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Cyberpunk 2077's Romance Update Is Sweet, But Underlines A Big Problem

Cyberpunk 2077 is in a pretty good spot these days. After a dumpster fire of a launch, the next-gen update, 2.0 patch, and Phantom Liberty expansion have gotten CD Projekt Red’s open-world RPG to a respectable state. The 2.1 patch that launched this week adds a nice little bow to the game as its “last big update.” It has long-requested features like a working subway you can take across Night City, and it also lets V, its mercenary protagonist, spend a little time with their lover in their apartment. The results are an adorable stay-at-home date with your paramour, but for as sweet as it is, these hangouts underline something that felt left out of the Cyberpunk 2077 redemption arc: the romance.

Phantom Liberty Is Undoing One Key Thing That Cyberpunk Got Right

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To experience the changes myself, I called Kerry, the aging rocker I romanced during my playthrough of the campaign, over to my place and immediately noticed that the dialogue as we greeted each other was reused from the base game. There were some brief new additions when we sat down on the couch together—we cuddled and shared a brief kiss—but then we went back to discussing the same three subjects that were available between us before the 2.1 update.

Buy Cyberpunk 2077: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop

Cyberpunk 2077's romance update is made up of cute little moments

At first, I thought this was it. While it wasn’t nothing, it also wasn’t worth booting the game back up for. Then I stood up and noticed several other areas of my apartment were interactive in a way they hadn’t been before. I could now meditate with Kerry, or we could dance like dweebs to the now iconic “I Really Want To Stay At Your House.” We could take a hot shower, and when we did, I found that if I looked in my bathroom mirror, Kerry would come up behind me and give me a shoulder massage. It’s hard bearing the weight of being a Night City legend, so my shoulders do need a massage, actually.

I ended the night and woke up to Kerry next to me in my own bed, for once. Part of me feels ready to write these romance tweaks off as a low-lift but sweet effort to squeeze some fanservice into Cyberpunk 2077’s last big update, but another part is pleasantly surprised at how meaningful the small moments felt. For so long, Kerry has felt like he lived on an island I could go visit. With this change, it feels like I’m finally able to share a little bit of my world with him. Still, though, it wasn’t game-changing.

Small things like the reused voice lines and the lack of significant new additions bring me back to wondering why CD Projekt Red didn’t do more with its four love interests. Even when Cyberpunk 2077 was in shambles and getting dragged online, players always had a lot of love for Judy, Panam, Kerry, and River. Perhaps because that was never in question, it never became a priority to fix in the face of all the game’s other problems. But man, getting to hang out with my old trashbag boyfriend makes me wish we had more time.

Phantom Liberty could have done more with romance

Broadly, Cyberpunk 2077 hasn’t done as much with its romantic storylines as it has its skill trees or bugs. In a world without an expansion, I wouldn’t have thought it needed to tweak its love stories significantly. The actual relationships, and the stories they told, were all pretty great as is, and even before the latest update, CD Projekt Red had added small changes like letting you sleep with and wake up next to your significant other. Minuscule adjustments, sure, but they helped me feel like I had something to come back to after I did crimes in the dangerous Night City.

CD Projekt Red’s take on romance has always been messy (try not to recall The Witcher’s collectible cards), and Cyberpunk 2077 boils down identity and attraction into a weird Punnett square. Each of its four romanceable options corresponds to one form of binary attraction. Men seeking women can ride around with Nomad pariah Panam, women seeking women find companionship with Braindance editor extraordinaire Judy, women seeking men shack up with disillusioned cop River, and men seeking men can put on a show for the ages with rocker Kerry.

For all of Cyberpunk 2077’s assertion that form can fluctuate to one’s whim, its rigid understanding of attraction and sex has always felt at odds with the world’s larger ethos. It is so stringent, in fact, that it essentially locks anyone who isn’t bi or pan into specific stories because—if you choose to have a partner for your life of crime—it will be one person, and only one person. There isn’t a choice, there is only doing with or doing without. You pretty much have to make do with what you’re given, and depending on factors like your life path and your ending choice, the relationship may be doomed to fail, and you just get a bad roll of the dice without an option to pivot.

In my case, I did make do. As a man-seeking man, I was funneled into a relationship with Kerry that at one time didn’t jive with me, but as years have passed, I’ve come around on the guy. His story now feels intimately woven into that of my V. Kerry’s become my second-favorite character in Cyberpunk 2077 behind my V, whose story of searching for belonging within Night City has stamped itself onto my soul. So even when I was playing Phantom Liberty and loving it, I felt like I’d left part of my Night City story back home. There were points when I could tell newcomers like netrunner Songbird about him, or—if I found a spare minute between all the spy thriller espionage—I could call him or visit him at his place to tell him what was going on. But the relationship my V held most dear was always on the back burner.

Phantom Liberty is, by design, pretty disruptive to the original Cyberpunk 2077 story. It has to be to pull off the ending it does, and that disruption means not everything I loved from before got much, if any, spotlight in the expansion. But knowing it was the only expansion we were ever going to get for Cyberpunk 2077 had me hoping we’d get another chance to capitalize on the things that everyone loved. These four characters are the ones fans will remember as we, eventually, go into the next game, and yet, they felt like planets orbiting V, never colliding or making me feel like I had a group of friends in Night City. They were just individuals I checked in with and never saw in a room together. There are even points when Panam texts me about loving Kerry’s music, but I never got to introduce them.

Perhaps I’m spoiled by Mass Effect 3’s Citadel DLC, which was posed as the final addition to Commander Shepard’s story and also took time to say goodbye to everyone. While Phantom Liberty’s new ending gives its love interests a few new lines of dialogue to contextualize its twists and turns, it doesn’t let me say goodbye. Phantom Liberty wasn’t trying to be Citadel, but as the team moves on to the next game, I can feel the void. I wish I’d gotten to take Panam to a Kerry concert and see her fangirl out when we went backstage. I wish I’d gotten to see Judy and River bicker about the cop’s place in Night City. I would have taken the time out of my spy thriller shenanigans to make new memories with Kerry, because those might be all he has of me when this is over.

CD Projekt Red created something really special with Phantom Liberty that managed to reexamine everything Cyberpunk 2077 went through to become the game it is today. But V’s lover only got passing mentions and a bittersweet phone call. Kerry will always be important to my Cyberpunk story, but the fact that there was no chance for our relationship to meaningfully grow in Phantom Liberty feels like the biggest missed opportunity of an otherwise excellent comeback story. But hey, I won’t say no to another shoulder massage.

Buy Cyberpunk 2077: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop

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