I played through Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty blind and I strongly recommend that everyone else do the same. The initial feelings that we get when finishing a game/movie/book/etc... are often raw, dramatic, unprocessed. But they're also beautiful and expressive; we frequently chase the “experiencing for the first time” feeling that we get when playing video games. What follows is an account of my feelings and encounters playing all of Cyberpunk 2077 and Phantom Liberty blind for the first time and will contain spoilers, enjoy and read at your own risk.
A Life Lived
“Is it better to live having died, or to die having lived?” The ending credits scanned down my TV as the question permeated in my thoughts. This decision was offered to me in my last night with Cyberpunk 2077. I watched Misty leave V, alone in the middle of Watson as the sun shone high where the 'scrapers couldn’t block it.
“Become a normal person", was it such a bad prospect? I lied and stole my way to winning back the rest of V’s life, hurt everyone that V had left behind. The initial grief stings, knowing that the loss of a way of life along with those in it would haunt V for a long time. Could starting over be a possibility for V?
A popular discourse, especially in the context of a break up, surrounds the idea that if a large chunk of your life abruptly ends in a bitter sweet explosion of emotions, it may have been a waste of time. Is it a waste of time if your happy relationship ends in resentment and hurt feelings? Is it a waste of time if V risked his life just to keep going if it comes at the cost of everything else? Or, the most pertinent question: is the 50 hours I spent with V worthwhile given the state I left him in? Of course, in the grand scheme of my exponentially decreasing free time, the fact that I became so invested in Cyberpunk speaks for itself; the game is worth every moment. However, like any bad breakup, the heartbreaking aftermath causes our brains to suddenly forget the good times, open a cheap red, and scream into a pillow. That’s Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty.
Someone to Remember
I considered Judy one of V’s most loyal friends, and that’s by design. As one of the only people linking V back to the Arasaka heist, the relationship starts at a distance of trust that could only be bridged by continuous reinforced behavior. The rape and subsequent suicide of Evelyn Parker framed a dramatic sequence of acting from Gavin Drea (male V for my play through) and Carla Tassara (Judy Alvarez) that I was not expecting from a video game. The chemistry that these two characters develop by the time you get to the Mox side quests is incredible to see in first person. Whenever V’s phone would ring I would hope it would be her to see what else their characters would get into next. Judy’s obsession with Clouds causes a lot of rough patches within her own life as well as her relationship with V. But as we floated down into the ruins of Judy’s childhood home, their friendship felt forged in steel, at the moment it felt like it would take monumental force to make waves in the bond they created.
When V woke up from that hospital bed - after two years - to find Solomon Reed coming to check on him, I ran to the phone and called Judy, scanning worried, unanswered texts. After a few rings, there she was. Catching up with an old friend shouldn’t hurt as much as this scene suggests. When the “I wish you could have been at the wedding” happened I looked exactly like Matthew McConaughey in that scene from Interstellar when he’s seeing all of his son's videos after their recon mission, real tears starting to form because of this virtual person in this narrative I had invested so much time into. There is that specific type of horror that can freeze people, in that their one resource they can never accumulate has been wasted. It's devastating to wake up and realize that you missed it, maybe not everything, but so many important things. You finally hang up with Judy, realizing that maybe V could visit her and make up for lost time. Maybe. A wave of dread washes over me as I imagine what the rest of V’s friends would think of his absence.
The chemistry that these two characters develop by the time you get to the Mox side quests is incredible to see in first person.
All in the Past
River Ward was a detective that was a pain in the ass of the department and overall headache for corrupt cops. V spends time with River long enough to learn the hard truth about Night City, the one that helped me save my life in Dogtown; systematic corruption that rotted the core of the NUS, its servants, and its protectors is an impenetrable force that you can’t overtake. In spite of this, River never gave up hope that maybe his actions could lead to a better tomorrow. His new mistrust in law enforcement and lack of a partner causes you two to get tangled up in a grooming scheme targeting River's malleable nephew. The events lead you to reuniting River with his family; the family barbecue that they hold at the end of River’s story line is really special. For anyone who grew up close to their families, they know how important this is. For anyone who didn’t have that, the epilogue quest makes you realize just how special stuff like this is.
