Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut – Review

Gare – Saturday, October 11, 2014 7:02 PM
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“The things that crawl in the dark spaces between the metaplanes are worse than "bad." They're monstrosities. Horrors. Your kind fears what it can see. Corporations. Dragons. Violence, and poverty, and the random cruelty of fate. If you could perceive reality the way that I do, you would know that there are much greater things to fear. If the world were an ocean, the hazards that you know might be sharks. Dangerous creatures, to be sure, and worthy of respect.”

“But below them, in the silent deep, Leviathan circles.”

Welcome to the Sixth World

There is no such thing as a ‘milk run’ – especially not for those that run the shadows. That brief observation might as well be the grand motto that defines Harebrained Schemes’ latest attempt at bringing the Shadowrun universe to life. Indeed, the world of Dragonfall is one filled to the brim with danger beyond imagination, where nothing is what it seems at first glance, and everyone has a hidden agenda. It is a world where metahumans commanding supernatural powers – armed with both cyberware and the arcane – roam the streets and corporate giants backed by dragon-masters play their shadowy games of power; a world where magic and technology mingle, where beasts and demons known only from fairy tales thrive alongside shotgun-wielding trolls and elven deckers wander the digital wastes of the Matrix. And in this world, you are a professional – a criminal hired to handle situations where conventional methods fail to bring results; you stand outside the reach of the law, doing the dirty work of corporations and ambitious individuals alike. You are a shadowrunner.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall starts off its campaign with yet another seemingly average job as you and your fellow runners break into a manor located far beyond the bustle of the big cities. However, much to your dismay, one thing leads to another and suddenly, you find yourself face to face with a conspiracy you never even knew existed. People die in horrible, gruesome ways for digging too deep, and soon, you come to realize the harsh truth of the matter: you may be next on the list. Right off the bat with its introductory mission, Dragonfall is already surpassing its predecessor (that will be our main theme for this review, folks) in terms of atmosphere and, in general, grabbing my attention and never letting go.

A jack of all trades is a master of none

Those that played 2013’s Dead Man’s Switch (this was the original campaign that launched with Shadowrun Returns) will be treading on familiar ground in a variety of ways, including combat: the Director’s Cut still utilizes the same turn-based system introduced in Returns and vanilla Dragonfall with a number of tweaks and improvements both in terms of mechanics and UI. As far as difficulty is concerned, Dragonfall offers a decent-sized array of difficulty options. On Normal, most fights are very much doable with some clever positioning, utilization of class powers and the cover system, but even if you end up in a bind, the game allows you to change difficulty from the main menu without having to restart the entire campaign. By the way, you can also say goodbye to the old campaign’s checkpoint system: unlike Shadowrun Returns, Dragonfall allows you to save your game anywhere, even in combat.

The level up system remained intact, so don’t worry, you’ll still be allocating Karma points to gain new skills and whatnot. One thing I do have to note, however, is how much the game rewards specialization: indeed, a loading screen tip even tells you to spend your Karma points wisely, and this should be taken quite seriously indeed, as a jack of all trades is a master of none, as we all know – so if you want to be able to use that fancy assault rifle or high-level spell by the end of the game, you should probably plan ahead just a little bit. Don’t worry about missing out on content by specializing too much in one area, though: if, for instance, you bring a decker along for the ride, you can tell him or her to do the necessary hacking where you would otherwise fail; similarly, if your own character isn’t powerful enough to break down a wall, you can always call another, bulkier party member for help to do the job for you – in the end, other than being a real life-saver when your protagonist is out of options, this aspect of the game was also a refreshing way of reminding players that each member of the group contributes something to the mission in his or her own way. So far so good, but I’m sure you’re wondering: what is it that truly elevates Dragonfall above its predecessor?

