Right, this is posted for a friend. We used to game together when we were younger, and one of those games was Shadowrun. Those who don’t know it, it’s a cyberpunk future RPG mixed with a healthy dosage of fantasy.
If William Gibson and J.R.R. Tolkien were drinking buddies, Shadowrun would be their drunken ‘oops’ child.
Anyways, Harebrained schemes recently released Shadowrun Returns: A turn based game set in familiar 2050, and the Shadowrun universe. I bought it the moment I could, while Dave-0 waited on my opinion. This is that opinion.
Shadowrun returns is a turn based, tactical combat RPG. It uses the isometric view familiar to nineties turn based RPGs. Play-wise it reminded me of the first two Fallout games. I guess Fallout Tactics too, but you know what I mean.
The game is deeply steeped in Shadowrun Lore; pandering heavily to old RPGers who remember the pen and paper. It name drops quite often, and the streets are full of nods to the original stories. That said, you don’t need to have even the faintest knowledge of Shadowrun to play.
In combat, your team has several options; most being shoot or move. You begin with two action points, but can get more as you advance. Moving a basic distance takes an action point. firing a weapon, or stabbing a guy takes an action point. Some spells take two, but most of them take an action point too.
Yes, there are spells, and there are mages. Tolkien/Gibson.
Furthermore, combat doesn’t always take place in just one spot. If you have one, a decker (type of computer hacker) can be running the matrix while your team is shooting it out. They have their own actions in the matrix, and get two turns for every one of combat that goes on in the meat world.
This concept of running two ‘worlds’ at once was one of the major sales pitches, btw. It’s a big deal for Shadowrun, because your decker’s action could influence the fights in the real world.
SO, WHAT DID I LIKE?
First off, I’m a sucker for Shadowrun. You could maybe sell me a spreadsheet if you just called it Shadowrun: Excel. I’m trying not to be biased, but damn do I love me some Shadowrun.
And to be honest, Harebrained did a fine job of this; story wise.
First off, as I mentioned, they name drop a lot. Mecurial shows up. The Universal Brotherhood are there. Dunkelzahn gets mentioned several times. The list goes on. You even hang with two big names in Shadowrun Lore. These boys did their research.
Combat is a major point of the game, and is handled well. Most combat happens in cluttered areas, and the key to survival is finding cover. A runner out in the open is a dead runner. As your character builds up, they gain skill points that can improve their stats and skills. They gain new feats with weapons of choice, and new tactical options open up.
The above mentioned skill, or Karma, system is an important addition. Shadowrun was somewhat unique in its day (pen and paper that is) in that it didn’t have a level up system. Instead, you gained karma for successes and failures, and could spend them directly into stats and skills. This carried over to Shadowrun Returns very nicely.
The character stats use the stats from the Pen and Paper too. That’s important to me.
Finally, and this was the big sale, the game is open to easy modding. Already a community is forming, and writing adventures in the game. I’m waiting for some industrious folks to transfer Queen Euphoria and Dreamchipper (some of the early SR adventures) over to the game.
WHAT DIDN’T I LIKE
This is nitpicking, but despite my love for the game, there were a few spots it came up short.
First off, and the most annoying, was the slot system for cyberware. There is a stat in game called essence that measured how much ‘human’ you had left. It was specifically created to keep characters from slamming two million random cybernetics into their meat. It is still in Shadowrun Returns, but they also put in a slot system. You can have one cyber in your head, in your eye, one for each arm, one for your torso, and one for each leg.
It was the torso that annoyed me the most. See, if I have a Street Samurai; I want to jam him/her with dermal plating, wired reflexes, and probably some muscle replacement. Now? I can only have one. Boo.
Also Harebrained, where are my cyber-spurs? C’mon buddy.
The lack of access to other teammate’s skills outside of combat was a nuisance. I came to a situation where I needed a door opened, and to do so I needed a computer skill of 1. That’s right, I needed to be aware that computers existed, which my character wasn’t since he only understood shooting things. I had a nova-hot decker in the team, but no option to have her open the door. Wasn’t a thing she does I guess.
For as much as I liked the ability to move from meat to matrix, I found the matrix to be lacking. Design wise, it was meh. Worse, there wasn’t that many options to access it, or make it worth the time. One mission, I could take control of some turrets in a hall. Another I could see from security cameras. Those are really the only times I can think of that I found use of the matrix. Both times were directly involved with the mission (as opposed to being optional actions) The usefulness of the matrix could fluctuate with homemade missions, I suppose…
Also, where is the astral? Maybe that will show up later.
Finally; and not a problem to me, but to maybe those not used to nineties games, there is a lot of reading segue (or segway, depending on your preferred mode of transportation). You don’t often walk from spot to spot. Instead, you have a page of text telling you why you’re off to the next stop while you ride in the taxi. This was common to this style of game, btw, but for those used to ACTION!, this might be detrimental.
Actually, now that I think on it, if you’re so used to ACTION!, then why are you playing a turn based strategy? Really, this might just not be for you. Strike that last complaint.
Dave-0. The game’s, like, twenty bucks. Is it worth that? Totally.
Even most of my complaints above had more to do with the adventure that came with. It’s meant to be an open source, so judging on the story packaged with it is like judging a minis game on its starter pack. Instead, recognize that the base rules are sound.
Still don’t like the cybernetic slot system though. But that’s my opinion.