Title: Shadowrun Returns & Dragonfall (expansion)
Platform: PC, Steam, iOS, Android
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: tactical RPG
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 15th March 2014
Shadowrun is a tabletop roleplaying game set in the near-
In this fictional world of elves, trolls, orks, cyborgs and samurai you play as a Shadowrunner, a mercenary for hire taking jobs from mega corporations and desperate street dwellers alike.
Combining genres such as cyberpunk, urban fantasy and crime thrown into a big boiling pot of conspiracy, detective fiction, and horror elements; Shadowrun has remained one of the most popular tabletop RPGs since 1989 which has branched into novels, trading card games, and multiple video games.
Back in April of 2012 Harebrained Schemes begun development of their Kickstarter project: Shadowrun Returns, with Jordan Weisman (Shadowrun, Crimson Skies, MechWarrior etc.) leading at the helm.
Similar to it's cousins on the Sega Megadrive and Super Nintendo;
Shadowrun Returns is a tactical RPG similar to titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Baldur's Gate and Syndicate (1993), where the player will go between gearing up, hitting up leads and interacting with the local populace in old school RPG fashion to infiltrating target locations, shooting up some bad guys and saving the day in turn based combat.
Set in the year of 2054, the main story of Shadowrun Returns follows the story of the player's created shadowrunner (in my case Whistler, the masterfully skilled decker and sexy badass
While the premise sounds somewhat simple Shadowrun Return's story far exceeds most of today's AAA titles (which isn't as hard as it use to be admittedly); while the game is heavily text based I didn't find this an issue as every little detail is so brilliantly crafted.
From the details of bloody crime scene, to the description of a steel clad troll, there is some of the most immersive writing in video gaming history that you will truly 'feel' this game's world.
Is it really that good? Short answer, yes, long answer; hells yes!
I was glued to this game, start to finish, this is one of those RPGs where you really feel like if someone asked 'So what's this game like' that you would have to sit them down by the fireplace and tell them the highlights of your adventures.
Shadowrun Returns is much like reading a good book, if the story doesn't envelope you, if the writing doesn't suck you in; then you are a soulless douchebag, (I'm sorry that was harsh on you).
Just like the traditional tabletop Shadowrun, Returns starts you off with creating you're personalised character. As per the usual quota players can create their avatar from a selection of five races each with their own traits and one of six archetype classes, much like the Elder Scrolls series, whichever archetype you choose does not set you're attributes in stone, more serving as specific starting points for your character's progression or in laymen’s terms, 'want to be a spirit summoning shamanistic elf who also hacks computer systems and wields a minigun, then go ahead'; with this multitude of variety players will often probably find themselves 'rerolling' their their character's and starting over truly giving a much sought after replayablility that is few and far between in RPGs these days.
Along with rather diverse amount of options when creating your ideal mercenary there are vast amounts of methods at your disposal for progressing through the campaign, while certain pivotol moments in the plot will not be changed like Sam's death (oh spoiler warning for a character death 2 minutes into the game), there are many ways to go about taking on most of the main and side missions
While Shadowrun Returns combat system isn't revolutionary it is sold with all the standard tropes of tile based RPGs with an emphasis on planning your team's movements and calculating your action points wisely to ensure maximum efficiency.
Once combat is initiated each character has a set amount of AP of which can be spent for movement, using tools/items, casting spells, interacting with the environment and of course attacking.
My only issue with the combat is that often hit chances don't seem to add up or reflect very well, like my shooting with a sniper rifle with apparently 99% hit rate ends with me missing three times in a row or a melee character missing several times from behind an unsuspecting foe; however I will concede this is purely nit picking. Just like you have many options for taking on missions, during combat there are plenty ways to dish out the pain be it with your standard weapons (ranging from rifles, to shotguns, pistols, throwing knives, katanas and so on), casting both offensive and defensive spells, controlling armed AI drones, summoning spiritual creatures, going hand to hand or a combination of the above.
As mentioned combat is not game changing, but lays a solid foundation that allows Shadowrun Returns to build all the other elements on top of while feeling just as rewarding.
