Sunday, 14 June 2015

Cyberpunk Returns: Shadowrun: Dragonfall

Shadowrun: Dragonfall is the sort-of-sequel, sort-of-DLC for Shadowrun Returns. It's available as a standalone "Director's Cut", so you don't even need to play the first one (but I would recommend that you do, I really enjoyed it). I played the Director's Cut standalone version.

The world of Shadowrun presents you with a future filled with biomechanical engineering, magic, metahumans, dragons, virtual reality and so much more. It's futuristic cyberpunk meets high fantasy, and while the geography of the world might be the same as ours, this "Awakening" has caused huge wars and a massive change to political and social dynamics. There are new empires, new city-states and new dangers, and it's up to your team of "Shadowrunners" to navigate them.

Shadowrunners are teams of people employed often as mercenaries, for a huge range of (often illegal) missions. Because you get to decide on your missions (to a limited extent), your moral compass is your only guide as to whether you take on a risky mission or not. Opportunities arise to do deals with shady corporations, gangs or worse - and you can choose to double-cross or destroy some of them too.

The game opens with your character on a mission, brought along by an old friend. Your character can be chosen from a wide range of races and abilities, enough for a variety of play-styles. The only recommendation is to not vary your character too much, spreading your limited upgrade points too thinly around various categories can leave you with a mixture of low powered abilities. Best to pick a specific character type, and use the rest of the team when other skills are required.

Your first mission is hardly a tutorial though, and includes a tough combat section very early on to remind you that not all problems can be solved by hacking or talking your way through. To this end, I chose to make a gun-toting combat-focused character, but I think a magic user would be a very good choice for my second play-through (your initial team includes two combat-focused characters and a shaman, with a decker/hacker as leader).

Combat is the same as the first game, and is a turn-based tactical affair with similarities to XCOM. You get defensive bonuses for being behind cover, offensive bonuses when you flank people and a massive array of weapons, grenades, spells and such to wage war with. I would argue that the game relies a touch too much on combat, but it doesn't overplay it compared with other RPGs. There's far less required combat than in many other RPGs past and present, and the system is good enough that I enjoyed it rather than feeling it was a boring slog.

The most interesting parts for me will always be the conversation choices, the ability to find back doors or work around a problem. While the full frontal assault is often the easier choice, the other options do break things up a bit. In particular, a decker (the hacking type) can make things much easier on certain sections.

I enjoyed particularly how the game dealt with the companions, allowing you a limited choice of how they improve their abilities and a small amount of leeway for giving them additional equipment. They are often talkative at key points, and have their own side-missions that you can get involved with. I prefer this approach rather than just getting blank-slate characters to micro-manage, and it's better than the first game's approach of letting you pay for random people to back you up at certain points (but the characters that were actually characters were good).

The game sets up a story about a great dragon, and slowly but surely gives you plenty of information about how the world is run in this new future, and how the dragons (for there are several of them) are a possible threat to all of the lesser races. The dragons are immortal and massively cunning and powerful, and to know too much about them is dangerous and to fight them is a near impossibility.

There are several other smaller stories throughout the game though, which might be of lesser importance but allow you to make real choices that you can imagine would have lasting consequences (if only the game were over a longer time frame, and you could see the world you were shaping come to pass...)

I tried to play the game as "good" as I could, for the benefit of all people in the Flux State (an anarchistic government system, covering the area the game is set in). This was relatively easy with the smaller missions and smaller choices, but if you are lacking in certain skills, the choices you make can be based on minimal or misleading information, and may have consequences you don't readily foresee.

The end-game in particular presented me with a difficult choice indeed, and I am not sure I made the best choices in the end. The game's epilogue is quite short and gives you only limited information, so I suppose I will just have to replay the game and see how I could have done things differently.

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