Welcome! This column is part of a series in which members of the Tom's Guide staff share what they're playing and enjoying right now, with the goal of helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check out our previous entry, where we talked about Lies of P.
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty arrived earlier this week and it was met with significant amounts of fanfare — including from Tom’s Guide’s own Tony Polanco. Reviewers praised the new story and revamped RPG elements as well as the bug fixes that are now rolling out three years after launch. It’s all great, truly, but I’m not sure it deserves all the praise.
It’s not because CD Projekt Red didn’t make the game better. Cyberpunk 2077 has improved since launch and, thanks to all the patches, the game we have now is so much better. But what disappoints me is that it’s still not the game that was promised to us — or even the one that I saw back in 2019.
The story of what CD Projekt Red promised, delivered and has now revamped with Phantom Liberty is honestly a rollercoaster of emotions. Like its central protagonist V when they found out what’s on the biochip, I’m feeling surprised, confused and angry with it all.
Is this really Night City in its final form? Or is it a pale imitation of the one the developer promised us back in 2019? Here’s what I think of Cyberpunk 2077’s three-year odyssey.
The Night City I was promised
I remember exactly where I was when I got my first walkthrough of Night City: I was sitting in a perfectly cool — but small — meeting room of the LA Convention Center. It was a behind-closed-door demo at E3 that only very specific members of the media could attend — and I was chosen to be one of the lucky few.
The world that CD Projekt Red had shown me in that briefing was incredible. What I saw were destructible environments everywhere, deep and interesting combat, and NPCs that had lives inside a never-ending metropolis carefully curated with quests.
I remember walking out of that demo room thinking, Wow, this is going to be one of the best games ever made. Unfortunately, what we got at launch wasn’t even close to that.
When it arrived, some versions of the game had a sparsely populated Night City while almost all the versions had game-breaking glitches. The residents that were wonderfully realized had all become mindless zombies, and the much-lauded game-changing decisions mostly resulted in similar outcomes.
Despite it not being the world I saw a year earlier at my demo, I played through the game. I was dismayed at what I was seeing compared to that initial demo, but nonetheless was enthralled by V’s fight for survival and saw it through to the end.
The Night City I was given
It’s been three years since then and thanks to patches 1.5 and 1.6, the game has slowly become closer to the game I was shown in that demo room.
Patch 1.5 added better driving mechanics and smarter AI, while 1.6 added back some of the side-quests and perks that I saw in my demo. But it’s the latest patch, 2.0, that CD Projekt Red says embodies what the team set out to do at launch three years ago. Except, in my opinion, it’s still not even close.
In the last week, I viewed some important cutscenes through a coffee table my character had fallen through; saw one of the game’s scariest bosses T-pose in between attacks; and entire areas of the game devoid of people and things to interact with. On more than one occasion, my game has crashed right after loading. These are huge bugs that I'm still finding years after launch.
Part of the problem might be that I'm taking my time to explore Night City this time around. I'm going into buildings that aren't always required for main quests, like a gay nightclub that was almost entirely deserted except for a lonely bartender and three dancers. I've walked into other shops where the storeowner was simply dead on the ground, and I was able to loot the place.
Are these intentional examples of ambient storytelling, or part of quest that I just haven't discovered yet? That's definitely a possibility. But given the fact that there are entire areas of the map that are underutilized, it wouldn't surprise me if a few of these shops just weren't given the same attention as the ones you'll find along the main quest.
Some Night City is better than no Night City
While I'm not going to lavish praise on the game, or say that its redemption arc is complete like some of my peers, I think what CD Projekt Red has finally put out is an overall better experience, and one that's truly engrossing.
The fact that I want to continue exploring Night City in spite of its issues says something about the world that's been built. The new area of Dogtown and all the characters in the DLC sound amazing, too. I haven't had a chance to get to them yet — remember I'm playing from the very beginning again — and I know that what I see there could make up for some of the lingering issues.
So, in short, yes the game has gotten better. It's at a point now where the good outweighs the bad. But any form of recognition needs to come with some major caveats for the bugs, glitches and missing features that haunt Night City’s streets.