Friday, March 21, 2014

Shadowrun Returns Again: Dragonfall

Remember a few months ago, when I got all crazy about Shadowrun Returns being the first big Kickstarter to get a release, and how I thought it was amazing? That was more or less the general consensus, but there was a contingent within the RPG community that had a few problems with it. Those problems were mostly about its linearity, lack of side quests, no save system and non-existent companions. Basically, things that you expect from an RPG.

Now we're in a post Broken Age and Broken Sword Part 1s world, and both left me feeling a little underwhelmed. They're great, but they're part of a bigger game, and what we have just feels undernourished. That wasn't the case with Shadowrun Returns. Except that maybe it is. As Harebrained Studios have released the first DLC, Dragonfall, and it was funded by the Kickstarter money too. More importantly, Dragonfall feels like the game that Shadowrun Returns was always meant to be.

There's no denying that those who complained about the side quests, companions etc. did have a point. I complained about a few of them myself back in the day. Thankfully Dragonfall address a number of these and it's a better, sturdier, RPG now. Having a save system alone radically improves your enjoyment of the game, just because you're not locked into a massive play session if something pops up in real life. It's one of those minor things that really do make a big difference.

On the more important front of the actual game though, Dragonfall takes us from the corporate run confines of Seattle and drops us into the anarchic state of Berlin. There the team you're working with is betrayed while on a run, and it's up to you to figure out just what's going on. Unsurprisingly things go a lot deeper than you could ever imagine. Despite the lack of corporate intrigue, the plot feels a little more Shadowrun than before, with the story very much focusing on a group of runners struggling through a mire of double crosses and bad paydays, all while trying to settle scores. Though there was a couple of times that I felt the dialogue didn't give me enough options. I'd have a very good reason for picking a certain option, but the game just took the stance of my character saying “Well tough, I did it my way,” when I wanted to be a bit more diplomatic about it. Then again, that mercenary attitude I developed during the original campaign seems to have left me, but Dragonfall is more obvious about the fate of the world hanging in the balance than Dead Man's Switch ever was.

You may have noticed in that last paragrap I refer to an actual team of Runners you work with. No longer are they random stat blocks with names you pay to come along on a mission. Now you have a team of Runners that are properly yours, guys who have turbulent pasts that you uncover as you get to know them. The other stat block type still exist, though I'm not sure why you'd use them as your actual team work for free. They also add a lot of personality to the game too, and make the runs feel a little bit more part of the world.

Unfortunately, I actually think these guys are still the weakest part of Shadowrun Returns, at least when you compare it to the big RPGs. None of their back stories have any real importance to the game itself, they just come out in conversation between runs and that's it. Well, one does. Sort of. Ish. But there's another character's history that directly references a mega-corp, Aztechnology. That could be yet another throwaway reference, except one of the optional runs has you breaking into an Aztech facility, but the sub plot doesn't even get a look in. I kept expecting Blitz to pipe up about it. It felt like a huge disconnect, and brought into focus how little was actually done with the companions/runners.

Shoehorning them all into the main quest line would suck, but at least address them if and when you make a connection clear, please. At least this game gives you full control of them, avoiding any annoying moments that stop you from hacking a terminal, even though you have a Decker as part of your team. Unfortunately that doesn't extend to levelling or kitting them out, which is all still done automatically. There's no inventory management between them either, which is a minor nightmare when you're the only character that can pick things up in the game-world and your inventory is already full.

Alongside the characters, Berlin feels much more of a city than Seattle did. Mainly because you're given a little area all of your own to watch over. It is basically an expanded Seamstresses Union from the original, but the fact you've got three or four streets to roam about adds a lot, compared to five guys stood awkwardlly at the opposite corners of a room. That there's optional side missions scattered around to keep the place running certainly helps too.

They aren't the only optional missions either. After a certain point in the story when the crew realise they need cash, you're offered a selection of Runs to do that vary in dodgy-ness and pay out. You don't even need to do them all to move the story on. It added a lot to feeling like you're running a proper Shadowrunner team in a proper world.

It's still relatively short for an RPG though, coming in a few hours longer than the main game itself, just proving the Kickstarter problem a little more. It is also bit too disconnected from the original, what with the country shift. However, there's a few ties with reoccurring characters that do hint that something bigger is going on, so I wouldn't be surprised when Harebrained announce another DLC pack, in yet another city, and start showing us a bit more of this world. I'd look forward to it too, as once again I bloody loved my time back in the shadows.

Oh, and remember how I said I was going to play a Shaman? I didn't. I mean, I nearly did, I did the first mission as one. But since one of your main Runners is a Shaman, it felt like I was doubling up for no reason. So I restarted with a Decker. That elf idea still is waiting too. That feels more like a pen and paper idea anyway.

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