Shadowrun: Dragonfall is the follow up DLC (a full campaign's worth) to Shadowrun Returns. Shadowrun Returns, released last summer, was the second coming to video game glory for this postmodern sci-fi meets fantasy magic apocalypse RPG franchise that knew early video game success with phenomenal games on the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis but more recently had its name drug through the mud in 2007 with a terrible FPS released for the X-Box 360 and Windows PC.
If there is one thing that Dragonfall does well, and it does a number of things well, is that it builds upon the systems that were established in Returns and improves them. Dragonfall is not a continuation of the Dead Man’s Switch campaign and take’s place in an entirely different location, the flux state of Berlin as opposed to Seattle. Politics are different here and you can see that in the way the characters behave. Also there is less rain.
Aesthetics = 8
Harebrained Schemes does a wonderful job with the art style they selected to present the universe of Shadowrun to the player. They have managed to keep the world dark but vibrant. Purples, blues, and yellows can be found all over but around the corner the alleys can be pitch black. The UI is serviceable and does not take up too much real estate on the screen at any given time. You feel like you are playing the game and not playing with the UI. Important information you need to know about your character and opposing NPCs is easily revealed in combat by mousing over the target. Hit percentages, cover, buffs and debuffs are all easily recognizable and a mouse pointer away. Out of combat the UI appears in the form of a not too distant PDA that we might be carrying ourselves in a few years. This game is not going to wow you with its graphics. The environments are not fully 3D and the spell effects are not going to put your graphics card to the test; however, the settings give you the feeling of what a good Shadowrun campaign should be.
Gameplay = 7
You are going to spend a lot of time reading. At some points the game felt more like I was playing a choose my own adventure book as opposed to a computer RPG, and unfortunately most dialogues all lead you to the same conclusion. On the opening mission your character is presented the opportunity to steal a vase. No matter what options you select in the dialogue tree you will not be able to take the vase. While it is nice that the game has certain points of interest that you can interact with, there are not enough of them in the game and they are typically just fluff. I was left feeling flat early on that the choices I wanted to make would have no real consequence. As I continued on through the game I was presented with additional choices that would affect how missions progressed but not their final outcome. You learn early on that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to complete a mission. You do not have to brute force your way through everything. It pays off to avoid combat if you can and save your resources for later in the mission when confrontation is inevitable.
HBS has made a number of improvements in Dragonfall over the original release. You can now save at any point during the game, not just between missions like you could in Dead Man’s Switch, this change applies to all of Shadowrun Returns. Also different skills you can learn by having charisma can have impact on conversations, don’t want to pay the gang leader for a key? Smooth talk him. You could also kill him but then you are left dealing with a floor full of security instead of just being able to walk to the elevator unmolested. These skill triggers seem to be more frequent in Dragonfall.
Innovation = 7
Dragonfall will not be winning any awards for the most innovative RPG of the year. Not only are they not advancing the genre but they are taking it back a notch with turn based tactical combat. What HBS is being innovative about is how to grab the reigns of this franchise and steer it in the direction of the original vision for Shadowrun and away from the miserable FPS that tried to make a dime off of a beloved intellectual property’s name.
A major change from Returns to Dragonfall is how your party develops. While you will still have one character that you create that ends up leading the team Dragonfall spends a lot of time focusing on the ensemble cast of your team, not just you. In the Dead Man’s Switch campaign you rented guns for hire to fill out your ranks for missions. In the end you probably felt they were expendable chattel. In Dragonfall you spend a lot more time with your team and the writers have given these characters life with developed back stories. You are going to want to see this story until its conclusion with them.