The much-anticipated Shadowrun Online (SRO) from Cliffhanger Productions is currently in Alpha, and I had a chance last week to give the cyberpunk MMORPG a whirl. The current build is a stripped down version of what will be on offer when the game goes into beta and beyond, but provides a pretty good snapshot of what we can expect come launch.
Three disclaimers are necessary for full disclosure before we get into the preview. First, I haven’t yet played Harebrained Schemes’ single-player RPG, Shadowrun Returns or its expansion, Dragonfall, and won’t be able to draw any relevant comparisons in this preview. Second, I am pretty well-versed in the Shadowrun IP, having just finished up a pen-and-paper campaign, and am a little picky about what I’d like to see from the setting in a digital game. Third, the SRO Alpha includes four single-player missions and a PvP map, and makes it clear from the outset that it is not representative of the features that will be available with the launch product. These forthcoming features will include character development, items, co-op, guilds and social functionality, traders and Johnsons, and an evolving world.
Shadowrun Online is a turn-based, 3D isometric tactical MMORPG. As can be seen from the screenshots in this article, it sports a stylized art design that definitely fits in with the cyberpunk theme, which is further supported by the game’s mission design. Each mission in the Alpha begins with a briefing from the runners’ Johnson (basically the nameless factor in the corporation that has hired you), and requires you to take on corporate henchmen and others in combat as you progress through the story. The build that I played featured two runners: the “Point Man” PayDay and “Rear Guard” Tashak, who would banter among themselves throughout missions in classic Shadowrun style.
The basic gameplay in SRO is very familiar if you’ve played XCOM (or any grid-based RPG), but its tactical focus offers a lot of depth. Each map in the game is based on an invisible grid, and you’ll left-click to move your runners, choose skills, and reload or switch weapons. The Q and E buttons will rotate the camera, while WASD will move it around to give you a better of view of the battlefield. Each runner has her/his own turn, for which you’ll have to manage skills and movement. A grey overlay on the map will indicate how far your runner can move using half of her/his turn, while an orange overlay shows where the runner can go if s/he uses the whole turn for movement. Most skills will end a runner’s turn, and as any experienced Shadowrunner will tell you, finding the appropriate cover is paramount for survival, so you’ll want to manage your characters’ movement accordingly.
An overview of the two Alpha runners’ skills may give some insight into what you can do in Shadowrun Online. PayDay can switch between a Skua DMR assault rifle and a Machete, with three skills apiece. With the size 4 clip Skua, he can do a Single Shot (does damage; takes 1 ammo), Double Tap (always crits; takes 2 ammo), or Controlled Burst (ignores Evasion and cover; takes 2 ammo; 3-turn cooldown). Each skill will end his turn, and he’ll have to use a turn (or half-turn, if he moves as well) to reload. Using the Machete, he can Slash (does damage), do a Pommel Strike (does damage and applies Daze, which reduces the opponent’s chance to hit and gives them no chance to crit), or use Stimulants (applies Fast, which increases his movement and sprint range; 3-turn cooldown but counts as a Free Action).
Tashak, on the other hand, wields a Skull of Shakti focus and a Remington Sportsman shotgun. He can use the Skull of Shakti to cast Mana Bolt (does damage), Spark (does damage in an Area of Effect), and Shield (grants 3 magical resistance and 3 physical resistance). When wielding the size 2 clip Remington, he can do a Single Shot (does damage; takes 1 ammo), Double Barrel (does more damage; takes 2 ammo), or an Area Blast (does damage to all targets in a cone; takes 1 ammo; 3-turn cooldown).
Overall, I found the combat in Shadowrun Online to be challenging but fun, requiring my runners to make good use of cover and all of their skills to make it through the more difficult missions. Management of their movement and reloads added a nice layer of required preparation for tackling maps filled with katana- and assault rifle-wielding corporate henchmen. The game allows you to switch weapons on the fly, which makes gameplay a little bit easier, but still challenging.
I also liked the obvious nods to the Shadowrun universe throughout the build, including the presence of Aztechnology and the objective in a later mission to protect B-D Mary, a decker (not hacker!) NPC ally. I can definitely see SRO playing out well as a co-op online RPG, and am very interested to find out how the dev team handles the MMO features that they’ve mentioned.
Importantly, the game feels like Shadowrun, even in its very limited Alpha state, which to me, is an excellent starting point. If Cliffhanger Productions keeps moving in the same direction with the game, we very well might have an awesome Shadowrun MMORPG on our hands very soon.
Som Pourfarzaneh / Som has been hanging out with the MMORPG.com crew since 2011, and is an Associate Director & Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.