Dragonfall Feat

Shadowrun Dragonfall Review: Running in Berlin

Platform: Windows PC
Release Date: 2/27/2014

 

When Harebrained Schemes reintroduced gamers to the cyberpunk-meets-mysticism world of Shadowrun last year with Shadowrun: Returns (read our review), they proved that the semi-obscure tactical RPG series still had both plenty to offer gamers and plenty to offer storytellers looking to build content through the game’s comprehensive level designer. It’s both a shame and a delight then, that Shadowrun: Dragonfall pushes the boundaries of the game’s engine yet fails to produce anything truly memorable.

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One of the biggest things that stuck with me when I played Shadowrun: Returns was the sense of great potential that the game showed off. While the game’s single-player campaign was to many a frustratingly linear affair, this linearity allowed the game to act as a compelling demonstration of the things that Harebrained Schemes engine was capable of. In Dragonfall, Harebrained Schemes have listened to fan complaints about this linearity and more or less abandoned it for a more open approach to level design that allows for multiple ways through levels and a lot of side content in the game that’s there for those who want it but not in the way of those who want to blast their way from the game. However, this new approach to level design pushes the game’s engine to its limits and the cool expansive story of Dragonfall feels constrained as a result. In short, there’s a lot of cool ideas in Dragonfall that are held back by the limits of the engine and there isn’t much evidence that Harebrained Schemes really tried to overcome these limits.

Combat is more or less the same as Returns – which is more than a little disappointing. I felt like Returns got away with being a lighter version of X-COM in it’s combat because it was more focused on proving the viability of the Shadowrun setting than it was providing a deep and meaningful tactical strategy game but going into Dragonfall I got bored of the combat very quickly. There are a handful of new enemy types in the game but they only really show up in closing stretches of the campaign and don’t so much challenge you as they frustrate you. It wouldn’t take all that much to spice up the game’s combat – some new skills or classes would have been great. Even some sort of dual wielding or weapon-mods system could have breathed new life into the game’s combat, unfortunately there’s little innovation to be found here.

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That said, the core appeal of the Shadowrun revival has always been the narrative and in a lot of ways Dragonfall builds on the successes of Returns’ story whilst addressing some of its weaknesses. The game opens with the player taking part in a routine robbery of an old manor that goes wrong and ends with someone dead and the rest of your squad tangled up in a conspiracy with a presumed-dead dragon known as The Firewing. In comparison to Returns, Dragonfall is structured around a hub world through which the game’s missions are accessed and it’s clear that the developers learned a lot from the criticisms of the first game’s campaign. Players have a lot more freedom and can choose which missions to go on and in what order. Furthermore, Harebrained Schemes have taken a page from Bioware’s books and allowed you to talk and develop your relationship with your fellow squadmates – it’s a nice addition and I particularly liked Eiger and Glory as characters. As with Returns, the game’s story is pretty heavy in terms of the amount of reading you’ll have to do but it absolutely nails the same style and consistency that Returns showcased. It really captures the vibe of a good pen and paper RPG and that’s something I can definitely appreciate. Where Returns introduced the world of Shadowrun, Dragonfall expands the scope significantly and introduces the kind of fun and memorable cast that the first game lacked.

Once again, the visual style and soundtrack of Shadowrun really help bring the world to life. The crisp detailed visuals work well to convey the unique patchwork of architecture that Berlin is host to and it’s definitely refreshing to have some new environments to explore since the campaign of Returns – ‘Dead Man’s Switch’ – did feature a fair bit of asset re-use. The game runs smoothly and I didn’t encounter any technical issues during my time with the game. Dragonfall also addresses the check point issues that Returns had and while that’s nice, I find it hard to praise them for meeting what’s more-or-less considered the minimum standard of being able to save anywhere.

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For a game roughly the same length as its predecessor, Shadowrun: Dragonfall is a little bit disappointing. While they managed to nail the style and atmosphere of the Shadowrun setting a second time round, it’s a shame Harebrained Schemes have brought almost nothing new to the table. Where Returns showed the promise of their engine, the ambitious narrative of Dragonfall is constantly pushing up against the constraints of it. 

Shadowun: Dragonfall might offer players another fix of its cool cyberpunk-meets-magic RPG formula but it doesn’t try to offer them anything deeper than that. Despite it improving upon the level design and storytelling of its predecessor, Dragonfall fails to improve upon the gameplay surrounding those elements. It pushes the boundaries of the game’s engine yet fails to produce anything truly substantial and unless your love of Shadowrun’s rich universe can overlook these shortcomings, there’s nothing special here.

A copy of the game was provided by the developers for the purposes of this review.

You can check out Leviathyn’s review of Dragonfall’s predecessor here.



  • UGEplex

    Let’s start off with, yes I’m a fan of Shadowrun Returns & Dragonfall. My interest in and enjoyment of the game inspire me to question the perspective of this review. You may find my points aren’t simply bias fanboy ranting.

    While I respect that you have an opinion, I completely disagree with the path you took to reach your conclusion in this review. As a form of video game entertainment, I found Dragonfall to be an excellent expansion to Shadowrun Returns in its writing, immersion, visual appeal, and many other areas, some of which you recognize in the review, and some which you’ve left out or overlooked. Though I completely agree the combat system is “hardcore lite” – I found encounters in Dragonfall to be a helluvalotta fun for many reasons, including the combat, which was satisfying and nicely accented by stylish orchestration of how adversaries were presented, and their timing. 

    So, I see a review here that wasn’t expecting to enjoy the game, or examine and report on an indie game for player enjoyment value. Instead, I see a path to preconceived notions of what this type of game should be, based on ridiculously inflated tens of millions of dollar AAA budget expectations. For example, the article states “I felt like Returns got away with being a lighter version of X-COM
    in it’s combat because it was more focused on proving the viability of
    the Shadowrun setting than it was providing a deep and meaningful
    tactical strategy game” which is a ridiculously unfair comparison between a AAA budgeted game like X-COM that had between 50 and 60* guys actually working on it for roughly 4 years, compared to a small studio indie project like Shadowrun Returns which started off with less than a million $ after Kickstarter expenses, less than 10 people comprising the entire company (they’ve upped it to about 30, which includes interns and executives), for less than 22 months, not even half the time X-Com was in development with at least 3x the developers and 30x the budget. AND Shadowrun Returns developed TWO unique campaigns and a game editor in that time. Let’s see what the combat is like in another 2 years, eh?

    * http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-03-06-firaxis-xcom-is-a-very-very-big-budget-game

    Additionally, as the article states, “It pushes
    the boundaries of the game’s engine yet fails to produce anything truly
    substantial” and “Despite it improving upon the level design and storytelling of its predecessor” – yetit improved on quite a lot more than that, all the improvements in visual quality, character development, features (hey, barrels explode! characters now have thrown weapons besides grenades!) and much more, all seem irrelevant in this review, leaving the impression the review’s conclusion would have been more positive if “MOAR LOOT” and “OMG Achievements!” were the only additional features, as these claims of inadequacy aren’t followed up with what exactly is meant by these statements. Just vague downplaying of the game.

    So, as a new gaming site looking to grow, managing big-budget bias in reviews of indie titles should behoove Leviathyn writers. Otherwise the articles become assassination pieces, lacking the balance of managed expectations required to serve the gaming community with well reasoned content.

    …only a 6.5, really? *shakes head* ^_^