A brand new story with gameplay improvements makes Dragonfall worth your time.
Despite its flaws, Shadowrun Returns was one of my favorite games last year. Taking place in the “sixth world”, its traditional D&D fantasy crossed with William Gibson cyberpunk setting, provides a unique flavor not normally seen in games. Throw in a murder mystery and an interested cast of characters and you have a story that feels tailor-made for my interests. I’m happy to report that its expansion, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, continues to show off more of its filthy magic-laid world, with a great story and structural changes that fix a lot of the issues I had with the core game.
Dragonfall is about a group of runners in Berlin getting way in over their head (isn’t that how it always goes?). The run goes bad and a conspiracy and ultimately world ending event comes into the fold and you and your team are the only ones that can save the day. To make matters worse at the heart of everything is a dragon, which are the end all be all creatures of the Shadowrun universe. I really rather not say more, as the twists and turns are what make the story so fun, but It’s well told, with plenty of plot twists and a good sense of world building that the core game was so good at.
The biggest change is you have a full party of characters with you rather than hiring runners for their services. These characters come with you for free, but you’re still welcome to hire other runners if you wish to balance out your party. I exclusively used my team, as they not only got the job done in combat, but provide that much needed dialogue and party banter that the first game lacked. They’re an interesting bunch, like a former military Ork whose respect you have to earn, or Glory, a cold detached women with bulky out of date cybernetics. You’re even given the chance to talk to your companions after every mission, Mass Effect style, getting to know them and hearing about their tragic back stories. Glory’s backstory in particular was one of most messed up things I’ve heard in a while. All this is really well done and very welcoming. The original story, called “Dead Man’s Switch” had interesting characters, but didn’t give you the time to talk and get to know them. Dragonfall doesn’t make that mistake.
The combat in Dragonfall is the same turn based action and doesn’t mess with it. It does seem to try and provided a more balanced experience for all the classes (in Dead Man’s Switch, classes like the Decker felt useless for the most part). There are a lot of optional terminals for Deckers to jack into, vents for Riggers to use, Spirits for Shamans to summon, and everyone gets to show off their talents in dialogue specific opinions. You still get those moments where it seems like a particular class is favored in certain situations, but it’s not very often.
A huge complaint about Shadowrun Returns was that it was a linear game and fans of the series expect choice and an open world nature. Dragonfall is less linear than Dead Man’s Switch but probably doesn’t go as open world as some would hope. The main portion of the game is spent with the goal of trying to raise enough money to pay off an information seeker for their services. A number of different missions are given to you as a way to obtain your goal and you can tackle them in any order you choice, or even deny some if you wish. You’re given a city block that acts as a hub world and your base of operations. The hub is full of vendors to browse and people to talk to, and at any point you can accept a mission and take the tram to a new location. Once you’re on a mission, the layout and structure is very similar to the runs in Dead Man’s Switch.
The final thing I want to address is something that was actually patched into the full game, but if you haven’t touched Shadowrun Returns since it came out like me you wouldn’t know about that. The game now has proper quick save in it. The frustration of dying and having to start a whole section over, or not having a good place to save for fear of losing a good run is gone. I understand the creator’s original design choice but it’s good to see them fix something that was universally disliked.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall takes lessons learned from the original game and creates a overall better campaign with a new interesting story. The game ran 10 hours for me, which was about how long Dead Man’s Switch took, and feels more than enough to justify its $15 price. If you enjoyed Shadowrun Returns, then Dragonfall is totally worth taking a second trip into the sixth world.