Can Harebrained Schemes follow up on their Shadowrun Returns success?
With the release of Harebrained Schemes’ third game in their hugely successful Shadowrun series just around the corner - Shadowrun: Hong Kong is released world wide tomorrow, August 20 - I thought it was about time to finally get my quick review of the second game in the series, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, finished and published.
I reviewed the first game, Shadowrun Returns, two years ago, and gave the game a solid 4 out of 5 rating. Building on the success of Shadowrun Returns, Harebrained Schemes released an expansion for the game entitled Shadowrun: Dragonfall in 2014. The expansion was then released again as a stand-alone game in early 2015 as “Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director’s cut”, and that’s the version I’ll be reviewing. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s even possible to buy Dragonfall as an expansion for Shadowrun Returns anymore, and I have no idea if there are any difference between Dragonfall as an expansion and as a stand-alone game. So, for convenience, I’ll just refer to the game as Dragonfall from now on. Let’s get started!
Dragonfall takes you to one of the epic locations of the Shadowrun universe: Berlin. Torn apart by the Night of Rage, then ravaged by anarchists, West Berlin is now largely controller by corporations while the smaller East Berlin is occupied by the anarchists. You join a team led by Monika Schäfer, who takes you on a simple break-in job. But nothing is ever really simple in the shadows, right? The break-in job goes sour - of course - and you soon find yourself trying to hunt down a beast everyone thought had been dead for decades.
In terms of gameplay, not much seems to have changed since Shadowrun Returns, but the UI has had an overhaul for the better. The graphics style is the same, but my impression is that there are a lot more graphical assets available in Dragonfall, making the various locations you visit seem less generic, instead giving them a more distinct look, and more personality. The graphics are not great by today’s standard, though. The tactical, turn-based combat is also more or less unchanged in Dragonfall, and if you played Shadowrun Returns, you’ll feel at home immediately. The reason why very little has changed in Dragonfall is simply that there wasn’t a lot that needed changing from Shadowrun Returns. In Dragonfall, Harebrained Schemes have simply taken the framework that was used to create Shadowrun Returns, enhanced it a little and made an even better game than Shadowrun Returns was.
The first game was not without its flaws, however, and one of my main gripes with Shadowrun Returns was that it was impossible to save the game whenever you wanted to. This unfortunate design decision has, thankfully, been changed in Dragonfall, and it’s now possible to save (almost) at any time. There is an “almost” in there, because it’s not possible to save if you’re in the middle of a conversation with another character. But conversations usually don’t last more than a couple of minutes, so it’s not a real issue. The Steam version also supports Steam Cloud saves, which is great if you move between computers.
There are, of course, a few things that annoy me about Dragonfall as well. I can’t, for instance, find a way to transfer items between characters when I’m on a mission. The character I created, a Dwarf Mage, can’t throw grenades for shit. This means that every grenade he picks up in the field is pretty much useless, and would be of much more help in the hands of the team’s Orc. Unfortunately, all the Orc can do is to watch the Dwarf fumble and drop the live grenade on his feet. Buying items from merchants can also be a major pain since it’s not possible to see what kind of skills your other team members have when you browse available items. You might find a powerful assault rifle that you can afford, but you have no idea if anyone on your team can actually use it.
But despite its minor shortcomings, Shadowrun: Dragonfall is a great game. It’s a perfectly balanced mix of RPG and tactical, turn-based combat, supported by a very intriguing story and well-written dialog. Although most of you will probably settle with one play through, the game still delivers a lot of bang for the bucks. I’m currently on my first play through with 30 hours of gameplay, and I suspect I have at least two or three missions left in the main story line. I should probably point out that I’ve talked to every character I’ve come across, exhausted every conversation option I’ve found, and accepted every side quest I’ve been offered. So if you just rush through the main story line without paying attention to what people are saying, you’ll be able to finish it in a considerably shorter time.
But if that is what you want to do, Dragonfall is not your kind of game. To enjoy this game, you have to immerse yourself in the story. If you do that, Dragonfall will keep you entertained for a surprisingly long time.