By Nathaniel Liles
I hate to be the guy. I really do. You know the one, you bring up a game franchise and he’s so enamored with it that he simply goes, “Ooooh, that game…” and gushes, but I have to be at least half of that guy here. The top half, or whichever half is most readily capable of going, “Ooooh, that game…”, because my “that game” is Shadowrun, and when I heard that Jordan Weisman’s new studio, Harebrained Schemes, was making a new Shadowrun game, I was hardly able to keep my excitement from exploding out of me like an alien. Now, with the guy who made the original Shadowrun, Crimson Skies, and Mechwarrior games, also known as my childhood, at the helm, what can we expect?
Well, although some may argue that veteran game developers are too set in their ways, there’s one thing that is completely timeless: a good story. While Shadowrun Returns jumps the shark a bit about 7 hours in, the entire game is remarkably well-written, and it reminded me of playing D&D with a really good Dungeon Master. All the characters are well written and likable, except Harlequin, he sucks, and the game’s descriptive writing style makes it incredibly engrossing to talk to people, which is good, because you will do an insane amount of reading throughout this game. I don’t have a massive attention span, and most books lose my interest about halfway through, but I was completely fine reading the amount of text in this 12 hour adventure because it was just so good. Now, with so much text, I was easily able to forgive the handful of typos I saw here and there, and the silly future-cusses (“You look like drek!” “Stupid fragging bugs!”) didn’t pull me out of the experience because the conversational options the player has to choose from use the same lingo and are often really funny and never polarizing. There’s no measured morality system either, which is great. You just act the way you would act and see how many people try to kill you, and there’s no “good ending/bad ending”.
The game’s graphics and sound can both be described with the same concise phrase: They were okay, they did their job, but they never blew my mind. In the graphics, although everything is very well designed and well rendered, the environments didn’t have much variation, and the graphics felt very dated, as if I was playing a game from the mid 2000’s, and the animations were stiff and weird at times. Still beautiful, but lacking polish. The same can be said for the music, which I really enjoyed, but eventually came to hate. There are very few tracks in this game, and you’ll be hearing the exact same handful of songs the entire time.
As far as gameplay goes, it’s your standard tactical RPG, and I had an absolute blast with the combat. It’s never too hard, but it can still make you sweat at times, and the Decking sections were an interesting change of pace. You can tell that this game took a few cues from D&D with its skill-based combat and unconventional level-up system. You level up skills with Karma points, which you get for completing certain goals – not for killing enemies, mind you. My one complaint about the Karma system is that I never really got enough Karma to level my skills up to the point where I felt like a badass, and that’s a big part of having an upgradable character for me. The weapons and equips are standard fare, and much simpler than in most modern RPGs, but that’s okay, because the focus is on tactics, not firepower. On a side note, magic is cripplingly underpowered. Use a gun.
So, to sum it all up, I really enjoyed Shadowrun Returns, and I look forward to the DLC arriving later this month. The game’s interesting story and masterful writing kept me completely immersed in the world of Shadowrun from start to finish, and while the story did take a turn for the silly near the end, it was still a rewarding experience that I would recommend to most. Fans of tactical games may notice that this game is one of the easier turn-based tactics games out there, but that makes it extremely accessible to people just getting into the genre, and this is a fantastic game to start with. The graphics and sound left a bit to be desired, but not to the point of lessening the experience too much. All in all, this was an enjoyable and satisfying experience that I will certainly come back to someday soon for a second playthrough.
Game : Shadowrun Returns
Developer : Harebrained Schemes