What do you get when you mix cyberpunk with magic? At first, a lot of nerds and geeks jizz in their pants but immediately after that, you get Shadowrun Returns.
Shadowrun Returns is based on one of the most popular pen and paper RPGs since Dungeons and Dragons: Shadowrun, thus making it a turn-based tactical RPG, and is the result of a successfully financed Kickstarter project.
It was developed by Harebrained Scheme in 2013, an indie game development company founded by none other than the creator of the original RPG, which can only make hardcore RPG players such as myself happy because we could be sure that the video game version will stay as true to the spirit of the pen and paper version as possible.
Built on the very versatile Unity engine, the game features very well illustrated backgrounds and environments, which aren’t necessarily realistic but they do a great job at creating the atmosphere of grime and quasi-dystopian depression very typical for the original game’s setting.
The campaign that ships with the game, although linear, is a bona fide murder mystery where the player has to find out who murdered their friend. The world of Shadowrun Returns is populated with interesting and very colorful characters – even though they are pretty much archetypes in line with the classic style of the story, as well as several secondary sub-plots tangential to the main storyline.
When it comes to the dialogue, the game reminded me a lot of the first two Fallout games, in the sense that the characters are written in a very realistic and in-world way, talking to them you’ll encounter the world’s jargon as well as explanations relating to it. This only adds to the game’s atmosphere – and again, similarly to the first Fallout games, the characters aren’t devoid of a sense of humor, which only makes their characterization, and that of their world, that much more complete.
Shadowrun Returns’ Universe
Shadowrun’s universe is one in which very sudden and unexpectedly, magic appears as the result of an event called The Awakening. After this event the world and the people change, meta-human races appear and the spirit realm becomes a much more palpable and very dangerous place.
As such, the player finds him or herself in a near-future in which they can replace parts of their body with various cybernetic implants, they can connect their brain straight into the Matrix – no, not THAT Matrix – can remote control drones or can discover their magic talents or maybe even shamanic affinities.
Although it’s absolutely fascinating to be able of combining magic and guns, or use drones for that matter, the pure turn-based combat system offers and advantage to those using ranged abilities and especially guns. In the event in which a character invests all of their Karma points into Quickness and one or two kinds of guns, they’re pretty much set. In the time it takes a melee enemy to get within striking range, I’ve already reduced his HP by three quarters with bullets and that tends to make the combat a bit unbalanced. Also, something of an oversight, the ammo for your various guns doesn’t exist as a separate resource, it’s infinite and ethereal. So you have all the ammo in the world, it doesn’t occupy any inventory space but your weapons somehow get reloaded…and it’s not magic I’m talking about.
On the other hand, the classes are extremely differentiated, not to mention the fact that the game doesn’t make you use any one class, you can create a character from scratch, being able to invest Karma points into any skill or ability, thus spawning a completely unique character. This means that you can create a super quick and strong katana wielder, or you can combine technology with magic, although cybernetic implants and spells don’t mix very well on the same character, but the game offers you the opportunity to do it, if you’re crazy enough.
Thanks to this incredible amount of freedom, the game’s scores quite high in terms of replay value, since you’ll get different experiences whilst playing the game with different characters, not to mention the fact that you can always make different choices throughout the game that can influence further events to some degree. Thus customizing each game experience even further.
The soundtrack does a great job at creating the cyberpunk dystopian atmosphere I mentioned earlier although it is a bit repetitive, which is to be expected from this genre of music but it can get a bit annoying when changing locations and the music changes can cause some auditory whiplash.
The game has basically no save system that you can control, instead it will save whenever it considers it should, usually during loading screens.
During combat there’s no Hold Position option when you don’t want to move a party member, the only option being to end turn.
I would’ve liked for the campaign to be a bit more fleshed out and for you to be able to interact with more of the world. Some more aesthetic options wouldn’t have been bad either however, I do consider Shadowrun Returns to be more of a proof of concept, a demo if you will, for what is in store for the future.
In case anything sounded like I was unsatisfied by Shadowrun Returns, or that I didn’t like it, don’t get me wrong, these were just a few small nitpicks I found due to the fact that I enjoyed the game very much.
Shadowrun Returns has another installment already done called Shadowrun Dragonfall and they’re preparing a third one in the very-near future called Shadowrun Hong Kong, I’m sure they’ve only made the game better in the meanwhile.
Despite the upper mentioned, and minor, gripes I would like to wholeheartedly suggest Shadowrun Returns to any hardcore RPG player out there who hasn’t tried it yet, or hasn’t heard of it, trust me, you won’t regret it.
In case the game makes you more interested in the pen and paper original, than that’s just gravy.
Let me know in the comments if you have some other cyberpunk titles that I should look into, be they RPG or some other genre.
See ya next time, again in the past.
If you’re interested in getting your own copy of this enjoyable niche cyberpunk title, please support us by using our affiliate links below.