Shadowrun Returns Anthology
Publisher: Harebrained Studios
Page Count: 194
Cost: TBD (Free with a purchase of Shadowrun Returns Deluxe Edition or to various Kickstarter backers)
Release Date: 07/25/2013
Get it Here: Steam Store (Hopefully through DriveThruRPG.com eventually…)
So yes, everyone’s raving about Shadowrun Returns, the new tactical RPG for the PC, and well they should be. At the same time though, I’m shocked no one else is giving an in-depth coverage to the Shadowrun Returns Anthology. After all, regardless of the console/edition wars and one’s thoughts on how the mechanics of Shadowrun have changed over the past few decades, it’s the writing, the storytelling and world of Shadowrun that has made Shadowrun so beloved and this newest video game to have a chance at existing. So I have to admit, I feel it is a disservice that more people aren’t talking about the anthology when it features some great stories, familiar faces, and favorite longtime Shadowrun authors. So today we’re going to look at the sixteen stories and assorted extras in this anthology and hopefully convince you why this collection of short stories is reason enough to buy the deluxe version of Shadowrun Returns and that hopefully, with a little bit of internet whining and ranting, we can get the ball rolling to make this a purchase available to even those of you who don’t like video games or just like Sixth World fiction.
1. Foreword. This is exactly what you might surmise – it’s Jordan Weisman giving a bit of an intro on the setting, thanking the Kickstarter backers and the like. It’s a nice set up, warns that there may be some game spoilers so to play the game first and explains how the book and game overlap. Nicely done. 1 for 1.
2. Locks and Keys. Wow, I was actually kind of shocked that a Shadowrun anthology not only has, but starts off, with a rather heartwarming tale about acceptance for all types and finding friends just when you need them most. There appears to be a continuity SNAFU here with the story occurring in 2009 as the first elf sighting in the world doesn’t actually appear in the Shadowrun setting until 2011, but there’s not if you’re familiar with a very particular metahuman. So if you look at the story and can’t get past the timeline “error,” remember that a) this is a story, b) they don’t have it wrong and c) life is too short for nitpicking continuity. Locks and Keys does so much, from showcasing the last days of the Fifth World to giving us a look at the precursor to Shadowlands and JackPoint. It also gives you a very different look at a major character in the Sixth World in regards to this collection of stories, the video game and Shadowrun in general. Truly awesome. 2 for 2.
3. No Sharper Spur. You know, I went into this anthology expecting Russell Zimmerman’s piece to be about the Tir or at least elves in general. It’s too bad I hadn’t bet money on it, because I would have won big time. No Sharper Spur is a look at several different elf factions in the Sixth World, but this primarily focuses on a gang known as the Ancients. You’re also given a taste of the Tir through nods to its leaders and politics. Several famous elves also make an appearance in this piece, including Sting and Blackwing, the latter of which I have to admit I thought would “Goldberg” through his intended victim and I was quite surprised at how things turned out. Truly a great story and if you liked this one, I strongly recommend you go out and purchase the Elven Blood adventure collection. It’s written by the same author and it won our award for “Best Adventure (Collection or Campaign)” in our 2012 Tabletop Gaming Awards. What? Rusty plugged our site in the Anthology, so I might as well plug something of his back, right? In all seriousness though, No Sharper Spur is an awesome read full of twists and turns I didn’t see coming. Just a fun read across the board and if you want a further reading assignment to spin off from this story but you want to keep things in the 2050s instead of 2070s, Bottled Demon is an adventure sharing a few familiar faces from this story and it’s only four bucks. 3 for 3.
4. Belonging. Yeah, this one’s creepy. Not in a bad way, but in a “here’s just some of the extra scary crap that litters the Sixth World.” Belongings is told in a series of diary entries and it’s about a young runaway who is trying to make it on her own in San Francisco. I have to admit that if you’re well versed in Shadowrun lore, you see what is coming a mile away as there is a ton of foreshadowing, imagery and hints. That doesn’t make the story any less fun to read though. For those relatively new to the Sixth World, I can only imagine that the creep and scare factor is ratcheted up several notches as they are in for a world of shock. Seriously, at times I almost felt this was a World of Darkness story, it had that kind of atmosphere. Another great job. 4 for 4.
5. Evolution. In my head this story is a fable called, “How the Orc got his cyberware.” It’s an interesting tale about a police officer named Mitch Macklusky and why he decided to get cybernetic implants. Of course, there is more to the story than that and it’s a good look at how easy it is to go bad. Another fun read. 5 for 5.
6. The Road to Hell. This is one of the more depressing stories in the collection, but it’s still an exceptionally well written one. It’s about a young boy who is skilled at the Matrix but makes the mistake of becoming a star crossed lover. It’s a good look at why someone becomes a Shadowrunner even if they don’t want to be, how ruthless and brutal the corps of the Sixth World can be and that racism is just as common amongst metahumanity as it is with the Humanis league and other organizations. 6 for 6.
7. But Loyal To His Salt. This is the first short story I didn’t care for in the collection. It wasn’t bad; just dull. The story is basically your typical run gone back and acts as a bit of a prologue to No Sharper Spur. It read a little too much like someone trying to turn a playthrough into an adventure and it just didn’t do it for me. 6 for 7.
