(This review was posted to my Facebook page on May 30, 2014)
So over the past few weeks I’ve been playing Shadowrun Returns on Steam. It was on sale, and I managed to pick up the main campaign “Dead Man’s Switch” as well as the DLC “Dragonfall” for $15. I’ve played through all of Dead Man’s Switch and most of Dragonfall now, so I thought I’d give my opinion.
Some background first. Shadowrun is actually a tabletop role playing system created in 1989. The games generally take place around the years 2050-2080, depending on how you play (I think Shadowrun Returns is the 2060s). The plot is that in 2012, at the end of the Mesoamerican Long Count, the world didn’t end, but instead, a new world was ushered in, and races thought to be only pieces of fantasy appeared all over the world: Elves, Dwarves, Trolls, Orcs, and even Dragons appeared, as well as Magic reappearing in the world. After a long struggle, the world slowly began to adapt to these new “Metahumans” and they became (Somewhat) accepted in society. Hell, some of the dragons even run giant corperations now. Yeah, picture that.
In this world are underground hitmen/mercenaries/freelancers called the “Shadowrunners”. Working from the shadows, this group is less of an organization and more of a community, taking shady/illegal/lucrative jobs that no one else is willing to take and completing them.
Dead Man’s Switch has you take control of one of these Shadowrunners. You get a message from a fellow shadowrunner and old friend Sam Watts. This is especially interesting considering that Sam was just found dead. It turns out that he had a “Dead Man’s Switch” prepared in case he died, which was a system designed to get a message to you when he died, asking you to look into whatever killed him, offering a huge reward. Without spoiling much, it’s a very cluttered and jumbled story. You jump from looking into drug deals to tracking down a serial killer to communing with ghosts to FIGHTING ghosts to dealing with an evil cult. While these would have been fine had they just been missions to get some scratch for the main plot missions, the real misstep here is that the game expects you to keep up with/pay attention/care about how all this crap is connected. I supposed I understood why everything happened in the end, but I certainly didn’t care. The game keeps throwing plot twist after plot twist after you, but none of them stick. There are a few interesting character, but unfortunately none of them are around much. Your shadowrunner team is mostly comprised of generic mercenaries aside from one named “Coyote” who’s an interesting enough character, I suppose, but she’s really all you have for interesting companions, and even then there’s not much to her.
I suppose I’ll also talk about the gameplay before I get into Dragonfall. If you’ve played X-Com: Enemy Unknown and the original Fallout, just imagine smashing the two together. It’s a top-down turn-based RPG. It works well enough, I suppose, but it doesn’t end up being as fun as X-Com or as deep as Fallout.
So, with my lukewarm reception of Dead Man’s Switch, that means this game’s a dud, right? Not worth your time? Wrong. I booted up Dragonfall just to see what it had to offer and found exactly the experience I was looking for.
In Dragonfall, you play another Shadowrunner (You must make a new character; even if you completed Dead Man’s Switch first, you can’t import your old character. A little disappointing, but it makes sense story wise), this one a newbie on a standard run to aquire some gear and info from a vault beneath a mansion. Your team heads in, lead by master Decker (A hacker) Monica Shafer. As she attempts to open the vault however, something within the system kills her, leaving the team to defend themselves as they enter what is not a small underground vault, but a whole complex. With her dying breath, Monica puts you in charge (Much to Eiger’s, another member, dismay), and you manage to escape with your team still intact. Now the race is on to find out what lies in that complex, who killed Monica, and why.
I much prefer this story to Dead Man’s Switch because it’s kept very simple: You’re presented with a large threat, and the whole campaign is building up to finding and tackling said threat rather than in Dead Man’s Switch where you seem to have a final boss fight several different times, giving each following climax less and less impact. The tensions stay high here, and not just because the threat is clear: Everyone on your team is unique, has their own backstory, motivations, and opinions on how the mission went. You have Glory, a Street Samurai with a cold attitude and some antique cybernetics, Eiger, a female Orc soldier-type who is the textbook definition of rough, and opposes your quick promotion to leader from the start, and Dietrich, a former punk-rocker who’s now a shamen given powers by the spirit of a Dragonslayer. Each of them is tragic and interesting in their own right. Eiger seems like a heartless and angry bitch at first, but if you talk to her you learn the reason why she’s so distrustful of newbies and why she blamed Monica’s death on you. Glory has a horror story about the antique cybernetics that she’s sporting, and Dietrich is always a blast to talk to, especially when he begins talking about the Dragonslayer.
I haven’t completed Dragonfall yet, so I’m not sure how it all resolves, but it’s certain that it has a better journey than Dead Man’s Switch at least. On top of that, plenty of users are creating their own adventures on the Steam Workshop, giving you near-endless missions to play if you so choose.
While Dead Man’s Switch was a disappointment that seemed to be a waste of potential, Dragonfall sold me on the game. If you see a sale and manage to pick up The game with Dragonfall, go for it, and check out the workshop to see what you can piece together. It’s worth it, at least for Dragonfall.
Dead Man’s Switch: 2/5