If you’ve been on the internet between December of 2020 to right now, you’ve probably heard something about the supposed Cyberpunk 2077 renaissance. That redemption arc seems to be finally coming to fruition with the upcoming Phantom Liberty expansion, which promises a complete overhaul of the RPG’s systems, to the point where some people, perhaps yourself included, are wondering if it’s time to jump on the Cyberpunk 2077 bandwagon, or if you should just wait until the September 26 release date. It’s a fair question, and as a person who has put a couple hundred hours into the original game, and played a little bit of the expansion already, I’ve got thoughts, and can hopefully help you make an informed decision about when or if you should head into Night City.
According to CD Projekt Red, Phantom Liberty is overhauling several systems in the base game, to the point where parts of it will play completely differently from not only the game as it launched, but as it exists now nearly three years and several patches later. This includes new skill trees, new equipment, new quest types, reworks of enemy types, new features like vehicle combat, and new tactics and tweaks for how police react to you doing crimes. A lot of this is done by gutting the old game and putting something new in the space left behind. Your old build will probably require a respec, and you’ll also have new options within those skill trees. Basically, as CD Projekt Red describes it, your playstyle will be pretty different after Phantom Liberty launches.
At this point, playing Cyberpunk 2077 before Phantom LIberty is playing a mostly improved version of the game that launched in 2020. Fundamentally, the game is still the same as it was, but is held together by a better foundation. There’s an argument to be made that this game cannot be salvaged, even as CD Projekt Red has rolled out a ton of patches and free updates over the past three years. And to some degree, I agree with that. Having a game that crashes less doesn’t make its combat encounters more engaging, it doesn’t make its rancid, cynical politics any better, and it doesn’t make Night City feel like more than a really, really pretty city skyline that beckons toward possibilities it can’t realize. But Phantom Liberty seems like an earnest attempt to make good on some of the mechanical promise the game had before it launched.
The changes to skill trees alone made Cyberpunk 2077 feel like a different game when I played it. I was given a build that felt most comparable to something like Genji from Overwatch, complete with dashes, deflecting bullets with my arm blades, and brutal finishes that gave me a reason to actually get in close. I didn’t have nearly as many options in the base version of the game. If those larger game ideas really come to fruition and shine through remains to be seen, but I’m more captivated by the game CD Projekt Red is putting forward than the one I can play right now, and that’s coming from someone who, somehow, loves the base game as it exists today.
On top of this, you won’t have to pay for a lot of the system changes, as they’ll be part of the main game, free of charge, So the amount of upfront investment you’ll have to pay when you start for what the studio is positioning as the better experience is much smaller than it will be if you buy the $30 Phantom Liberty before you’ve tried on all those new changes.
If, for whatever reason, you’ve not played Cyberpunk 2077 yet, knowing an overhauled version of the game is just a few months away should be reason enough to give you pause before buying it now. But as a person who has watched the game go from absolute disaster to a mostly unremarkable RPG with some real heart underneath the rot has been fascinating. It’s what makes changes like the ones Phantom Liberty promises interesting to watch, because I have the context of what 2077 once was to look back and pick apart the way things have and haven’t changed. Really, the narrative of Cyberpunk 2077 as a gem that needed polishing has been one of the most captivating things about it. Interrogating whether or not there’s any merit to the story the internet loves to tell is as entertaining an experience as playing the game can be when it’s actually doing things well.
But if that’s not the way you engage with video games, I can’t think of a reason to play Cyberpunk 2077 right now when a lot of its fundamentals are going to be vastly changed in just a few short months. If you’ve waited nearly three years to jump into Night City, another three months won’t hurt. If Phantom Liberty delivers on its promise of a revitalized game, ignorance of what it once was before can be its own bliss. But as the video game industry continues to release games that look fundamentally different years later, Cyberpunk 2077 as a product is as fascinating a narrative as anything Night City proposes.
But if you decide against this advice and jump into Cyberpunk 2077 anyway, be sure to check out Kotaku’s guides on quests to look out for, how to find love in Night City, and general tips from someone who have played the game more than once.