Today I’m covering Shadowrun Returns, developed and published by Hare-brained Schemes. It is titled such because we haven’t had a proper video game in this classic Cyberpunk universe since the SNES and Sega Genesis. For those new to the concept, it’s a world where corporations are effectively their own countries doing what corporations run amok do best. You play as a Shadowrunner, one who eschews a life of being a wage-slave and instead sells their hacking, fighting, or magic casting skills for use in ‘runs’ against said corporations. I’ve always been a sucker for the Cyberpunk style, so I was psyched for this game.
The campaigns generally run like the ones on the original tabletop version- Make a character, run jobs for cash while pursuing whatever the overarching story is, use it to buy new weapons, spells, or augmentations called Cyberware. If you’ve played Deus Ex, or its newer entry Human Revolution, the basic pattern will be familiar. Minus the spells. And the metahumans, such as elves and trolls. Some people think it’s a little schizophrenic to have both fantasy and hi-tech elements in the same universe, but I always liked the combination. Especially because it allows you to create some impressive combinations, like a troll who has bones encased in hard plastic, or a fair-looking elf with pheromone implants for persuasion well beyond that of your average charmer. Anyway, you control you squad in turn-based combat from an isometric view. The system works well, especially because you’re allowed to precisely control the actions of your teammates in addition to those of your own character.
Right now I’m playing through the Dragonfall campaign, which was added after release. It and the original campaign are both good in terms of story and such, but DF is generally considered the better of the two. There’s also a boatload of fan-made campaigns as well, thanks to the editing tools the developers released. Better yet, there’s an option to bring a character from one campaign into another, though 1- It isn’t an option in all campaigns, and 2- Because Dragonfall was released as DLC, some of the upgrades my character has don’t carry over.
Overall, I think that could have been handled just a little bit better. It’s basically come down to the community to find a standard for guns and cyberware that can be transferred between campaigns, which isn’t ideal. I can’t be the only person that would like to run a few campaigns with the same character, building up to be stronger than they ever could in a single story. Still, the developers made some decent campaigns while giving the community tools to make more. This is a good idea and I support it wholeheartedly, even if some of the individual fan-works won’t be as polished.
As for Dragonfall, I liked the characters. Some of them were a little cliche, like the quiet girl with amazing combat prowess and a mysterious past, or the shady doctor that provides cyberware. But then there are guys like Dietrich, an aged shaman working in the shadows to please his idol, the dragon-slayer. There’s also some mercenaries you can take along on missions if you don’t want to use your usual crew. They don’t get the extensive characterization of your team, but it’s a nice touch and helps the world feel more alive, knowing you’re not the only ones out there. The campaign also has some dialogue to help familiarize players with this world they’ve stepped into, which was appreciated. The missions themselves reward smarts and other non-combat stats just as much as your ability to punch things to death. It was a great idea to show all the options available in dialogue and other interactions, so if you can’t escape an encounter without a fight, you know what stat you lacked could have prevented it.
The isometric view works well, with some minor hiccups in selecting spots to move when you’re in certain locations. It wasn’t often enough to really detract from my experience. The world looks… beautifully ugly, I guess you’d say? There’s all sorts of rich detail in the environments, but the graphics are mainly used to portray run down buildings and pristine-but-deadly corporate offices.
If you want a piece of the action, Shadowrun Returns is available for $15 on Steam. The Dragonfall Campaign is another $15, so I might wait for a sale on that one unless you really want to support the developers. The latter campaign is being improved and sold as a standalone game soon, so I’d look into that as well.