In July 2012, Cliffhanger Productions launched their Kickstarter for Shadowrun Online. Online was billed as being the MMORPG version of Shadowrun. It has since turned into being a cross-platform online tactical RPG. This project was launched in the shadow (small pun intended) of Shadowrun Returns by Harebrained Schemes. While Returns set its sights on being a 2d tactical turn-based RPG for single players, it was well received by 36,276 backers for $1.836 million. Online only managed to gather 6003 supporters for $550k just barely clearing its $500k goal. I think Online suffered from confusion over what it was and awareness that it even existed. I didn’t even realize they had launched a campaign until after it was over. This was clearly a case of it being overshadowed by Returns success.
The question now is can Chronicles stand on its own two feet? Chronicles has faced a few challenges in its development. As most of you can probably guess $550k isn’t enough money to make a full fledged MMORPG. This eventually forced Cliffhanger to switch gears and become the cross-platform tactical RPG it is billed as today. Cliffhanger did issue an apology to backers and offered them a chance to opt out. This also prompted them to drop the online and change the name to Chronicles: Boston Lockdown. At least the first campaign takes place in a city that has not been the focus of a Returns campaign, Seattle, Berlin, or the upcoming Hong Kong.
In certain ways, the character creation is highly customizable. You have a number of races you can choose. Human and meta-human: Elf, Dwarf, Troll, Ork. Each race has their bonus attributes. Humans have 15% chance to crit while Dwarves have an addition three hit points to start off. A nice addition to the standard character creation is the addition of backgrounds. These provide you character with a bonus but in also a corresponding drawback. While you can choose to be boring and have neither a bonus nor drawback, where is the fun in that? The Dancer has +1 to move and 15% harder to hit but if they do get clipped they will suffer an extra 15% damage. BTL (think meth but only computer chips, not crystals) Addict has a 5% chance to crit and +5 to tech armor but has a -1 to their range and -2 to mana. You do not pick an outfit at creation or your class, but you will get a chance to shortly after an intro mission. Also missing is sliders. You can select a few different hair, tattoo, and color options, but you are limited as to what the size and shape your character will be.
At the end of missions, you are awarded Karma. For the uninitiated Karma is the world of Shadowrun’s equivalent of experience points. You will use karma to select skills to build your character. Shadowrun does have classes but in this game they aren’t presented as such. You can use different skill trees to make your own Street Samurai, but there is no single Samurai tree. You can also choose skills from multiple trees and create a character that is a jack of all trades, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Along the skill paths, you will also face choices that lock you out from other abilities. If you go down the summoning path for instance you can learn either mass fear or mass curse, but not both.
The art is similar to Shadowrun Returns in style, but the backgrounds in Chronicles are 3D. While the two games may share certain styling points, they are clearly different. The areas of play can also rotate 360 degrees which is a welcome feature that is absent in Returns. No rotatable fields in a tactical game always end up being a pain when dealing with enemies hiding behind corners or trying to place yourself in a corner for cover. As you can guess, you’ll want to take cover or flank your enemies as often as possible.
While the game is multiplayer coop, you do have access to a list of expanding henchmen as you progress through the game. I’m rather fond of the mage Batshit Crazy. There are different henchman with enough different skills that you should be able to find one that complements your abilities and can pick up the slack for your character if you want to go it alone.
One of the pitfalls of being an online game is lag. I did experience spikes at times that made the game unplayable. Even if you do decide to play the game with henchmen and not other players, you will still be hooked up to the games servers. Hopefully, this is something that will smooth out as time goes on.
Shadowrun Chronicles is a bit of a mixed bag. It is a game that suffered from developmental setbacks and turned into something it wasn’t originally intended to be. I do applaud Cliffhanger for being able to make that decision to change and create a different game rather than keeping the backer’s money and shutting down shop. This game is not Shadowrun Returns Online the MMO. If you are looking for that experience, this is not what you’ll get. However, if you are a fan of tactical RPGs set in a dystopian future and you want to play them with your friends in a coop mission-based setting, then this is a game you’ll want to consider giving a shot.