This article contains top spoilers for all of Cyberpunk 2077’s different endings, including the new ending that can be unlocked via the Phantom Liberty DLC. You have been warned.
There are no happy endings in Night City. Early on, this was postulated to be an absolute truth in this universe. Everything has its price – and it is rarely cheap. In Cyberpunk 2077’s menus, one of three deliberately mysterious “completion percentages” steers toward protagonist V’s goal of becoming a legend. But this goal is in many ways incompatible with life. Already in the first moments of this story the decision is clearly outlined: there must be death for joy.
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Fixer Dexter DeShawn even says this out loud in the lead-up to the heist that serves as the climax of Cyberpunk’s excellent, lengthy prologue. “Would you rather live in peace as Miss Nobody – ripe, old and smelling faintly of urine?” Or disappear forever in a radiant glow, smelling almost like bouquets, without seeing your thirtieth?”
This thread runs through Cyberpunk 2077. It is actually its lifeblood. Many main and side quests focus on the concept that in Night City you can be someone for a short time or a nobody forever. There isn’t much choice for V as the personality of one of Night City’s most notorious people eats away at his brain. Death is coming anyway. That’s all well and good – sneaking around the streets as a nobody wouldn’t make for a particularly good video game. Yet there is a wonderful contradiction in V’s desires.
For the lion’s share of Cyberpunk 2077’s running time, V is driven by two desires. The first, as already mentioned, is to become a legend through imaginative heroic deeds in the city’s underworld. The second is a deeper desire: to find a way to simply survive the inexorable incursion of Johnny Silverhand’s identity into her psyche. It won’t kill V’s physical form – but eventually Johnny will overtake them, wiping out the person they once were and replacing their minds – and maybe even their souls, if there is such a thing – with that of the terrorist rocker.
This paradigm is arguably what makes V one of the most compelling and successful choice-driven characters in gaming history. Her desires are less complicated than, say, Shepard’s in Mass Effect, who wants to save the galaxy but can also make some really stupid decisions that go against his goals to ensure the player can be a space asshole. The stakes in Cyberpunk are more personal; Will V work with Johnny if the two share a headspace, or will he be combative? Both make sense depending on how you imagine your V’s mindset, and there’s almost none of that weird cognitive dissonance surrounding decisions.
The contradiction, of course, is that V is constantly told that becoming a legend means burning out. Blaze of Glory, just like Dexter said. The man in her head even wrote about it in one of his songs, a track repeated on Night City’s radio stations and played by guitarists in the back streets: “Never Fade Away.” Burnout instead.
At the climax of Cyberpunk 2077’s story, V will face the final decision of what to do with his predicament – or, as you can probably guess, the shared predicament between him and Johnny. They sit together on a roof overlooking the neon city in a beautiful scene and go through the selections.
The exact options available to you will depend on how you spent your time in Night City. V may actually have reached the threshold of this longed-for legendary status. They could have fallen in love. Other relationships will almost inevitably have broken down. You can call lovers to say goodbye; Allies ask for help. Once you’ve made certain decisions in Phantom Liberty, a DLC-exclusive friend can offer you game-changing help. Even your relationship with Johnny plays a role – if you’ve been kind and compassionate to the voice in your head, he might make a suggestion of his own.
These different paths lead to a number of possible final missions and endings for both V and Johnny. This is where Cyberpunk 2077 is particularly brilliant and Phantom Liberty is brave: neither is a purely happy ending.
First of all, V and Johnny can simply choose to end their life together there on the roof, leaving their business unfinished and their friends devastated. Either through sheer brute force or by collaborating with the villains, V is able to cut Johnny out of their psyche – but then he has only months left to live, knowing that they have ultimately killed the last trace of a man they – and the player – I probably really liked it. V is able to leave his body to Johnny – essentially dying – leaving behind a bittersweet Johnny who must start a new life while V’s acquaintances are devastated by the loss.
There are a few nice variations on these endings depending on who you’ve befriended and how you reach the ending, but this is the ultimate choice: V can live on without Johnny for a limited time or die so Johnny can live. There is no scenario where everyone wins.
The easy, cheap, shitty thing to do for Phantom Liberty would have been to give it a happy ending; to complete the happiest finale of the DLC expansion. But the game wisely sticks to its weapons, its theme and its subtext. There is no happy ending in this dark future. Here, V can get Johnny out of his head and move on with his life – but the price is brutal.
First, V and Johnny are denied their triumphant final revenge against the sinister corporation responsible for their dilemma. The legend of Johnny and V actually ends abruptly – they disappear from town to undergo a miracle cure. When V’s friends wake up from their coma two years later, they’ve either moved on or won’t forgive them for their disappearance. Worse, it will be impossible to rebuild their lives. A side effect of the cure means that V can no longer tolerate cyberware – the futuristic technology that enables a high-flying life in Night City. If you make the choice that allows V to live on, they will, in a miserable existence as another faceless drone of Night City. The final shots of this new ending show a broken V, stripped of everything that made it a V, disappearing into the hustle and bustle of the city. Just another face in the crowd. Dexter’s choice is made: V can spend his life… as Miss-or-Mr Nobody.
I really appreciate that about Cyberpunk 2077. Make no mistake: sad times and bad endings are something of a staple of the genre. But in a big, loud, brash triple-A video game like this, it would be easy to go crazy.
Going back to Mass Effect as a counterpoint, there’s something I’ve always found somewhat frustrating about those games – I wish they’d forced me to make more difficult decisions. But in Mass Effect there was always a way out – you just needed enough war supplies or paragon points or the right party members at the right time. Until literally the last moment, Shepard can have it all. The ultimate power fantasy.
Cyberpunk makes a different argument: that power comes at a price. V constantly has power – over others, over aspects of his own fate, and even over the larger geopolitical state of Night City itself. But ultimately, that power leads to a life of impossible choices, interrupted quest after quest – and then a series of endings afterward Driven home, which are always a wonderful, devastating punch in the gut.
It also leaves us bravely without the obvious sequel bait: one way or another, V’s story is over. But the appeal of Night City and cyberpunk’s dark future remains, strong as ever. There are more stories to tell – but with fresh faces, unsullied by the terrible realization of what this world does to people.
This is all the result of some brave decisions – but also a truly respectful and reverent approach to the source material. The tabletop game is also imbued with the same soulful yet nihilistic energy, summed up in the words of its creator Mike Pondsmith. “Cyberpunk isn’t about saving humanity – it’s about saving yourself.”
The deft way in which Cyberpunk 2077 handles its endings is one of several elements of the game that unceremoniously flew under the radar when it was first released, as discussion focused on the title’s myriad problems. But as it undergoes renewal and reassessment, the endings now deserve to be evaluated for what they are: as brilliant, strong and uncompromising – something that big-budget games and mainstream entertainment far too rarely achieve these days.