With roughly a half year gap I set myself up to return to the realm of Shadowrun Returns in the expansion campaign: Dragonfall. While the year is fresh I can still say that Dragonfall offers one of the most immersive RPG experiences of 2014, with a story that far exceeds my expectations and even the bar already set high by the Deadman's Switch campaign.
While not set after the events of Deadman's Switch (I'll explain later), Dragonfall follows the story of our sexy badass master hacker Whistler, or whatever character you thinks apparently more appropriate; joining up with fellow Shadowrunner Monika and her small band of rag tag mercs, Glory, Eiger, Dietrich, faithful hound Dante and the team's fixer (and landlord) Paul Amsel in the futuristic city of Berlin where <insert name here> must now uncover the plot involving a powerful once thought to be dead dragon, lots of people vanishing without a trace and a trail of vengeance.
Luckily while your party members from Deadman's Switch were rather forgettable, Dragonfall hands you a cast of colourful (mainly in shades of grey and chrome) allies each with their own personal backgrounds, traits and personalities.
In the original campaign I found myself taking the hired guns along with me as they just seemed more interesting, but this time I felt a personal connection to my team and actually forebode myself taking hired help as I immersed myself into each scenario with my fellow comrades (if only real friends were as cool as those guys, and/or existed). While there isn't as much as in depth relationship developing like Mass Effect or Dragon Age (granted I don't think Whistler and Glory's mechanical claws would be all that compatible), the insight into each character and your allies opinions within missions gives just that little extra special touch to already well written storytelling.
As mentioned Dragonfall's story is by far the best example that comes to mind when an RPG makes an expansion worthwhile and then some; in fact this expansion on it's own makes this a game of the year for me, so many scenario's had me constantly over thinking my actions and constantly contemplating rewinding back a couple of saves to go with the more gut friendly decisions. While most side missions in the previous campaign were still engaging and imaginative, Harebrained Scheme's when above and beyond to make almost every Dragonfall mission feel important and personal.
While there isn't much more added in the way of combat or skills; Dragonfall sees to it that there is much more balancing and need for extra skills in the less obvious skills so that every character build gets a lot more attention and still makes sure that you can at least have a team member take over on occasions for those pesky spiritual stones that need analysed or that particularly difficult matrix defence to hack.
Granted pacing is somewhat an issue at times, killing the mood like when one mission has you destroy a building with staff inside yet has you go on another mission beforehand to get details on the 'big heist' to come which actually had me thinking I had glitched the game when I came back to not have a reward sitting by for me upon my return to the hideout.
Actually my only big complaint I feel that I can fault Dragonfall on is that as an expansion there is no proper 'clean' method for carrying over your avatar from Deadman's Switch or any of the awesome fan made campaigns. This is a missed opportunity and honestly feels rather haphazardly executed; while yes with a simple manual edit or the subscribing of a particular mod from the Steam workshop community's will allow you to import premade character's there is no scaling thus somewhat ruining the challenge and causes weird bugs like armour and weapons defaulting to the archetype's starting gear or character models (at least the armour) not matching up with what is actually equipped.
All that being said, Dragonfall like what any good expansion should do,
improves almost on every aspect of the base game;
with rich writing, vast amounts of lively characters, a better hub location, more fulfilling side missions and even more alternate methods to each scenario building upon an already great title.
Some of the small flaws do keep Shadowrun Returns from being a 10/10 game, but Harebrained Schemes have more than successfully revitalised a once thought to be dead sub-
While properly portraying an already established world full of its own unique lore and at the same time delivering a superbly written story along with a solid combat formula, Shadowrun Returns shows massive potential and has already shown how much it can improve upon itself with its expansion Dragonfall that already has me rerolling a third character to tackle both campaigns again while I try to sate my thirst for another expansion onto this unforgettable title from a humble beginnings.
With a rough average of 10-
Enriching text based storytelling,
Vast amount of possibilities and personalisation,
Hours of game play,
High replay value,
Great level design.
Simplistic party system,
Annoying hit chances,
No proper character importing,
Lack of a bigger overworld/sandbox.
Final verdict ,
Shadowrun Returns and its expansion Dragonfall gives me an amazing experience with a 8.5/10