Posted: December 13
Shadowrun Returns is an isometric RPG with tactical combat, set in the world of Shadowrun, a pen and paper RPG. You don't need to know a whole lot about it going in; I certainly didn't, though I've looked into it a lot more since.
The basics are that its the year 2054 and magic returned to the world. Along with magic are the standard fantasy races and such; there are elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls. These "metahumans", as they are called, live alongside regular humans in a cyberpunk dystopia. Several megacorporations have gained extraterritoriality, and in many places the corporation has replaced the state as the enactors of law and society.
You are a shadowrunner. In essence, a kind of mercenary who conducts various operations either for or against the corporations, as well as some other things.
Its an isometric RPG. You have your main character, and you will generally have 1-3 other shadowrunners working with you. Some are plot NPCs that will work with you for free, while others are professionals that require payment up front before going with you on a mission. There are a wide variety of shadowrunners for hire, of different classes and specialties, with some that are more better equipped or more potentially versatile commanding a higher price. It is therefore relatively easy to get teammates that complement your particular player character. While you can give them consumable items, you can't change any of their equipment; they're professionals, and their gear is theirs.
Character creation is not terribly detailed. You choose your gender and race, which determines what sort of portraits you'll have available. There are about twenty or so portraits per race/gender combination, though they usually come in "groups" of two or three. The ones in these groups are very similar and generally have a few different features, like tattoos, a different hairstyle, or some augmentation. This also sets the default appearance of your character model, though you are free to change your skin color, hair style, and hair color if you so choose. After that, you can choose your class, which determines where most of your starting points go; you will also recieve a few extra to invest as you wish. The options are Street Samurai, Mage, Decker, Shaman, Rigger, and Adept. However, any class can learn any ability, so the starting classes are really just pre-built characters; you can also choose to make a custom class, which starts everything at zero and gives you the points that all the other classes had pre-invested.
Most of the game revolves around a central hub (a bar), from which you get sent to various places to do your shadowrunning. Its not open-world, but there are plenty of NPCs that just sit there and make the world feel bigger than it really is. Background characters with their own motives and problems that exist solely to give the setting more depth.
Combat is tactical, on an isometric grid like the rest of the game. Its somewhat like XCOM's combat: you have two "action points", which you can spend to move around, use items, or attack. There's a much wider variety of weapons available though. There are several tiers of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, SMGs, and melee weapons, as well as consumables like grenades. In addition, there are also spells, both offensive and defensive. There's a cover system much like XCOM's, though at times what qualifies as cover is a bit odd. There isn't a ton of combat in the early game, but it gets more common as you go.
There is a downside though. Not all skills and weapons are equally useful. "Decking", the ability to jack into and fight in the cyberspace realm called the Matrix, is not terribly useful. There are a handful of points where it unlocks a little bit of extra dialogue, but there aren't very many opportunities to jack in. There is a point in the story where you do need to, but if you lack the ability to, another character will go in and you'll control him. There's another point later on as well, but a decker is provided for you at a very low price. Most of the time they'll end up being fairly useless in your party. Melee weapons are also in general fairly terrible. Don't bring a knife to a gun and/or magic fight.
I'd also suggest turning the difficulty up. Particularly late game, you'll have gained so many points that you'll destroy enemies.
The environments are really nice and the character portraits are quite well-drawn. In addition, the music is actually pretty solid. Dunno what else I can note here.
Shadowrun Returns is a bit different from the standard game in the story aspect. In effect, when you buy Shadowrun Returns, you are buying a platform for a campaign. There is a campaign included, Dead Man's Switch, but the game supports the modding and design of your own campaigns, which can be distributed on the Steam Workshop. The Dragonfall DLC is an entirely separate campaign.
Dead Man's Switch is about a dozen hours long and is fairly solid. It is quite well written, with interesting characters and many flavorful dialogue options. It is, however, extremely linear. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but something to note if that's important to you. Though there's generally several different dialogue options in any interaction, they will all ultimately have the same effect. You're on a railroad, just one that gives you some opportunity to flesh out your character's personality through dialogue. There also aren't a whole lot of real sidequests; besides a few "pick up item X during story mission Y for money Z", there's also one real, optional sidequest later on.
The plot itself is relatively straightforward: an old friend of yours has died. Before that happened, he set up a contingency that would send you a message in the event of his death (a dead man's switch). In this message, he offers you a large sum of money in exchange for dealing with his killer, whether via lethal methods or through getting them thrown in jail. As you are currently very much down on your luck, you go on a mission to find those responsible and bring them to justice (whether street or legal). Its nothing really special, and rather predictable.
However, I stress that the dialogue is actually really well written, with relatively interesting characters, and its certainly an enjoyable experience. The world is full of minor NPCs that don't really do anything but make the world feel bigger than it is. Its not something that you really need to know much about the source material for, but I can't help but feel there were several references, particularly near the end, that I missed because of my lack of knowledge about the setting.
There's a DLC campaign, Dragonfall, which is supposed to be even better than Dead Man's Switch. I will likely be purchasing it when it drops in price during a sale. In addition, there's also several major campaigns available on the Workshop, some of which are also really well written and very highly recieved. I'm currently trying out some and am enjoying them.
In short, Shadowrun Returns is solidly written, has a nice artstyle, good but flawed combat mechanics, and hours and hours of additional content available freely. It may not be very long, but its not very expensive (particularly on sale), and all the workshop campaigns more than make up for it. Being a fan of the setting will likely make you enjoy it even more, but it is by no means a requirement.