8. Dinner With a Friend. A great slightly comedic tale about Harlequin and “Brackhaus” talking elven politics over hamburgers when stupid people try stupid things. That’s pretty much all I can say without spoilers, but this story was great in all ways. It’s nice to have one lighthearted tale in the Sixth World from time to time, you know? 7 for 8.
9. Cherry Bomb. This story is all about well, Cherry Bomb, a character from the SR video game. Here you learn a little bit about her past, her boss’ past and the life story of a man named Richard Long. Or is it Andy White. I really liked this story as you get to see that not every corporate wage slave in the Sixth World in a mindless soulless automaton, but also that everyone else is willing to take advantage of those who still try to wear the white hat in this world. 8 for 9.
10. Blowing Sky High. This story is all about corporate double dealing, backstabbing and data snatching. It’s a pretty paint by numbers affair that I think we’ve all seen a million times if you’re aShadowrun fan, but the writing is quite excellent and the characters really come to life hear. Plus hey, Dwarven wage mage! 9 for 10.
11. Past Salvage. I really enjoyed this story as it highlights the different ways runners think. One puts friends before money and the other puts money before friends. Yet somehow the two make a good team. It’s also an example of how deals can go spectacularly bad and that sometimes, instead of a massive wad of nuyen, your big score is simply walking away with your head still attached to your shoulders. If anything, this little story should be a great example of why dealing in bits and pieces of dragons is never a good idea (double so in the 2070s though!) 10 for 11.
12. Showtime. This story is actually a parallel to Past Salvage and the two together give you a better look at the entire aspect of this little slice of the Sixth World. Here however, you get to see a run go spectacularly well (all things considered), a mystery is solved and arguably the biggest, baddest dragon in the 2050s gets a cameo. Some interesting characters and it’s nice to see how a young mage handles his first ever run. 11 for 12.
13. Dog Tags. Here the spotlight is on Jake, your first playable ally in Shadowrun Returns. It also focuses a little of Sam, the character who gets the whole ball of wax that IS Shadowrun Returns rolling. It’s a great piece of character work that fills in a lot of Jake’s back story like his Dog Shaman status and the problems that come when you try to mix magic with cyberware. 12 for 13.
14. White Hat, Black Bag. The second piece in the collection I didn’t care for. Basically the protagonist has a mission of protecting a fellow runner and friend but without letting said person know he has someone watching his back. It was more than a little convoluted for me and there wasn’t a lot of character development. I love the descriptions of Hatchetman though. 12 for 14.
15. Never Alone. This is another very creepy story – doubly so if you know your Shadowrun and triply so if you have beaten Shadowrun Returns. This is a pretty dark and depressing story where the main character constantly goes from worse to worse situations and you just can’t help but feel sorry for her. This story does give you a better look at the “ripper” from SR too, so you may want to hold off and save this one for last. 13 for 15.
16. The Deep End. This is the longest story in the collection and while good, it does ramble a bit and probably could have had a page or two edited out to make the work flow better. Still it’s a great story and it gives you a look at one of your protagonist’s big allies in Dresden the dwarf. It gives you a pretty good look at the character from an angle you wouldn’t get in the video game and also reveals so unexpected personal info about people he knows and how important he is to the core storyline of SR. I really liked this, 14 for 16.
17. A Night’s Work. This is the last piece of fiction in the collection and honestly, I had a hard time making it to the end even though it was only five pages long. There was no character development or anything really interesting occurring within this tale. It was just a very generic and very boring decription of a run. I wish they had picked something better to end the collection on, but it is what it is. 14 for 17.
18. Afterword. Jordan returns to close out the fiction side of this collection and he does a great job of detailing the entire plot of the game in just two pages, along with how it connects to previous Shadowrun publications and the continuity of the 2050s as a whole. I liked the shout out to the late Nigel Findlay and specifically his novel Lone Wolf and I feel that if you liked this game or anthology, you should definitely track it down. They have a couple copies on Paperbackswap.com so here’s your chance to get it easily while you can. The afterword is a wonderful look at the story of Shadowrun Returns, but it spoils the whole damn game so don’t read it until after you beat it. 15 for 18.
19. Assorted Stuff. Here you have the Telestrian family tree, bios on all the contributors to the anthology, and then a seventy(!) page look at the art ofShadowrun Returns. It’s all fun stuff as you get to know the authors a bit better and you can peruse the origins of the SR visuals. 16 for 19.
So yes, the Shadowrun Returns Anthology is pretty awesome and I am really looking forward to getting my physical copy of the book in hardcover later this year. The SRA is the best piece of tabletop fiction I’ve read this year, although I do see The Strix Chronicle is on my to review list next and the anticipated D&D Sundering novels are about to begin, so only time will tell if this remains my favorite gaming fiction of 2013. For now though, I can’t imagine why any fan wouldn’t want to get their hands on this. Hopefully down the road the SRA will be made available to the general public, as there is some really great reading to be had here. For now though, the only way to get it is by downloading the deluxe version of the Shadowrun Returns video game from Steam and I honestly think the book alone is worth getting the game for. The fact the game is a serious “Game of the Year” contender as well doesn’t hurt either…