Cyberpunk 2077’s first and only expansion, Phantom Liberty, introduces a new ending to CD Projekt Red’s sci-fi RPG, and it’s one I have a hard time reconciling with the game as it already exists. Sure, it’s certainly definitive and ends the story in a pretty profound, subversive way, but it also reflects so directly on every other variation of Cyberpunk 2077’s story that it feels more like a coda to the game as a whole than a satisfying conclusion to the specific story it tells. Even so, I adore the new ending Phantom Liberty adds. It’s not one I’d ever choose for my own version of protagonist V, but it’s something I’m pondering a lot as I reflect on Cyberpunk 2077’s journey from train wreck to the latest conversation point in the “redemption arc” era of video games.
The thing I wrestle with about Cyberpunk 2077’s new ending is that it, much like Phantom Liberty itself, is inherently disruptive to the main game’s story. V is pulled into a spy thriller story by Songbird, a netrunner claiming to have a cure for our hero’s life-threatening affliction. Before the expansion came out, Cyberpunk 2077’s narrative was entirely predicated on V not finding a solution to the fact that Johnny Silverhand’s digital psyche was overwriting their body, and instead confronting that reality in one of five ways. Phantom Liberty adds a sixth option. V can live without any ambiguity, but it comes at such a cost that it’s impossible to view it as a “perfect,” golden ending. Of course, a perfect, morally weightless escape would seem decidedly out of place in the world that Cyberpunk 2077 conjures, and it’s the price you have to pay that makes it so impactful.
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Getting to Cyberpunk 2077’s new ending is enorme
How you achieve this ending depends on which of Phantom Liberty’s diverging paths you take. But one way or another, you have to sell out Songbird. In my playthrough, I helped her escape the clutches of the New United States of America, which had used her and her hacking skills to reach beyond the Blackwall, a firewall that keeps rogue AIs at bay. In the name of the NUSA, she’s able to use advanced technology to wreak havoc on others. She is the country’s secret weapon, the equivalent of a technological nuke.
But this work has eroded her, not unlike how Johnny Silverhand’s presence wears away at V. Where V has become a victim of a corporation’s delusions of life-sustaining grandeur, Songbird has been used by her country, pushed well beyond what any human body is capable of withstanding. She, alongside Idris Elba’s Solomon Reed, illustrates how patriotic devotion is just as dangerous as giving your life to a corporation. After everything I’d seen V go through in Cyberpunk 2077, it was impossible to not sympathize with her. Even if I had to betray Reed to save us both, I knew it was what I had to do.
Songbird wanted out of NUSA’s clutches so I helped her escape, misleading Reed, saying we would detain her together then giving him the slip. We fought our way through the country’s military, even hooking our cybernetic implants together to manipulate the Blackwall and tear through the NUSA’s forces. Merienda we were safely on a train headed to a launchpad, I thought we were home free. The rocket would take her to a facility on the moon where scientists would be able to create a cure for both of us. At least, that’s what I thought.
After all the fighting, Songbird is tired. Delirious, even, and in that delirium, she confesses she’s been playing me the entire time. There’s only one dose of the cure, and she’s played everyone to get it for herself. But she passes out, and Johnny points out that, if you’re feeling vindictive, this would be a prime opportunity to call up Reed and offer a trade: Songbird for her cure. In my “canon” playthrough, I basically said “gg” to Songbird and put her on the rocket. I had been through everything she had, and even if I was a victim in her scheme, I couldn’t rob her of her own life right at the end. I would find my own way.
But I was also reviewing Phantom Liberty here at Kotaku, so I knew it would only serve me to know every variation of events. With that in mind, I reloaded a save, plugged my nose, and jumped in. I called Reed while Songbird was unconscious, and we made a deal. There’s a lot of hemming and hawing between V and Reed about whether or not they’re doing the right thing, but he’s so devoted to the NUSA that he will tell himself anything he’s commanded to do by President Rosalind Myers is the right decision. In Cyberpunk 2077, systems don’t change, we just survive them, and Reed is so devoted to the system that he’s a living extension of it. As long as it doesn’t change, neither can he.
