With all the positive impressions I’ve had about Shadowrun Returns and Shadowrun: Dragonfall, it was certain I’d play the newest installment of the acclaimed cRPG series. As the Kickstarter campaign hit stretch goal after stretch goal, I expected the game to be even better and more exciting than the previous parts, yet I hope the developers would manage to keep what was the best in the previous games: Shadowrun’s mood, interesting characters and engaging story. Did they succeed?
I launched the game with a bit of worry, but as soon as the main music theme greeted me, I relaxed. The game had exactly the same feel as the previous installments of the series. I didn’t have to waste much time to get re-acquainted as the core mechanics remained the same. The character creation still bases on the RPG system, so anyone coming back to the series will find no surprises, but the battle mode has gained one improvement: before engaging with the enemies we can sneak up on them, taking up a strategic position and ensuring that they’ll focus on our toughest character.
There are also changes in the cybernet system, and although I quite liked most of them, there’s an arcade aspect to the cybernet now, which doesn’t work too well in a game that doesn’t require any dexterity-related skills anywhere else. As a result, even though the in-game hacking mechanics provided a fun challenge, testing my memory and perception, manually avoiding enemy apps made me swear each time I had to do it and I regretted I couldn’t just plug in a game pad from my PS3 to be able to control my character better.
But I’m ranting about the game mechanics, and that’s the least important part of the game, isn’t it? Surely, if mechanics is bad, it can cause a lot of frustration, but it’s a pain worth going through if the story is great, while good mechanics will not save an RPG that can’t engage the player. So how did Shadowrun: Hong Kong fare? In one word: splendidly.
The story starts when the main character comes back to Hong Kong after years of absence, answering a call of a father-like figure. Things get complicated almost in an instant, and the trouble that follows results in the character being pushed deep into the shadowy side of Hong Kong. During the course of the game we will not only try to solve the plot of the foster father’s death, but also help a triad leader to gain power and investigate the strange occurrences in the Walled City – Hong Kong’s poorest slum. And the seemingly unrelated things start to weave into a thick plot toward the end of the story.
It also pays off to read all the “additional” information that seemingly is nothing but a flavor text, because it might save one’s head when it comes to the final battle… I won’t mention anything that would spoil the fun, but if you think that final battle in Dragonfall was as epic as it gets, you’ll get to reconsider. Let me just tell you I was happy to have read all the flavor texts to make it a bit easier, because I’m not sure if I succeeded otherwise.
But the story is not all that makes Shadowrun games so entertaining. It’s also the setting. In previous games the developer did a good job of showing how Berlin differs from Seattle, giving both locations a unique feel. I expected nothing less of Hong Kong and got more than I bargained for. Hong Kong is not only depicted within the game’s graphic: colorful and luscious, with that distinct oriental flavor to them. It’s also in how the NPCs talk and perceive life in general and in… missions our team of Shadowrunners will embark on. In Seattle or Berlin it would be ridiculous to hire mercenaries to disrupt the Feng Shui of the competing company by wrecking their zen garden or misplacing the items in their offices, but it’s a legitimate and reasonable thing to do in Hong Kong. We also get to experience first hand how the Hong Kong triads work by running errands for one of the minor bosses.
Characters of the story are also worth a mention. After Dragonfall I’ve wondered whether the developers would be able to bring something fresh, since the available archetypes didn’t change. But the game creators did a brilliant jobs with providing those archetypes with new personalities and personal stories, creating a very unique group of Shadowrunners, and interacting with my companions in the home base was really engaging, and helping them to solve their own problems provided interesting and unique scenarios. Kidnapping a decker during a nerd convention? Cleaning a rat infestation? Surely sounds original, but that’s not all. All these scenarios contain an interesting twist or a hidden layer of problems.
If you’re also meticulous enough, you get to catch mentions of the events in both Seattle and Berlin, a mention one of the companions’ from Dragonfall, and a few more I’ve forgotten. But the cherry on the pie is Hong Kong’s Shadowlands (online forums for Shadowrunners you get to visit between the missions): if you devote time to reading through the Shadowrunners forums you’ll not only get to read all the theories about your own character and events you’re involved, but also enjoy some recurring poetry slam thread (repeatedly deleted by the mods) haunted by a haiku bot, and a series of posts titled “Looking for a decker” that span throughout the game and are one of the most hilarious things to read in the game.
So all in all I received a well-rounded game which provided me with hours of solid entertainment and got exactly what I’ve dream of: a game with all the things I loved in the previous parts and with some improvements and innovations that made it even more engaging. The only slip is the arcade part of the hacking, but I can live with that. So, the only question is: when can I play the next part? Because there has to be the next part!
- Story: Very High
- Immersion: Very High
- Inspiration: Very High
- Relaxation factor: High
- Procrastination risk: High
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.