Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Sorta Review
It’s not even a year since Shadowrun Returns launched with the Dead Man’s Switch campaign, and last month the new campaign/expansion Dragonfall came upon us. (Side note: between that, Towerfall and Titanfall, it seems there’s been a lot of falling on PC lately).
Now, I liked Shadowrun Returns in spite of its flaws when it first came out. I appreciated what they were going for, and viewed it as a flawed gem. Certain people, like my dear friend Jarenth, did not like it very much. And now I’ve returned to it to look at Dragonfall and what sort of stuff they’ve improved via patches since last July.
Let me be frank right out the gate. Even if we disregard all the improvements made to the base game engine, Dragonfall is heads and shoulders above Dead Man’s Switch. They have clearly learned a lot, and crafted a much better experience for their second official campaign. And the base improvements just help make it all more enjoyable.
Let us address the first and foremost base improvement. You can now save anywhere, at any time. Even in combat. You get quicksaves and hard saves. As much as you’d like. Well, okay, there’s only one quicksave slot. But there’s no limit on hard saves. And it still autosaves as well. The only restriction is that you can’t save if an action is going on, like if your character is moving from one spot to another, or someone is taking a shot or other combat action. And while I didn’t specifically test for this, I doubt you can save during conversation. Even for someone who enjoyed the original state of the game with just the infrequent autosaves, this improvement is huge.
Other things I noticed in terms of patching was mainly that it all seemed less buggy now. I am not well-versed enough in the mechanics to say if any balance changes have happened.
As for the Dragonfall campaign itself, I felt like it was much better written. Maybe that’s a side-effect of it just exploring more of how the world of Shadowrun works, and getting into some significant lore, and not so much the writers being better. But I have a feeling they have improved a bit from their first outing.
And I enjoyed my interaction with the places I visited so much more. Firstly because you get a team now. While Dead Man’s Switch wanted you to hire Runners for each mission at exorbitant prices, you now have a group of people you can always bring along for free. You are still allowed to hire outsiders to join you on your runs (at much more reasonable rates), but I never felt the need to. The team you have is pretty well-rounded. There’s a Shaman/Mage, a Weapons Expert, a Combat Medic/Street Samurai and a Decker/Rigger. And you get to know these people and watch them grow a little as you play through the campaign. I became quite fond of them. They even gradually improve their gear and stats on their own, because they earn a cut from each job you perform.
There is a slight flipside to it, though. Once you have found a team that works for you, there’s really no reason to ever switch out who you have with you. And you can only take three team-members along with your main character. Since I rarely had much intel on what I was facing, I always felt like I needed to have the Decker, and the Shaman, and a good DPS, which was the Weapons Expert. So my Combat Medic was just left back home every mission. Considering she seemed to have the least character of the group, I didn’t feel too bad about it, but I did have this feeling in the back of my mind that maybe she’d have grown more if I took her along more.
Personally I went for a Rigger again. Like in Dead Man’s Switch. My own experience and comments from other people who played other classes led to me believe it was the best choice. Only I specialised even more into it this time. I made an Elf, because of the relevant stat bonuses. I also invested fairly heavily into Charisma, and got some neat Etiquettes.
But as in Dead Man’s Switch, there are certain things that are just useless, and others that are *very* useful. Some examples: The only etiquettes that frequently come up in conversation are Security and Academic. There were a few Gang and Socialite as well, but the rest I don’t think showed up even once. There are quite a lot of Biotech checks throughout the campaign. And having high Charisma and Intelligence also helped conversations a lot. So it just enforced my feeling that my Elf Rigger who naturally went for Intelligence and had Charisma as secondary was objectively one of the best choices.
Even so, I’d say the campaign offered quite a lot of options in how to deal with your jobs. I noticed several Body and Strength checks as well, though maybe not so much Dexterity. It seems like regardless of what build you have, there will be some way to get through a mission. Some of the tasks even let you ask a party member with relevant stats to perform it instead. And there was a whole mission I was almost able to just bluff my way through, and it was the most fun I had all campaign. Took me back to the days of Planescape: Torment. I was sadly missing a relevant stat towards the end, and I didn’t have any of the abilities that could have saved me either, so it turned into the toughest firefight of the game.
Seriously though, Riggers are the best.
I also highly appreciated having a whole neighbourhood to move around in between missions this time. People to talk to, look after and help out. The Kreuzbasaar of future Berlin is a tight-knit little community, and I came to feel very protective of it. The people there had their own stories, some of which they were willing to share, and it just helped the feeling that the world was progressing. That there actually was a world.
And the moral choices… man. While I said on Twitter that Dragonfall kinda scratched the same itch that Mass Effect used to, the moral choices don’t really award you any sort of points. It will just sometimes ask you what *you* think is the right thing to do. Sometimes the answer feels easy. Sometimes it can be almost crippling, as you struggle with which right feels the *most* right. Maybe it doesn’t have much impact on the game itself, but you will always know what you did. Your team’s opinion of you might be influenced. Or it might not. Maybe you don’t have all the facts. The world of Shadowrun seems to have more secrets than people.
I have been very positive of the game so far, and that’s not undeserved, but I’d be remiss to not mention that it still has some issues. Some of them rather big.
For those unfamiliar with Shadowrun Returns, the combat works in a turn-based fashion similar to that of XCOM, with a certain amount of Action Points available for each character. It proceeds in this fashion with each side moving their dudes per turn. Once everything is clear, you return to the exploration mode where you can move freely with your team in tow, examine things and talk to people.
The big problem is that you can’t trigger the turn-based mode at will. With a few exceptions, the turn-based mode is only engaged once the enemy spots you (or a conversation goes bad). This is true even if you have hacked the cameras, and you can see the enemies clearly beyond the door. So the game will not allow you to enter turn-based mode and position your team before you open the door. You have to open it with everyone flocking behind you, and if the enemy gets initiative, your whole team is clumped together, ready to be hit with all manner of AoE. This makes certain fights a lot tougher than they should be, and can be *really* annoying.
As a sub-point to this, you can’t distribute loot while in a mission, unless you have the relevant person loot it while still in combat. And Dragonfall contains a fair bit of loot to pick up. And if you do so in exploration mode, you have to either put it in one of your main character’s six inventory slots, or send it to your Stash which can only be accessed between missions. Even though the rest of your team is standing right behind you, and you could have just handed the spare medkit (or whatever) right to them. It won’t even let you stuff inventory items into spare slots on your drones as a Rigger, which makes no sense to me.
There you have it. Even though there are still some significant issues, Shadowrun Returns is in much better state now than it was at launch, and Dragonfall is a much better campaign than Dead Man’s Switch. In fact, at this point I think I’d just recommend playing Dragonfall and ignoring DMS. Or I would, if you didn’t have to own DMS first to even be able to play Dragonfall. Which is a huge shame, because I think Dragonfall would be a better introductory campaign. While neither of them are especially expensive, it’s still a fact that you need to pay double to get Dragonfall now, if you don’t already own Shadowrun Returns. It probably would have been better for the consumers if they launched it as a stand-alone, and let people pick which campaign they’d rather have.