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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (359)

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Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5
Heroes of the Monkey Ta... 4/5
Lands of Lore III 2.5/5
Lands of Lore II: Guard... 1/5
Lands of Lore: Throne o... 2/5
Rage 2 4/5
EnHanced 3.5/5
Blossom Tales: The Slee... 3.5/5
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 2.5/5
Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Shadowrun: Dragonfall 4/5
Shadowrun Returns 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3.5/5
Never Alone 3/5
Octopath Traveler 3/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5

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Shadowrun: Dragonfall   PC (Steam) 

A Much Stronger Second Attempt    4/5 stars

A year after the cult classic cyberpunk tabletop RPG, “Shadowrun,” made its inglorious return in the form of “Shadowrun Returns,” Indie development house, Harebrained Schemes, brought a second “Shadowrun” scenario to the table. This scenario, “Dragonfall,” originally took the form of DLC for “Shadowrun Returns,” but soon received an updated, stand-alone release on an improved version of the “Shadowrun Returns” engine. With an almost completely different crew of Harebrained Schemes staff working on the project – notably, only two designers returned as designers for “Dragonfall,” while original “Shadowrun” creator, Jordan Weisman, was replaced by Mike McCain, an artist for “Shadowrun Returns,” as project director – I wondered if the results would be better or worse than the game’s predecessor. Fortunately, the former turned out to be the case.

Presentation
“Dragonfall” suffers from much of the presentational laziness that plagued “Shadowrun Returns.” It’s still based on the same basic Unity Engine template as “Shadowrun Returns,” with a rather inconsistent feel between the hand-drawn 2D backgrounds that just scream ‘80s cyberpunk, and the cheap 3D asset store objects used for characters and enemies. It still has a fixed camera, with only some moderate zoom capabilities at the player’s disposal.

The audio is also highly reminiscent of “Shadowrun Returns,” despite the fact that the soundtrack for “Dragonfall” was composed by one person, while the soundtrack for “Shadowrun Returns” was handled by a team of four (none of whom are the person who did “Dragonfall”). As before, the soundtrack isn’t particularly pleasant due to the fact that “Shadowrun” is, by its nature, steeped in 1980s cyberpunk trappings. Even more annoyingly, the soundtrack in “Dragonfall” seems to be highly populated by ambient sirens, which is really all I remember about it. Like its predecessor, “Dragonfall” is fully un-voiced, leaving the player to read all lines of dialog.

Technically, “Dragonfall” somehow manages to be worse than “Shadowrun Returns.” It still doesn’t support Xinput, but now has a handful of keyboard shortcuts enabled, which are all largely useless. The enlarged UI option for playing on a TV is still present, but doesn’t seem to work quite right, as there is still a lot of tiny text in the game. And to top it all off, “Dragonfall” actually crashed on me several times, where “Shadowrun Returns” never did. So much for being built on an ‘improved’ version of the game engine…

Story
Our story this time takes place in Berlin, Germany. “Dragonfall” does a much better job than “Shadowrun Returns” of introducing new players without much “Shadowrun” experience to the sociopolitical situation in Germany: It’s literally anarchy. While huge, wealthy corporations have usurped political power in most of the world, Germany has retained its independence as the Flux State (or F-State), where there is no centralized authority, and the people ‘govern’ themselves in neighborhoods called keisen. Our custom hero/heroine is a new arrival in Germany, working for an old friend named Monika who runs a crew of shadowrunners (i.e., corporate espionage freelancers) out of a keis called the Kreuzbasar.

On the player’s first job with Monkca’s crew, which is supposed to be a trivially easy data retrieval from a remote mansion, things go horribly wrong, Monica dies, and the entire crew barely escapes with their lives, as they stumble upon an unexpected bunker beneath the mansion.

Back at the base in the Kreuzbasar, our hero gets promoted to team leader, against the wishes of at least one member of the crew, while everyone scrambles to make sense of Monika’s final words. It turns out that the late team leader was trying to warn the rest of the crew that a dragon named Firewing was behind this whole debacle.

“Dragonfall” does a very good job of setting its main conflict within “Shadowrun” canonical lore, then explaining it for the uninitiated. It turns out that Firewing, along with a slew of other dragons, awoke when magic returned to the world in 2012. Firewing immediately went on a rampage, burning huge portions of Germany to ash before a scientist, Adrian Vauclair, working with the German military, managed to shoot her down by arming the Luftwaffe with an experimental weapon. This event is the titular Dragonfall, as Firewing’s body crashed into an irradiated site of a nuclear power plant meltdown, known as the SOX.

