Not the MMO We Were Expecting, But Still Fun
Shadowrun seems to be a hit-or-miss type of intellectual property since its start in 1989. The title enjoyed a wildly successful pen and paper iteration in the 90s, which I relished in immensely during my high school days, but the video game versions never grabbed me until 2013's Shadowrun Returns.
But even before Shadowrun Returns was released, there was talk of a Shadowrun MMO right during that time when every major RPG IP was being published in MMO form. Yes, 2011 was an innocent time in the lifespan of MMOs, and it would have been the perfect time to see Shadowrun Online.
That never happened, and we didn't hear much more from the project until a Kickstarter campaign emerged in 2012 to raise enough crowdfunded cash to get the anticipated MMO off the ground. Hey, it worked for Shadowrun Returns, so why not Shadowrun Online?
The campaign exceeded its $500,000 goal, but, unfortunately, was delayed for quite a bit longer than anticipated until last week finally saw the release of the newly christened Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown. Thanks to years of feedback from hardcore Shadowrun players who backed the game, Shadowrun Chronicles evolved into something that is a bit different from the original Shadowrun Online idea.
What we have right now is a core four-player co-op game that features a hub city and a chain of missions that create an overarching story. There's no open world or most of the other elements we'd hope to find in a traditional MMO, and the game can be played completely solo or with friends -- even when they're not online! But I'll get to that part in a second because it really is a great feature.
If you're familiar with the Shadowrun universe, you know that it's based on a futuristic cyberpunk-type environment mixed with high fantasy. So you have dwarves, elves, trolls, humans, and orks wielding automatic weapons, controlling robotic pets, and shooting fireballs from their hands.
I've always felt that the Shadowrun universe was well-established and fun, but that doesn't always translate well into video game form. Even so, I think Cliffhanger Productions did the right thing by making Chronicles an online multiplayer version of Shadowrun Returns with the ability to play the game as either multiplayer or single player.
Overall, Chronicles hits that "fun" mark, but in short bursts. I really enjoy the depth of character development, adding karma points to the advancement of your character in any and all directions you so chose, and even the clothing and appearance options are enjoyable. But the repetitive nature of the missions does get old if you're looking for something to sit down and play for eight hours straight.
Not that that's a bad thing, because I really enjoy having the flexibility to get up and make a sandwich without worrying about creating a party-wipe situation, but just realize that this game isn't really what you'd think of when you hear "MMO."
You start the game in a Boston back alley and make your way around to each of the local NPCs to figure out what's going on. A lone mission NPC (named Smedley... did John back Shadowrun?) grants you each mission, but you'll need to talk to the other NPCs in the area to find out more details each time you return.
I ended up creating a few different characters just to try out some options, but I settled on a dwarven Summoner/Rigger combo that really played to my obsession with pet classes. I found the controls and UI simple to grasp, and the character advancement system easy to understand.
And this pretty much explains the whole game. It's not deep, and it's not complicated (although it does get rather challenging if you try to simply run-and-gun), but the dependence on strategy in a turn-based platform really works well. I've always been a huge fan of turn-based games, and they're even more fun with friends.
Which brings me to one of my favorite mechanics in the game: if you are not one for multiplayer, you can quickly fill up the rest of your party with a broad range of AI-controlled henchmen similar to how the original Guild Wars tackled that LFG problem. This is also handy if you just need one or two more characters to fill out a party.
But the game really wants you to play with your friends, so it not only allows you to fill out your group with three chummers, but it allows you to add them to your party even when they're not available to play. Yep, your friends' characters are essentially AI-controlled henchmen when they're not online.
Cliffhanger also promises a PvP feature to hit the game soon, which should add another layer of interaction.
Unfortunately, launch week was plagued by some pretty crippling lag that has made gameplay frustrating. Constant server restarts and 20-40-second waiting periods between turns are annoying now, but I'm not going to let it mold my opinion of gameplay because the developers have recognized the issue and addressed the players concerning a possible solution.
A post on the game's official Steam forum explains that the servers have experienced problems that weren't present during alpha and beta testing, thanks to a "district-wide blackout," so they small team is currently working day and night to make the game more playable. It's an embarrassing situation for any developer to be in, but that seems to be the nature of online multiplayer game launches. Unfortunately, that lag makes the game nearly unplayable at this point.
Lag notwithstanding, I would recommend Shadowrun Chronicles to anyone who enjoys the Shadowrun universe and enjoys turn-based strategy games. If you liked Shadowrun Returns, you'll probably also enjoy Chronicles, although you won't find the same depth of story just yet. The developers at Cliffhanger promise much more story that will be molded by the players as time goes on.
Keep an eye on the Steam forums and the game's official site for more info on when the lag problems will be resolved. Once that's settled, it's certainly worth checking out for fans of the IP or turn-based tactical RPGs.
Gameplay – 9: The gameplay is streamlined and easy to grasp, but it can get repetitive quickly. Luckily, the enemy AI is advanced enough to take cover, use consumable buffs and try maneuvers that really make you think before you run in guns-blazing.
Visuals and Sound – 6: Some of the game's visual effects are spectacular, but the characters themselves look like something out of Free Realms. A handy cinematic camera kicks in during kill shots and critical moments of the firefight, so that's fun. The sound is relatively basic and the soundtrack sounds canned.
Polish – 5: Right now, the lag is crippling, which makes for a painful experience. But even when that's fixed, I feel like there are a few other aspects of polish to address such as randomly missing voiceovers and cringe-worthy voice acting (the fakey Boston accents are distracting).
Longevity – 8: If this wasn't a Shadowrun title, I'd give it a 5, but I can see myself playing the game as long as the story keep evolving. The fact that the developers are communicating with players and apologizing over the lag issues also says a lot about their dedication to the long-term.
Value – 7: If you pledged to the game's Kickstarter in a lower tier and you've played through beta to launch, you got a great deal. But if you're just buying the game off Steam after launch, you might want to wait for a sale or at least until the lag is fixed.