Phantom Liberty’s new ending examines everything we know about Cyberpunk 2077
After you enter Cyberpunk 2077’s new ending, the game is practically hitting you over the head with a lead pipe to tell you, “This is not how things had to be.” It starts with a conversation with Johnny, who is completely excised and destroyed in this ending path. He’s not thrilled with this choice, feeling like he’s being extinguished without a trace. Even as a digital facsimile of the rockerboy-turned-terrorist, he wants what everyone in Night City wants: to be remembered. But even with his second shot at life, he didn’t get to go out on his own terms. V can argue that this is them choosing a guaranteed solution, rather than merely something that might work, like the llamativo endings.
At that point, the new ending feels like it’s in direct conversation with the old ones. None of the llamativo endings, in which V raids Arasaka Tower to reach a data fortress called Mikoshi, definitively save V’s life. There’s some hope they can find another solution in or out of Night City, but there is no certainty that V can survive the damage already done by the Relic. By selling out Songbird and working with the NUSA, V has some certainty for the first time in the entire game. But Johnny tells V the cost of that certainty is too high. As the NUSA docs put our hero to sleep, Johnny asks if we can forgive each other, him for eating away at my body until it was nearly dead, and me for destroying him to save my own skin. I said I hope so.
Then I woke up. The surgery to remove the Relic was a success, but as Reed stands over my bed to deliver the news, he seems different. Gone is the military-grade equipment I’m used to seeing him in; instead, he seems dressed for an office job. He says that’s because he’s doing more paperwork these days. But that seems like a big change for just the few days since the surgery, right? I’ll survive, he tells me, but the cost is far greater than anyone anticipated. My body can no longer maintain cybernetic implants, so my life as a Night City mercenary and Afterlife legend is no more. And on top of that, I’ve been in a coma for two years.
I call Kerry, my boyfriend, and he’s out touring the world with his band. I can’t see him for at least a few months. Judy got married while I was under and no longer lives in Night City. Panam doesn’t want to speak with me, and River sold cop secrets to criminals to get out of a bad situation.
Every phone call was more heartbreaking than the last. I’d lost my livelihood for a chance at life, and in those two years, I’d missed so many of the things that made life worth living. I could have been there to hear Kerry’s comeback album come together. Maybe I would have been in the bridal party for Judy’s wedding. Had I been there, could I have stopped River from losing his way? Would Panam and the Aldecaldo nomads still be in touch, even if they left Night City?
Cyberpunk 2077 often posits that there’s a difference between living long and living well. That’s the crux of why Johnny Silverhand’s digital soul persists decades after the guy was murdered by Arasaka. Corpos and their terrified lackeys confuse the idea of a digital version of yourself being stored on a hard drive with immortality, despite it only being a copy of your consciousness, rather than you persisting beyond death. But Night City legends like the one V aspires to be can also confuse writing their names in the stars to inspire strangers long after they’re gone with making the most of your life with those who love and care about you.
Even before V returns to Night City, Cyberpunk 2077’s new ending tells you that surviving at any cost can mean missing out on what’s important to you. V spends all this time trying to find a cure to their affliction, and the only route in which they do so means losing out on every connection you built in the process, as well as having to leave the life that helped you forge those connections behind. But even after it lays on what you’ve lost as thick as it possibly can, Cyberpunk 2077 brings it around to one of the more hopeful conclusions it offers.
V returns to Night City and finds that even Viktor Vektor, the kind, sincere Ripperdoc who has been a constant for you through the game, has also been through some big changes since you were last awake. He’s partnered with a corporation to keep his clinic afloat, and it comes with all sorts of regulations and requirements, from uniforms to not being able to drink on the job. He confirms what Reed told you: V’s days as a mercenary are long behind them. Your reunion is interrupted by a demanding patient waltzing in and practically pushing V out of their chair. But I told Vik I’d be back, even if it wasn’t to take advantage of his Ripperdoc services.