But with the dragon killing our hero’s friend and former team leader, and sending a paramilitary outfit against the survivors, it seems that Firewing may not be quite as dead as the newspapers reported.

Thus, the bulk of the narrative in “Dragonfall” revolves around learning about Firewing’s state, resources, and goals. Conveniently, an information broker named Alice is willing to take on this task for the team… all for the low, low price of 50,000 nuyen. Thus, Monika’s old team sets out under new leadership in order to raise these funds and plan their next move.

Due to the game’s structure as a fundraising activity, it is much less linear than “Shadowrun Returns.” Likewise, the fact that the player has a home base to act as a hub, and can freely wander around talking with NPCs and merchants, really gives “Dragonfall” the feel of a classic CRPG, rather than a simplified, streamlined TRPG or other variety of tactics game.

Even better, the fact that the player actually has an established team of allies and party members mitigates my biggest problem with “Shadowrun Returns.” These crew members include Eiger, a grumpy, ex-military female Troll who loves to question our hero’s leadership abilities; Dietrich, a self-destructive human shaman who worships a totem called the Dragonslayer; Glory, a beautiful ice-queen with a haunted past and more cybernetic implants than she can handle; and Blitz, a ‘nova-hot’ Decker (read: Hacker) with a stupid, red mohawk and a shifty streak a mile long. The player is free to take up to three of these team members on each mission, while speaking with them between missions can lead to quite a bit of interesting background information about them, as well as *gasp* character-specific side-quests!

Many of the missions in “Dragonfall” can be done in any order the player wishes, and there are a fairly large number of branching paths that can lead to different story outcomes, making “Dragonfall” feel much less linear and railroady than “Shadowrun Returns,” even if, as in so many other ‘choice’ driven games, the choices are ultimately an illusion. “Dragonfall” is also significantly longer than “Shadowrun Returns,” clocking in at roughly 35 hours – nearly 3 times as long as its predecessor.

“Dragonfall,” like “Shadowrun Returns,” features Steam Workshop support. However, as I said in my “Shadowrun Returns” review, I really don’t have much interest in user-generated content, as it is usually poorly written and poorly balanced, so I didn’t dabble with it at all.

Gameplay
Based on the tabletop “Shadowrun” ruleset, “Dragonfall” closely resembles “Shadowrun Returns” in most ways: Each of the system’s 6 ability scores (Body, Strength, Quickness, Intelligence, Willpower, and Charisma) governs a significant chunk of different skills, and following a single branch of skill and stat development costs increasingly large amounts of Kharma. Combat operates on an Action Point based system. Moving a certain distance, attacking, using a consumable item, or casting a spell each costs a specific amount of AP (typically 1, but upwards of 3 for high-level spells). Spells also operate on a cooldown, where the player must wait a turn or three before casting the same spell again, or be forced to pay for the spell with hit points. Success in combat operates on a percentage-based probability system, while success in non-combat activities simply involves having a stat (or a party member with a stat) that meets or exceeds a certain threshold.

Even though it operates with a ‘classless’ system, “Shadowrun” does feature a number of character class archetypes. You’ve got the Shaman, who focuses on magical buffs, debuffs, and summoning (which can now be done, situationally, without a consumable!); you’ve got the Mage, who focuses on traditional attack magic and a little bit of healing; you’ve got the Decker, who focuses on hacking into computers and doing ‘magical’ combat with/against software in the matrix; you’ve got the Rigger, who focuses on bringing remote-controlled mechanical drones into combat; you’ve got the Weapons Expert, who focuses on killing things with guns; and you’ve got the Street Samurai, who focuses on killing things with melee – to name a few.

“Dragonfall” polishes some of the rough edges that marred “Shadowrun Returns,” making for a very fine CRPG experience. Each of the player character’s teammates can be hired for free, instead of costing a prohibitive amount of nuyen for a single mission, while it is still possible to outsource and hire-on contractors on a mission-by-mission basis, whose fees are significantly more reasonable than those in “Shadowrun Returns.” It is also possible to ‘loan’ items in the player’s stash to party members on a mission-by-mission basis, thus making it possible to have an effect on allies’ loadouts. Each of the main supporting characters levels-up over the course of the game, and while they still automatically spend their Kharma to build themselves into the archetype they’re meant to be, the player does have the ability to choose between two perks for them at each level, providing a modest level of customization.

Overall
I’m very impressed with how much the developers at Harebrained Schemes were able to improve between their first modern “Shadowrun” game and their second. “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” is a meaty, high-quality CRPG that genre fans (and cyberpunk fans) can really sink their teeth into. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the Unity Engine, “Dragonfall” still feels a bit like an unpolished budget title.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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