Game Review - 'Shadowrun: Dragonfall'

4 stars for 'Shadowrun: Dragonfall'

Dragons have held a fascinating position in the Shadowrun universe. Not necessarily because they are any different to the dragons that you can find elsewhere, though - but, because of how well they have managed to adapt to this strange futuristic world. In Shadowrun, we have a dragon that once ran a successful presidential campaign, only to be assassinated shortly after his election. We also have a dragon acting as CEO of a major international corporation. We even have a dragon who regularly lectures at a prestigious university.

It's not just that, though. Powerful, intelligent, and with a clear love of intrigue, they are also among the most dangerous adversaries that a particularly cruel game master could ever throw at their group in a pen and paper game.

Finding out that they've been drawn into the machinations of one of the great dragons is enough to send even the most seasoned team of Shadowrunners running for the hills. There is a reason why 'never deal with a dragon' has been one of the longest running catch-phrases for the Shadowrun universe, after all. With all of this in mind, it seems that coming out with a new DLC campaign for last year's Kickstarter funded RPG, Shadowrun Returns, and giving it a title like Dragonfall seems deliberately intended to pique the curiosity of long-time fans.

At some undisclosed point in your past, a job went bad - as they so often seem to do. Needing to lay low for a while, you find yourself in Berlin - right in the middle of the so-called 'Flux State', an experiment in pure anarchy where everyone is, in the truest possible sense of the term, out for themselves. Power in the Flux State shifts and flows depending on who can hold it, and for how long - and, somehow, it all seems to work. Or, at least, it seems to - so long as the people who rise to the top actually give a damn about the people below them.

Here, you find yourself teamed up with Monika Schäfer, an old ally who has managed to carve out a place for herself in the chaotic Flux State. She has what is supposed to be a simple job - a straight-forward infiltration mission to acquire some sensitive data. Get in, get the data, get out and, most importantly, get paid - that's the plan.

Of course, this job goes bad, too. Monica is killed while trying to hack her way through some particularly potent security measures, and you are forced to take the lead - fighting your way out of what looks an awful lot like an ambush and fleeing to safety. It seems that your team was set up - thrown head-first into a situation that you couldn't possibly prepare for, for an unknown reason. And, now, you are left with no other choice but to find out why. Of course, this isn't going to be easy, either.

It's not long until you learn that this seemingly straight-forward job somehow ties into an event years before where the great dragon, Feuerschwinge, waged war on the lesser races until she was taken down by the German military - and, the persistent rumors that she may still be alive.

To me, Dead Man's Switch never really felt like it was intended to be the main draw of Shadowrun Returns. It did the job of introducing the Shadowrun universe, and it offered an entertaining story - and, it certainly wasn't terrible, by any means (though, some may disagree with me, there). But, beyond that, it really did feel like it was just intended as an example of what the design tools were capable of. It almost felt like an afterthought - like the designers had focused all of their time and energy on giving players the tools to build their own adventures, then tossed in an example of their own after they were done.

Dragonfall, on the other hand, feels like a proper campaign right from the start. Sure, it starts with the same 'follow in the footsteps of a dead friend' set-up as Dead Man's Switch. But, it is able to expand the idea into something much more interesting. It feels like the developers finally had time to sit down and work out the story that they actually wanted to tell - and, the results of their effort are pretty impressive.

Essentially, Dragonfall offers everything that a good role-playing game should have - and, many features which Dead Man's Switch seemed to lack. You have an interesting hub environment to explore between missions, in the form of the Kreuzbazar district of Berlin - a small section of the city that has thrived under Monika's guidance and protection, but which is now at risk of falling apart following her death. You also have a cast of the sort of wonderfully strange characters that you can only really get with Shadowrun.

You have a woman so weighed down by her various cybernetic enhancements that she may have lost her soul in the process. Also, you have the former lead singer of a punk-rock band turned mercenary street shaman. And, the towering figure of an ex-military troll who isn't overly impressed to suddenly find herself expected to follow your lead. Even Monika, despite being abruptly killed off in the game's opening mission, is a constant presence through the campaign - so much of your interaction with the people of the Kreuzbazar will involve learning just how important she was, and trying to deal with the repercussions of her death.

The simple fact of actually being able to have proper conversations with these people throughout the course of the game does wonders for making them feel like real people, and giving Dragonfall that sense of heart and personality that Dead Man's Switch seemed to lack.

Game-play is, basically, exactly the same. There haven't been any major overhauls, here - and, there are unlikely to be any in the future. There are new enemies, sure - and, new weapons and environments to spice things up a bit. But, it is exactly the same sort of functional, if occasionally underwhelming, game that you may remember. The turn-based combat looks and feels just the same - and, the selection of skills and abilities at your disposal remains unchanged. One thing that the developers have tried to work on, though, is giving the player opportunities to make use of the skills you choose for your character. The addition of a wider selection of dialogue options, for example, which make use of the various stats and skills in the game may seem like pretty obvious inclusion - but, it was something that I certainly appreciated. Especially when these additions lead to additional information, or alternative paths through a mission, that you may not be able to access otherwise. Still, though, if the game-play, itself, was your major issue with Shadowrun Returns, then Dragonfall isn't going to change your mind.

If this had been the campaign included with the original release of Shadowrun Returns, then the game would have been much better received than it was - I'm almost positive of that. At this point, though, it seems likely that only the people who were willing to invest in the original release will get to experience this much improved campaign. This new campaign will cost you around $15 - which really isn't asking much. Your average DLC pack for a game tends to be around $10 for a few hours of game-play, after all - and, this is a full-length campaign we're talking about here. As well as all of the new assets that will be made available to the community. However, anyone who skipped the original release but who might be interested in having a look at Dragonfall will still have to buy Shadowrun Returns, as well - and, that might be a bit too much to ask. Which is a bit of a shame - because Dragonfall is definitely worth the time of RPG fans.

© 2014 Dallas Matier

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