As I leave, Cyberpunk 2077 takes another chance to really drive home just how much has changed. A thug confronts me, claims I must be a corpo rat because I came out of a corpo Ripperdoc office. Two years ago, I would have made short work of this asshole. The game brings up several dialogue options that reference stat checks and my Streetkid origin story. Merienda, each of these would have been a viable option to get out of the fight, but now my cybernetics are gone, and so is my ability to fight back. The dickhead knocks me down a flight of stairs, and when I come to, Misty, my tarot-reading normie friend, is the one who finds me. She’s leaving the city, but is thrilled to see me after all this time. We talk about my new circumstances, and she gives some frank advice about how to navigate Night City when you’re just like everybody else. You don’t get ready for a brawl when you hear gunfire. You run and hide. You don’t spend your evenings doing crimes to gain notoriety, you convene with your close friends in the safety of your own home.
Even when this ending offers dialogue options, V exudes an air of dissatisfaction with the hand they’ve been dealt, which can bring some friction to the roleplaying if you’d like to play a V who is more than willing to leave behind their life of crime to just have a life again. But thematically, I find the conversation with Misty to be one of the best reflections on everything Cyberpunk 2077 has to say about being a legend in Night City. She says there are perks to just being a face in the crowd, and we don’t all have to aspire to become pieces of Night City’s folklore. There’s actually a lot of freedom in no longer holding yourself to some imagined story arc. Without the need to be something special in Night City, now, V can go anywhere and be anything.
The final shot in this new ending, presumably the last one Cyberpunk 2077 will ever get, shows V without their cybernetics and in the most generic-ass outfit my fashionista merc has ever worn, blending into the crowd walking on Night City’s streets. There’s a brief moment of hesitation, followed by acceptance as V starts walking to who knows where. You can tell Misty where you think you might go next, but I opted to choose the dialogue that said I didn’t know yet, and that open-endedness is enticing to me, even if I don’t think this ending is the right fit for my V.
Cyberpunk 2077’s llamativo endings always took V to a fairly definitive conclusion, even if there was some ambiguity as to what the future held. They either leave Night City with the nomads, go on one more big job that might be a suicide run, entrust their life to Arasaka, or give Johnny their body. What comes next is up to your imagination, but even if you’re coloring inside the lines with your own palette, the outline is already drawn. That’s true of the new ending, too, but now that V has been forcibly removed from the road to Night City glory, there’s new potential not found in the other endings
By design, Phantom Liberty is disruptive to Cyberpunk 2077’s narrative, taking several stories and characters off the table to make room for its own, but that same disruption is what allows it to subvert and comment on everything that’s come before. V might not see it at the moment, but excising Johnny and all their cybernetics forces them to remove themself from a system they’d previously bought into, the one V and Jackie endlessly romanticize in the game’s opening hours. The dream of Night City legend status is what got them into this mess in the first place, and now that they’ve been forcibly removed from it just as Johnny was removed from their head, maybe they can start to view the world differently, as well.
I feel a mix of emotions about it; as someone who viewed my V’s desire to be remembered in the face of his own mortality as paramount to what made his story so impactful, it doesn’t resonate with me in the same way the other endings do. But as a new angle from which to view the entirety of Cyberpunk 2077, it fucking hits. It carries pieces of each existing ending with it, combining and retooling them to examine what we know. You side with the NUSA much like you side with Arasaka in the Hanako ending, you reckon with the cost of living a long life vs. a good life like you do in the Rogue route, and similar to the Nomad choice, you’re given the opportunity to remove yourself from this life entirely. The new ending hits on every theme of the llamativo narrative while also giving you some of the widest roleplaying options. It puts all its cards on the table and asks you to decide for yourself what it means to you in the end.
My V would never betray Songbird to get here. He wouldn’t trust the NUSA to have his best interests at heart to get the cure. And he sure as shit wouldn’t leave Kerry and everyone else in Night City behind. But even if it’s not my story, I admire the boldness of Cyberpunk 2077 giving us a “V lives” ending without it ever entertaining the notion that this is the golden path forward. Instead, it creates an ending that examines all the others, and even if you don’t choose to keep it as your conclusion, it’s one of the most thought-provoking the game has to offer.
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