Contacting River again is hard. He’s beat down, he looks like he isn’t taking care of himself. He’s embarrassed about the choices he made and doesn’t want to see you out of shame. The call is overwhelming and it’s hard to react at first. The toughest part for me came after the call, when I scanned the texts and missed calls. It was no one's fault that V wasn’t able to be there for him; but it doesn’t change that he needed V, and now it’s too late to fix things. Maybe V finally breaks through to him and gets that beer, or maybe V never sees River again. I think about some of the friends I have in the real world. Maybe I should give them a call.
The Choices We Make
V met Panam Palmer in the outskirts of town trying to chase a lead on an Arasaka scientist that could help him extract the relic. What I never expected was to gain a staunch ally, and eventually the support of a close companion. I knew going into this game that there were romance choices, and being the romantic that I am, I was excited to explore this part of the game. But when V woke up in that medical tent, still drowsy from collapsing from the relic, I realized it went deeper than I'd expected. I walk out to see Panam’s family who had arrived to see me. She’s worried, but doesn’t truly understand how serious my Keanu Reeves problem is. “Outsider no More” plays softly in the background as I have to set down my controller. She asks V to stay, to finally have a family, no more running. But you’re already dead, you’ve known this for a while. It hurts to finally tell her that it can’t happen like this, at least not for a while. That’s when I have my motivation: V needs to get better. Maybe this family is part of what he’s been fighting for after Dexter put a bullet in his brain.
That’s when V meets Songbird. A netrunner who works for the FIA, the feds. She can cure V as long as he helps get the president out of an attempt on her life. I make a decision, I can’t trust my problem to Hanako and the Arasaka corporation anymore, especially after losing Takemura the way that I did. So I team up with two ex agents, Sol and Alex, to track down Songbird and make sure all liabilities to the NUS in Dogtown are taken care of. I’ve only known this group for a short while but our relationship becomes in the area of “close coworkers”. And that’s when I decide to screw them over.
Songbird doesn’t trust the feds, she has access to the cure and needs to make a run to the moon to get emergency surgery. We both stand over the ark that contains the AI program needed to tear apart the relic. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know if this is going to work, but I picture V’s life with the Aldecaldos that he is so close to achieving. And that’s when I hang up on Reed, grab Songbird and the cure, and run. But everything's too good to be true, and, as they say, “there are no happy endings in Night City”. We sit solemnly in an airport tram as I’m trying to process that my only lifeline in this situation has been lying to me the whole time. There was no cure, at least not for me. Once a spy, always a spy.
I don’t know what to do but limp both of us to the tram; is this how it ends for me? None other than Solomon Reed struts out of the shuttle as I pull a gun. V is hysterical, not knowing what to do or who to trust anymore. Solomon gives a proposal, you hand over Songbird and receive the cure. A win-win for you and the feds. Part of me still grapples with the thought of one last betrayal; handing over Songbird to the FIA for everything she’s put you through. Then it all suddenly makes sense, I know the only way out of this. I can’t win this, in the same way that River could never beat the department. I needed to survive to salvage as much of V’s potential future as I could. A future where V could ride with the Aldecaldos, have that beer with River, and visit Judy wherever she decides home is. With uneasy hands, V lowers the gun. And after everything, gives up Songbird for the cure.
To End and Begin Again
Two years later V calls Panam, finally ready to take her up on her offer to roam the badlands only to be met with dial tones that hit like shotgun shells to the gut. She’s gone, and it makes me wonder why I did it just to have nowhere else to go. Mitch finally calls to tell me that it’s over, maybe the closure that V needs, just to know she’s alive. Hopefully she’s better without V, that’s the best solace he gets as he finally heads back to Night City.
Starting over is scary, both in real life and in a video game. The prospect of having nothing - physically and emotionally - is horror in itself. This horror sets in as V walks back to Victor’s office. It’s comforting having at least one person that will see V after all this time. After catching up I finally ask him if he thought we should have done it all differently. Without missing a beat he says “no, if there’d been better options, we’d have picked them or convinced ourselves they weren’t better at all.”
V leaves his clinic as that message settles in. Time to own my actions. They were the right decisions because they were mine. Starting over can be hard, but it can also be exciting and opportunistic. Every bridge that V burns in the ending provided space to build a new one. And as Misty walks off, that sun shining bright right between the skyscrapers, the initial pang of loss and grief stings, but eventually fades. When it’s time to start a new life, the most important person always shows up: you.
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