Based on the campaign length I’ve seen bandied about in reviews, I’m assuming I’m about halfway through Shadowrun Returns. It’s too short for a finished review and too long for an initial impressions post so instead I’m just going to dump all of this info here and let you sort through it. I’m sure there’s a Shadowrun term for it to make it sound all cool and cyber-brainy but I’m just going to stick with brain dump. Come to think of it, Shadowrun would probably call it that too.
So far, I’m really digging it. I never played the pen and paper version and I didn’t play the console versions so this is all new to me. I usually don’t care about cyber stuff as I’ve never been into computers beyond their ability to play games. The setting is strange enough to elicit a otherworldy vibe yet grounded enough to not make me feel like I need to sit down with the rulebooks to know what’s going on. Sure, some slang terms don’t make sense but it doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment. I’m playing as a female, elven street samurai who focuses on melee and pistols. My current weapon is a machete, which is kind of low rent for a samurai but one does what one can.
I don’t know how far I’ll get in the character progression over the course of the game but right now I don’t feel like my character is getting that much better at killing. Any increase in death dealing efficiency appears to be from better gear not because I’ve placed more points in any particular skill. I don’t consider that a knock as when I replayed Baldur’s Gate on the iPad, I had the exact same feeling. Gaining a level as monk wasn’t exactly cause for celebration. It’s not like Dragon Age where I was basically a demi-god by the end of the main game and the expansion with so many powers that I had to dig several layers deep into the power wheel to pop them off. Oh look, I can rain down meteors of radioactive badgers. Cool. I do like the fact that Shadowrun allows you to spend karma wherever you like, even if that means you could inadvertently hamstring your character. I wouldn’t do that if I were you though as that autosave will kill you.
Speaking of the autosave, I have not had a problem with it in the case of dying and losing progress. I am playing on normal, so individual results may vary. I do have a problem with it in that it places restrictions on how much I’m willing to play. For example, if I hit an autosave and know that there’s only 15 minutes left in the episode of The Good Wife that I’m watching, I won’t keep playing. I don’t like that. I want to keep playing until my brain in screaming “WE HAVE TO GET UP IN SIX HOURS!” I mean, thanks Shadowrun for making sure I get my beauty rest but you’re supposed to keep me from doing other things, not actively encourage it.
Getting back to the characters (it’s a brain dump, it’s going to be all over the place), I really hope that future campaigns let me use Kapra because I want to see what happens when I get up into those upper power level tiers. Whether they be Harebrained creations or user creations, the option to bring my character into it needs to be there. Also, they need to use separate save slots in the event that they make you roll from scratch. See autosave, use of. Don’t get me wrong, at some point I want to see what it’s like to play a decker or a rigger, but I don’t want to be forced to re-roll every time I play new content. At some point I want to get a taste of those sweet upper levels.
There are a bunch of things that I miss from other isometric RPGs and I can only assume that these were left out due to budgetary constraints. I miss the loot. I know I’ve said that I’m somewhat over loot but this game is extremely loot averse. Like, there is none. Occasionally you will find mission items that you can sell for money but you don’t rifle through crates or barrels to find stuff and you can’t loot bodies. That last one sticks out the most for me. The only way you can get better stuff in this game is to buy it. As much as I hate feeling the compulsion to kick over every barrel, part of the satisfaction of taking out a massive foe was figuring out who got the spoils. Many of the best weapons in BG and IWD came from slain foes. Not here. If I’m running around with a machete it’s because it’s all I could afford. I mean, it gets the job done but it doesn’t exactly scream “samurai”. More like “gardener”.
The story is moving briskly enough and I have a rough idea of where it’s going to go, namely because when you can only talk to certain people and BIG CHARACTER POINTS about one of them are dropped and not yet revisited, I have to assume it was for a reason. The game is pretty lean so if something is clickable, there’s a point to it being clicked, ditto if you’re able to talk to someone.
And that, right there, is a pretty good description of the game. It’s a lean, lean game. You are not getting this multilayered, grand RPG experience. So far I’ve played a tight, well controlled and well implemented PC translation of the Shadowrun license based on my limited understanding of said license. It doesn’t waste your time but it also is content to let the license and setting pick up the storytelling slack in a lot of places. I’m perfectly happy with what I got but if the Torment game ends up like this, we’re gonna have words. That game needs to be deep to the point of cerebral hemorrhaging.
After having played it all weekend, I stick by my comments on the podcast, namely that I’m glad to be playing it and I look forward to playing other modules and seeing what the community can do with the license. If they can kick it off with manual saves and lootable bodies, I’ll be even happier.