Publisher: Harebrained Schemes
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Genre: Strategy RPG
Release Date: 02/27/2014
Shadowrun Returns was the return to Shadowrun we all wanted after a rather unsatisfying FPS release a few years back and a long drought before that after the console release on the SNES and the Genesis. We here at DHGF loved the game so much it went on to become our Game of the Year. Anyone who followed the Kickstarter knew there was an expansion coming even at launch, and while this took a bit longer to come out, Dragonfall was more than worth the wait. Dragonfall manages to pull off two very hard things, it serves as a better introduction to the Shadowrun universe than the first campaign did and at the same time is a far more satisfying story and RPG campaign than Dead Man’s Switch was as you get far more involved with everything around you. While I don’t discount Dead Man’s Switch as being well done, I will be getting far more mileage out of Dragonfall. Let’s take a look.
When Dragons didn’t pop into existence in our world in 2012 after decades of Shadowrun, we knew we’d be stuck only visiting that world in the tabletop, our imaginations and video games. That’s the year they brought magic with them into the Shadowrun universe and sparked a shift in the world that brought in a change in some people making them meta-humans, an overhaul of many political pieces and the rise of the mega-corporations and of course the Shadowrunner. One of the big dragons to get taken down was Firewing, or Feuerschwinge, who terrorized Germany for months before she was killed. Fast-forward to 2054. The dragon-slayer that brought Firewing down is long gone, Berlin is considered part of a Flux State that controls all of Germany, meaning basically that Anarchy is the ruler of the day. You’re invited along with an established group of Shadowrunners by the leader who happens to be an old friend you’ve run with before and is an expert Decker. Things go south on this first run, and what seems like a flippant comment ends up with you in charge of the group with more than a few of them not quite ready to trust you. They knew Monika, your friend, but you are an unknown element.
Dietrich is an aging human Shaman who is looking for that final fight that he can’t walk away from. Glory is a human Combat Medic with so much hardware built into her that it’s hard to tell where she ends and the tech begins. Blitz is a human Decker you pick up along the way but isn’t part of the regular group initially. The last member of your crew is a Troll Weapons Specialist named Eiger who is looking for someone she can respect to get the job done and isn’t one for ass kissing. What they’ve basically done, as you can still only take 3 other people on a run, is give you instant back-up to fill whatever hole you need. Playing a mage? Leave Dietrich behind. Playing a Decker? Don’t bother with Blitz. The nice thing about this however is that you get far more backstory with your crew this time around than simply hiring random people to go with you like in Dead Man’s Switch. It’s kind of the Bioware model of team building as you don’t get their backstories immediately and have to work them out of them, or if you respect them enough, to leave it alone. I found myself caring a lot more for this group than I did any single runner for hire in the first campaign as they’re all very fleshed out characters and fun to play with.
You don’t just inherit the Shadowrunner crew though. You also kind of inherit the little hub neighborhood as well as Monika was taking care of nearly everyone there and you have big shoes to fill. A lot of the NPCs there have their own backstories as well leading me to check on a number of them between missions and not just the shopkeepers there. Everything isn’t all peaceful as you come to find out you’re in the cross hairs of something much bigger than you thought and if you don’t act you’re going to end up as roadkill. So it’s a bit of a race to scrape together the cash for the odd job to get the information you need so you can get the interested party before they get you. You’re just hoping the rumors aren’t true and it’s not the dragon Firewing who’s name keeps popping up everywhere. Cause you wouldn’t want to be the target of a dragon out to wipe out the world, right?
They present a variety of choices and ways to go about doing your runs. You’re not limited to following a set path or a set order of runs. Hell, the bulk of some of the missions ends up being optional Karma and money that you don’t’ need to complete the run but can be good for building your character as well as getting gear and consumables restocked. These all lead up to the big one, the run that’ll get the target off your back and end up with you and your crew dead. There are some really interesting moral choices thrown in where doing the right thing isn’t necessarily going to net you a pay day or make you very popular with those in power. On top of that your crew has their own opinions on things and they don’t always mesh with each other or what you’re leaning on doing. All in all I really feel this is a far stronger campaign than Dead Man’s Switch and certainly has you engaged and engrossed for longer.
Visually what you’re looking at are new tiles to play with in the editor if you’re into modding. This isn’t a bad thing. Germany feels very different in look and feel than Seattle did in the previous campaign. While it’s still very grungy, this is Cyberpunk we’re talking about, you can tell you’re in a very different city that’s operating on a different set of rules than in Seattle and that’s just with the visual cues. On top of that they’ve gifted the player with a multitude of player portraits, over 60 of them, to choose from that modders can of course use for NPCs as well. These all fit in with the original set you’re given with Dead Man’s Switch so that don’t stand out as being from a different expansion. So while we’re not getting a huge overhaul, we’re definitely getting something new to look at with this and that’s not a bad thing. One of the things I’m glad they did do, especially being partial to the Genesis game as that was my first real introduction into the Shadowrun universe, is bring in Sam Powell who wrote the original music for the Genesis game to write the music here. It stands out and fits the expansion well and has that 16-Bit era feel to it without devolving entirely into sounding like it’s not being pumped out by modern instrumentation in the game.
