"This isn't merely DLC. This is a whole new game that should have been the first game."
When Harebrained Schemes released Shadowrun Returns, it was a missed opportunity. A fantastic Shadowrun story was wrapped in a mostly fun to play but badly balanced package with a save system that made me want to throw my computer out the window.
Now that I have played Shadowrun Dragonfall, I am forced to ask: why didn't we get THIS the first time?
Dragonfall improves on Shadowrun Returns in pretty much every conceivable way. The system featuring cover and turn-based tactical combat interspersed with lots of dialogue tress and exploration feels
largely the same. But there are so many design improvements that the game has been practically reinvented. Magic is now a legitimately viable option with some of the balance tweaking. Decking is largely optional but extremely useful when you make room for it in your party. There is a real, honest to goodness save system. A big, sprawling central hub is filled with NPCs with legitimately interesting stories and dialogue that develops them over time.
This isn't merely DLC. This is a whole new game that should have been the first game.
Minor spoilers ahead.
The concept hasn't changed. This is still orcs, trolls, elves, and dwarves in a cyberpunk future. Some of them have guns, some of them have datajacks in their heads, and some of them have bionic limbs. Corporations rule their own spots of territory with total impunity and sovereignty. While Shadowrun Returns took place in the quintessential Shadowrun setting of Seattle, Dragonfall takes us to Berlin. You play a recent arrival in the "Flux State" of Berlin, a place where rule of law isn't necessarily welcome, making it the perfect spot for your old companion, ace decker Monica Schafer and her team. The game drops you right in to your first run with your new companions, and it's supposed to be an easy one.
But this is Shadowrun. And nothing is ever a milk run. Before you know it, you're wrapped up in a plot involving the long dead dragon "Feuerschwinge" and much more than the fate of your empty credstick is at stake. If the story in Shadowrun Returns was well told but a bit generic, the writers really stretched their legs with the plot in Dragonfall. The characters on the team are all well conceived and right at home in the Shadowrun universe. From the ex-punk rocker shaman Dietrich to the old school cyberware equipped Glory, these characters could only exist in the unique Shadowrun universe. The writers took more advantage of Dragonfall's setting here by mixing noir sensibilities with truly outrageous but utterly coherent sci-fi and fantasy.
From a gameplay standpoint, exploration in Dragonfall feels more expansive than in the original Shadowrun Returns. There are things to interact with in every corner of your home base, and fleshed out NPCs populating every shop. There are legitimate side quests you can carry out on every run, with some of the objectives conflicting with others. While the game inexorably pulls you along in a single direction, it does a much better job of making you feel like your choices actually have some kind of impact on the universe.
The new music tracks are a simply terrific mix of techno, futuristic sounds, and old motifs. The different combat themes deserve special mention as they lent some real weight and excitement to the often deliberate approach I tended to take to battle.
Basically everything I said about the original Shadowrun Returns applies here, but in a vastly improved form. I am sure budget came into play with Shadowrun Returns and that is why the product we got felt a bit incomplete. That being said, I can't help but wish that Dragonfall was the debut product instead. I think it would have turned a lot more heads. Hopefully it turns enough to get us another official campaign from Harebrained Schemes. I recommend Shadowrun: Dragonfall much more easily and with fewer reservations than Shadowrun Returns and look forward to seeing what the player base does with the improved tools.