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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shadowrun Returns, Review: Short, Sweet, and Full of Possibilities

Not every game has to be 20 hours long to prove it's point and Shadowrun Returns will not take any where near that length of time to finish. It's short, there's no way around that, it took me barely 7 hours. But I'm not docking it any points. Why? Because it ended when it had to. I had fleshed out my character as far as I wanted to, the story had reached it's logical end, and as much as I love turn based combat, I was ready to put it down when I finally dealt with Sam's killer.

Shadowrun puts you into a cyber punk fantasy world filled with trolls, elves, dwarves, guns, drugs, corporate conspiracies, and nerps. I don't know what the hell nerps are, but the omnipresent billboards about them made me chuckle. Nerps! I'm an easy laugh.

The main campaign is a story called "Dead Man's Switch" in which a old shadowrunner buddy of yours is murdered after he set up an automatic video message through his lawyer, should his death be ruled unnatural. He's apparently stashed a humongous payday since you saw him last, and becuase he couldn't take it with him, he'll give it all to you if you can find out whodunnit. The murder-mystery noire angle is more than refreshing to see in a fantasy setting. A set up like this is more inclined to introduce and develop characters, rather that spend half it's time shoving it's made up dragon language in your face.That may sound like I have a chip on my shoulder about fantasy stories in games, but that's only half true. I've got a chip on my shoulder about what fantasy games get away with.

But I'm not getting into that now, SR is a great change of pace from the RPG crowd, and it's strictly linear (dun dun dun) structure actually serves to keep the game from watering itself down. Would I have loved some side quests to flesh out the world and help me grind for that last pistol skill? Of course. But thinking about it now, it wouldn't have changed my opinion on it much at all. Unless it told a better story than the campaign, but that's just silly. I also have a few problems with the way the Native American and Haitian characters are depicted but... you what? never mind.

Actually no, It's not ok. The Haitian is literally Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die, it's gross.

Moving on.

The way it plays is just as fun and breezy as the story it tells. You play as any of the typical fantasy roles, but then choose from the less typical fantasy classes like "hacker" or "street samurai." There was no way in hell I wasn't going to try the street samurai. Even though you hand pick your squads for the major missions, your choice of class has a huge bearing on how battles play out. This is no place for a jack of all trades, pick something you want to be good at and throw yourself at it. My 5 points in hacking meant f**k all compared to my pistol and rifle skill. You need to be the strongest version of what class you play, because your back up is only going to be half as powerful.

My samurai's assault rifle automatic attack was, hands down, the most effective skill I had. But the fact only I could learn it and that it could only take on one enemy at a time, and even then only once per turn, meant I couldn't possibly carry my team alone. SR's combat is a bloody ballet of teamwork and skill balance. There are many ways to build a bad squad of shadowrunners and I became intimate with them all. You do not need two hackers. Not ever. But this genius got halfway through the longest mission with two lousy gun hands that couldn't help each other out in cyber space at the same time. Disaster. (Pro tip: Deathsigh the troll and his shotgun is never a slot wasted...oh and don't try melee your first time, this is a gun fight.)

So while some folks may justifiably believe that Kickstarter is a dead end boondoggle, this is proof it can work efficiently and effectively. The game out of the box is worth $20 bucks on the nose, not much more bang for your buck, but you will at least play it twice with a different character on a harder difficulty. The game this will become a year from now is an entirely different story. The tools and assets for everything are included and I'm assured by my more tech savvy buds that it's very easy to use. New crowd sourced content is already rolling in and I say it's only a short matter of time before we start panning some real gold.

But know that Shadowrun Returns is already a gem.

This is seriously a thing that happens in some dude's penthouse.

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