Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shadowrun really does Return

Shadowrun Returns is out. While other high profile Kickstarters make headlines due to delays, Harebrained Schemes stuck to their proposed release date – more or less – and have made an RPG in just over a year. That's pretty impressive. Of course a lot of the work has already been done as the lead designer Jordan Weisman helped create the Shadowrun setting twenty odd years ago.

I first heard of Shadowrun about seven years ago when I started playing pen and paper RPGs. Its mix of cyberpunk and Tolkien intrigued me. I even came up with a concept of a sword wielding elf street samurai who was ex-corp. But for some reason my gaming group never got round to playing the actual game.

Finally, this year, after a lot of internal prompting thanks to a Shadowrun Returns Kickstarter (which I never did pledge to) I bit the bullet and bought the 20th Anniversary Fourth Edition Rulebook (just in time for Fifth Edition to come out – Well done James) and I properly fell for the setting. I even tried making my elf, but instead found myself leaning more towards a human rigger instead. However, we still didn't play.

Yet, thanks to the short stories contained within, I was properly hooked up. I got the novella Neat, which was awesome, and the short story collection Spells and Chrome which had some nice reads within. But that's not what we're talking about, we're talking about games, and after getting the Rules Book the next Shadowrun product I partook of was the old SNES game, since Shadowrun Returns was meant to follow it (vaguely).

It hasn't aged well. It's ugly, bastard hard and some really weird controls due to being on a 16-bit console rather than a PC. But, it's also an incredible game. I thoroughly enjoyed it and got about 75 percent of the way through before a death undid two hours of play. It was enough though. I immediately pre-ordered Returns, with the extra short story collection.

Now, we have our hands on Shadowrun Returns, and I've still not made my elf. I thought about it but instead I went with a Dwarf Adept who also has a shotgun, because shotguns. The human rigger wasn't an option either because he's based more around vehicles then drones.

Anyway, the game. Thankfully it lives up to it's predecessor. Not bastard hard, if anything it's relatively easy. It looks rather nice too. What it is, is really good. This is an important thing for the Games Industry as it's the first big Kickstarter to release, and the fact Harebrained Schemes pulled it off is an important one.

That's not to say that Shadowrun Returns' small budget isn't a factor though. The game doesn't have a proper save system in place, which can be pretty damn annoying because the checkpoints are pretty far apart. It does stop that RPG mindset of quick reloads, but having to complete a whole level can be a bit of an ask at times, some of them are huge.

I say huge, and I mean an hour to an hour or half huge, but overall the game's pretty short. An RPG that clocks in at (10-12) hours is incredibly short, though for most other games this would be considered a decent size. It's also a perfectly structured story, and Returns' length helps that. A lot of RPG stories can be buried by all the extra stuff going on with side quests and companions, Returns isn't and it shines because of it.

Bizarrely though, there's one Run that is just 'a run' and not tied into the main story, it feels a little out of place as a result and you can feel Harebrained straining against the tight budget. It's also the first time in an RPG I've dropped my nobler-than-thou attitude I have. I always play the good guy, hell I can't even manage a second playthrough as evil in Mass Effect or Dragon Age because it feels wrong. Yet in Shadowrun Returns I'm tasked with retrieving a scientist, who apparently doesn't want to be retrieved. Unfortunately for him, I only took the run because I need the cash, and what he's offering barely gives me a profit. I felt dirty, but it also meant I could afford that new armour I really needed. That's what a Shadowrunner would do.

Unfortunately, it also features that cardinal sin of a lot of cRPGs, that of not letting you use your party properly. I have my my dwarf adept, and rounded out my team with the areas I don't cover, such as magic and tech. So when I come to a computer I can't access because my Decking (hacking) isn't good enough, I expect to be able to use the Decker I hired for that very reason. Only I can't, the game runs of my stats and my stats alone. I call bullshit.

Not that you really need a Decker other than when the game enforces you too. One mission where you have one, and he can do cool stuff like open doors, take control of turrets, or – just like the SNES game – find nice info you can sell. But that's just that one mission. On every single other run there's no where to hack into. It sort of spoils the whole idea of putting a crew together, when some roles just aren't needed. I'd have been really pissed if my main character was a Decker, though apparently one run with story based companions offers a chance. A chance. The other classes seem okay, though I'm not sure about the Shaman as I only had one in my crew when the game forced me to.

Shadowrun Returns is a Kickstarter success, but there's some rough edges that might have been a result of the small budget crowd funding results in. That said Harebrained haven't been shy explaining that a big part of this project was to give the community a solid base to start making their own adventures, and they have certainly done that. We might see some truly special campaigns in the next few months. And Harebrained have got another swing at the bat with the Berlin DLC the Kickstarter also funded. Maybe I'll finally make my elf? Probably not, as now I really want to try a Mage/Shaman.
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