I won’t go into control and gameplay too much as nothing has really changed there except for one thing. So if you’re curious about that check out our review for Shadowrun Returns. The one big change is in how the game saves. Originally the game autosaved which was a big thing for a lto of people. Myself included. I had a hard time in the first game getting through a particular segment involving some hacking when the game had auto-saved awhile back, so when my hacker dropped on high alert and I was getting over-whelmed outside the Matrix I would end up having to restart and move through this whole area all over again. It was annoying and made me ragequit a number of times. Luckily I can save whenever I want now so that makes a lot of things much easier to work around and on top of that let’s you make a few decisions for one character several times to go for the outcome you’d like or to fix that major tactical error that led to your whole crew getting wiped out. It wasn’t a make our break feature for me as I loved the initial game anyway, but as part of the expansion it’s a godsend and I’m glad they listened and got it in there for players.
Potentially you could replay this expansion over and over again for a long while making up new characters and making new decisions and taking runs in a different order and get a completely different experience each time. Some of the runs you get have some interesting optionals and some really questionable acts they have you doing and can go very differently if you’re playing someone who’s just in ti for the money and to get the monkey off their back or if you actually give a crap that the person you’re about to put a bullet into isn’t actually guilty of what they’re sending you on the run to do. They’ve got a really well done moral grey area going on in this game that gives the player a lot of room to really wreak some havoc and this time around there’s more room if you’re a hacker to get in on the action and clean up a few things. There are a lot of options for all classes and builds scattered throughout that makes the experience very different each time regardless. There are several higher paying runs that you’ll probably have to take to make what you need for your intel for example, but there are a lot of little side missions that you can either skip entirely or not necessarily give ti your all if you’re not feeling it that won’t always add up to your total. I ended up with way over my amount without trying to do every optional but getting in as many runs as I could.
The first release for the game had a relatively short campaign for a RPG, sitting around 12 hours or so. You will need the original release to play this one, but the content you get is much meatier than the first campaign and will run you over that 12 hour mark if you’re doing everything easily. I hit at around 16 to 18 hours on Dragonfall when all is said and done and that was leaving some optionals and party member conversations out of it. The actual runs you go on are fairly diverse with lots of ways to get around making sure you don’t necessarily have to brute force your way inside, but that option is there if that’s your way to go. As far as price and content for modders go, this is a $14.99 gold mine and on top of a fantastically written campaign with some great characters in it.
This kind of story ahs been told before, or at least eh over-arching story. The runs that you earn your money on however, are fairly different as far as things go. Each one offers up something completely different over the previous one. The expansion adds more tools for modders, some new music and a new storyline, but nothing new in terms of gameplay or anything along those lines. This isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s also far more engrossing than the first release and I was lost in it for hours at a pop just running around talking to people in my area and gearing up for runs instead of just going on runs. This also has the added appeal to modders who like playing with the construction set for the game and making their own adventures of giving them a nice variety of new toys to play with and a few new critters to take out.
I only had one big glitch while I was playing this and that had to do with Blitz’s drone. I’d sent it into a duct to get somewhere I thought I couldn’t get to and then put it in follow mode so Blitz would be more effective in the combat we were getting into but the drone never actually ever left the air duct as it followed along into a dead end and then got stuck. I decided I wasn’t going back for it and if it didn’t pop up then I’d just get him a new one. The drone was kind of useful, but I wasn’t going to shed a tear if it vanished. The bad guys however, took exception to Blitz’s drone hanging out in that dead end and a number of them decided to bang into the walls trying to get at it instead of coming after me. While a bit hilarious and making my life easier, they probably shouldn’t’ have been able to see the drone in the first place and in the second place it should have actually come out of the air duct as it was originally near an opening before it went further and got stuck. I decided not to complain and went with it, but the AI on the bad guys may not always be the brightest but they have enough smarts to be challenging at the times they really need to be. Other than that I didn’t notice too many issues. The game ran smooth without any jitters and this lead to a really engrossing experience that I absolutely loved.
Short Attention Span Summary
While I really enjoyed what they did with Shadowrun Returns and trying to give us a campaign with that release that harkened back to the old SNES and Genesis games, Dragonfall takes that base architecture and then applies that to a more modern RPG story-telling setup and knocks their first expansion for Shadowrun Returns out of the park. Dragonfall puts you in charge of your own team, a group that’s decidedly different in their views on just about everything including life experiences and then puts that team in the crosshairs of a very powerful entity that wants them all dead and out of the way. Combining some of the best squad story-telling elements from the Mass Effect Trilogy with a rather large home base and territory that you can really grow to care a lot about, Dragonfall brings the Shadowrun Returns into the more modern RPGs without losing that spark that it had in capturing the old school Shadowrun RPGs. If you liked the first campaign, you’re going to love the expansion. If you’re into modding this also opens up a whole new set of areas and tiles to play with as well. Easily one of my favorite expansions for just about any game and well worth going on another series of runs.