Thursday Review: Shadowrun: Dragonfall

Shadowrun: Dragonfall is an expansion for Shadowrun Returns that takes place in the Flux-State of Berlin. Being an anarchic, crazy, and generally awesome place, there’s a lot of good, in-depth, but really quintessentially “cyberpunk” characters to meet and work with, and while it does the same good job of putting you into contact with interesting characters as the original Dead Man’s Switch, it tends to do so with more depth and a lot more life to it.

Unfortunately, Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall are still very glitchy and unstable; I couldn’t even finish Dragonfall because of a persistent error in the campaign where a needed NPC was simply not spawning, and the game seemed to beat me up for taking the wrong paths in multiple-choice dialogues. However, I got about 10-15 hours from obsessively exploring the content to the breaking point, and Dragonfall is much better than the Dead Man’s Switch campaign.

For Shadowrun fans, Dragonfall does a much “better” job with the lore. It doesn’t have the “this-game-is-for-hardcore-fans-who-know-the-whole-backstory-of-Shadowrun” elements of the first (which paraded named, important, very powerful characters around like nobody’s business), and it also takes place in a much more interesting place with, at least to someone who isn’t already spoiled by foreknowledge of the Shadowrun world, much more interesting villains. There’s also a greatly reduced leveling curve, though that may have just been me missing my high-level Dead Man’s Switch character throughout, and you’ll have a lot more flexibility in how you complete your objectives.

In addition, Dragonfall added a little more variety to the weapons list in the form of grenade launchers and sniper rifles, which adds another interesting element to tactical combat; sniper rifles do really well at long range, effectively working in the opposite way that shotguns do, while grenade launchers encourage you to spread out runners even more than the area-effect spells already did. I didn’t make a cyberware/bioware-based character in either the core or the expansion, but my augmented party members seemed to have more interesting abilities.

That’s not to say that there aren’t mandatory combat missions, but I was actually to talk my way through a couple missions in the game, and certainly bypassed some potentially nasty things with my Dwarf’s maxed out charisma score. And, more importantly, every possible Etiquette is useful in Dragonfall, so you don’t miss out for choosing something that will only earn you small points down the line. In addition, the Shadowrun Returns engine was upgraded to support password and number-pad interaction, so there’s a variety of places in the game where you can do some very easy puzzles to figure out how to open things and get some loot or a little lore dump. To my knowledge, only one console in the game doesn’t have the password available from someone in game, and it’s so simple I kicked myself after looking it up.

Decking returns in suitable fashion, with the hacking minigame being used for a lot more meaningful optional objectives; it’s not usually necessary to have a decker with your team, but doing so can, say, open a basilisk cage to thwart Lone Star security forces, or download paydata that you can sell for some quick nuyen. Much of hacking is done with a simple Decking check, however, which is a relief because even though it’s nice to see the Matrix in person Dragonfall’s matrix remains as bland and uninspiring visually as the core game’s which consists of Tron-esque graphics that get old quickly.

In fact, Dragonfall just is a lot more interesting. They didn’t reverse-implement Shadowrun’s skills like stealth or vehicles into the game, which could have added a lot more depth, but you have a lot more freedom in traveling around the game world, with interesting and useful hub locations and an ability to choose the orders of missions, and there is a brief stealth section in one mission that is purely timing based, but a nice shift in tone from the traditional turn based combat.

Dragonfall’s plot is also a lot more complex. I didn’t manage to get to the end (I get the feeling I’d have to go back to an old, old, old save file to get the mission I’m on to work), but it has a lot more little details, including the ability to join an optional faction that provides alternative mission outcomes, and more success/fail criteria, some of which are very interesting. Something tells me that there’s a good deal of tracking of a variety of variables going on behind the scenes; there’s BioWare-esque party-member communication options in-between runs and various conversation dialogues seem to change the way characters react to you and give more of a background exposition on each.

Graphically, Dragonfall is much like the core Shadowrun Returns experience; it’s slightly more pretty in my opinion, but that may be in part due to the fact that it’s just a little more environmentally polished; another year of experience for the art team and a ton more assets mean that you can see a lot more stuff. The sound experience is also better. Most of the music is recycled, but there are a few new tracks that engaging, if not particularly memorable. Unfortunately, Dragonfall resets the playing song every time an area resets, which isn’t a problem for some of the music which is only played in certain areas, but I caught the first thirty seconds or so of some area’s music a few dozen times in a single sitting as I went between floors in the same building.

Ultimately, Dragonfall gets a mixed review from me. I played it with much more enjoyment than I did the original Shadowrun Returns content, and I really felt that it has a lot more promise. To my knowledge, other people haven’t been experiencing the same problems I have with the campaign (which occur in a spoiler zone, so I won’t discuss them here), but I feel hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse a game that didn’t let me finish because of a glitch. If you feel luckier than me, or expect Harebrained to patch out the issue (I was playing 1.2.5), feel free to catch it, because Dragonfall is the worthy Shadowrun game I had hoped the original Returns would be.

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