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27 April 2014 @ 02:27 pm
Game Review: Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall  
Return of the colons.

I had heard that "Dragonfall" was much better the original campaign (my thoughts about which you can read here), and they weren't really understating it. "Dead Man's Switch" suffered from too much thematic change, going from a local story about a friend who wants you to avenge his death to having to uncover a world-changing conspiracy to helping stop one of the greatest threats to the world. It's a bit like some of the Final Fantasy games with the constant escalation, and the problem with constant escalation is that everything later overshadows and devalues the human elements that are initially put in the forefront. When I'm fighting off ancient spirits who seek to corrupt and destroy all that is good, does one serial killer matter?

Also, the whole thing was a giant railroad.

That's not a problem in "Dragonfall." Sure, there's dragons, as you could probably tell from the name. But once the opening run goes down and the stage is set, the world opens up and you have a long-term goal and can choose your own ways to fulfill it. It's not entirely open world, because sometimes one mission has to be done before another mission can open up, but it's not a chain of missions that lead one into the other with no way to step off the trail and make your own choices.

The other great plot element is having a constant team. Monika, Dietrich, Blitz, Eiger, and Glory being persistent characters (within the limits of the engine, anyway, about which more in a bit) that you can interact with between missions makes you care about them a lot more than any of the disposable shadowrunner companions in "Dead Man's Switch." Sure, I always hired the drone rigger just because I liked having the extra target to soak up enemies' bullets, but I don't remember their name and the game didn't let me say anything to them at all. It's not like the struggle to earn the team's trust in "Dragonfall." Hell, Dietrich even grilled me on my character's backstory at one point, which had no mechanical effect but really made me feel like I was the new runner that the other team members were trying to fit into the existing social structure.

Also, much to my surprise and delight, choosing all the sycophantic nice guy dialogue choices often has other people assume you're putting up a front to ingratiate yourself with them, which admittedly is probably true from both an in-character and metagame perspective. Nice, puppy-petting philanthropists don't usually go into careers shooting other people in the face for money, after all.

The mechanical aspects were mostly the same. There hasn't been any upgrades to the way combat flows, though I personally discovered Overwatch about 75% of the way through the game and got really annoyed at myself for failing to notice it earlier (and if you missed it, it's the grey button on the right side of the weapons display). The campaign was built much better in terms of taking other people's skills into account, though. There were some times I was annoyed in "Dead Man's Switch" because my scrawny elf mage couldn't pass a strength check to pry something open even though I had a troll physical adept with me, or how I couldn't hack anything even if I brought a rigger. "Dragonfall" showed that this was just bad design, because there was a lot of "Decking 5: Hack door" / "Have your decker hack the door" dialogue choices that took into account that shadowrunners work in teams because they tend to be specialists and cover each other's weak points.

The equipment pacing wasn't that great, though. At least playing as a mage, I had just about everything I needed maybe 40% of the way through the game, and one of the major flaws that remains in the mechanical design that is every time you return to a previous area the game engine treats it as a new area that happens to look like the old one, and the same with the people. That means that it's impossible to persistantly upgrade your team members or even to give them more medkits or combat drugs, though maybe modders are working on that now. There's a way to carry dialogue choices and variables forward into new maps, so maybe character stats and inventory can be carried too? Having seen the breadth of mods out there, I wouldn't be surprised.

Also, you can save anywhere you want now. Even in the middle of a battle. So that's amazing.

It's still not as good an adaptation of Shadowrun tabletop as the Genesis game is, but that's an open-world RPG that came out in 1994 before anyone even knew what "open world" meant. Also, it has the best Shadowrun-style Matrix ever. But "Dragonfall" demonstrates that people willing to put in the time probably could make that style of campaign if they wanted to, and indeed they've been working on something similar for a while. If you haven't played Shadowrun: Returns, don't even bother with "Dead Man's Switch." Much like Neverwinter Nights' main campaign, it's more of just a tech demo for the game's capabilities. Play "Dragonfall" instead. You won't regret it.
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished