Shadowrun Returns – Initial thoughts and Controversy

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MAN MEETS MAGIC & MACHINE. The year is 2054. Magic has returned to the world, awakening powerful creatures of myth and legend. Technology merges with flesh and consciousness. Elves, trolls, orks and dwarves walk among us, while ruthless corporations bleed the world dry. You are a shadowrunner – a mercenary living on the fringes of society, in the shadows of massive corporate arcologies, surviving day-by-day on skill and instinct alone. When the powerful or the desperate need a job done, you get it done… by any means necessary.
In the urban sprawl of the Seattle metroplex, the search for a mysterious killer sets you on a trail that leads from the darkest slums to the city’s most powerful megacorps. You will need to tread carefully, enlist the aid of other runners, and master powerful forces of technology and magic in order to emerge from the shadows of Seattle unscathed.
The unique cyberpunk-meets-fantasy world of Shadowrun has gained a huge cult following since its creation nearly 25 years ago. Now, creator Jordan Weisman returns to the world of Shadowrun, modernizing this classic game setting as a single player, turn-based tactical RPG.

Key Features

  • Gripping Tactical Combat: When you’re running the shadows, every turn matters. Choose your actions wisely – move to better cover, charge into melee, or lob a fireball into a crowd of enemies. With the variety of weapons and spells at your disposal, every turn is filled with meaningful choices. A successful run requires commanding a team of runners with the right balance of combat, tech, and magical abilities.
  • Skill-Based Character Progression: Choose a starting character archetype and build from there! Street Samurai and Physical Adepts use advanced combat skills to dominate the battlefield, Shamans and Mages summon powerful allies and cast deadly spells, while Riggers and Deckers provide critical technological support, projecting their consciousness directly into drones and computer systems. Shadowrun Returns’ classless skill system allows you to grow your character in any direction you choose. Want to start summoning spirits as an ork Shaman and evolve into a cybered-up weapon specialist? Do it!
  • Engaging 2D/3D Art Style: Shadowrun Returns mixes dynamic 3D characters and lighting with a vibrant, hand-painted environment. Illustrated character portraits bring every conversation to life. Explore a world filled with detail, from the slums of the Redmond Barrens to the extravagant offices of powerful corporations.

So before we get into the meat of the post let me be frank and honest here, I’ve never played Shadowrun before. So while a lot of people who kickstarted this were fans of the franchise, i was a fresh canvas. This is both a blessing, since i go into the game with out preconceptions, and a curse, since i don’t understand the setting or terminology.

I’m also going to split this post into two parts. the first will deal with the game and my thoughts on it, as well as on the editor. the second part will deal with the controversies around the game, and there is a lot of it.

I bought this game because it was billed as a CRPG in the vein of the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter franchises. Both games i played to obsessive levels as a kid (and even as an adult lol, i only stopped playing NWN1 a few months ago). Added into this they planed to use a similar combat system to the recent XCOM-EU game, and were planning on going back to the roots of the genre; as in reams of text to be read. With all of that i was interested, enough to pre-order the game. Something i rarely do, and yes i do sort of regret it now.

Firstly lets talk about the graphics and the engine used. A lot of people criticise the use of the Unity engine, and i do sort of agree with them. Unity is good if you’re planning on making a cross-platform release, with web or mobile versions. Since a mobile version of the game for the IOS and Android are in the works, it’s not unusual for them to use the Unity engine. However the engine is severely lacking and limited in what it can do, especially for PC gamers who like to have lots of options when tweaking settings. The engine sadly doesn’t really have a lot in the way of options available:

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Now, while it’s true that the options we’d see in say a FPS aren’t needed here, there are some options that would have been nice to have missing,

The game world itself is really nice, not quite the cyberpunk world i was expecting, but not to bad. For me though when it comes to cyberpunk I’ve been ruined by Anime/Manga who frankly go way beyond the call of duty when it comes to things like this.

The world is done in two parts, firstly we have static 2D environments that have been hand drawn and painted, then imported. What this means is you get some really gorgeous looking environments:

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In some ways these settings reminded me of KRATER a game I’ve been playing on and off for a while now.

The next aspect of the game are the characters and lighting. The characters are 3D and IMO some of the worst looking models I’ve seen in a long time. However the models really aren’t that important since there’s no VAing in the game you spend a lot of your time reading the text and looking at a portrait of the character, which is done really well. The lighting and effects (such as rain) are all dynamic and add a nice vibe to the world.

The combat, while almost identical to the system used by XCOM, for me, felt a bit anaemic. I played as Street Samurai and went with a sword. But ever attack was the same as the previous, even if you used a skill, it was the same. the only difference was the damage and effects done. This made combat feel rather dull, even when fighting a lot of guys, trying not to kill others, while keeping your party alive, which should have made for a killer (pun intended) combat, was all a bit meh. Granted the combat is a small aspect of the game, but it is there.

The character creation side of things is a bit anaemic as well, in fact it reminds me of the original Baldur’s Gate creation, only without the stats:

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On the surface it looks and feels weak, but it is comprehensive in the areas it needs to be. You get to chose your sex, race, and class. The class system isn’t the same as your average RPG. For example if you pick say Street Samurai, you aren’t stuck like that for the duration of the game. Classes are really archetypes just giving you a basic starting point. You can choose none, which gives you all 37 starting points which you can spend as you will. If you choose an archetype you get 5 karma points to spend.

While your class doesn’t effect you in any way, your race will. Depending on what ace you choose you’ll find certain limitations on the max level you can gain in certain areas. For example elves can get higher charisma than orks, but orks can get higher strength. So before you settle on a race it may be a good idea to mess around and see which will fit the way you want to play.  When you choose a portrait you get a default 3D model which vaguely looks like it’s portrait, and i do mean vaguely. You can off course tweak it but there’s no real reason to since it always looks ugly.

The karma points screen shows off the idea behind the game:

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It’s over large, and on a long sliding list. the six labels at the top act as quick links to the relevant section. This clearly shows off the games design ideal, being an IPad/Android game. For me this invalidates it as a CRPG, since it’s clearly being designed around mobile devices. Everything about the UI and the way you interact with the world has been designed around mobile platforms. I’ve nothing against this game being on mobile, but the way it’s been design shows it was only secondary for it to be a PC game.

As i said earlier this game has no VAing at all, it’s a huge wall of text, which frankly is pretty awesome. However because it has no VA it needs something else, an amazing story and an even better musical score. this game succeeds on both counts. The Story is pretty awesome, well written and flows really well. It really is like reading a novel at times. The writers did a great job of describing things and creating images in the mind of the player when its needed. The music is pretty awesome as well, carrying you along and (as I’ve seen) been perfectly placed with the text and fighting.

Now, onto the not so good elements of the game. There’s two areas that are the worst,  terrible checkpoint saves, and no open world. The first is a huge thing, due to the way the game is running the checkpoints can be as much as 30minutes apart, which means if you log out for some reason before then you loose everything you’ve done and have to redo it all. There’s also a problem with the save system itself, twice now I’ve lost 2 saves now due to some sort of bug, the last time losing near 9hours of game play, I was not happy.

To claim this as a CRPG is a stretch, especially when you hold it up to the likes of Baldur’s Gate, which had a open world where you could wander around and do side quests and just get into trouble. There’s none of that in this game. I ended up in the Seamstress Union, the main hub and your home in the game, but once in you can’t get out until you’ve done everything the game wants you to do. I find it funny how people complain about games like CoD holding your hand, not letting you do something until it’s ready for you to, and yet when a game like Shadowrun does it it’s perfectly fine, because it’s a ‘design choice’.

It’s not fine, EVER especially not in a supposedly old school CRPG. Baldur’s Gate 1&2, Icewind Dale, Planescape, NWN1 all took immense amount of time to complete, we’re talking months here. Shadowrun however has a 12 hour campaign, which isn’t ‘bad’ per-say, it’s fairly long in the scheme of current games; but compared to the classics, it’s pitiful. What makes this even worse, for me at least, is that the world is stale. Sure it looks amazing, but after a while that wears off and you start looking for something, anything that makes the world real. Nothing exists though. There’s nothing lying around, no hidden areas containing epic loot, or little bits of lore dotted around.

