an incredible turnaround this is for Cyberpunk 2077. It feels great to be able to wholeheartedly recommend this game, to see it finally in a place where it can sit alongside the mighty Witcher 3 as one of the best RPG experiences you can dive into on modern consoles. This is an RPG that delivers the narrative goods whilst also serving up an intoxicating open world and combat that puts many straight-up action games to shame. It's been two and a half years coming, but Cyberpunk 2077 2.0 and Phantom Liberty have been more than worth waiting for.
Cyberpunk 2077 in its 2.0 form and with Phantom Liberty finally in place, feels like a game reborn. This is every bit the experience we wanted back in 2020, a deep and addictive action RPG that can now sit alongside The Witcher 3 as one of the greats. We've had our ups and downs with this one, oh boy it's been a rollercoaster, but entirely reworked skills and perks, refined and refreshed combat, retooled loot and menu systems and a cracking new slice of CDPR narrative magic makes for a game that we're finally able to recommend wholeheartedly. They've only gone and bloody done it.