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Shadowrun Online Preview: First Impressions & Exclusive Q&A
While I wasn’t the biggest fan of February’s Shadowrun: Dragonfall, I was a big fan of Shadowrun Returns. I think the Shadowrun universe is a genuinely cool setup for a lot of interesting stories and characters and when I sat down to play the early access alpha for Cliffhanger Productions’ Shadowrun Online, I was pretty excited to see what a new developer and ambitious multiplayer could bring to the setting that Harebrained Schemes revived last year.
Shadowrun Online is all about taking the cool single player experience that Harebrained Schemes laid out with Dragonfall and Shadowrun Returns and expanding that into the world of both co-operative and competitive multiplayer gaming. The co-operative side of things will see players team up to complete missions in a unique player-driven plotline while the competitive side will see players take up arms through some intense faction vs faction combat.
The current early access alpha on Steam gives players access to four single player missions and a single PVP map with the game’s more broad features like character creation, customization and the co-op campaign itself coming later down the line. Still, it’s a fun taste of what’s to come and, after putting together our hands on impressions of the game, Leviathyn also had a chat with Jan Wagner from Cliffhanger Productions to talk about the game.
As mentioned before, there’s not a whole lot to play in the early access alpha for Shadowrun Online. That said, what we did play was pretty impressive. The game does a pretty good of translating the pen and paper combat of Shadowrun to the digital world. From what we played in the demo, they did nail the same cyberpunk vibe that we saw in Shadowrun Returns even if environments did lack some of the character and detail that Harebrained Schemes put into their games. In general, it’s pretty cool to see Shadowrun make the jump from 2D to 3D.
Given that they’re both based on the same pen and paper RPG, combat in Shadowrun Online plays much the same as it does in Returns. I did like the UI design in Shadowrun Online; it was a lot more streamlined than Returns was, even if it is a little unpolished in parts. That said, I would like it to be a little clearer with how many actions a character can complete per turn.
Shadowrun Online plays pretty well and gives a promising taste of what is to come. Although the multiplayer is a little bit basic at the moment, the addition of co-operative gameplay could be exactly the kind of addition that the Shadowrun franchise needs. The beta only allows players to play through a handful of missions and one PVP level but the developers are promising content updates to the beta every 4-6 weeks and it’ll be fun to revisit the game over time and see how it all comes together.
Q&A with Jan Wagner (Executive Producer, Creative Director)
Up until recently Shadowrun has been a pretty niche thing, even among gamers. How has it been to see the franchise make a return to gamers?
The fact that all of the involved studios planned their Shadowrun renaissance independent of one another (and we all did so in 2012) was a case of great minds thinking alike, I am sure. Well in our case we have normal minds, but you get the point ;). This is why we have opened shadowrun.com to become Shadowrun universe and allow all of the creators of the various products and the fans to find a joint place. The response has been great and there is much love for Shadowrun around, it appears.
What’s going to separate Shadowrun Returns & Dragonfall from Shadowrun Online?
Well, the similarities are obvious (tun-based RPG), but whereas SR:R concentrates on the individual stories for each campaign set, we focus on characters and playing together with (or against) other players. We also will probably provide more extensive and variable skills and an ongoing, persistent world. In terms of gameplay I think we will play slightly faster (especially since you will want to play co-op) and obviously the ability to meet other people and form guilds (however they will be named) and move forward the world story will make a difference. In a nutshell: Where SR:R is more Adventure-RPG, we will be more MMO-RPG.
I really like the visual look of the game so far but the demo doesn’t show off a lot of variety with things mostly keeping to interior environments like corporation offices and morgues – will we get to see bigger and more outdoor environments like the cities we got to see in Harebrained Schemes games?
Of course – we just choose the interiors so we could make the small maps work well and because open spaces/cities are harder to control as tactical situations. We wanted a tight combat experience that was similar for everyone, so feedback was based on a shared experience. But we have some great city setting concepts and I am sure they will be exciting to see.
Combat feels very similar to Harebrained Schemes – are we looking at any new mechanics or improvements to the Shadowrun combat system we saw in those games?
As mentioned above, we will be closer to XCOM I think. In SR:R pretty much everyone is defined by various amounts and types of damage, but by and large you always want the most damage-doing skill. We want more maneuvers influencing combat – daze, stun or speed etc. but we also have damage flavors – physical, magical, technical and resistances. Our skill tree will be more extensive than SR:R’s due to the fact that we also want you to play your character for longer. With that come more choices which we try to keep meaningful. So it should not be “fireball level 3” and “extended damage fireball level 7”, new maneuvers should actually open up new combat tactics. Our combat should also be more deadly, we want to get the turn based flow to a point, where it feels closer to the “split second actions” that the tabletop rules suggest.
The other Shadowrun games have generally focused on one city at a time, will Shadowrun Online give us the chance to explore multiple cities and other more expansive areas from Shadowrun lore?
For our first campaign setting we will have Boston and stick to that – though this means an area including Salem and some outdoor settings, so there is more variety. We are set in the 2075 era of the 5th edition ruleset, but we will progress alongside the 5th edition storylines as well and if we manage to sustain the game, we have a few other cities we want to set campaigns in.
Is the PVP intended to be an alternate form of progression or an endgame for hardcore players?
Both – PvP can be simply a quick game between friends to test and try your latest skill or equipment, an actual “combat arena game” to earn some nuyen in and it will feature more prominently in the endgame, where teams of runners get conflicting missions. We don’t want to force anyone into PvP, but if you talk tactical combat the true challenge will be another human player, so we offer PvP missions (which may not be just “deathmatch” but can take many forms).
Can you talk to us a bit more about how the player-driven campaign will work?
On the most basic level, the collective actions of all players will be tallied – doing a job for Aztechnology will increase their influence, doing the same for Ares will move them higher in the corporate power struggle. This is an ongoing thing and from that we will unlock or lock specific events, missions and even available items. Then we have events where the winner(s) may decide on certain things – such as “one of our new missions will be to assassinate an executive of one of the megacorps – which one will you pick”, so we will build this into new missions we will do constantly. Finally the whole SR universe including the tabletop will see one megacorp go down. And our players will decide which one by what they do in our game.
Shadowrun Online is now available through Steam’s Early Access program and a special thanks to Jan for answering our questions.