We have these huge open areas full of good looking stuff, but nothing interactive. In fact the only time you’ll see anything you can pick up is if it’s one of two things, credits or something you need, a story element. The things you fight don’t drop anything, nor do they give you XP, so there’s no reason to kill everything before doing a mission. In fact the only time you can get weapons or other bits and bobs is to buy it. After a while the world ceases to be amazing and just is, a bad let down for a ‘classic CRPG’.

The one saving grace of the game, and frankly it’s something that could turn it from a disaster to an amazing game, was the tool set. From what I’ve read and seen the tool set is on par with Aurora toolset that shipped with NWN. Remember the main campaign of the original NWN game was nothing but a demo of what the toolset could do. It wasn’t until the expansions were released that the games themselves became amazing.

However this has been muted by the limitations the Dev.’s have placed on the toolset. for example you can’t create your own weapons or spells, the reason being they (the Dev.’s) didn’t want it to pollute the lore of the world. This is a huge dose of arrogance from the developers that will ultimately come back to bite them on the ass. One of the best things about using a toolset like this is that you can create your own world, your own story and blow the minds of everyone playing. That’s what NWN showed us, we were given the tools that created a DnD setting, but lead to thousands of Persistent Worlds being born covering everything from Lord of the rings, to complete new fantasy settings. Toolsets like this open the door to creativity that spurs on the development of the original game, leading to a balance of player and premium content.

Shadowrun Returns had the potential to be the next NWN, launching with a bad campaign, but giving the users the tools to go beyond that and create new worlds, and stories that will keep people happy for years.

I would avoid this for now, pick it up if it goes on sale, but as it stands right now it’s not really worth buying, especially not the deluxe edition.

The Controversy

Okay, that’s my ‘review’ side done and if your not interested in the controversies surrounding the game then end it here.

There’s several areas causing controversy, firstly the game itself. When they launched the Kickstarter they were after only $400k, and got over 1.8million. Now out of that both amazon and kickstarter would take a share, which apparently left them with 1.2million. Quite a drop, but still triple the original goal. So with that in mind, just what sort of game would have been delivered for 400k? The steam forums are awash with people saying the game isn’t worth 1.2million, and I can sort of agree with them. However rather than being the ‘scam’ that people are calling it, I’m more inclined to say it’s mismanagement, not good either way, but better than being a scam. Why i say that is that the game had 22 people working on it, that’s about $50k a year each. added into this the costs of creating and dispatching the physical items, not to mention the taxes and stuff. My thought on it is that even at $2million the project is underfunded, to make the game worth while they’d have needed a minimum of double that, a gaol that wouldn’t haven reached.

Next we have the save issues, as in the frequency of the checkpoints. Originally it was claimed this was a design choice, and while for many (myself included) this was a bad choice, it wasn’t a deal breaker. We just got on with it and moved on. however it was later revealed that the reason for the checkpoint saves is that they ran out of time and money and added an inferior save system. This has cause a lot of people to be very angry over the attitude of the developers over this, and quite a few have written to steam support requesting refunds.

They diverted the funds. This is a weird one, while it’s only a rumour there’s several sites reporting that the 1.2million gotten from kickstart was diverted to other projects. however the only two projects they have on the go at the moment are a IOS game and a Google Chrome game. So not sure what to make of this.

DLC and cash cow. The game was designed and developed with the mobile platforms in mind, and already there’s be plans announced for multiple DLC, ranging from a campaign DLC to portrait packs. The problem here is that to use the new assets and tiles in the editor to create user content, you have to buy it. The idea that the game is purposely being aimed at the mobile market, with its countless in-app purchases infuriates me.

Conclusion

There is a lot of controversy surrounding this game with the dev.’s not really doing a lot to explain things and calm it down. If any of these elements turn out to be true it will have a serious effect, both on this particular game, but also on Kickstarter funding as a whole. Since this was one of the first major attempts to succeed on kickstarter a lot of eyes are watching it. Personally though, I’d hold onto my cash and see how it develops

This post was written by Ryu Sheng who has two homes on the interwebs: Ryu’s Dreams for Manga and Anime stuff, Dave’s Gaming Blog, a new home for all gaming related stuff

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