Shadowrun: Dragonfall Review | A Sci-Fi Fantasy Masterpiece

Originally a DLC for the kickstarted Shadowrun: Returns, Shadowrun: Dragonfall is rewarding through its challenge and relentless bleakness. The game’s narrative, characters and world make for one of the best experiences in gaming.

Humans, elves, dwarves, orks, trolls and dragons in a technology-filled world where the matrix and cybernetic augments exist. This is Shadowrun: Dragonfall, a brilliant combination of sci-fi and fantasy, and its one of the most memorable settings ever seen in a game.

In Shadowrun: Dragonfall, players build their character based on six classes. Samurai, Mage, Decker, Shaman, Rigger and Adept. All provide a vastly different experience and you can even choose to make a completely custom build.

After a job goes bad, your Shadowrunner decides to go to Berlin to meet an old contact, Monika Schäfer. As you progress through the game leading her team, you’re also on a journey in uncovering the mystery behind a cataclysmic event called Dragonfall. A lot of your time will be spent running errands, solving the lore-filled whodunit main story, forming relationships with your crew and the people you meet, exploring interesting locations and fighting all manner of enemies in whatever way you see fit. It’s a story and character focused RPG that manages to be a visual novel with interactive exploration and turn-based combat.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut is the perfect entry point to the setting for those with no prior Shadowrun experience.” – Harebrained Schemes

The Shadowrun universe has been around for a while, but I didn’t feel lost at any point as the game does a great job of introducing you to the world. Each setting has a description that sets the tone and gives the player info, without overwhelming them with exposition. A well-paced main narrative and plenty of side quests meant seldom signs of boredom and more eager chances to find out more about the world, its people and the events the game is based around. The main story builds on and continues an important part of Shadowrun’s history and does a great job of easing new players into the world. The story is fit for a novel and its mysteries kept me hooked all the way to the end. It weaves together everything you’ve been doing throughout the game. Everything is tied to the main plot.

Players work with a small group of specialists that cover all the main class types in Shadowrun: Dragonfall. I was constantly surprised by how well written they were. Each character is distinct, has their own motivations and respond differently to your character. All have problems they need help with if you manage to bond with them enough to get them to open up. Even your dog Dante has a secret. Eiger for example is a troll weapons specialist who takes an instant dislike to you and her opinion of you changes, or stays the same,based on your actions. It’s an experience similar to Mass Effect, but I’d say Dragonfall did a better job of making me care about these characters in a much shorter time.

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The game’s isometric 2D world isn’t as graphically up to date as 2014’s other big RPG’s and your own character model is a blocky and rather undefined. However, the art style is unique and interesting enough to leave a memorable impression. There’s a lot to choose from when customizing your appearance, but the blockiness of your in-game character always looks incredibly ugly in comparison to the portraits each character has. It’s a shame as the portraits do look fantastic, it would’ve been nice if the in-game models looked a bit more like them. Despite being graphically inferior to the competition, it still  manages to be one of the most visually satisfying games I’ve ever played. Its use of color and varied, consistently interesting environments give the world a presence and realism that isn’t achieved by the competition. With low system requirements and flawless performance, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t pick this up.

No voice acting is unusual these days, but it never bothered me as the well written dialogue, ambient sounds and Jon Everist’s soundtrack were more than enough to coincide with the experience and connect me to the world and characters.

Combat on Normal difficulty isn’t too challenging, but there were times when I still had my skills tested during some of the bigger fights. Shadowrun: Dragonfall does a great job of introducing the game’s mechanics and the simple, clean interface does reinforces that. While it does get a little repetitive towards the end due to a lack of variation, it never stopped being fun.

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Jordan Weisman announced the game as a “graphically rich 2D turn-based single player game with deep story interaction, meaningful character development, and highly-contextual tactical combat.”

The variety of skills you can learn can make your fighting style extremely unique. Action points limit your movements and actions each turn. Players can only carry three weapons, which forces a tactical strategy of getting into cover quickly. Both ranged and melee combat offer a lot of choices. Shotguns, swords, fireballs, drones, spirits and buffs being a few of the many choices available. Players familiar with the combat structure of the XCOM series will find little trouble in engaging battles here.

There isn’t much exploration in the game, just linear environments with a few locked or secret areas. Usually there’s a way for you to open it, but sometimes it relies solely on you having the right skills. If you don’t have what you need, you’ll miss out. This is one of the many incentives for multiple playthroughs. Choice comes from the way you play, how you deal with the situations you’re in and how you talk to others.

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You’ll have a wide variety of skills that will give you different ways of dealing with things, charismatic characters can easily manipulate people through etiquettes like street smarts. Strong characters will be able to smash their way through obstacles and intimidate people while intelligent characters have the power to enter the matrix and discuss understand complex topics. Every ability has its uses, of which players must choose wisely given the limited amount of points. Reaching the cap for any skill is difficult unless you spend most of your points there. This gives the game replay value as your experience will be quite different if you pick a different set of skills.

Anyone even vaguely interested in the setting or RPG’s in general should consider trying out Shadowrun: Dragonfall. Besides the blocky character models and inability to effectively specialize in more than one skill type during a single playthrough, the game is one of the best RPG’s out right now. Its fantastic cast of characters and a well established, unique world make it an unmissable experience.

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