With friends like these…

First off, we have the characters. In Shadowrun Returns, you would hire a team of relatively generic shadowrunners to aid you on missions, with most of them having no real baring on the plot; nor did they contribute anything significant to missions other than sheer combat prowess. Not anymore, says Dragonfall: while you can still technically hire run-of-the-mill shadowrunners to accompany you on runs, the campaign also offers a set of fleshed-out team members that – from the very beginning – all become an integral part of game’s storyline. Whether it’s the punk-rocker-turned-shaman Dietrich, the no-nonsense military specialist Eiger or the distant and mysterious Glory – a beautiful young woman who raises many an eyebrow with her massive, mechanical claw-arms –, Dragonfall’s main characters are all vastly different, colorful personalities who will always have something to contribute, should you decide to take them along on a mission. Between missions, you’ll be able to take a breather and chat it up with them in order to learn a bit more about their backstories and personal circumstances, which – other than showcasing the truly excellent writing – also makes them more than just a group of meat shields for the protagonist. They become people you care about, characters with charm and personality – teammates you’ll happily bring with you on the next run, and not just for the size of the gun they’re carrying. What’s more, the Director’s Cut version of Dragonfall takes things a step further by adding several personalized missions that aim to shed more light on each main character’s backstory, further deepening your understanding of the character while also giving you a series of new missions to enjoy. In essence, you can think of them as the loyalty missions of the Mass Effect series – a very welcome Director’s Cut addition that improves upon an already fleshed-out cast.

Then there are the actual missions. While the original Shadowrun Returns skillfully channeled the gritty atmosphere of a futuristic universe touched by magic, Dragonfall takes it to a whole new level with a campaign that hits all the right notes in terms of painting a picture of a world that is both complex and terrifying. As I noted at the very beginning, nothing in Dragonfall is what it seems at first glance, and every mission is bound to take a surprising turn – a lesson every player will learn after a few missions and a handful of tough – and often disturbing – moral dilemmas. Shadowrun: Dragonfall is the kind of game that will make players bite their lips and go “can I *really* go through with this?” on several occasions, giving them plenty of moral decisions to be internally conflicted – and even disturbed – about. It is a rare occurrence for me to actually re-load an old save file from 20 minutes earlier out of sheer guilt just to solve a mission in a different – and less inhuman – way, but Dragonfall managed to have that effect on me, and that’s definitely a feat worthy of praise. When it comes to aspects I was less than overjoyed with, one thing comes to mind as clear as the summer sky: and that’s basically every single time in the game where I needed to jack into the Matrix. As cool as it all sounds on paper, in terms of execution, the moment you enter that familiar digital landscape, the game loses all its diversity and tactical richness, devolving into dull combat sequences that most players will want to just finish and forget as soon as possible.

Be who you want to be – for real this time

Dragonfall is also a game that gives players a surprising amount of freedom in how they wish to roleplay their characters. In fact, this actually takes us to yet another point where this campaign offers more variety compared to its predecessor: dialogue options. One of my main complaints about the original Shadowrun Returns was its inability to really allow for various character builds and specializations to shine. Thankfully, there’s noticeably more room for both roleplaying and alternate solutions in the new campaign, with most character types – whether they’re nimble deckers, biotech specialists or silver-tongued academics – being given their own little moments to shine. You’ll get unique dialogue options for various etiquettes (Socialite, Gang, Shadowrunner and so on); for mastering a certain skill or attribute (Charisma, Quickness, Intelligence, Biotech, etc.), and even for belonging to a certain race or class – for instance, on several occasions, my elven shaman had the opportunity to read non-player characters’ auras and thus initiate some additional dialogue. In the end, this all adds up to a both immersive and meaningful roleplaying experience, during which – even if not all dialogue choices have game-changing consequences –, you’ll feel satisfied with whatever given character build you chose, without contemplating whether or not you should’ve went for a different one to “optimize” your experience.

A definite improvement

Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut is a solid example to be followed – it improves upon aspects I found lacking in its predecessor and showcases what happens when a developer truly learns from its past mistakes and goes on to shape its next product into something better and greater based on fan feedback. It is engaging, well-written and is generously packed with interesting content, and while the original campaign is a decent RPG title in its own right and a game I can still more or less recommend to fans of the setting, if you’re not sure which of the two installments you should try, definitely make it this one.


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