Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Cyberpunk: Shadowrun Returns

This past weekend I finally got around to playing one of my oldest Kickstarter-backed games, the cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun Returns. Based on the pen-and-paper RPG series Shadowrun, the game was full of promise from the start and definitely delivered on that. It presents you with a futuristic RPG setting, which also contains a plethora of fantasy elements. I'll let the game's website describe it in more detail:

The year is 2054. Magic has returned to the world, awakening powerful creatures of myth and legend. Technology merges with flesh and consciousness. Elves, trolls, orks and dwarves walk among us, while ruthless corporations bleed the world dry. You are a shadowrunner – a mercenary living on the fringes of society, in the shadows of massive corporate arcologies, surviving day-by-day on skill and instinct alone. When the powerful or the desperate need a job done, you get it done… by any means necessary.

Think Blade Runner meets The Elder Scrolls, with combat looking something like the new XCOM. The first scenario is called "Dead Man's Switch", and sets up a very noir-ish detective story that morphs into something far larger towards the end game. I absolutely loved the atmosphere, drawing you into the seedy underbelly of futuristic Seattle, drenched in neon and grime.

You begin in your rather scummy looking apartment, receiving a message from an old friend, just calling to let you know that he's dead. He pre-arranged a message to be sent to you to investigate his death and bring his killer to justice. To sweeten the deal, he offers a big cash reward for completion. How could you refuse?

The campaign itself is a relatively linear affair, and what appears to be a simple murder becomes much more complicated the more you look into it. Uncovering each layer had me hooked right until the end, although the final act could have used a bit more work perhaps.

Your time is split mainly between chatting to the various characters you meet and going on missions to either gain money or information (usually both). For the missions themselves, you can choose from various characters to come along with you, although on occasion you are forced to take certain relevant characters. Most of these NPCs are brought along for either their skills or just for their muscle, as you will probably be doing rather a lot of fighting, unless you're smart (sneaky) enough to avoid it.

The combat itself is quite enjoyable, you have a wide range of possible skills to choose from and most builds seem to be viable. Good positioning is vital, making use of cover as best you can and to try and maintain a numerical advantage against your enemies. I chose a primarily combat character (street samurai), focusing on pistols, which seemed to be a good choice for this scenario.

Your other options include Decker (primarily for use in the Matrix, a cyberspace area), Rigger (use of drones to attack), Shaman (various spells but mainly summoning elementals) and Mage (your general magic user). Generally speaking you need to take a Decker with you on some of the missions, but going in guns blazing is usually a perfectly acceptable option if subtlety is not your strong point.

Making your way through this first scenario takes around 10-12 hours, which is a pretty perfect amount of time for me, and thankfully for those wanting more there's also the second scenario: Dragonfall (set in Berlin, with a new cast of characters, new locations, etc.). I've barely scratched the surface of Dragonfall, so I can't say yet how well it matches (or improves upon) Dead Man's Switch, but I can say I'm very glad to have backed it when I did.

A recent Kickstarter campaign for a Shadowrun: Hong Kong scenario was also successful, so it seems the folks at Harebrained Schemes have found themselves a receptive audience. Long may it continue! Also, as if that wasn't enough, there is even a scenario creator/editor to allow for fan-made campaigns. Already there have been attempts to recreate older games (there were Shadowrun games for both the Megadrive and SNES in the mid-90s), and to make entirely new campaigns. A good community can really boost the appeal of a game like this so it's always appreciated for a developer to include tools for modding and expansions.

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