Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shadowrun Returns: Review

The Good:

I love the engine.  The way the game plays like an old school CRPG, while still relying mostly on left clicks (you can enable the need to double click).  The fact that it’s sort of a pseudo 3d isometric view like the old CRPGs is pretty endearing.

The art direction is great.  The world looks like something out of a painting or a comic book, which adds to the surreal flavor of fantasy + cyberpunk that is Shadowrun.

Replayability is built in, in that the game is essentially an editor with the ability to load “stories” created in said editor.  Even the main story campaign is loaded like user-generated content (because it is, with the users being the developers), and there’s a growing amount of THAT on Steam Workshop right now.

Combat is best described as X-Com lite, but ironically with actual movement points instead of just move and shoot phase.  I also have to say the enemy AI is pretty solid, opting for the best weapon at whatever range, and also heading for cover if available.

The Matrix design is interesting, and harkens back to the 1990’s where wireframe blue was what data looked like.  It feels separate and unique from the overworld without needing a separate tutorial to figure out how to play.

In fact, every mechanic in the game seemed very easy to pick up for me, aside from how to access a Rigger’s robots, which, to be fair, was pretty obvious once I checked equipment (they’re essentially slotted weapons).

Character creation is pretty awesome.  It’s mostly like Dark Souls where you can put points into any stats and skills, but that assignment is permanent, so it’s worth mulling over.  Also, starting class only affects your starting skills and some equipment, as well as some on-map avatar options (like a jacket change, etc).

My friend said it best: “more emotion delivered in a few paragraphs, than any game has managed with highly paid voice actors and facial mapping software.... “  If you can get invested in the world of Shadowrun then it’s easy to get invested in this story, as it starts pretty personal.

The story is actually pretty interesting, and once it gets into full swing I kept being reminded why I loved IPs like Shadowrun and Warhammer 40K so much: the seamless mix of sci fi with not just fantasy tropes like elves and dwarves, but entire ideas of how magic and spirits work.

Women kick ass in this game. Not just potentially because of the protagonist, but two major storyline allies and two primary antagonists are women. Also, the mercenaries you can hire feature a good mix of men and women, and the women aren't all lithe assassins or anything, my favorite being "Hidden Fancy" a Troll Samurai who specialized in shotguns and assault rifles. She was my tank.

Both in the story and in the selection of mercs, there's a good range of races, as well. It really makes you feel like you're in an American city and not just some video game.

The Bad:

It’s still a bit buggy.  I had to reload a mission a few times because an ambush didn’t trigger that opened the way to the next part of the map.

In the modern age of 5 hour campaigns seemingly tacked on to AAA titles to sell MP shooting, a 10-12 hour campaign by a crowdfunded company is nothing to sneeze at.  That said, it does feel a tiny bit rushed at times, relying on combat to flesh out most of the encounter resolution.  This isn’t a bad thing for an RPG, but it could have been handled better for a Shadowrun game.  I think with a bit more time, they could have added more things to interact with to avoid having to fight as many encounters.  AS many words as I put into this, this is a VERY MINOR complaint, and one that is easily remedied with user and upcoming content, i just felt I needed to clarify how incidental and easily remedied this “bad” point is.

I also felt like there weren’t enough matrix points to use, but, again, that is easily remedied with user content.

The Weird:

As a friend of mine pointed out, the conversations show options you can’t use due to lacking the stat points.  I don’t consider this BAD per se, but I do feel that it’s something that used to not happen until Mass Effect.

The same mechanic is used when interacting with objects that can have a skill applied, which leads to another odd thing, your character can’t use your party’s skills for these objects.  I don’t know if it’s due to the way the engine is set up, or a conscious decision to not let the player overcome a limitation by having a diverse party.

This is more a weird thing about Shadowrun in general, but making a split class character is VERY challenging, unless you want a decker/rigger.  Most other complimentary classes are reliant on different stats, so you’ll end up nerfing one or the other or both classes.  This is actually pretty good for game balance, if a bit annoying if you want a strong Adept.

In all, this game was a must buy for me, and I would recommend it for any fans of CRPGs.