CD Projekt Red has finally unveiled new details about the highly-anticipated DLC for the critically polarizing Cyberpunk 2077. The new DLC, titled Phantom Liberty, will feature the return of Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand and will continue the adventures of the base game’s protagonist, V. The company says the new expansion will be out sometime in 2023.
Cyberpunk was supposed to be the biggest game release of 2020. The game was originally slated for April, but numerous delays saw it pushed all the way back to December. Upon release, the game was a buggy mess on previous-generation consoles, owing to the rushed development process and overly ambitious systems. The game clearly had no business running on last-gen hardware, leading to a disastrous PR storm for CD Projekt Red.
The studio that had earned critical acclaim and roaring sales for The Witcher 3 finally did the unthinkable and dropped the ball in a major way. The game was undercooked, buggy, and visibly unfinished in almost every way. What should have been the biggest game of the year became a laughingstock for the industry–and a cautionary tale about crunching to get a game made.
Made to Succeed
Before its launch, Cyberpunk 2077 looked like it was created in a lab to specifically appeal to gamers and become The Biggest Thing Ever. It was made by the studio behind the beloved Witcher series. It had Keanu Reeves playing a major character. And, best of all, it was an adaptation of a beloved tabletop RPG with a rich history and engaging internal mythos.
CDPR announced it was working on a video game adaptation of Cyberpunk in 2013, showing off a cinematic trailer that captured many fans’ imaginations. Years later, still with no gameplay to show, fans began to get anxious. When was the studio going to show off more of its highly-anticipated project? Finally, at E3 2018, the studio showcased an extremely polished-looking gameplay trailer that set expectations sky-high. The gorgeous graphics, futuristic setting, and pulse-pounding action were exactly what fans had dreamed a Cyberpunk game could be.
Then, at E3 2019, the studio showed yet more of the game, and fan expectations hit a fever pitch. The Industrial Hype Machine was in full effect, with CDPR putting out constant video updates showing off the game’s features and explorable areas. Cyberpunk was destined to be Game of the Year, maybe even Game of the Decade. It was the best thing ever when it only existed in players’ minds.
Then it actually came out.
According to reports from within CDPR, the studio’s upper management was overly optimistic about how quickly the team could create Cyberpunk. A massive trailer shown at E3 2018 had fans ravenous for news on the long-gestating game, which apparently only went into full-time production shortly before the 2018 demo. The developers entered a brutal cycle of long working hours and harsh conditions, known in the industry as “crunch.”
Studios will often weaponize their developers’ passion by asking them to work unbelievably long hours and skip breaks, all in the name of “doing what they love.” This technique can lead to burnout and almost always results in undercooked games that are missing key features and are visibly the product of an overworked and underpaid team. In almost every instance of crunch in recent years, the resulting game has been terrible–not that crunch would be acceptable even if it resulted in fantastic games. Mistreating developers just to get a game out faster is never the right call for any studio.
After Cyberpunk’s disastrous launch, CDPR went into damage control mode, offering refunds for customers who were dissatisfied with the game and vowing to bring it up to acceptable levels with updates. Many fans who used to say the company was one of the best RPG developers in the world were stunned by this turn of events, and the game became emblematic of the trouble with crunch culture.
To the company’s credit, CDPR continued to support the game after its launch and rolled out countless quality-of-life updates. These included sweeping bug fixes for last-gen consoles–essentially, the kinds of updates you would expect to be in the game from day one. This illustrated how much longer the game should have spent in development, as the most recent updates in 2022 finally brought the game to an acceptable level of polish.
As the studio rolled out these updates, it also included some new content, like new apartments for player characters, new vehicles and weapons, and even new clothing to outfit your avatar. However, the big reveal that players were waiting for was still full-scale story DLC. This release was a matter of “when,” not “if,” even with the base game’s release drawing such harsh criticism from fans and critics alike.
The Witcher 3 received a massive story expansion, Blood and Wine, after CDPR supported the title with post-launch content for two years. That expansion is considered the high-water mark for the studio’s Witcher series, so it’s understandable that fans would have similar expectations for a Cyberpunk expansion. Perhaps the studio could even give fans a reason to return to Night City and see the quality-of-life updates it spent two years rolling out.
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners Update
The most recent Cyberpunk update, which was announced during the studio’s September “Night City Wire” stream, will allow players to collect cosmetic items based on the upcoming Netflix anime series Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. This anime, directed by the beloved Studio: Trigger, was announced before the game even came out, and is finally hitting streaming services later in September.
The Edgerunners update will also introduce players to a new story mission. This mission will feature a new playable character, David Martinez, the protagonist of the TV series. The tie-in marks the first playable story update for the game since its launch back in December of 2020, it will be a free expansion available to all players.
Notably, patch 1.6, will be the final update for the last-gen versions of the game. The studio will not release any further updates for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of the game, as these builds are apparently less stable. By focusing on the next-gen consoles only, CDPR likely hopes to avoid the chaotic and buggy release that marred the game when it first hit store shelves.
CDPR also unveiled a few details about the upcoming story DLC, including its name and some returning characters. For one thing, the teaser the studio showed off has V, the base game’s protagonist, taking a militaristic oath to the New United States of America. There is nothing remotely similar to a government in the base game, with the brutal state of the Western US primarily overseen by megacorporations, not by elected officials or a standing military.
The teaser includes a quick comeback from Johnny Silverhand, played again by Keanu Reeves, telling V that siding with the new government is a “bad idea.” It makes sense that an anarchist rockstar would have nothing good to say about a government organization, and it’s refreshing to hear Reeves back in his iconic role as Silverhand. Some fans worried that Reeves might not reprise his role after the poor critical reception to Cyberpunk’s release.
Phantom Liberty will also feature a closer focus on a previously under-explored district of Night City. Many critics felt that one of the base game’s biggest shortcomings was its lack of things to do in the city. There’s little sense of place in the original release, and this is something that CDPR clearly wants to remedy with Phantom Liberty.
What’s Next for CDPR?
It’s not clear if Phantom Liberty will be the only story DLC update for Cyberpunk. If it’s a critical hit and makes the original sell well, it’s likely that CDPR could seek to maximize an opportunity to reverse the narrative about the poorly received base game. Future DLC plans notwithstanding, the studio has put a lot of work into fixing the numerous bugs and issues that plagued the original launch, and fans who haven’t checked in on the game since 2020 should drop in to see how much is different.
The studio almost completely reworked the RPG elements, cleaned up many existing bugs, and made the game easier to play and navigate. You know, the things that should have been part of the full release, which cost players $60 and was marketed as a finished product. Snarky remarks aside, many studios would have simply written a buggy mess like Cyberpunk off entirely and left it to die–as EA did with Anthem, a similarly disastrous game that hit stores in 2019.
CDPR is reportedly working on another Witcher game, too, so the studio is clearly busy. Hopefully this time around they remember to give their developers enough time to actually complete the game before rushing it out the door to meet an arbitrary release deadline.